KAWAIHAE — Hayden Konanui-Tucker wasn’t planning to perform hula at the 46th annual Hookuikahi Establishment Day Hawaiian Cultural Festival on Saturday.
But when the 14-year-old heard the strummed notes of “Kaulana Na Pua,” he felt it, he said, and went with it.
“When I dance, the song takes over me,” he said. “And I just go with the beat and go with the flow.”
Konanui-Tucker performed along with two songs at the festival, held Saturday at Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site.
The first song, “Kaulana Na Pua,” is about the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The second, “Holoholo Ka‘a,” is “about just driving to the beach, having fun with your friends,” Konanui-Tucker said.
And after each hula before the crowd, audience members — many of them decades his senior — clapped and cheered the teenager’s abilities.
The day’s music and performances were just one part of the cultural festival at the South Kohala site. The free event continues today from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parking is on the coral flats, south of the Kawaihae Harbor.
The annual Hookuikahi Establishment Day Hawaiian Cultural Festival celebrates the anniversary of the area’s establishment as a National Historic Site, said chief of interpretation Ben Saldua, and is an opportunity for visitors and residents to learn about and engage with Hawaii’s history and culture.
The event features a wide array of demonstrations, including kapa pounding, wood carving, nose flutes and tattoo.
Visitors can also try their hand at crafts, such as leis, lauhala bracelets and coconut baskets among others.
“We ask visitors: at least make one craft before leaving,” said Saldua. “And this is how we can help to perpetuate the culture of Hawaii.”
Engaging with those crafts and the local artisans providing the demonstrations, he said, helps people to learn the culture of Hawaii and also come away with a souvenir into which they have invested their own time and effort.
“And there’s a lot of people that make it,” Saldua said, “and they feel proud of what they have made instead of buying it.”
Seeing that, he said, lets him know what a success the festival is.
“It makes me feel good seeing people enjoy making things,” he said. “And by seeing this, I know the whole event is a success.”
Among those taking in everything the festival had to offer were Tracy Laverty and her daughter, Ireland, here on vacation from Chicago.
“We love to learn about the culture of the local places we stay, so we love to do anything and everything that’s unique and different to the places we travel,” said Tracy Laverty. “So this is like the perfect event for us, because you can do 10 different things right in one spot.”
This trip marks Tracy’s third visit to Hawaii, she said, and her daughter’s first.
Ireland Laverty said it’s important for them to connect with the local culture of places they travel, because it’s an opportunity to better understand the places they travel by learning the stories of the people who live there.
“You learn more about the people,” she said, “and why they are who they are, and why they have things like leis and what’s the history.”
And for Tracy Laverty, she said, she “can’t even imagine a world without it.”
“The richness of a life would be to experience a culture, to learn new things, to try new experiences,” she said.
And it’s not only visitors to the island who were seizing the opportunity to learn and experience as much as they could.
Helicopter pilots Beau Brown and Chris Powell said they’re big supporters of the park and come regularly to learn what they can about the culture of the area.
That knowledge they gather, Powell said, is then something that they can share with their own customers.
Brown said Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is also “a great location to experience some of the more realistic cultural events that are here on the island.”
Konanui-Tucker also noted the importance festivals like these have for local residents.
“Being at these kind of events are really good for me,” he said. “And I like it, because it just represents how we as a kanaka are bringing back the culture.”
His mother, Niki Konanui, said whenever her son wants to attend a festival like this one, she takes him.
Cultural festivals like this, she said, are particularly important for those who grew up or are growing up here.
“They’ve got to know where they’re from,” she said. “We’re from here, generations. It’s only us. There’s nobody else like us.”
Konanui-Tucker said when his grandparents were young, Hawaiian culture, including Hawaiian language, was suppressed.
And for those who live here today, he said, it’s important for others his age to learn practices like hula, preserve the culture and keep it for future generations.
“Because if we don’t help preserve it and keep just practicing it, we might come back to the time where we’re not forced to not use it, we just don’t know it.”