Kau‘i Kanaka‘ole belongs to the illustrious Native Hawaiian Kanaka‘ole family, whose expertise in hula and oli are transmitted through matrilineal succession. Founded on the vibrant traditions and rich cultural heritage of her family, the Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation is a cultural-based organization established by the offspring of the late Luka and Edith Kanaka‘ole to heighten indigenous Hawaiian cultural awareness, knowledge and participation through its educational programs and scholarships. Kau‘i is an ‘Ōlapa, or expert dancer in the Hālau o Kekuhi, a Native Hawaiian dance company. She is an instructor of hula and a masterful presenter of the oli, traditional Hawaiian chants composed to record important genealogical information, like births, deaths, triumphs, losses, good times and bad.
“Hula carries forward the ancient stories, traditions and dances of our ancestors,” Kau‘i says. “It is the kaula, or strong tie, that binds us to the past, present and future. As such, hula is foundational to our identity and dignity as a people.” Over the years, she has shared what she has learned of integrating traditional arts into contemporary curriculum, presenting at multiple workshops in recent years. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and a teaching certificate from the University of Hawai‘i. She teaches Native Hawaiian arts and English in Hāna, Maui and has been awarded a sponsorship by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to write a book on choreographic theories and the practices of kumu hula Nālani Kanaka’ole.
She is Executive Director of Ala Kukui, a community-based non-profit utilizing its retreat property and facilities to create place-based programming opportunities that inspire community, ignite potential and empower the human condition within the Hāna community and beyond.
Since its inception in 1963, Kau’i and her family have performed the renowned Hālau o Kekuhi dance for the opening ceremony of Merrie Monarch Festival, which gathers the best hula dancers from all the islands, showcasing Hawaiian intelligence, artistry, and creating a performance to serve as a rite, a celebration, a statement about Hawai’I, its people and regenerative life ways.