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‘Ewalu Club’s 10th Annual Hō’ike: Spreading Polynesian Culture from an Ocean Away

May 3, 2023

By: Zion David-Ravey

Originally written as a class project

Photo Courtesy of Reyn Kaneshiro and Malia Masei

This year, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ (UNLV) Polynesian club, better known as ‘Ewalu Club showcased its 10th annual hō’ike (performance) at the UNLV Student Union Ballroom on Saturday, April 8.

In 2021, UNLV was named one of the most diverse universities in the nation. Being the only Polynesian club on campus, ‘Ewalu Club proves this as their showcase includes dances from different Polynesian cultures, including Hawaiian, Tahitian, and Samoan.

But who or what exactly is ‘Ewalu Club?

Shaylee Hanakahi, Samoan section leader and dancer explains that “Ewalu club is a non-profit, student-led organization that allows pacific islander students to come together to spread the love and culture from the Pacific islands to here at UNLV.”

Hanakahi also expresses that being from Hawai’i, she considers ‘Ewalu Club as her second home or “home away from home.”

The on-campus club holds its yearly hō’ike for students, staff, family, friends, and the general public to attend. This event is often described as an opportunity for club members to present what they’ve learned during the past year. Each aspect of hō’ike from the food to the dances to the decorations to fundraising for the event and months of practice is led by the efforts and dedication of their club members.

“Members within the club put time and dedication into turning our day-to-day practices into a beautiful performance to share our cultures,” Hanakahi explains.

The days leading up to hō’ike were extremely hectic as practices lasted hours filled with costume changes, full run-through rehearsals, and creating their costumes from fresh greenery until 2 a.m. some nights.

Jonathan Sivalop, a dancer from this year’s Hula section who is also from Hawai’i mentions that he didn’t dance in last year’s hō’ike, but after watching it, he knew he wanted to participate this year.

“I wanted to learn the dances and the cultural ties it has. I also thought it'd be really fun and I had never done hula before so I wanted to give it a try.”

Sivalop explains that he’s made countless memories throughout the year, and he can’t wait for this upcoming year as he’s looking forward to making more.

The positive experiences that came with hō’ike have not only touched the dancers and club members but the audience as well. The Student Union ballroom was filled with approximately 400 attendees who came to show their support for the event.

Kiana Lulu, hō’ike attendee says that she decided to attend because she wanted to support her friends from back home in Hawai’i.

“Every dance impacted me as I often feel nostalgic and happy when I’m around vibes of Polynesia. I felt so homey while watching my culture being shared in a different setting outside of our triangle.”

While it’s important to branch out after high school to find one’s place, it is also as equally important to have a sense of belonging. According to one of North Carolina State University’s faculty members, DeLeon Gray, Ph.D., explains that “A sense of belonging at school means feeling a sense of acceptance, respect, inclusion and support in a learning environment.” It is explained in this article that a sense of belonging could lead students to be more inclined to be in the school environment.

Feeling inspired from this past hō’ike, Lulu has strong plans to rejoin the club and be, “a lot more in the mix.” She explains that she’s also running for a position on the board and engaging with the community even more. She feels it’s important to share the meaning of everything we do. With past experiences and a strong background in Polynesian cultures and values, Lulu no longer wants to watch from the crowd, but to become immersed in the culture that the ‘Ewalu club encompasses.

Despite being a club that focuses primarily on cultures from Polynesia, there are a handful of club members that aren’t Polynesian who enjoy being part of the group as it is described as such a welcoming environment.

As one of the section leaders, Hanakahi says, “I wouldn’t turn them away from dancing because as a club we wanted to spread the culture and aloha at UNLV, so turning someone away who isn’t Polynesian who wanted to dance defeated the purpose of what we want as a club.”

To be able to spread one’s culture, it needs to be spread not only to its people but to people outside of that culture. Hanakahi expresses that no matter one’s background, the only thing that needs to truly be present is one’s respect. It can be described as when we go to one’s house. It’s important to be respectful of the place that we’re in and to maintain an open mind.

Lulu also explains that “When it comes to those who lack a Polynesian background, I feel that it’s nice to have people learn our ways, our beliefs, and our culture but it also means that they need should be mindful of how they treat it. The same thing applies to every other culture in the world.”

Sivalop could be perceived as the epitome of this example. For dancing for the first time ever, he says that he really enjoyed dancing hula, “and learning more about its cultural ties.” He isn’t of Polynesian descent, but he recommends dancing and learning about the culture to others if they want to understand the significance and meaning of each dance as well as where they originated from.

This year’s hō’ike could mean something different to each dancer and each attendee, but one thing remains: On that Saturday, the ballroom was filled with Polynesian customs and traditions that have been passed down from past generations. An event that signified a piece of “home” in a small corner of the world.

‘Ewalu Club’s hō’ike was filled with aloha. It is the kind of aloha and love that can truly be described as infectious – it touches anyone and everyone no matter what walk of life they come from.

The UNLV-based club will continue next year and for students who are interested in joining, contacting their club on Instagram will be the best way to get started.

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