Carleton received a visit from the hula dancers of the Halau Kiawekupono O Ka Ua from O’ahu, Hawaii, last weekend.
Orchestrated by Assistant Professor of Religion Kristin Bloomer, the sold-out performance brought a welcome insight into island life.
Bloomer came to Carleton a year and a half ago from an assistant professor position at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, where she lived for two years. The star student of her “Field Methods” class, Ulukoa, first planted the idea in her head of a cultural exchange between her students’ halau (hula school) and Carleton College.
As a native Chamorro-Hawaiian-American, Ulukoa wondered if there would be any communities that might be interested in doing a cultural exchange with his school. Lucky for Carleton, because of tireless work by Bloomer, this idea eventually became a reality.
The halau’s visit to Carleton was crammed with events, including attending Bloomer’s “Sacred Body” class.
“Their visit really gave me context for our class work, giving the material a lot of weight and worth as I learned how hula grounded and centered them in their daily lives,” said Sara Klugman ’14.
Bloomer agreed that the visit was significant to the objective of the class.
“The halau’s visit really took us out of book-learning and jump-started our term with an intense, contemporary and real-life example of ritual bodily practice that defies certain dichotomies of sacred and profane,” Bloomer said. “It introduced us personally to different forms of bodily knowledge and their relation to subjectivity.”
Besides the hula performance, the dancers also led a master class that Klugman called “challenging and informative.”
“These guys were buff,” Klugman said. “We all had a lot of conditioning.”
The halau’s visit allowed Carleton students a chance to experience a new culture, but the halau students also had their own informative cross-cultural experience. During their stay, the dancers traveled to the Minneapolis American Indian Center to share music and dance with native Minnesotans.
“It seemed like a potentially very rich opportunity to bring the halau here, both for students and for the halau to exchange cultural knowledge with members of the local Native American community and open new relationships there,” Bloomer said.
The hula performance was an undeniable success.
“They surpassed my highest expectations,” Bloomer said. “I was particularly moved by the portion of the performance on ancient hula, but also by the hula ‘auana (modern hula) medley in which each member of the halau came out and did a solo.
“I got a big lump in my throat when Kulima Ka’a came out for the first song, dancing against a backdrop of the island of Kaho’olawe, which has been used as a U.S. military target for decades. The juxtaposition of the delicate beauty of his dance and the devastation and natural beauty of the island moved me very deeply. The politics of what was going on here took on a new and poignant meaning for me.”
Maria Sterrett ’14, who attended the hula performance, noted its emphasis on nature and land.
“Especially as a student, you tend to get fixated on your work, kind of losing touch with anything other than what is directly in front of you,” Sterrett said, calling the performance “very grounding.”
As Carleton students often become frustrated with the so-called “Carleton bubble,” the halua’s visit was a needed source of perspective.
“Hula raises important issues about colonial and post-colonial subjects, issues about indigeneity, sovereignty and modernity expressed in this ancient cultural dance form,” Bloomer said. “It’s not every day we get to talk about these issues with committed practitioners.”