An Interview With Kumu Hula Kaha`i Topolinski

kahai.jpg In reference to the systemization and changes happening within the Okinawa performing arts, I interviewed renowned kumu hula and Hawaiian historian, Kaha`i Topolinski of Ka Pa Hula Hawai`i. Being a significant voice in the traditions of hula, and Hawaiian culture, I wanted to see how the hula was revived and passed down when Kalakaua decided to bring it back for his jubilee. To me, it is very similar to the Okinawa performing arts, because both hula and LooChoo mo-i were preserved through the courts. I was curious to see if there was any kind of sytemizing to the dance and music, like what was started by the Geijitsu Sodan of the early 1950’s.

According to Kumu Topolinski, Kalakaua summoned the hula masters of his time to revive the traditions of chant and hula for the awareness and pride of the Hawaiian people. They recalled the names of movements and steps, but did not systemize to a certain style or choreography. “This would have stiffled the flow of hula or the dance in general. At that time there was in existance, various forms, depending on location, and genre. Why would they want to systemize? There was no need to, as this added to the enjoyment. Sytemizing would have caused monotonous movements and choreography which was passed down, and also would have suffocated the existance of many styles which were created for the pupose of certain expression and ceremonies. In looking at any kind of performing arts, in the classical sense, it wold not make any sense to systemize and deliberately delete styles which had been passed down, unless for some selfish purpose.”

In discerning the Okinawa systemization, I understand that there needed to be some sort of standardization or recognition of basic movements, due to the testing which they had begun. However, in looking at the outcome, the various styles were pretty much left intact, untill recently. I remember going to watch konkuru when taking shinjinsho in ’83, and being able to recognize where the dancer came from. The other dancers in the audience also recognized the styles. Also at that time, there was no existance of Iemoto, except maybe for the recognition of Hideko Tamagusuku being the heir to the Tamagusuku ryu Gyokusen Kai , of the late Seigi Tamagusuku. I learned to appreciate the differences and actually enjoy the different styles, instead of thinking that one or the other was wrong or strange. As we move to try and stay as close to the dances and songs passed down to us, more and more questions come up, but at the same time, through research, more answers are also being revealed from the past. The realization that just because one has received the kiyoushi or shihan level, only makes it more obligatory to research deeper as Okinawa seems to be creating a new waterway that is not flowing , like the Alawai, that was overrun with the stench and pollution into its man made, unnatural path. We have become even more humbled and look too our uyafwafuji for guidance and inspiration.