HONK for Hula!
November is squarely in the middle of our rainy season here in (usually) sunny Hawaii, but one can’t-miss bright spot is Hula O Nā Keiki on November 9-11. An annual event now in its 34th year, Hula O Nā Keiki (or HONK, for short) is Hawaii’s only children’s hula competition, where kids aged 5-17 vie in individual boys’ and girls’ categories and in team events for the coveted title.
Originally held in 1990 on a lawn under a tent, HONK has blossomed into a weekend-long celebration of Hawaiian art and culture. Having outgrown its humble origins, the festival is now located at the Outrigger Resort on Maui’s iconic Kāʻanapali Beach.
But HONK is about more than listening to Hawaiian music and watching cute kids show off their moves. The festival’s main goals are to keep alive the traditions of Hawaiian ancestors and to instill an appreciation of native culture in the Islands’ youngsters. Competitors are judged not only on the quality of their hula performance, but also on their knowledge of oli (storytelling) and mele (chanting or singing), their Hawaiian language abilities, and their responses in an interview portion. Winners aren’t merely fleet-footed dancers. They’re the rising generation of culture bearers who have proven themselves ready to lead the ongoing Hawaiian Renaissance.
Besides maintaining tradition, the competition also encourages participants to write and perform original mele that reflect Hawaii’s present circumstances. Teaching participants that they can express their own feelings and experiences through inherited art forms is a massive step toward ensuring that those art forms continue to flourish and find an audience.
Each competitor hails from a hālau: a school where students learn hula and other native Hawaiian folkways. Last year, the competition was nearly swept by Honolulu’s famous Hālau Hiʻiakaināmakalehua, who took home all but the solo girl’s trophy. Other hālaus will no doubt have been practicing hard for this year’s event, so hop on a charter flight or ferry, and don’t forget to tell your pilot or captain to HONK for hula.
Written by Chris, a local expert guide for Waikiki Crawling. A historian on the lam from the world of academia, Chris enjoys gardening, hiking, and playing at open mic nights after one too many beers. Want to learn more about Honolulu’s hidden history? Join us on an Aloha Pub Crawl!