Hula Recollections of George Holokai


George Ainsley Kananiokeakua Holokai's illustrious career as hula dancer, chanter, drummer, musician, scholar, teacher, lecturer, hula judge and visionary has spanned more than 5 decades. A graduate of Hawaiian Mission Academy, he taught hula for the Honolulu City & County, Department of Parks and Recreation from 1966-1985. Presently retired, he is one of the most sought after experts on hula kahiko. This interview was given January 24, 2001.

I was born in Honolulu July 2, 1930, and lived at Circle Lane, near the Queen's Hospital. When I was 12 years old, one of my neighbors, a young hula dancer, needed a hula partner and picked me. I declined, she was persistent and finally, 3 years later, convinced me to dance the hula. This was the beginning of my humble career as one of the foremost exponents of hula.

I started lessons with Tom Hiona, hula master, in the kane (male class) at his hula studio on South Beretania street, site of the old Club Pago Pago, next door to the present Japanese JCC building. In those days, Hiona was the only teacher of kane and wahine dancers. We learned olapa and auana but concentrated mostly on pahu hula, Hiona's specialty. One day there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and a very elegant Hawaiian lady, inquired "who is the manager?". I called my mother Alice, and we chatted with Lillian Makaena. Mrs. Makaena was on a quest to find a suitable haumana to teach and to pass on her tradition of hula. Her knowledge was vast, her legacy on the verge of being lost, and her time on earth, short. She had seen a young man dancing the hula in a dream and was instructed to seek him out, for he was the chosen one. She attended many hula festivals and shows trying to find this dancer. One night, Dan, her musician husband, invited her to dinner at Don the Beachcombers, in Waikiki. He too, had been given a vision of a young man dancing the hula. As they watched the show, they recognized me and realized their journey was over. I protested, explaining that I was only a student of Tom Hiona, very young and not capable of the honor. Mrs. Makaena agreed to share her knowledge with Tom Hiona and his dancers, until I was ready. Among the many dances we learned from Mrs. Makaena were:

Kanaka O Ke Kai, The Head Fisherman
No Pu Talala`a , The Sheep Dance, a 3-part hula
Pa Kelokelo - A clapping dance
He Ma`i Nou Lunalilo I Ke Kapu - Ma`i Hula for Lunalilo

Very early one morning, when I was 22 or 23 years old, I received a telephone call from my hula teacher, Tom Hiona, instructing me, my mother and Robert Kuala to meet him in the studio at 4:00 A.M. It was time for my uniki, time for Tom to pono me, and time for me to receive my commission to teach . It was a very simple ceremony; prayers, placing of the commission, more prayers and my kumu chanting until the sun rose. I was stunned when Hiona announced he was exhausted from teaching and performing, going into semi-retirement and bequeathed the studio to me. I was apprehensive and nervous, but Tom promised me he would take all of the kapus with him and I would never see him again. True to his word, I never saw him again.

Placed in the hands of Lillian Makaena, who became my surrogate mother, I came to depend entirely on her. When I was 25, she decided it was time for my uniki. My father and hanai brother selected a black pig, killed it by suffocation (no blood could be spilled) and prepared it for the imu in our backyard. The ceremony began at twilight with chanting and prayers by Mrs. Makena and my immediate family in attendance. More chanting, more prayers and finally the meal was ready about 8:00 P.M. Served was the black kalua pig, black chicken, eggs, moi and tea from the koko`olau plant. I was expected to eat the brains and eyes of the pig, but could not, so I compromised by eating the head of the moi. More chanting, more prayers and the uniki ended. The leftover food was put in a puolo and taken by Mrs. Makaena to the sea. There it was placed in the ocean current that flows back to Kahiki.

I was warmly received in the hula community, always welcomed and respected even though I was the youngest kumu at that time. I attribute this to the excellent instruction, foundation, and knowledge given me by my two hula teachers, Tom Hiona and Lillian Makaena. Hula has not only given me a good life but has enriched it. It has allowed me to travel and broaden my horizons, given me new and enduring friends, provided me with a job, but most of all, it has been fun. Mahalo to my teachers, my contemporaries, my students and most of all, to my family.