Virtual May Day Celebrates Hawaiian Culture

May Day Performances from the Punahou ‘Ohana
Middle School May Day and Academy Holokū Pageant
Watch Virtual Holokū and May Day 2021 on May 1
Wear a Lei for May Day
Kindergarten May Day

Punahou will present its first-ever virtual May Day on Saturday, May 1, with students in kindergarten through grade five resuming the tradition of dancing hula with their classes in celebration of Hawaiian culture. The theme for this year’s May Day program is “Ola Hawaiʻi” – emphasizing how blessed we are to have persevered through the many challenges of 2020 and reminding us to be thankful for our ʻāina, our people and our ʻike Hawaiʻi.

The elaborate video production was a huge logistical undertaking, coordinated by a team of kumu who taught students the various mele and dances, then arranged for each cohort to be videotaped at locations around campus. Punahou’s video production team shot and edited the footage, virtually bringing children at different grade levels together. At-home learners were included by submitting their own footage.

May Day historically has been held at Hemmeter Fieldhouse, with families in attendance and separate events for grades K – 2 and grades 3 – 5. Last year’s May Day was canceled because of the pandemic, and although COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, the School decided to proceed with a virtual celebration this year.

“For a lot of us who came to Punahou from when we were little, May Day was always a really special time that brought everyone together,” said kumu Emma McGuire ’93, who taught hula to second and third graders. “Not only is it a way to really celebrate and teach ‘Ike Hawai‘i, but it’s a way for our community really to come together, not just teachers and students, but all of our ‘ohana. I think it’s a great opportunity for it to be online because we can reach families all over the world.”

Students weren’t able to sing or chant because of safety protocols, so they danced hula and used Hawaiian implements, all while learning the meaning of the various mele. The performances were shot in multiple locations around campus, including the Chapel, Lily Pond, Kosasa Amphitheatre and the President’s Home, showcasing the beauty of the campus and establishing a sense of place, which is an important part of the ‘Ike Hawai‘i curriculum, said Lauli‘a Phillips ’98 Ah Wong, co-director of the May Day program along with Leilehua Phillips ’95 Utu.

“The best part was being outside and having the Lily Pond behind us,” said fifth grader Skey Scales ’28.

His classmate, Dylan Sato ’28, agreed, saying the experience correlated well to what they’ve been learning about Hawaiian culture. “We did it in nature and that helped us appreciate our land more.”

Kimo Keaulana, who served as kumu hula, advisor and choreographer, composed one of the songs that was performed, which was about various places around Punahou. Kumu Ka‘ai McAfee-Torco taught grades K – 1 hula and kumu Maxine Nu’uhiwa taught grades 4 – 5 hula. 

“I really have to commend all of these kumu. They put a lot of thought into this from the beginning, thinking about what to teach and how to do it, then putting it into action,” Keaulana said. “This was a tremendous undertaking.”

On April 30, students in grades K – 5 will watch May Day with classmates in their cohorts. They’re being encouraged to come to school in aloha wear with lei.

“Holokū and May Day, just by virtue of tradition are about celebrating place and celebrating Hawai‘i – Hawai‘i’s people, Hawai‘i’s culture and Hawai‘i’s history,” said Kealohi Reppun ’99, director of Punahou’s Kuaihelani Learning Center. “And, we still have all of that, and that continues to be beautiful.”

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