Carolyn Morinishi
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

As June (Fernandes) Muñoz gently lifted her paranku from the table, the old instrument brought forth many memories from years past. “Here is my old paranku and the bag that my sensei Aunty Betty (Doi) brought from O‘ahu. The stick is guava wood … it’s so smooth and feels so good in my hands! The paranku classes I took at Hui Alu really helped me connect to my culture.” Muñoz demonstrated a few steps with the Okinawan hand-held drum as she spoke excitedly about her memories of the classes and of Hui Alu.

Old paranku belonging to June Muñoz.

Hui Alu, 1947-1970s

“A second family” is how some Kaua‘i Uchinanchu (people of Okinawan ancestry) described their Hui Alu Okinawan club. From its humble beginnings in 1947 – formed with only eight member families under the leadership of founding president Donald S. Nago – it grew to be the center of social and cultural activity for countless Kaua‘i families. 

Many “eastside” children of the 1960s and 1970s credit Hui Alu as the source of some of their fondest memories. There was an annual picnic at Lydgate Beach Park in Wailua, with great food and enjoyable family games including the egg toss, three-person geta race and tug-of-war. There was an annual campout at Anahola Beach Park, where the tents of Hui Alu members covered the entire stretch of beach, according to Mabel (Akutagawa) Antonio. At the campouts, the adult members enjoyed fishing, cooking and eating together, while the children played together on the sand. 

Both kids and adults of that time remember events held at the Hui Alu clubhouse, located in Kapa‘a on Kaua‘i’s eastside. Built on land donated by the Toguchi family, the clubhouse included a central hall with a kitchen, restrooms, a stage and dressing rooms. The club’s business meetings and the annual Shinnen Enkai (New Year’s Party) were held at the clubhouse and were always accompanied by a scrumptious potluck with the “best desserts ever,” according to Antonio. 

Susan (Uyehara) Uyeda remembers that after the meetings, the adults would play poker and enjoy alcoholic beverages while their children would play together on the stage or outside. Jean (Sokei) Nakamoto remembers playing with her friends – sliding down the dirt hill behind the clubhouse or down the grassy hill on the parking lot — the best small-kid time memories!

An Okinawan Dance class met in 1999 at the Hui Alu clubhouse in Kapa‘a.

1980s and Merger with Hui Pono

In the late 1970s, under president Jerome Hew, the club flourished, sponsoring softball teams playing in local leagues and participating in a major annual fundraiser — a food booth serving both Okinawan and American food at the Kaua‘i County fair. During the term of president Alan Hiranaka in the (1980s-1996), however, there was a shift in the focus of the club, with increased interest in activities to help preserve the Okinawan culture. 

Cultural arts classes in taiko, eisä and paranku were offered at the clubhouse, to make sure the Okinawan culture would not be forgotten. According to Muñoz, the teachers would fly in from other islands, like paranku sensei Betty Doi from O‘ahu and Fumiko Cupchoy from Maui. On the weeks that the instructors weren’t on island, the classes were capably handled by Florence (Nakamasu) Wakuta, with assistance from her sisters Stella (Nakamasu) Miyoshi and Nancy (Nakamasu) Talbo.

In earlier years, Hiranaka had practiced the Okinawan three-stringed sanshin casually, and a sensei would occasionally fly from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i to teach classes. Over the years, however, with the increased focus on culture, the classes became more serious, with monthly classes taught by Grant “Masanduu” Murata-Sensei or one of his students from O‘ahu.

Susan Uyeda (second from right) still volunteers at Hui Alu events.

During Hiranaka’s tenure as president, another important change took place. Hui Pono, an Okinawan club on the westside of Kaua‘i, had been led by members of the older generation and its leaders were open to uniting the two clubs under the younger leadership of Hui Alu. A merger meeting of the two clubs occurred at the home of Dr. Sensuke and Chiyo Ueunten in Kalāheo, including Hui Pono leaders George Chisei “Big Boy” and Kimiye Oyasato, Shoichi “Shopei” Nagamine, Mamoru “Mamo” and Haruko “Joen” Kaneshiro, Shopei’s son Brian Nagamine and others. This meeting resulted in the formation of one island-wide club with the goal of perpetuating Okinawan culture on Kaua‘i.

Besides being a social and cultural association, over the years Hui Alu has also helped provide a sense of belonging for Uchinanchu who had moved to Kaua‘i from other areas.

When Susan Uyeda and her family moved from Kaimukï to Kaua‘i in 1977, they didn’t know very many people. However, they soon found a “home away from home” with the warm, friendly Hui Alu members. They became involved with the festival and other events at the clubhouse and their children made friends with the many other young kids there. Their family life was centered on the many Hui Alu activities.

