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PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
The Roots of ‘Ulu

 

Follow the mythological origins of ‘ulu, its journey from Tahiti to Hawai‘i on Polynesian voyaging canoes, and modern efforts to revitalize breadfruit as a possible solution to food shortages. Native practitioners, medical specialists and agricultural experts have a shared vision of the ‘ulu tree playing an important role in cultural preservation, health restoration and food sustainability for Hawai‘i’s future.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Rose Galera

 

Rose Galera approaches cleaning as both a science and an art. Her early enthusiasm for keeping her environment safe and clean led her to a career in professional cleaning management and as a consultant and training specialist.

 

She is certified by the International Executive Housekeepers Association and has over 45 years of experience and expertise in the hospitality, medical, commercial, education and business cleaning arenas. She was also the first executive housekeeper of the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.

 

Her career in what she terms “cleanology” recognizes the science and technique necessary for proper sanitization. Her passion makes her a natural teacher, educating and training Hawaii’s students on proper cleaning etiquette.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 25 at 4:00 pm.

 

Rose Galera Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Mrs. Bennett taught me an awful lot. She taught me how to speak English, of course. You know, Haole, you know, and—

 

So, you were speaking what kind of English?

 

Well, broken English, Pidgin. I remember pronunciation from what I learned and everything in school, but then, she taught me about the finer things. She would entertain from time to time, so she taught me how to set tables. She taught me about silver, how to polish silver. She taught me about the finer things of dishes and china, and all. And I learned about all those things, and over the years, I appreciated that. I remember for my wedding, she gave me one of her silver platters. You know. But this was sterling, sterling silver, you know, which is, I know, expensive today. Not silver-plated, you know. So, I learned the different values of something that’s silver-plated versus sterling.

 

For five years during her middle and high school years, Rose Galera left her crowded Kalihi home to live with the Bennett family at Navy housing. Lessons that she learned from Mrs. Bennett were instrumental in a career in what she calls “cleanology”, a consulting career that has taken her around the world. Rose Galera, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Rosita Abarca Galera, who’s better known as Rose, developed a passion for cleaning at a young age. She grew up with eleven siblings in the 1930s and 40s, and her mother made sure every household member helped keep the house clean. Rose Galera discovered early on that she could earn money outside the home with the skills she learned from her mother, which led to her becoming a live-in nanny.

 

I was born on the Big Island, in Hilo. And actually, we left Hilo when I was about seven, eight years old. We came from the Big Island to Oahu by boat. It was quite interesting. Took a few days, and then when we got to Oahu, right away, we moved in with my grandparents. My grandparents um, we called them Ah Po. Ah Po in Chinese means Grandma. And my grandma was very small, and my grandpa was very big. So, we called them Small Ah Po and Big Ah Po. You know.

 

And where’s the Chinese from?

 

Actually, no, I guess it’s something that was just carried, you know, when they came from the Philippines, and the family just used that. Ah Po was easier; that time, we didn’t use the term grandma or grandpa.

 

When you say we, how big is we, the family who moved in with the Big and Small Ah Po?

 

I come from a family of twelve. We were just there for a short while, until we got a home, actually in what was called Kalihi Royal Homes. And what it is, was a community of actually, apartments. If I remember correctly, it was canec type built apartments, and in each building there was like four units.

 

What’s there now?

 

Actually, it’s where Kuhio Park Terrace area is.

 

Okay.

 

I loved that area. And we would walk. Our parents didn’t drive, and pick us up and drop us off. You know, we walked every day to school, walked to church, and that’s how I feel, that I’ve learned to become a survivor, you know, today, because of the upbringing that I had. Then I went to Kalakaua. From Fern School, I went to Kalakaua Intermediate, and then from Kalakaua Intermediate, I went to Farrington High School.

 

So, when you say you learned to be a survivor, what did you have to survive?

 

Well, because the family, you know, we were on welfare, and you know, we were very careful about how we ate, what we ate. We didn’t, you know, waste anything. My mother was very strict when it came to the home, keeping clean and everything. I was trained, every morning when you get up, you fix your bed, things are always straightened up. And in the old days, it doesn’t happen today, we washed our clothes, we starched our clothes, and we ironed our clothes.

