You Think Surfing A Wave Is Tough, How About A Lava Field?

I wanted to give a little love and attention to the efforts of artists in Hawaii. As many readers know, I ran a theater in Hawaii for about nine years, presenting and producing a number of works by Hawaiian & Pacific Rim artists and cultural practitioners.

First, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa production of a Hawaiian language play has been chosen to perform at New York Theater Workshop’s Reflection of Native Voices festival in January. If you are going to be in NYC at the APAP conference next month, swing by.

I saw it as a tribute to the success of efforts to revitalize Hawaiian as a spoken language that there is a video of cast members and director doing interviews about the show entirely in the language. In fact, I saw an article by a gentleman working on revitalizing the Welsh language discussing what he learned about similar efforts in Hawaii when he was asked to speak on the subject at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

Along the same lines, there was a piece in Honolulu Magazine last month about four different people trying to keep Hawaiian cultural practices from being lost.

One person has researched Hawaii’s only indigenous stringed instrument in an attempt to revitalize it. (Despite the fact there are only three trees which produce wood from which the instruments are made left in Hawaii.) Another is trying to preserve lua, the Hawaiian martial art. A third is trying to preserve hula ki‘i, an ancient style of hula that uses puppets and imagery.

The fourth person, I actually had some interaction with. Tom “Pōhaku” Stone has been working to preserve papa hōlua which is basically land sledding. We borrowed one of his sleds for a production I produced. The thing is narrower than your leg and like 15-20 feet long. People would ride it down lava fields, though there were also apparently groomed slides of other types of rocks.

If you think that sounds dangerous and crazy, you are right. If you read the article Stone talks about a wipe out that opened up one side of his face, resulting in some nerve damage.

But each of these people has spent decades researching and constructing objects based on scant reference in an attempt to preserve cultural practices which were discouraged or even forbidden. There is a lot of perseverance and reverence that preceded the reckless skull cracking. (And granted, most of what these artists practice is not as dangerous.)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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