To this day, Uyeda remains involved as a volunteer for Hui Alu. She has led eisä dance classes for many years and still continues in that role (currently on hold due to the pandemic). 

June Muñoz was born in Koza and moved from Awase, Okinawa to Kaua‘i when she was 12 years old. She joined the Hui Alu paranku classes as a young adult, which helped connect her to her heritage, while her mother Yasu (Uehara) Fernandes, now 90, an Itoman, Okinawa native, has always enjoyed conversing in her native Hogen dialect with other club members.

June Muñoz and her mother Yasu Fernandes.

Muñoz was also fortunate to be chosen to represent Hui Alu on the 1996 Okinawan Study tour. While on the tour, she revisited her birthplace and emersed herself fully into the culture and history. Both the paranku classes and the study tour left a deep impression on the young Muñoz.

Kaua‘i Okinawan Dance Festival 

For many years, one of Hui Alu’s central activities has been the Kaua‘i Okinawan Dance Festival. According to Hiranaka, within a few years of the founding of Hui Alu in 1947, the club organized its first dance festival. This small event started in the early 1950s on land owned by the Miyahira family, situated near the Kapa‘a Jodo Mission. 

By the 1960s, the dance festival had grown in size and was moved to Kapa‘a Beach Park. In the late 1990s, the festival was moved to a park near the Kukui Grove Shopping Center owned by the Grove Farm company. According to Uyeda, the park was a wonderful venue with a nice pavilion, central to both the eastside and westside of the island (location had become an important factor since the merger of Hui Alu and Hui Pono). Unfortunately, their time at this treasured venue was short-lived. After only a few years, progress – in the form of Costco and Home Depot – forced the festival to find a new home. In 2004, the festival was moved to its current home, Kaua‘i Veterans Center.

The 2018 Kaua‘i Okinawan Dance Festival.

The festival has continued to grow. Large, enthusiastic crowds of people from all over the island come to the festival to enjoy the food — sätä andägi (Okinawan donuts), rafute (Okinawan shoyu pork), ashitibichi (feet soup), yakisoba (stir fried noodles with vegetables), Okinawan soba (noodles with broth) and champurü (stir-fried vegetables) — and the cultural entertainment, with artists flown in from O‘ahu. They also enjoy the eisä dancing and the dance of the shishimai (lion-dog). Now held every two years, this dance festival involves the entire Hui Alu membership, from building booths and preparing food to securing the entertainment. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 festival, but organizers hope to host the festival again in 2022, if the local health ordinances permit.

The Future

As the Hui Alu membership has changed over the years, the club activities have changed along with it. Just as the Okinawan Dance Festival changed its location from Kapa‘a to Lïhu‘e, so did other Hui Alu activities. Practices for cultural arts like sanshin and eisä are still led by Hui Alu members, but they are no longer held at the Kapa‘a clubhouse. Instead, they are held at the centrally-located Lïhu‘e Neighborhood Center, which splits the drive between the eastside and westside of the island. The Shinnen Enkai has similarly changed venues from the clubhouse to the Kaua‘i Veteran’s Center in Lïhu‘e.

Because of these changes, the beloved Hui Alu clubhouse is no longer used by the club. “Our club has outgrown the clubhouse along with the associated property for parking,” said current Hui Alu President Kent Yamauchi. Although the clubhouse is currently in use by a local jiu jitsu club for training, “Hui Alu will need to meet and determine if time has come to return the property to the Toguchi family,” says Yamauchi.

Grant “Masandü” Murata-Sensei with eisä dancers at the 2018 Okinawan Dance Festival.

June Muñoz will always be thankful for Hui Alu. The Okinawan Study Tour opened doors for cultural education and family connections that she had never before thought possible. Her paranku teachers and other Hui Alu leaders like Aunty Florence Wakuta had such a passion for Okinawan culture, and through their teachings they gifted that passion to June. It is this passion for Okinawan culture that Muñoz hopes she can pass to her own children and grandchildren, keeping the legacy of Hui Alu strong for generations to come.

Carolyn (Kubota) Morinishi resides in Kapa‘a with her husband Ron and her mother, Marian Kurasaki Kubota. The live together on the site where Marian was raised. Carolyn, a former software engineer, and Marian are the talents behind the Herald’s monthly Culture4Kids! column. Carolyn is also involved in Japanese cultural arts. In addition to her academic degrees, she holds natori (master) and shihan (master instructor) degrees in Nihon buyö at the Azuma School in Tökyö, and was given the dance name Kikusue Azuma. She continues to teach dance on Kaua‘i and in Los Angeles.


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