 

An iron; I haven’t seen one of those in a while. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. And actually, before becoming a nanny for the Bennetts, I ironed for about a year for a family, and I was at that time beginning of intermediate, for a family where she had girls. And it was all starched clothes, so they would bring the bag of clothes to me, I would sprinkle it up, roll it up, put it into the refrigerator for a little while, and then I would start ironing. So, I was good at ironing; you know, ironing clothes, and she would pay me ten cents apiece. And that was one of the first job I had as a youngster, because my mom taught us how to wash the clothes, how to hang the clothes, how to starch the clothes, how to sprinkle.

 

And you said she was particular about it.

 

Oh, my mom was very—yeah, she was a housewife; she didn’t work. But she made sure that we were trained. And my father, ‘cause he was working at Hickam Air Force Base, and I would be the one making his lunch every morning so that he could take it to work. And I remember boiling eggs all the time, you know. And actually, because of those kinds of training, I’ve learned how to do things on my own, and how to take care of yourself.

 

It sounds like with all those kids, you still knew that you had a place there, and you had a role to play, and everybody cooperated.

 

We got along. You know. There was no time to fight or anything because, you know, we were busy with taking care of things around the house, taking care of each other. You know, our beds, we would share. You know, three of us in a room, you know, because we had a big family. But yeah, through those growing up years, it really made me strong. And then, when I was going to Kalakaua Intermediate, a friend of mine said, Rose, do you want to babysitting job? And I said, Okay. And so, she said, Go see these people and go for an interview. So, I went to the Bennetts’ home, and I got the job with Mrs. Bennett.

 

Who are the Bennetts?

 

Mrs. Bennett and Commander Bennet actually lived in Navy housing. And that’s where a lot of us who were in middle school or intermediate school then, the girls, we used to all go do babysitting work and what have you. But I got a regular job with Mr. Bennett.

 

Now, did you walk all the way to Navy housing?

 

No; I from school, I would get the bus, and then get off at Navy housing there.

 

How far away is that?

 

Actually, from Kalakaua Intermediate then, not too bad, not too far. And then, it came to a point where I ended up living with the Bennetts. Because Mrs. Bennett felt that it might be better, so I lived with the Bennetts for a little over five years.

 

And what did you do for them?

 

Actually, I would go to school, and after school, I would go home. I’d go home to the Bennetts’, and at that time, there was two children, Peggy and Barbie. And they were about three and four years old, five years old. I would take them to the park, play with them a little bit, then bring them home, and then made sure they took a bath and everything. And then, Mrs. Bennett by that time would have had dinner ready, and then we would have dinner, and then I’d put the girls to bed. This was about maybe oh, before eight o’clock. Then I would do my little homeworks that I had, and then go to bed. Then in the morning, I would get up and then go to school. And she paid me at that time, I always remembered, sixty dollars a month. You know. And that was good money then.

 

That was big money those days.

 

That was good money then. Yes.

 

Rose Galera married her schoolmate, Manuel Galera, instead of finishing high school. She and Manuel had five children over the next nine years, while both worked at different jobs. After eighteen years of marriage, Rose divorced Manuel. But their story was not over; she remarried him fifteen years later.

 

You’re one of the few people around who got married, divorced, and then years later, you married the same person. Tell us about that.

 

Well … this was in the 70s, and I ended up with a good job working for the Army. And you know, you get to meet other people as well. I was more involved than my husband was. I loved my husband dearly; we were high school sweethearts. And so, when we went through the divorce in 1972, we agreed, but our goal was, even though we would be divorced, we would make sure we would take care of the kids, the children.

 

But why did you get divorced, if …

 

Actually, it was me; I think I grew out of the marriage. And then, I met a friend, you know, but I didn’t remarry again or anything. I lived for about maybe eight years with who was, I thought, another mentor. And he was a boss at one time when I worked with the Youth Activity Center. But he taught me about the work life and everything, and he was like a psychiatrist to me. You know. And I lived with him for a little while, about eight years. But he was the one that encouraged me. Rose, go see your family on weekends, that’s okay, Manuel’s there, no problem. That was my husband. And so, I had good relationships with both sides. And one of the things my husband and I said, we want to take care of the kids, we want to make sure they’re okay, their schooling and everything. So, you know, Junior graduated and Darrel graduated, went to University. Carla graduated, and she went into actually beauty school. And then there’s Jeffrey; Jeffrey’s my baby, fifty years old baby. Manuel and I then, in about the 1980s, we got together again, and we lived a little while together, and then we said, Let’s get married again. So, we went through again a second church marriage. I was able to get married in the church again, because I didn’t remarry, and even though we had a divorce. So, it was at Our Lady of Good Counsel, where I go to regularly every day, that we remarried again. And the nice thing about that wedding was, my children were all, you know, part of the package and everything.

