Hula is a vital component of Hawaiian culture, the dance has grown in popularity as hundreds of hälau (hula schools) have been established in Hawai‘i, Japan, Mexico, Europe, and in cities across the country. New songs and chants added to the body of work enrich the art form.
Chinky Mähoe, one of the leading kumu hula (hula teacher) in Hawai‘i, is universally recognized for his choreographic creativity and for his many compositions for hula. Mähoe’s Hälau Hula O Kawaili‘ulä, considered one of the top hälau, has won numerous awards at the major hula competitions over the years, including several top prizes at the world renown Merrie Monarch Festival including winning the coveted Perpetual Trophy.
Māhoe travels widely introducing traditional hula in workshops to enthusiastic students in Japan, Mexico, Canada as well as numerous cities across the country. Mähoe has twice performed in the legendary Carnegie Hall with his dancers.
Mähoe discovered hula in 1975 when he attended the Kamehameha Song Contest then held at the school in Kapälama. The hö‘ike (exhibition) portion of the Contest, then as now, featured hula. At the time he was a participant in the Hawaiian revival, a paddler and coach for Kai One Canoe Club in Kailua; he was also interested in Hawaiian music and culture. But this time, this particular hula sparked a chord. There were not many hula hälau teaching men in those days, but he sought out and found George Na‘ope and the Kalihi Palama Culture and Arts Society. Mähoe began his instruction with the hula master in December 1976.
After several months of training Na‘ope entered his dancers in the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, and then the Kamehameha Day Hula Competition. It was at this second event that Mähoe met Darrell Lupenui, John Ka‘imikaua, and Thaddeus Wilson whose hälau The Men of Waimäpuna was competing. As Mähoe remembers, “It was exciting for us to see Darrell’s hälau dance, and I could see that the men were themselves excited to be dancing. It was inspiring and I joined Waimäpuna shortly thereafter.” Mähoe went on to become one of the lead dancers of Waimäpuna.
Waimäpuna’s high energy hula ku‘i Moloka’i is the style of hula originating from the island of Moloka‘i. Foot stamping and heel twisting, thigh slapping, knee dipping, vigorous gestures imitative of sports and war-like pursuits characterize this hula. Waimäpuna caught the imagination of the hula world at the time, winning many of the major hula competitions. Waimäpuna was in the vanguard of those who ensured the popularity of the art, and increased the ranks of men dancers.
Mähoe continued as a dancer in Waimäpuna, but he was also being called upon to teach dances to the students of the Kailua High School Madrigals, a singing troupe that wanted to include a few hula numbers in their performances. Mähoe soon discovered that he loved teaching, and with the consent of his kumu he started his own hälau in 1979. After a ritual blessing by Auntie Muriel Lupenui, the spiritual leader of Waimäpuna, that first performance at a fundraiser marked the beginning of over three decades of exemplary work by Mähoe and his dancers.
In 2001 Māhoe released his first album “Kalapawai Ku‘u One Hānau – Kalapawai My Birthplace.” Kalapawai, the area that fronts Kailua Beach, is the ancestral home of Mähoe. His parents, both maternal and paternal grandparents, and great-grandparents have lived in Kailua, and have owned wide tracks of land in Kalapawai over the generations. Mähoe has lived in the same house on the beach since his birth.
Kalapawai has been a source of strength for Mähoe and the inspiration for many of the songs and chants he has written over the years. This debut album features four of his compositions, as well as three he wrote in collaboration with others (‘Iokepa De Santos and Kalei Tsuha).
In 2016 Māhoe released his second album “Kalapawai Ku‘u ‘Āina Kaulana.” He wrote three new compositions reflecting his roots on the windward side of O‘ahu. Māhoe continued to collaborate with others and included on this second album is a new composition written with Louis “Moon” Kauakahi and one with Eric Lee.
Those songs and chants used in competition have all generated award-winning performances for Kawaili‘ulä. This has been gratifying for Mähoe, who says the challenge in writing songs and chants comes in balancing the ‘ölelo (language) and the correct hula steps, with his own creativity or his sense of fun. “I want my serious efforts to be true to the subject, the ‘ölelo right and the steps proper. But my goal in my playful hula is first to make it fun for my dancers, then to entertain the audience. We always try to do different things,” said Mähoe.
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