Jasmin Iolani Hakes’s novel Hula is a brilliant debut, a coming-of-age story immersed in a Hawaiʻi most people have never experienced.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“[An] immersive and astute debut…a deeply affecting story of mothers and daughters and what makes a family.”
Hula is a form of storytelling and was used to preserve Hawaiian history, people, and mythology. Chants and songs were epic poems brought to life with the musicality of the natural world.
Some of my earliest memories are dancing to old records with my dad, balancing on his feet as the melody blended with the Hilo rains pattering down on our thin roof and the waves crashing against the rocky bayfront a few yards away. Whenever I return home it’s the radio that welcomes me first – jawaiian, slack key, the voices of Gabby Pahinui, Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, Kealii Reichel, Hapa and so many others – making me feel like I’ve hardly been gone a day.
If there has ever been a place that should come with its own soundtrack, it’s my hometown of Hilo, Hawaiʻi, where Hula is set. Hilo and Keaukaha are beloved, special places with many songs dedicated to them, as well as Hawaiʻi as a whole – past, present, and future. In order to capture that musicality, I relied on cadence to guide the words.
Music is imbedded deep into our culture and everyday life. In Hilo, it’s unthinkable to throw a party without live music, but no special occasion is required. At any given moment be prepared for someone to whip out a ukulele as if from thin air. A strum or two, a clearing of the throat, and that’s all it takes. A bystander picks up the chorus. Others join in, harmonizing with a skill level so advanced it’s as if they’d been training for years. In some ways, they have. Music lives within our bodies. It’s part of our pulse, our laughter, our sadness, our fabric.
- All Hawaiʻi Stand Together by Liko Martin
- This song is so integral, I had to employ Hilo’s coconut wireless to track down Liko Martin and ask his permission to use it in Hula. It’s lyrics capture the pride and love , but also the fierce determination and fighting spirit I cannot listen to it without crying.
- Keaukaha by Nā Palapalai
- Keaukaha is a section of Hilo known for its beaches and community, and where the Naupaka family saga unfolds.
- Kamalani o Keaukaha by Brothers Cazimero
- Another beautiful mele about Keaukaha, because there can never be too many! When Laka returns to Keaukaha from Maui and starts to be pulled back into her community by dancing a hula in the grass field of Puhi Bay, it’s this song I imagine she’s dancing to.
- Na Pana Kaulana O Keaukaha by Aunty Edith Kanakaʻole
- Aunty Edith was a legendary composer, chanter, dancer, and champion for the preservation of Native Hawaiian culture and arts. In addition to her community leadership and advocacy, she founded Hālau o Kekuhi, the traditional and beloved hula school where I took my first hula lesson from one of her daughters and later studied under her granddaughter, who taught me so much more than hula.
- Hilo Song by Kaumakaiwa Kanakaʻole
- A fun, contemporary, guttural, a rollercoaster ride of a song performed as only Kaumakaiwa (who happens to by Aunty Edith’s great-grandchild) can.
- Native Anthem by Mixjah
- Local Hilo boys doing their thing. I consider them all family, and can’t imagine Hilo’s current music scene without them.
- Kaleohana by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole
- No playlist is complete without Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. Back in the day, Hilo used to host an annual slack key festival. It was free and the lineup felt more like an informal jam session than a concert. Locals brought coolers full of drinks and snacks so there’d be no excuse to leave before it was over. Whenever it was time for Braddah Iz to get on stage, the room filled with a potent mixture of love and pride that is as Hilo as it gets.
- Piʻi Mai Ka Nalu by Robi Kahakalau
- When I was in high school she was known as Sistah Robi. This song features Bu Laʻia, a Hawaiian comedian (who also infamously ran for governor in 1994) who adds a hearty helping of pidgin and local flavor.
- Night Marchers by Sudden Rush
- One of the biggest turning points in the book happens in Waipiʻo Valley, where Hiʻi warns Jane about night marchers.
- Fish & Poi by Sean Naʻauao
- FOOD – a celebration of the local flavors and foods that any island kid who moves away whose mere mention conjurs up a homesick hunger that only a trip home can satisfy
- Hawaiʻi ’78 by Mana Maoli
- A reimangined(rendition?) of a song originally composed more than forty years before, a poignant song that wonders what Queen Liliuʻokalani might think of Hawaiʻi today. Yet another example of how
- Chant of the Islands by Fiji
- Chants can tell a story, retell a historical event, and be a form of prayer. For Hulali, they can be a call to arms.
- Hawaiian Lands by Bruddah Waltah
- In Hula, the struggles and challenges of the Naupaka women mirror the history unfolding throughout the Hawaiian Kingdom, the occupied territory that followed, and the US state it eventually became. Land was, and remains, at the center of the struggle.
- Lei Pikake by Hapa
- Itʻs a challenge to pick just one song from Hapa, but pikake is the Hawaiian word for the jasmine flower, so that helped. There was only one uncle who ever called me Pikake – Iolani being the default – but I will forever think of it as “my” flower. This song is hauntingly beautiful and makes me want to get up and dance hula.
- Kanaka Wai Wai by Olomana
- One of my favorite versions of an old Hawaiian classic. A song of dedication, worship, appreciation, and love.
- Hilo Rain by Kapena
- Whenever my ears catch the first chords of this song, my heart skips. Everything in Hilo begins and ends with rain.
Jasmin Iolani Hakes was born and raised in Hilo, Hawai’i. Her essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee. She is the recipient of the Best Fiction award from the Southern California Writers Conference, a Squaw Valley LoJo Foundation Scholarship, a Writing by Writers Emerging Voices fellowship, and a Hedgebrook residency. Dance has always been central to Jasmin’s life and creativity. She took her first hula class when she was four years old and danced for the esteemed Halau o Kekuhi and the Tahitian troupe Hei Tiare. She worked throughout college as a professional luau dancer. She lives in California.