 

It all seems so calm, but it’s not really a situation that usually leads to calm.

 

No; Manny and I got along well. I would go over the weekend, help them cook, and we would celebrate all of the special type of holidays together; Christmas, New Year’s. You know, and I would always go over to help cook dinners and cook breakfast or things for them. We had a good relationship, and I think it had to do with the spiritual upbringing that we both had.

 

How does this spiritual belief help you in your daily life?

 

You know, I get angry sometimes, but then always is, you know, the prayers, daily prayers. I find myself always doing the sign of the cross as I’m driving, or when, you know, I’m walking, or when I’m talking. It really becomes a part of me. You know, and actually, it is important; you know, very, very important. The Lord has blessed me, I feel that, with family, with my children. I have actually three boys and one daughter. And they’re all busy now with their own lives and everything, but I’m glad that they’re all in good health, they’ve got good jobs.

 

While Rose Galera was raising her children, she continued to work outside the home, too. An opportunity to enter the cleaning profession came up during this time, and that’s when her career started to take off.

 

I looked back to when I was a nanny, you know, ‘cause I had experience there, learning how to clean and everything, and taking care of things. And then, I worked for the Army at the Schofield Barracks guest house, and I was at that time, a front desk clerk and a supervisor. But how I got that guest house job, which is people would come in and stay there; it’s like a little hotel. Because I was working for the Navy too, at the service station, but because I had what was called NAFE experience, you know, non-appropriated fund, I got hired at the Schofield guest house. Then from there, I got back into the cleaning aspects, because I became a housekeeping supervisor and an assistant manager at the guest house. Then when Hale Koa was built, and then they had announced the opening of the Hale Koa Hotel, I thought, Well, you know, I could do it there. It’s a four hundred sixty room hotel, and it was gonna be the first military hotel. But of course, I took advantage of the fact that I knew Commander Bennett and Mrs. Bennett. So, asked them, Could you write me a letter of reference? ‘Cause I was a housekeeper for them. And of course, Commander Bennett’s name, you know. And then, working at the guest house, I learned military regulations, Army regulations. So, Commander and Mrs. Bennett wrote the letter for me, and then I turned that in with my resume. And then, of course, with the guest house experience as well, and knowing Army regulations—

 

What does Army regulations tell you about housekeeping?

 

Actually, the Army regulations had to do with managing. When I went for the interview, I cited AR-230-1, AR-230-2, and it had to do with personnel, how you deal with personnel and management. They were very impressed, because they didn’t know the ARs.

 

So, I got hired to be the first executive housekeeper of the Army hotel. I knew about cleaning, but I didn’t know much about chemicals. So, through the magazines, I would read and keep track, and keep articles and everything. And I remember how I had vendors come to me, and these vendors selling chemicals. So, I pulled out some articles from the magazine, and I put it under my glass on my desk. And so, when they tried to sell me the chemicals, I would ask those vendors certain questions. What kind of agents are there, you know. And through that, I learned how to actually become very well versed in the chemical. And then, I got close to some vendors who also taught me, and then I always kept up with the trends and technology of cleaning. You know, reading up about it, working with vendors, learning what’s new in the field and everything.

 

I think you learned at a very early age just to keep learning, and keep reaching out. Plus, you had confidence, too, that you could do it. And you’ve cut a career for yourself that I don’t know if anybody else has in Hawaii. You’ve just taken cleaning to another level. And you call it Cleanology.

 

Well, actually, I became a member of the International Executive Housekeeping Association. At that time, it was called NEHA, National Executive Housekeepers Association. I became a member in ’74. Then I decided to go for certification, and this was at KCC. And after I got my certification, KCC asked me if I would do some training on certification, and I did. And so, with certification, you have to keep up with CEUs, you know, continuing education credits, every three years renew your certification. And I did that; I made sure I stayed on top of it, stayed on top of trends and technology of cleaning. And then, the leadership roles that I took helped me as well with NEHA, IEHA. I ran for the board, the association board.

 

The national board?

