Lorraine Toma, pictured here with her son, Thomas, in 2000, brought the first group of women together to organize what would become Hui O Laulima. (Hawai‘i Herald archives)
Lorraine Toma, pictured here with her son, Thomas, in 2000, brought the first group of women together to organize what would become Hui O Laulima. (Hawai‘i Herald archives)

Hui O Laulima to Retrace Its Journey from “Auxiliary” to “We Can Do It!

They were just supposed to help their husbands entertain visiting dignitaries from Okinawa by serving ocha (tea) and snacks, help the men organize dinners, and sit beside their husbands and smile . . .

But something happened along the way.

If ever there was a story about what is possible when women are empowered, Hui O Laulima is it.

The evolution of the 50-year-old organization, from supporters to soldiers committed to preserving and perpetuating Okinawan culture, will be celebrated in “Kanaganatu — Forever Helping” on Saturday, March 17, at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. Their story is rooted in such Okinawan terms as chimugukuru, a loving spirit; ukaji deebiru, gratitude; and yuimaaru, the spirit of cooperation. The program was conceived of by artist and arts educator/organizer Ann Asakura, an HOL member who many know as the co-founder of TEMARI: Center for Asian and Pacific Arts. Asakura was recruited as the show’s artistic director. She describes “Kanaganatu” as a “mélange celebration of HOL through music, movement and fabric.”

As HOL’s 50th anniversary neared, Wendy Yoshimoto, a past president and current advisor, broached the idea of involving Asakura in the then-undefined project with the anniversary committee. She had met Asakura decades earlier when she took a tie-dye class from her at the Richard Street YWCA and had continued to follow her work.

“I was inspired by her reconstruction of kimonos and her artwork that could be found around town,” said Yoshimoto. “Ann conveys messages, through her art form with honesty and integrity.”

Asakura reviewed HOL’s overall vision for their celebration and agreed to help bring its 50-year history to life, from its humble beginnings as an “auxiliary” organization made up primarily of Nisei wives of local Okinawan men, to one that had found its own voice and, in the process, empowered its members — Uchinanchu and Uchinanchu-at-heart. She was impressed that HOL puts its money where its mouth is, preserving and perpetuating Okinawan culture by awarding cultural grants that enable musicians, dancers and artists to keep the culture alive and thriving and growing.

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“Kanaganatu: Forever Helping” will begin at 10:30 a.m. (doors to the Hawaii Okinawa Center open at 9). Silent auction items will be available for bidding prior to the start. The formal program begins at 10:30, followed by lunch and the show at 11. Tickets are $75 per person and can be reserved by emailing event chair Paula Kurashige at pkurashige@gmail.com.

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