Stirring the Earth and the Ancestors

On the morning of Kumu Kawika Alfiche’s hula workshop in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico last April, the normally blazing hot weather had cooled to slightly humid and the sky was overcast – just like Hawaiʻi. The weather set the scene for a powerful cross-cultural experience between Kawika and the local Mexican and Mayan communities.

“What is a kumu hula doing in Mexico?” you may ask. As Kawika will tell you, the hula scene has been buzzing in Mexico for years. He has been traveling to the country for sixteen years now – first to study with his teacher, the late Kumu Rae Fonseca, and now to teach as his kumu did before him. “They’re drawn to the [hula] spirit down there,” he says.

But it’s not just hula that ties Kawika to Mexico. A few years back, he learned from his elder that one of his ancestors was from there. More ties that bind.

Hula, more than just dance

The practice of hula is a deeply spiritual one for Kumu Kawika. “When you hula, it’s more than entertainment, it’s more than dance, it’s more than movement. What you are doing is stirring the earth,” he says.

Kawika’s time in Mérida was full of earth-stirring, out-of-the-ordinary moments. When he addressed his students on the morning of the workshop, three bolts of lighting struck as he talked about the far-reaching spirit of hula. Later, the wind picked up as he paid respect to his hula lineage, which includes founder of the Merrie Monarch Festival Uncle George Nāʻope. (Ever since he was young, the wind has held a strong significance for Kawika and his connection to his ancestry.) More earth stirs ensued: It rained when they sang about the rain, the birds chimed in when they sang about birds, and plants native to Hawaiʻi were present all around the workshop site.

Kawika saw these as signs from their ancestors that the coming together of these communities was not a coincidence – that it was right.

During his time in Mérida, Kawika had a deep interest in paying respect to the land and the indigenous community that was native to it. He would have been happy with a chat over coffee, as he explains in the clip below, but what he got “was so much more than that.”

The evening of the workshop, Kawika and his students held a hōʻike for the local community. One of students arranged for Yax Kin, a local Mayan healer – or kahuna, as Hawaiians would call him – to participate in a ceremony with Kawika and two members of his South San Francisco hālau who had traveled with him to Mérida.

Calling to the wind

The Mayan kahuna spent a half hour bestowing blessings upon Kawika and his hālau students through a ritual including salt water, salt, smoke, and herbs. Unaware that they had prepared an offering in return, Yax Kin promptly began to pack up his things after finishing the ceremony. He had been accustomed to receiving payment for his services, not gifts or other blessings.

But for Kawika it was important to give back. He and his hālau students presented Yax Kin with a traditional handmade Hawaiian quilt and sang for him a song about the wind Kaululehua, which they call “our piko…the wind that ties us to home.” As they got to the part of the song that calls to Kaululehua, a huge gust of wind blew through the square, blowing from behind them and straight into Yax Kin. “People were holding their hats,” Kawika recalls.

Welcoming and embracing the wind, the kahuna threw his arms up into the air as it enveloped him and caused his clothes to billow out around him. It was a moment that stirred the earth, and the ancestors. Both Yax Kin and Kawika recognized the power of their exchange, and the fact that they need to do more to bring their ancestors’ connection together in the future. “We have more work to do,” Yax Kin told Kawika.

Kumu Kawika already has plans to go back later this year.

“I feel really connected to Mexico…I feel at home there,” he says.

kumu – teacher.
kahuna – healer; spiritual leader.
hōʻike – show.
hālau – school.
piko – the Hawaiian place for being centered.

More information on Kawika’s hālau –
More information on other Festival performers this weekend –

6 Replies to “Stirring the Earth and the Ancestors”

  1. Kumu, What a lovely powerful experience wish I was there with you to have felt it right there in person. Thanks for sharing Stirring the Earth & the Ancestor.

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