 

The National Board of Housekeeping Association. Got elected in 1980, and this was in New York City. And I thought, Ooh, wow, you know, I’m with all of these people who have college education, and I don’t have a college education. But I learned a lot from them, and they learned a lot from me. And they liked it because I was from Hawaii. My first convention was in 1976, then I attended every convention thereafter. I only missed one, and that was in 2014. But then, I ran for office, first vice, second vice, ran for the board a couple of times again. So, I served about sixteen years in leadership role. And then at the chapter level, now we have a chapter, I was president on three different terms.

 

And you do have a genuine passion for cleaning.

 

Definitely. Cleaning is a science and an art. And people would ask me, What do you mean science? I bring up some questions. Do you know what PH is? Okay; when you buy chemicals, we need to know the different PHs of the chemicals. Now, the other sciences of cleaning is, germ kill. What are the three scientific processes of germ kill? Lot of times when I ask even medical people, they tell me, washing their hands, hot water. Sanitation kills at least fifty percent germs. Disinfecting, ninety percent-plus. Sterilizing, hundred percent. Those are the three scientific processes of germ kill.

 

In doing these corporate housekeeping jobs, and then later your private business, you really had to understand people, too.

 

Yes.

 

It wasn’t just the process of cleaning; it was how to use people and manage people.

 

When I was in the hotels, I used to do a lot of walking around, and even to the degree where I always used to tell the housekeepers, Your cart should be right parked in front of the room that you’re cleaning. Okay; and it’s a certain way parked. Your vacuum cleaners, your equipment should be there with you. So, sometimes, I would walk around and I’d see the vacuum cleaner way down the hallway, and the cart. So, I would steal their vacuum cleaners and I’d take it to my office. So, if they saw, Oh, where’s my vacuum cleaner? Right way, they’d know, I gotta go see Miss Galera. You know.

 

So, you must have scared and intimidated a lot of your employees.

 

No, I didn’t intimidate them. I think I trained them, and they learned. And then, I would have morning briefings. My morning briefings would not be scoldings, and it would not be what you did wrong, and it would not be complaints. It would be how we can make improvements on things. You know. And ‘til today, when I run into some of those; Hey, Miss Galera, I miss your briefings.

 

You know. Because they remember, you know, some of the things. I think I had good relationships. When I had the Hale Koa Hotel, it was a union property, I never had one union complaint. I believed in working with the people. And when I had the hotels, every morning, I would be in front of my door greeting them coming in, and in the afternoon thanking them going home.

 

As a manager, as an executive, how do you get people excited to have a passion like you have for cleaning?

 

Well, when I work with the high school students, the approach I take is, I get them to become paranoid.

 

I show them pictures of what germs would look like.

 

Mousey mold; right?

 

Yeah. And maybe a picture of a body, you know, a body piece that shows the germ, you know. And I try to encourage them about the profession in that if you’re looking for a profession—‘cause lot of the students will tell me, Oh, we want to get into a job that pays big bucks. Okay. And I’ll tell them about the profession. Yes, I encourage you to go to college to get a degree, because you can demand more in your salary. But if you didn’t get a degree, but you went through a certification program, you still can be well paid. I try to talk to the students or even people when I do my training about how beneficial the profession of cleaning is. Because it’s very diverse. Not only hotels, there’s hospitals, today there’s a lot of retirement communities, there’s schools, there’s colleges. I mean, every building needs to be cleaned, and you need to know about the building environment. So, there will always be a job. And even your retail outlets, the Macy’s and all. At one time, I saw an ad where they were looking for a housekeeping manager. You know. Because they need somebody to make sure they know that the people are cleaning.

 

You actually still clean as a service in selective cases. Where do you personally clean?

 

For this family, and they have a business, and I do their office as well. I’ve been doing, I think, her home for about a good maybe fifty years. And I know she likes me, because she knows that I’m gonna do a good job. You know, I put my whole heart into it.

 

And this is a large executive home, I take it.

 

Yeah; I consider it to be a large executive home.

 

And you do it by yourself?

 

I do it by myself. I do backpack vacuuming. I also do what is called the Easy Trap dusting. I do the microfiber flat mop systems, and the microfiber cleaning technology. Microfiber cloths, microfiber flat mop, vacuuming. And there’s this one tool which is a disposable type; it’s called Easy Trap. And I use it with the flat mop. And because there’s a dog, there’s a pet in the house, it picks up everything. Picks up all the hair, pick up everything. And on top of that, I also change the beds, do it hotel style, and wash the linens and everything, and fold it.

