Hawaiian language theatre makes history, production to debut in ʻōlelo māhū 

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Moanikeʻala Nabarro, (808) 600-4084
Spokesperson, UH Communications
Posted: Apr 3, 2022

From L to R: Makiʻilei Ishihara, Joshua “Baba” Kamoaniʻala Tavares and Lily Hiʻilani Kim-Dela Cruz
From L to R: Makiʻilei Ishihara, Joshua “Baba” Kamoaniʻala Tavares and Lily Hiʻilani Kim-Dela Cruz

Kennedy Theatre at UH Mānoa
Kennedy Theatre at UH Mānoa

Link to video: https://bit.ly/3Dxgt7g

Link to UH News story: http://go.hawaii.edu/ESx

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance and Kennedy Theatre continue to celebrate the expansion of hana keaka (Hawaiian theatre), which are plays performed primarily in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language). The Hawaiian storytelling genre is flourishing rapidly and for the first time in Kennedy Theatre history, Hawaiian language productions have opened and will soon close out the theatre’s mainstage season. The growth of Indigenous Hawaiian theatre inspired UH Mānoa graduate student Ākea Kahikina, a Hawaiian theatre master of fine arts (MFA) candidate, to write and direct comedic hana keaka, Hoʻoilina. 

“Things are happening…I’m glad to be a part of this movement that is growing exponentially and creating more new works on a grand scale,” said Kahikina, who teaches ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi courses at UH Mānoa. “I couldn’t be more thankful to be doing this at this level.”

Hoʻoilina which means legacy or inheritance, is set in pre-pandemic Hawai‘i upon the luxurious slopes of Lēʻahi and hones in on a Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) family anxiously poised for a will reading that will determine the fate of a huge inheritance from their beloved matriarch. Just as the will is about to be read, a quirky stranger appears at the door, claiming her right to the hefty endowment. As chaos ensues, family secrets are revealed, causing them to question their own relationships, identity and future as Kānaka, while being insidiously constricted by the pressures of capitalism and cultural loss. The characters explore real-time issues such as what it takes to be considered Hawaiian. 

Spotlighting ʻōlelo māhū

Most of the play is performed in Hawaiian, however audiences will also hear performers speak in a multitude of languages such as Pidgin, English and what Kahikina dubs ʻōlelo māhū (Queer creole). His concept of the māhū dialect is one that he claims is a descendant of ʻōlelo kake, a long-standing traditional form of garbling language to conceal information. Today, ʻōlelo māhū incorporates Pig Latin and is delivered in a style similar to the cadence of Pidgin. 

“Putting that language in there is a way to honor my queer community, my māhū brothers and sisters that I’ve learned from,” Kahikina explained. “My partner, Kaʻiminaʻauao Cambern, he’s taught me everything that I put into the script.”  

Ticket prices for limited live audiences range from $5–$25 for the production set to premiere April 15, 16, 22 and 23, at 7:30 p.m. and April 24, at 2 p.m. Helping Kahikina bring the production to life are award-winning UH alumnus Jonah Bobilin (lighting design), Rick Greaver (sound design), Kara Nabarrete (scenic design, MFA candidate), Kaneikoliakawahineikaʻiukapuomua Baker (costume design, incoming MFA student), Iāsona Kaper (assistant director, MFA candidate), Kaipulaumakaniolono (dramaturge, MFA candidate) and UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre program founder Kumu Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker.

Hawaiian Theatre 

In 2014, Baker established Hawaiian Theatre at UH Mānoa. Lāʻieikawai, an inaugural hana keaka production she wrote and directed, played to sold out audiences on the Kennedy Theatre mainstage in 2014 before touring to Hawaiʻi Island, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi and Aotearoa (New Zealand). In 2019, Kennedy Theatre premiered Baker’s production ‘Au‘a ‘Ia: Holding On. It was remounted by invitation off-Broadway in New York City in January 2020

For more information about the show, visit the department’s website.


0:00-1:06 - clips from Ho‘olina

1:06-1:12 - exterior of Kennedy Theatre 


Ākea Kahikina, Playwright, UH Mānoa Hawaiian Theatre Program 


(Playwright’s reaction to use of Hawaiian language expanding in theatre)

“To be able to see and hear it on stage, I think it’s really important for the audiences to feel like, ʻOh my gosh, yes!’ We can hear ʻōlelo in a story that’s about today, 21st century. And not necessarily only in the stories of yesteryear.”


“ʻŌlelo māhū is a combination of ʻōlelo kake, which is traditional Hawaiian riddling. I can compare it to English as Pig Latin, where you kind of jingle and shuffle the sounds of things.”


(why ʻōlelo māhū was chosen for the production)

“Putting that language in there is a way to honor my queer community, my māhū brothers and sisters that I’ve learned from. My partner he’s taught me everything that I put into the script.”