If you’ve ever been to the Hawaiian Islands, you may have been fortunate enough to have seen a hula performance. There are many different types of hula and hula shows across the islands, and the intention is always to share a foundational Hawaiian cultural practice with visitors. Over the years, hula has been commodified by hordes of tourists with reductionist tendencies — those who want to bring home bobblehead dolls to stick on their car dashboards — that simplify rather than sufficiently complicate the practice, as its long history rightly deserves. Originally a religious gesture to honor the gods, then later banned by Queen Ka’ahumanu as a pagan practice, hula was reclaimed in 1874 and allowed to be performed in public once again.
Wendy Tuvaioge, lovingly known as “Aunty Wendy,” is Four Seasons Resort Maui’s Director of Hawaiian Programs and a longtime haumāna (student of hula) of Hālau o Ka Hanu Lehua, a hula school led by Kumu Hula (Hula Teacher) Kamaka Kūkona.
Kumu Kamaka and 18 elite dancers practiced at the resort in preparation for the Merrie Monarch Festival, the world’s largest hula gathering and most prestigious competition. Held on Hawai’i Island every in April and referred to as “the Olympics of Hula,” Hālau o Ka Hanu Lehua is one of only 20 schools selected to compete out of hundreds nationwide. The competition was held in April 2022 after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic.
Aunty Wendy is a culture-keeper, one of a growing number of Hawaiian cultural advisors who work in hospitality to ensure that practices and events are in line with authentic Hawaiian tradition. When Aunty Wendy got the idea to open up these very high-level hula practices to guests, she knew she was taking a risk. Not only would she need to ask permission to allow this kind of access to visitors, she would also need to ensure that the audience was respectful and unobtrusive. She says, “Being a haumāna, I must get permission from my Kumu Hula to bring this part of the culture forward to guests, whether through Behind the Scenes of Hula or teaching lessons. To me, hula is as much about telling a story as it is about providing a beautiful glimpse into Hawaiian culture.”
Ultimately, she knew that exposing guests to hula practice would be an even greater educational tool than final staged performances because observers would get to see the hard work, the dedication, the grit, and the competition (which Aunty Wendy says surprises many people) that hula can involve. After deliberation and consultation, Behind the Scenes of Hula was born.
Each Thursday night at the resort, from 6-7pm, guests can witness a very talented and experienced group of students rehearse, and it’s absolutely one of the most exciting, authentic, and unusual things you can do as a visitor to Maui. You don’t need a reservation, and the experience is free of charge.