Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole comes from a long line of hula practitioners and says her family has performed for the Dalai Lama and at the inaugurations of three presidents.

Thursday morning, she visited East High to share with students what hula means to her.

"Hula is meant to remind you that we're a part of the world around us, not separate from it," she said. 

The movements of hula mimic those in nature. Things like trees swaying in the wind, or waves in the ocean are represented by moving body parts. Hula also portrays emotion or feeling, pairing with song or chant to relay a complex message. 

For centuries, Kanaka'ole says, her family has kept the hula tradition alive, passing it from one generation to the next, teaching dances that have been practiced since the Polynesian people first settled the island chain.

"[Hula is] not only how we survived, but how we thrived in the 1,500 years that we've occupied Hawaii," she said. 

When missionaries started inhabiting the islands, they banned hula because they believed it to be immoral.

"Western education would not validate [hula] because indigenous knowledge was chocked up to folklore and village talk," said Kanaka'ole. 

Hula is more than a dance, Kanaka'ole says, but is a way of life that was once almost lost, and is now practiced in more than 124 countries around the world. 

Kanaka'ole performs Friday night at the Discovery Theater at 7:30 p.m. She says her shows are filled with song, dance and storytelling as she shares her native tradition.

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