Artists & Communities: Vicky Takamine and Kahikina de Silva in Conversation
In the Hawaiian language, the word kuleana can translate to responsibility, but its true essence is far deeper and more nuanced than the English language can capture. As I listened to the latest Artists & Communities conversation between two Hawaiian kumu hula (master teachers of Hawaiian dance) and cultural practitioners—Vicky Takamine and Kahikina de Silva—I learned that kuleana is a way of moving through the world, a value, even a calling. The kuleana that both Vicky and Kahikina had spoken of in their conversation reveals a deep commitment to keeping Hawaiian culture alive—passing its language and many cultural practices on to future generations.
“Our people can’t live without hula and hula cannot live without our people. Both of them need to continue along with all of our other cultural practices: growing taro, leaning our language, making kāhili, or even being scholars in the way that our ancestors were. All of these things need to live in order for us to live,” said Kahikina.
This month, continuing our Artists & Communities conversation series, Vicky and Kahikina sit down not only to talk about their kuleana to both their ancestors and future generations, but also:
- the power of hula as a community and family-maker, a form of resistance, and means of connection
- the navigation of tourism as native artists and using the sector to support cultural practices, not commodify them
- how Hawaiian cultural practitioners are successfully infiltrating and influencing other sectors like law, health, and education
As Americans for the Arts continues to commit to and uphold cultural equity, we invite you to read this thoughtful, illuminating conversation between two native Hawaiian cultural practitioners who are keeping sacred traditions alive in their daily life, work, and advocacy.
Read a short excerpt of the conversation below and check out the full publication here.
KD: Hula doesn’t just begin with the family, it becomes family. That's why it's so impactful. Your kumu (teacher) becomes like your mother or your father, and your fellow haumāna (students) become your brothers and sisters.
VT: Let's get back to that—how hula builds community. There is the hula in your whole community of family members that are involved in the practice, but there are also the students and other teachers that have come out of your class. I would love to talk about how hula has influenced the broader community other than just your hālau (school of Hawaiian dance).
For me, I think back to how all of us graduates went into the community and started to revive all of those cultural practices that people thought were lost, but were really just under the surface. They were just resting, waiting for practitioners to pick up again. And hālau graduates are in every field now—law, education. Through the hālau system we've infiltrated all of these other worlds.
KD: Right. There are so many different levels to that, it seems; one being that in any of our hālau, beyond hula, what we're teaching is a foundation. A Hawaiian cultural, behavioral, and psychological foundation that many of us feel like we have lost. But like you said: it's just there under the surface. And once we're put into an environment like a hālau, we reconnect to all of those things and have a Hawaiian education that we can come back to.
So you have people like my Aunty (everybody is my aunty!) Kapilialoha MacKenzie who just finished writing a volume on native Hawaiian law and who was one of my mom’s first five students to graduate as kumu hula. Here she is having her book launch, and creating something on the legal front that is going to be a resource for generations of Hawaiians to come.
VT: And the field of health.
KD: Yes. My Mom has been working on the Hula Empowering Lifestyle Adaptations (HELA) study, which looks at how hula helps people recover from heart attacks, but also other traumatic events to their bodies. In earlier inquiry, it was discovered that these patients would begin physical rehabilitation, but it wouldn't last very long and be as effective without another element. When they brought hula in with its cultural and spiritual elements, as well as the element of community—learning together and being part of the project together—everything was enhanced.
Vicky Holt Takamine is a renowned kumu hula (master teacher of Hawaiian dance). In 1975, Vicky graduated as a kumu hula from hula master Maiki Aiu Lake. Vicky established her own hālau, Pua Ali’i ‘Ilima (school of Hawaiian dance), in 1977 and has been teaching hula for the past 39 years. In 2001, Vicky established a non-profit organization, PA’I Foundation, to serve the needs of her Hawaiian community and those who make Hawai’i their home.
Kahikina de Silva is a kupa of Kaʻōhao, Oʻahu. She is a kumu hula in her mother's Hālau Mōhala ʻIlima and an Instructor of Hawaiian Language at University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa, where she earned her BA in Hawaiian Language (2000) and her MA in English with a focus on Asia-Pacific Literature (2005). Kahikina is currently working toward a PhD in Political Science, and was awarded a Mellon-Hawaiʻi Fellowship which supports the work of Native Hawaiian scholars in their early academic careers to advance the knowledge of Hawai‘i’s natural and culture landscape.
 Royal feather standards used by families to indicate their lineage.