Skip to content
Reading time: 3 minutes

Native Hawaiian traditions such as haʻi moʻolelo (storytelling), mele (song), oli (chant), pule (incantations) and hula have been a part of Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) since time immemorial. These performance forms are the foundation of hana keaka, which are plays primarily performed in the Hawaiian language. It is a flourishing genre of the performing arts, nestled in the naʻau (gut) of the nationally recognized University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre Program in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Display of Hawaiian instruments, clothing and photos of stage productions
The exhibit shares a historical account of the practice of hana keaka by Kānaka Maoli that paved the way for the establishment of the Hawaiian theatre program
Photo and newspaper annoucement
An archive photo of a 19th century production performed in an opera house that once stood across the street from ʻIolani Palace

A new exhibit, Hana Keaka: The Art of Hawaiian Theatre at UH Mānoa, focuses on the revitalization of Hawaiian language and culture, particularly in the realm of theatre. Displayed in this exhibition are the origins, development and practices of hana keaka.

It also features some of the first documented descriptions of theatrical performances tracing back to the 19th century, preserved in Hawaiian language newspapers. Hosted by the East-West Center (EWC) Arts Program, the free exhibit in the EWC Gallery is open to the public through January 8, 2023 on weekdays, 8 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sunday, noon–4 p.m.

“I think that this is an amazing opportunity for us to showcase the work and the growth of the Hawaiian theatre program, and then being able to have open access for anyone in the public to come through and learn that story and also learn the history of the practice of hana keaka,” said Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker, associate professor and founder of the UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre Program.

Professor explaining
Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker

The exhibit features costumes, instruments, hula kiʻi (puppets), scenic design models, props and production photographs illustrating the growth and success of the award-winning program.

Baker launched the Hawaiian Theatre Program at UH Mānoa in the Department of Theatre and Dance in 2014 and made history in January 2020 with the national debut of Hawaiian language production, ʻAuʻa ʻIa: Holding On in New York as a featured opening performance at an off-Broadway festival. The invite marked the first time a UH Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance production had ever been selected to perform in the Big Apple.

“Hana keaka is a vessel. A carrier of culture and language and in practicing hana keaka, we honor all that we are, all that our kūpuna were,” Baker said.

The exhibition centers on five original UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre productions that have been developed and staged since 2015.

Special events

Admission is free in the EWC Gallery, and no reservations are required. In conjunction with this exhibition, new works-in-progress will be presented by current UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre haumāna (students).

  • Sunday, December 18—Script reading of Tamoree, written by Kaʻōnohiokalāeʻālohilohinei “Kalā” Müller, 2–3 p.m. followed by a tour of the exhibition offered in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.
  • Sunday, January 8—Panel: “Reflections on the UHM Hawaiian Theatre Program” with current and past UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre haumāna, 2—3 p.m.

Costumes of 19th century royalty

Back To Top