Ali’is Take Up Arms In Waimea

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On a lazy Sunday afternoon in Kamuela, Hawaiʻi, the bracing Kīpuʻupuʻu wind of Waimea swept down from the hills. Way up high, towards the heavens, the summit of Mauna Kea stood shrouded in a heavy veil of clouds.

The Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra along with performers from Kamehameha Schools Hawai’i challenged the forces of nature by recreating rolling thunder, driving rain, battle cries and war chants within the four walls of the Kahilu Theatre. 

The Symphonic Suite from The Battle of Kuamo’o , features the pivotal battle of the post-Kamehameha the Great era which resulted in the end of the kapu system. There’s passionate love, family rivalry and a people on the brink of irreversible change, soon to be strangers in a strange land.  All the right ingredients for a good opera. 

 Before sitting with pen in hand, Herb Mahelona, Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal cellist and composer of the opera, visited the site of the battle in Kailua, Kona, in search of a hōʻailona, a sign of approval from the kūpuna of the land. Not long after he set foot on Kuamo’o, a fierce wind blew, the small voice of a woman was heard saying, “we did it for love”. 

  Mahalo ā nui to Herb Mahelona, the haumāna and the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra for bringing the pages of early post-contact Hawaiian history to life in vivid costumes of aliʻi reds and yellows, of capes, helmets, beautifully woven lauhala belts and clothing. Symphonic rhythms kept pace with the choreography of clashing warriors. In The Kapu is Broken, every musician and performer really put their naʻau into this decisive piece, it was explosive! In the final piece, The Death of Kekuaokalani and Manono,coming face to face with defeat, a young wahine collapses, wailing “make loa”. Following Hawaiian battlefield protocol, the conflict pauses, giving the young widow time to mourn over the warm corpse of her koa, her warrior.

Although a fateful tragedy is a heavy issue to revisit on a lazy Sunday afternoon, the stellar performance succeeded in stirring a full house, many tears of sadness as well as pride were shed, followed by a standing ovation.  Real “chicken skin” performance! 

A traveling cast of 25 haumāna will be re-working the show with performances across the island in preparation for a worldwide showcase this summer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest performing arts festival. Funds raised from the Hōʻike performances will help to defray travel costs for the students participating in this venture in representing Hawaiian culture and moʻolelo on an incredible stage.

Future performance dates are as follows:

April 24, during the Merrie Monarch Week at 10 am and 1 pm at the ‘Imiloa Center in Hilo. 

June 15, University of Hawai’i at Hilo Performing Arts Center, again accompanied by the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra. Showtime is tentatively scheduled for 7:00 pm and admission is tentatively free.

In August of 2016,KS Hawaiʻi brough the Hawaiian language opera “Hāʻupu” to the Fringe Festival, a first of its kind of production in the 70-plus year history of the festival. It represented a powerful milestone in showcasing Hawaiian language, dance and culture to a worldwide audience. Scotland has most definitely had its share of historic battles in its rich past, we hope they’re ready for yet another one, as the “Battle of Kuamo’o” visits Edinburgh this summer.

Written by Vanessa Lee-Miller.