 

I know you’re not self-conscious about your age, so I really feel like I should point out at this point that you’re approaching eighty.

 

Yes.

 

And you’re cleaning this large home and business, even though you don’t have to.

 

No.

 

You’re an executive.

 

Well, actually, you know, I get social security, but I want to supplement my income as well. And yeah, yeah, I can still do it. It helps me keep fit. It’s my way of exercising as well. And staying on top of what’s happening with the industry as well; I’m still a member of the association. In 2015, I got over being the chapter president, so I’m also doing some consulting and training. I’m going to be working with McKinley Community School. Right now, I’m doing some training there. One Friday, I have a workshop there called Cleanology 101, that has to do with communicable diseases and infection prevention in non-health facilities; schools, hotels, retirement communities. And I go into the process of telling them about epidemiology, what communicable diseases are, what are the different kinds of communicable diseases, infection preventions that they can use in their facilities, about outbreaks, should there be an outbreak.   And come up with programs, techniques. I’ve come up with something called Best Practices. What are the best practices you can use in homes, hotels. And you know what? It’s not complicating.

 

Mahalo to Rose Galera of Ewa, in West Oahu, for sharing your life story with us, and for your lifelong passion for cleaning. And thanks to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Do you ever get tired of the whole cleanology business?

 

No.

 

Never?

 

No. I would like to see our profession be raised by people doing it scientifically, with knowledge as well, and our custodians and our janitors and all, are all trained so that we can cut back on infection, you know, controls, or cut back on infection spreading. And also, have people do the jobs right.

 

You are a one-woman crusade for cleaning.

 

I am; very much so.

 

[END]

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Neighbor Island Doctor Shortage

 

Hawai‘i is nearly 900 doctors short of what we need to meet our medical needs, according to the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. This shortfall is expected to widen to 1,500 in the next five years. The shortage of primary care doctors and specialists is most serious on the neighbor islands, where many people go without medical care, or fly to Oahu or elsewhere for treatment. INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I explores what it may take to attract and retain primary care providers on our neighbor islands.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

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insights@pbshawaii.org

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Hōkūlani Holt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Hōkūlani Holt

 

Original air date: Tues., June 8, 2010

 

Drawing Strength from Hawaiian Heritage

 

Maui-based kumu hula and Hawaiian cultural/language specialist Hōkūlani Holt talks story with Leslie Wilcox about growing up on Oahu and Maui, being hānai’d (adopted) by her grandparents, and growing up in a well-known hula family. Hōkūlani also talks about juggling her demanding yet fulfilling life as a kumu hula, Director of Cultural Programs at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and her active roles in a long list of community organizations. Through it all she draws strength from her Hawaiian heritage and a family history of strong, independent women.

 

Hōkūlani Holt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I come from a family of very strong women who believe that you need to make a contribution to your community. And in order to make a contribution to your community, you must work there in your community.

 

Strong, yes, but also kind, generous, and self effacing. Her community is the island of Maui, but her influence as a kumu hula and Hawaiian culture and language specialist is felt throughout Hawai‘i and beyond. Meet Hōkūlani Holt—next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Hōkūlani Holt was born in Honolulu to a  family steeped in the traditions of hula. Growing up she divided her time between O‘ahu and Maui, and for over thirty years now she has led a respected hula hālau—Pāū O Hi‘iaka. She juggles her life as a kumu hula with her position as Director of Cultural Programs at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and plays active roles in a long list of community organizations. And she does it all with a great sense of humor and calm determination.

 

Your name; don’t have four names all beginning with H? What’s your—

 

What’s the story?

 

—entire name?

 

What’s the story on all those Hs? Well, the story is, my father wanted our initials to be HHH. So my oldest sister, myself, and my half brother, my father, my grandfather, all have the initials HHH. So [CLEARS THROAT], it really was so that you don’t have to change the monogram. [CHUCKLE] No, I’m sure it wasn’t that. But, he wanted the Hs, and so it was. In the course the fourth H being added, when my Grandmother Holt, just before she passed away, she told my mother that she had always hoped that my oldest sister and I would also have my father’s Hawaiian name. So that’s what my mother told us, so both my sister and I added it to our names when we grew up.

