VIENNA, Va. – For mainland American tourists visiting Hawaii, the highlight of their trip is typically the luau and performances by hula dancers. For Navy FCU’s Johnna Kamada Cooper, hula is more than just a performance – it’s her connection to her culture and family. Born in Japan, Cooper – an Army brat – grew up on the Big Island and it was there that she learned hula from her family. She took those skills with her when her family moved to the mainland when she was seven. “Ancient Hawaiians didn’t have a written language. Their culture was contained in their chants which were Hawaiians’ oral history. The hula is a way to honor those chants,” explains Cooper, manager of correspondence for Navy. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that Washington, D.C. has a very active Polynesian and Hawaiian community that includes 12 different hula schools that get together on a regular basis and outrigger canoe teams that work out and compete on the Potomac River and Kent Island, Maryland. There is also a Hawaiian band that performs frequently at the Smithsonian Institute. Cooper belongs to several hula groups and she’ll be joining one of them when they travel to the People’s Republic of China in September on an invitation they accepted to perform there at an international music festival. When it comes to hula dancing, there’s more than meets the eye of the typical American tourist. There are actually two types of hulas – “kahiko” is the old style hula that’s performed with traditional Hawaiian instruments such as gourds, bamboo sticks, wooden drums and stones. The dance is performed to chants that have been passed down for hundred of years. The more modern hula that tourists are familiar with is “auana.” These are accompanied by regular modern musical instruments such as guitars and ukuleles and tend to be performed to songs about love between people or for the land. When performing hula, Cooper says she’s not only connecting with her culture but sharing it with viewers. “The main thing I hope people take away with them is Hawaiians’ `aloha spirit’, the generosity of the spirit is who Hawaiians are. There are no words in Hawaiian for ownership or stealing. Their attitude is what’s mine is yours, and that’s such a basic part of their culture there aren’t words to describe it although there is an English version of the word in their vocabulary now. It’s amazing to me how after so many years that’s still a part of the Hawaiian culture.” -

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