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Hawaiian wisdom from the late Charles Ka‘upu, Part II

By Staff | Oct 27, 2011


KAPALUA – Two months after cultural icon and noted Kumu Hula Charles Ka’upu passed away, and 129 people presented chants and lei in his memory at a memorial service, his good friend, Clifford Nae’ole, continued an e-mail exchange worth sharing begun in the last column.

Q. What were Charles’ views on Hawaiian nationhood? Clifford: Kumu was very adamant that Hawaii is (not was) a sovereign nation. He and I spoke often about the concept of having a nation within a nation, much like the native tribes of the continental U.S.A. However, he wanted to ensure that if any draft of this type of coexistence occurred… it would be to the benefit of the Hawaiian people, and we would control our destiny. He never trusted “semantics.” Kumu felt that words on paper could always be deciphered in various ways leaving loopholes that could alter the “agreement.” Thus, the controversy would begin all over again.

Q. What did Charles want visitors to know? Clifford: … that the accomplishments of our people were outstanding and are still holding together from a Neolithic age. He would ask visitors, “What is it that you expected from our land and people?” What made more of lasting impression for them? A graceful hula and a bombastic hula kahiko (ancient hula) or the mai tai and a snorkel cruise?”

Q. What was Charles’ approach to sharing the culture. Clifford: The TRUTH. He doctored nothing for ANY person. He told it like it was. At times he presented a harsh reality with a strong opinion. At other times, he touched the emotional bank through sadness. And, of course, his presence and stature also helped.

Q. Charles could be very feisty. He had strong views. A respected kupuna said recently that “he pressed his case without being open to the other side.” Is this true? Clifford: Feisty is a good word. Steadfast is another. I believe that “not being open to the other side” was misconstrued. I know that Charles believed that “sides” were representations of other “cultures.” Hawaiians were one culture… western concepts were another… Asian concepts another. Kumu would be strong in saying that “our culture (Hawaiian) cannot be judged by ‘their’ culture as to what we believe in.” Charles was open to “the other side,” because he knew they existed and they believed in what they did. Charles also knew who we were, are and want to be… therefore, he stood tall on our issues regarding our nation.

Q. Charles was well-known as a chanter. How did he influence your chanting? Clifford: The power of chant is incredible. NEVER hold back your voice when chanting and remember always why and who you are chanting to. Whether the crowd around you was one person or a thousand, it should make no difference to the chant. The various styles of chant were numerous, but Kumu Charles’ style was POWER. The power was in the voice and the belief in what you were asking for in the chant or to whom you were honoring in the chant.

Q. What is the importance of chanting today? Clifford: Oli is an expression of prayer that you draw up from the deepest part of your gut, your soul. Oli is a focus that comes through your voice and is intended to reach the heavens and all those who came before you. To oli is to honor, pray, ask for forgiveness, call to your genealogy. Oli is NEVER a performance. The stage allows the oli to be experienced by many, however the oli belongs to the person saying the oli and his creator.

Q. Anything more? Clifford: If there was ever one quote that I will always remember kumu for, it will be when we were on Kauai. My youngest son was eight years old and was afraid of something that was taking place on the hotel grounds. He came into our hula practice, and kumu could tell that he was shaken. Kumu called out to him to come sit with him. He put his huge hands upon his shoulders and simply whispered into his ear and said, “… remember who you are.” My son will never forget that day.