 

What is your whole name?

 

It’s Hōkūlani Haila Hi‘ilealii Holt.

 

When you were a baby, you lived with your grandparents?

 

Yes. I was hānai’d, which is a kind of a Hawaiian behavior of taking a young one into your home. So I was hānai’d by my maternal grandparents on Maui, and lived with them from baby time until I was five years old, continuously. They missed having children in the home, so I was the next one up. My mother was pregnant with me, so they came to ask if they could have this baby. And at first, my dad said no. Several times, he said no. But finally, he agreed.

 

Do you remember the first time you danced the hula?

 

I don’t. But my mother has pictures; my mother has pictures of me about, I don’t know, maybe about three or so. I don’t remember that time, but I guess it happened, because she has the pictures. So it was quite young.

 

Do you think you just were like osmosis, picking it up and doing it?

 

Well, during the younger years, definitely so. When I got a little older, probably somewhere about seven, eight, or nine, then I went to classes. I was taught by my auntie and my grandmother, that I remember formally. So it wasn’t until then. It’s a little different when you have hula in the home. I lived with my grandparents, and my auntie lived in the same household, so when she had the neighborhood children over for hula, I’d go to that class. But because I lived there with them, when she got inspiration to dance, whether it’s Saturday at four o’clock or Monday at nine o’clock in the morning, or whenever, you just get up and dance.

 

Hōkūlani Holt graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in Kapālama and went on to study Travel Industry Management at UH Mānoa. She ended up graduating with a degree in Organizational Relations, but shortly thereafter her life would be dominated by hula.

 

Who were some of your mentors outside of the hula world?

 

M-m; outside of the hula world. Do I have a world outside of hula? I don’t know. I do know that for chanting, that was Pualani Kanahele. She was my chant teacher. But outside of hula, what do I do outside of hula? I think hula is mostly my whole life.

 

And it’s your whole life now, but you didn’t see it that way before. When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu?

 

I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.

 

And why did she decide?

 

After I graduated from UH, I was married, had my first daughter, my oldest daughter. And we were living in an apartment on Beretania Street. And I thought, I don’t want to raise my children in an apartment on Beretania Street. So the only place that I knew of was Maui. So I moved home to Maui to raise our family there.

 

You would have two more children after that.

 

Two more children after that. When I went to Maui, I was still a dancer, so I went to look for a hālau to belong to. And there was not a lot of kahiko being done on Maui at the time. And so I was moaning and groaning to my mother, and so she said, Well, I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. And I went, No, that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. I went kicking and screaming, but I went anyway. So in 1976, I opened a hālau. The name of the hālau is Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka. Literally, Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka means the skirt of Hi‘iaka. When I began thinking about what to call hālau, I had long conversations with my mother. And I knew I wanted a plant name, I knew I wanted a plant that lived near the ocean ‘cause I always lived near the ocean, and so the Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka plant was one of those that has always been around where I was. There’s a story about its getting its name from Pele, as the plant protected her sister down at the beach, Hi‘iaka I Ka Poli O Pele. But also in hula, Hi‘iaka’s pāū or her skirt was magical, and could defeat enemies and create storms, and bring people back to life. More importantly for me is, I wanted my students to be like the Pā‘ū O Hi‘iaka plant. It grows in really inhospitable places, Makapu‘u, Ka‘ena, the top of Kaho‘olawe, South Point, and still is a beautiful flower that’s no larger than your baby fingernail. So I wanted my students to be like that too, that no matter what’s going on, you keep chugging away, and you still look beautiful.

 

What kind of a kumu were you and are you?

 

I believe that I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use.

 

When you were a young woman beginning teaching—

 

M-m.

 

—was it hard to have the authority to—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

—to teach people who might have been older than you?

 

Yeah. As a matter of fact, let’s say I’d open class or I’d be standing outside, or sitting inside, and people would come in, and they’d go, Where’s the kumu? And I’d go, that’s me. You’re the kumu? Yeah, that’s me. [CHUCKLE] So it was a little difficult at the beginning, but they either accept that this twenty-six-year-old is going to teach you hula, or you just find someplace else to be. I pity my first classes, ‘cause I was a little wishy-washy. Okay, we’re gonna be like this. Oh, no, no, no, no.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s a little bit too hard. Okay, let’s try this. Oh, no, no, no, no. I think I’m gonna change it to this. Oh, yeah, okay, we’ll do it like—so I pity my first classes. I was a little wishy-washy.

