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The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance and Kennedy Theatre continue to celebrate the expansion of hana keaka (Hawaiian theatre), which are plays performed primarily in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language). The Hawaiian storytelling genre is flourishing rapidly and inspired UH Mānoa graduate student Ākea Kahikina, a Hawaiian theatre MFA candidate, to write and direct a comedic hana keaka, Hoʻoilina, which will close out the 2021–22 mainstage season.

“Things are happening…I’m glad to be a part of this movement that is growing exponentially and creating more new works on a grand scale,” said Kahikina, who teaches ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi courses at UH Mānoa. “I couldn’t be more thankful to be doing this at this level.”

Person holding a child
A portrait of Mrs. Ellis (the late matriarch in Hoʻoilina) and her mysterious moʻopuna, Lili-lei (Artwork by Māhūcha)

Hoʻoilina, which means legacy or inheritance, is set in pre-pandemic Hawaiʻi upon the luxurious slopes of Lēʻahi and hones in on a Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) family anxiously poised for a will reading that will determine the fate of a huge inheritance from their beloved matriarch. Just as the will is about to be read, a quirky stranger appears at the door, claiming her right to the hefty endowment. As chaos ensues, family secrets are revealed, causing them to question their own relationships, identity and future as Kānaka, while being insidiously constricted by the pressures of capitalism and cultural loss. The characters explore real-time issues such as what it takes to be considered Hawaiian.

Spotlighting ʻōlelo māhū

Most of the play is performed in Hawaiian, however audiences will also hear performers speak in a multitude of languages such as Pidgin, English and what Kahikina dubs ʻōlelo māhū (Queer creole). His concept of the māhū dialect is one that he claims is a descendant of ʻōlelo kake, a long-standing traditional form of garbling language to conceal information. Today, ʻōlelo māhū incorporates Pig Latin and is delivered in a style similar to the cadence of Pidgin.

“Putting that language in there is a way to honor my queer community, my māhū brothers and sisters that I’ve learned from,” Kahikina explained. “My partner, Kaʻiminaʻauao Cambern, he’s taught me everything that I put into the script.”

Ticket prices for limited live audiences range $5–$25 for the production set to premiere April 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and April 24 at 2 p.m. Helping Kahikina bring the production to life are award-winning UH alumnus Jonah Bobilin (lighting design), Rick Greaver (sound design), Kara Nabarrete (scenic design, MFA candidate), Kaneikoliakawahineikaʻiukapuomua Baker (costume design, incoming MFA student), Iāsona Kaper (Assistant Director, MFA candidate), Kaipulaumakaniolono (dramaturge, MFA candidate) and UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre program founder Kumu Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker.

In 2014, Baker established Hawaiian Theatre at UH Mānoa. Lāʻieikawai, an inaugural hana keaka production she wrote and directed, played to sold out audiences on the Kennedy Theatre mainstage in 2014 before touring to Hawaiʻi Island, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi and Aotearoa (New Zealand). In 2019, Kennedy Theatre premiered Baker’s production ʻAuʻa ʻIa: Holding On. It was remounted by invitation off-Broadway in New York City in January 2020.

For more information about the show, visit the department’s website.

Two people reacting to a third person taking a selfie
From left: Makiʻilei Ishihara, Joshua “Baba” Kamoaniʻala Tavares and Lily Hiʻilani Kim-Dela Cruz (Photo credit: Christine Lamborn)

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning (PDF) and Enhancing Student Success (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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