r By Deborah Goodman
Three young Springville residents participated in a dance group invited by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taiwan to perform in July at the largest folk festival in Asia. The prestigious and selective Yi-Lan International Children’s Folk Festival hosted the group—called Ahuna Ohana—from July 6 – 18.
Starting in January of this year, Kekai, Emma, and Kekoa Palmer, children of Brett and Uilani Palmer of Springville, began learning and practicing the dances using instructional videos sent by Uilani’s uncle Joe Ahuna, the founder of the performing group, Ahuna Ohana.
At the end of May, the Palmers flew to Hawaii for an intensive rehearsal schedule to prepare for the trip. After a week of final preparations, they left for Taiwan, where they performed Maori, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Samoan, Navajo, and New Zealander dances.
Nine parent chaperones, eighteen performers (ages seven to sixteen), Ahuna, his brother Kekoa, and his wife, Janice, made the trip. It was a group effort, and Janice made eighteen costumes for the children.
Because Yilan, which is three hours away from Taipei, is more of a rural area and due to the busy rehearsal and performance schedule, there wasn’t time for a lot of sightseeing.
“It was a lot of work. This wasn’t a Disneyland-type of trip,” says Uilani. However, they did get to take a calligraphy class, visit a local school, and tour a green onion farm.
“The kids loved it. It was a big eye-opener for them,” says Uilani. They learned the value of their talents in music and dance. They also enjoyed getting to know their second cousins and the students in their dorm from Russian, Czech Republic, Poland and Columbia.
The Palmer children’s grandmother, Iwalani Ahuna-Curran, who also helped them learn the dances, says, “There was a lot of focus on culture, stage presence, and discipline.”
Uilani says the kids also learned “to keep going and to push themselves if they felt like giving up.”
Ahuna, a resident of a Kaneohe, Hawaii, has been spreading goodwill through music and dance his entire adult life. The group began with Ahuna, his wife, Janice, and their six kids, and has since grown to include ten grandchildren, as well as eight great nieces and nephews.
His vision began in the late 1970s when he performed with BYU’s Young Ambassadors.
Ahuna, who is largely self-taught in the fire knife dance and the ukulele, attributes the group’s success to a desire to serve the world as a family. These experiences instill an attitude of “kahiau.” Ahuna explains that “‘kahiau’ means if you learn something, you share it with those around you without expecting anything in return.”
One thing that makes this performing group so different from others is that it’s a family group—and they never charge money for the performances they give.