 

But you found your way.

 

Yeah. Then I began to then understand how I wanted to be, when I became a kumu.

 

There are so many kumu hula, and one of them is Keali‘i Reichel—

 

M-m.

 

Who sat here and said—

 

M-m.

I’m a control freak.

 

A lot of the times, that’s what a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that. It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hōkū within these four walls.

 

While Hōkūlani Holt has dedicated her life to perpetuating centuries-old traditions, she is very comfortable making use of twenty-first century tools to navigate through her extremely busy lifestyle.

 

I enjoy technology. I have two laptops, two desktops, I have a Blackberry, iPod, but then I love taking photographs, so I have cameras. But I do all of that because I love being in Hawai‘i. I take my camera and I take pictures, because I want to keep that with me. One of my favorite things to do, though, is to just sit. Sometimes that’s the best thing to do too.

 

Just to be alone, or to look at other people? What are you doing when you sit?

 

Look at other people. I like driving to some semi-solitary place and just watching our environment. I’m very much a morning person, so I get up early. I like to get up early to watch the sun come up, and those bits and pieces of time, I enjoy a lot.

 

And over all this time of living on Maui, has that pleasure ever been—I mean, do you still get that? I mean, I know there’s traffic, I know there are a lot more people, but you still find that peace?

 

I find that place on my ancestral lands where I grew up. I still have a cousin that lives in the same place where I grew up, so I go down to their house, I go sit on the beach, park at the park; any little place.

 

But Hōkūlani Holt doesn’t need to go anywhere to get in touch with her ancestral roots. A veritable road map of her heritage is with her … all the time.

 

The tattoos that I have, the first one has to do with my grandmother. She was a shoreline gatherer. And we lived down at the ocean in Waiehu. And so these items have to do with the sea, and most especially the close shoreline. This is the hāue‘ue or hā‘uke‘uke and is gathered among the rocks where we lived.

 

And this that goes around here is called pū‘ili halua which has to do with the two meanings of the word pū‘ili. One, it means to grab on and to hold on tightly to something and the other is the hula implement. Both of these things remind me that I need to remember that my grandmother was hula as well, and that I need to hold on to the things that she taught me.

 

In 2007, Hōkūlani Holt was the artistic director, writer, and choreographer for Kahekili, a hula drama about Maui’s premiere chief, thought by some to be the biological father of Kamehameha the Great. Because the story takes place in pre-contact Hawai‘i, Hōkūlani and her collaborators faced the challenge of filling in unknown details of life in Hawaii from that era.

 

I was very fortunate that there were fellas that wanted to come down the road with me and so we sit down, we read what we knew of the research that we gathered, select the parts that we wanted to talk about, and then think about, well, what chants we want to use, what is the look, what do you want to see when the audience looks at it. So then there’s the look.

 

Did you take creative liberty with the look?

 

Somewhat; somewhat. Partially because we don’t really know everything. We don’t know everything about what their clothes was like when they went to war, or what they may have worn if they were going into a particular ceremony. We know some, and we made some of those creative leaps within there, but there was some choice as to staying completely kahiko, or bringing in possibilities of other things.

 

How much creative license do you allow yourself as a kumu hula who upholds tradition?

 

I think for me, the guiding principle is, no matter what I do … if it were to continue as such, would it be recognizable as hula a hundred years from now? Because now, a hundred years from when the turn of the century was, we can still see hula is hula. So a hundred years from now, is what I do recognizable as hula? And so that’s usually my guiding principle, that it must be hula. Can it incorporate—like in parts of Kahekili, we did dances that are reminiscent of warfare. Can it include things that look like warfare? Yes, it can, ‘cause it still uses hula. Some of the costuming, perhaps … a bit more than what it might have been, maybe. I think our giant leaps were not too far off the cliff.

 

So what were some of the other things you decided in making Kahekili?

 

That we will expand our look at warfare, ‘cause that is something that people don’t know too much about or think about. And to know that, sometimes people only think of Hawaiian culture as only aloha. We were a very competitive people, and we had warfare like we have warfare today. So sometimes, people don’t like to look at it, and we thought, no, it is where we came from, so it’s important to have that as well. I loved highlighting about the chiefesses. For me, that’s one of the greatest things that Maui contributed to the royal lines, is it’s females that created all the royal children. And so, some of those things are not commonly seen, so we decided to bring those out into the open more.

