Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation's Kirsha Durante (Left) and Devin Kamealoha Forrest (Right)

Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation's Kirsha Durante (Left) and Devin Kamealoha Forrest (Right)

Every spring, the week-long Merrie Monarch Festival celebrates King David Kalākaua and his legacy of reinstating the public practice of hula after it had been outlawed in the 1830s. In honor of this year’s 61st Merrie Monarch Festival, we are using this month’s column to provide general information about the Huamakahikina Declaration on the Integrity, Stewardship, & Protection of Hula.

What is Huamakahikina?

Huamakahikina is a coalition of Kumu Hula from Hawaiʻi, the continental United States, and various countries around the world and recognizes that Kumu Hula have a unique kuleana to the integrity, stewardship, and protection of hula. All Kumu Hula are welcome to join and collaborate with other members of Huamakahikina in order to advocate on behalf of Kumu Hula and the practice of hula.

What is the Huamakahikina Declaration?

Between August 21-22, 2021, 160 Kumu Hula attended the Kupukalālā Kumu Hula Convention to discuss and ratify what would later be called the Huamakahina Declaration. The core group of Kumu Hula that facilitated the convention were assisted by lawyers and law students who themselves are also practitioners of hula. “This was a monumental and historic undertaking in which cultural practice and tradition were synthesized and considered not only from its foremost practitioners themselves, but from a legal perspective as well,” said Uʻilani Tanigawa Lum, hula practitioner and assistant professor of law at the University of Hawaiʻi William S. Richardson School of Law. “The Declaration is a proactive step in addressing the ways in which our cultural practices are protected and operate in the 21st century.” The convention employed a practitioner-led process resulting in a Declaration that is not a mere melding of Native Hawaiian tradition with western law, but rather an expression of Native Hawaiian tradition in a language cognizable to Western Law.

The Declaration notes several concerns including: the misrepresentation, cultural misappropriation, exploitation, and abuse of hula; the widespread ignorance and misunderstanding about the practice and performance of hula as a Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practice; the insufficient protection for hula, including the infringement of intellectual property rights to which kumu hula are entitled; the lack of recognition of traditional and cultural expertise of kumu hula; and the lack of access and resources as barriers to engaging in the study and practice of hula. Ultimately, the Declaration issues a call to action to address these concerns and to protect and advance the practice of hula.

Is the Huamakahikina Declaration a law that I can reference?

The Huamakahikina Declaration has not been codified as state or federal law. However, it is a powerful tool that practitioners can use to advocate for the protection of hula, and if used in legal advocacy, it could influence courts when making determinations of fact and law related to hula. Instruments like the Huamakahikina Declaration provide the world with a better understanding of what traditional knowledge is, why it is important, and how one should interact with it appropriately.

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This article was originally published in the April 1, 2024, edition of Ka Wai Ola. NHLC partners with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to publish an article in Ka Wai Ola each month that responds to community questions. You can access this article on the Ka Wai Ola website here.

Ask NHLC provides general information about the law. Ask NHLC is not legal advice. You can contact NHLC about your legal needs by calling NHLC’s offices at 808-521-2302.

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