Gordean Bailey moved to kula 34 years ago without a clear idea of what she wanted to do. She and her husband attended an open house at the University of Hawaii Maui Agricultural Substation and learned about some strange flowers that had been brought from Australia and South Africa. “I went cuckoo over them,” she says. Thus, Bailey became one of Upcountry’s first protea farmers. “There are so many kinds¿” In fact, there are more than 1,500 varieties of protea, a species named for Proteus, the Greek god who could assume countless forms. Most of the flowers look like neon sea anemones.

Bailey was a hula dancer at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu in 1959 – the first year of statehood – when she was named Miss Hawaii. She went to Atlantic City and met Bert Parks. (Miss Mississippi won.) Today she is a hula teacher as well as a protea farmer. She has about 80 students, half children, half adults. They all call her Auntie.

The hula is serious business in Hawaii today. It nurtures the sense of being Hawaiian. But when the New England missionaries arrived in the early 19th century, they were scandalized by the dance and condemned it. Like most Westerners even today, the missionaries focused on the dancers; but it is the chant – the words – that are all-important. The Hawaiians had no written language and relied on the hula to preserve their history and mythology. The hula went underground until King Kalakaua, the “merry monarch” proclaimed: “I am king! We shall dance!” Ever since, people like Bailey have kept it alive.

Sitting in her studio, she says, “The hula and native flowers are inseparable parts of Hawaiian tradition. One without the other would be an incomplete picture. My life is to keep these traditions, to perpetuate Hawaiian culture.”

See Gordean Bailey, and Halau Wehiwehi O Leilehua at One Starry Night in Kula on  Friday, September 26 on the lawn at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  5:30 – 7:30 pm.

Contact the church office at 808-878-1485 for tickets.

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Photos: Leon Matsui