 

Kahekili received the prestigious American Masterpieces Dance award from the National Endowment for the arts and has toured Hawai‘i, California, Arizona, New York, and Germany. Between her job at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, her halau, and productions like Kahekili, Hōkūlani Holt has found the time to be a Director of Pūnana Leo O Maui Hawaiian Language Preschool; the first Maui Site  Coordinator for Nā Pua No‘eau—that’s The Center for Gifted and Talented  Native Hawaiian Children; Culture and Education Manager for the Kaho‘olawe  Island Reserve Commission; and, on occasion, a judge at hula festivals.

 

I think competition in hula has created a phenomenon in which perhaps some, not all, but some kumu hula forget that the competition ends at the stage, and when they get off the stage, it sometimes continues. And for me, I like to always remember that we all love hula, that’s what we do. We love hula, and because of that, we have that commonality with each other. What I try to do when I judge is appreciate where that particular kumu hula is coming from. That maybe their style is not my style, but you can appreciate excellence in what they do, no matter what they do. Because this little pea brain cannot hold all the different performances that went on, so I only judge what I see on the stage at the moment, and never compare one to the next. I compare it to what is in my head as excellence, and I compare what I see on stage to what I believe is excellence in hula. There is always fallout, because you don’t go into a competition not thinking that you want to win, and you try your hardest, and you’ve practiced your hardest. And when you don’t win, it’s a great disappointment, and you want to know why. And so sometimes I remember, and sometimes I don’t

 

But people come up and say, How come?

 

Right; they do. And I say, sometimes I don’t remember, because I’m judging one performance at a time. And when that’s finished, I drop it out of my head and I look a hundred percent at the next performance that is in front of me. All I can say is, Did you do hula? Did you bring excellence to what you did? I tend to be a foot person, which means I watch the feet, because—

 

I thought you’re supposed to keep your eyes on the hands.

 

No, feet.

 

Oh, that was a composer from latter day. [CHUCKLE]

 

Feet for me, because if the feet is good, then the rest will be good, I believe. And then, there’s interpretation, there’s how they have expressed the words that they’re trying to dance. So I believe perhaps it’s because I try to be fair, and I try to always be consistent.

 

As a kumu hula, who gets to join your hālau?

 

Oh, I take anyone. I take anyone who would like to come. I don’t teach children well.

 

M-m.

 

I don’t teach children well, so I don’t have children’s classes, but I do have adults. And I take anyone who is willing to learn.

 

And what does it take to get them kicked out?

 

Don’t listen. [CHUCKLE] Don’t listen. If you don’t listen to the kumu, there’s no excuses, and out you go.

 

It’s not a democracy?

 

Not at all.

 

As I tell my early classes that come when you first come to be a new student, I tell them that I am goddess in the hālau, and if you think I’m the crazy woman, don’t come back next week, ‘cause it is my hālau. [CHUCKLE] So that’s how we approach hula.

 

And when somebody’s not very good at hula

 

M-m.

 

—but has a good heart—

 

M-hm.

 

—do they get to stay in?

 

Oh, absolutely. There’s always a place; there’s always a place. And you’re never too old to start hula. The desire must there. But just like anything else … your abilities are your abilities; it’s not the same as the next person. It is who you are. So maybe if you’re not in the advanced class, it’s okay. Because where you are is where you can flourish. So sometimes people need to remember that kumu knows best, and kumu will put you where she thinks or he thinks is the best place for you. But I believe hula is for everyone.

 

Hōkūlani Holt seems to believe that there is something of value for everyone in the Hawaiian culture, and while she cherishes and preserves Hawai‘i’s past, she also embraces Hawai‘i’s present, and is hopeful about its future. We’d like to thank Hōkūlani Holt for taking time out of her very crowded schedule to share her story with us. And we’d like to thank you for joining us on Long Story Short.

 

For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kākou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

What did you mean when you said that in hālau, you learn to appreciate little things?

 

M-hm. Little things for me from this week to next week, you have learned where to put your eyes. That’s enough. Because we have progressed from this week to next week, where to put your eyes. The little things like that are as important as where to dance your feet, and where to dance your hands. The little things.