By Bill Mossman, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsJune 20, 2009
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The instructions from the hula instructor came at a fast and furious pace, leaving several dozen fresh-faced students desperately trying to keep to the beat of the bottle-shaped gourd during a hula workshop, here, June 10.
For these hula hopefuls, it wasn't their occasional two left feet or surfboard stiff hips that posed problems - it was their ears, which needed to be retrained to respond to commands in the unfamiliar tongue of Hawaiian.
"Maikai wale no!" said the teacher, kumu hula Wayne Kahoonei Panoke, praising the dance movements of his newest pupils, who remained low in their "haa" stance.
Eventually, the teacher issued a command that all could readily understand.
"And company, halt!" ordered Panoke as he rapped out the final beat on an ipu, the Hawaiian drum.
The students - made up of military families between the ages of 5 and 75 - dropped their arms, stood up straight and laughed.
"You know that one, huh'" quipped Panoke.
Following the hula and language lessons, many of the students confirmed that they felt culturally fulfilled by the 90-minute-long workshop, at Sgt. Yano Library, here. The cultural workshop, presented by the Office of the Native Hawaiian Liaison, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii (USAG-HI), is one of several scheduled to introduce Soldiers and families to various aspects of Native Hawaiian life.
"Anybody can learn to hula," promised Panoke, an accomplished kumu hula and Hawaiian cultural expert recruited to lead the hula workshop. "It's a universal language."
One student, Maria Galbo, found particular enjoyment in learning "The Hawaiian Alphabet Song," which required students to not only perform specific hand movements, but also learn to correctly pronounce the vowel sounds.
"The letter song was a little fast," admitted Galbo, spouse of Spc. Arpad Galbo, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, "but I still liked it."
Another student, Jean-Paul Jean, took his granddaughters - Sorenna Jean, 6, and Thorin Jean, 8 - to the workshop because he wanted to make sure they learned what made Hawaii unique. He recalled talking to a Soldier and his family stationed in Japan and being amazed that they had never once ventured off post during their three-year tour.
"I thought, what a waste. I mean, why would you want to stay in your little cubby hole and not get out and learn what Japan is all about'" asked Jean, whose son, Lt. Col. Robert Jean, deputy commander, Military Transition Team, 25th Infantry Division, is currently deployed.
The hula workshop, he added, is just the type of activity local military families need to learn more about Hawaii.
"This is the kind of thing I love," Jean said.
Annelle Amaral, USAG-HI's Native Hawaiian liaison, hoped to elicit responses like those from Jean when she began the cultural workshops, last month, with a lei-making demonstration. Her hope in staging the hula workshop, she explained, was for class participants to gain a better understanding of some of the myths surrounding the ancient Hawaiian dance, and to also learn to appreciate its beauty.
"My job is to familiarize the Soldiers and their families with Hawaiian culture and values," Amaral said, "and also help those of the Hawaiian community understand the culture and values of those within the Army community.
"If we can learn to hear one another and shut out all the noise," she continued, "then we might learn to appreciate each other's similarities and differences."
Amaral added that she expects to partner with the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation for the next set of cultural presentations, which will be scheduled on the last Friday of each month, beginning in July, at the Nehelani.