(WAIPAHU--GOOD FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2016)--Dancing to the distinct sounds of Samoa, an older version of the Tamasese tune that tells of Samoa's historic Black Saturday, 18-year-old Natalie Oloa beat the competition to earn a place of honor among Kahuku High School's student body.
She will represent the Red Raiders as their Taupou at the We Are Samoa High School Cultural Arts Festival happening May at the Polynesian Cultural Center in La'ie.
Natalie's story is one of persistence and dedication. She competed for the title every year in high school. On her fourth attempt, in her senior year, she got it.
"I'm just so glad it's finally over," the Samoan-Filipino beauty said happily after performing her victory siva at the Kahuku school gym Saturday, March 19.
Three girls vied for Taupou: Natalie, Tulima Malufau and Keleane Tapusoa.
SAMOANS IN HAWAI'I
The winner, nickname "Nati", comes from a dancing family. She is the youngest child of Isitolo and Evelyn Oloa of Waialua, a husband and wife Polynesian entertainment team that owns and operates the Mauga Mu Siva Afi (Fireknife Dance) Club and Kalena's Polynesian Ohana. Both groups are very active at events hosted by the Samoan community in Hawai'i. Her family also hosts the Vai Tupuna Samoan and Tahitian Dance Competition in Waialua.
Her long and hard-fought battle for Taupou at Kahuku is a stark contrast from the unopposed title she gleaned at the Loto Tasi "Aso o Tupulaga" Youth Festival held September 2015 at Ke'ehi Lagoon Beach Park. She is Miss Loto Tasi crowned during the weeklong event that celebrates the youth of Samoa in Hawai'i.
The Loto Tasi event is hosted by entertainer and author Pulefano Galea'i, a native of Aua, American Samoa and resident of La'ie, a pre-dominantly Mormon town on O'ahu's North Shore. La'ie, adjacent Kahuku, is an important place in contemporary Samoan history. It is where the first group of Samoans who migrated to Hawai'i settled, according to numbers compiled by the Hawai'i State Public Library. Those Samoans were Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The Hawai'i library system places the earliest Samoans in the state in the year 1925. Whether Samoans settled in Hawai'i before 1925 -- or not -- is still a topic of contentious debate among book writers, academicians and historians across the region and the world.
WE ARE SAMOA
So what is "We Are Samoa"? It is an event founded at Paradise Cove on the Leeward coast of O'ahu by the late Kumu Hula O'Brian Ta'avili Eselu. Since its inception in the 1990s and its relocation to PCC on the North Shore, the event has grown tremendously, part of a week that celebrates the performing arts of Samoa at PCC. It was his love for the Samoan youth that drove Eselu to found "We Are Samoa."
As this is being written, hundreds of students across the state are preparing for the We Are Samoa Festival, hosting siva fundraisers to pay for uniforms, costumes, travel and other costs associated with the annual event. For Samoan youth in Hawai'i, it is the highlight of the year, a time when high schoolers celebrate their Samoan culture through siva (the Samoan art of dance), lauga (oratory) and essential village skills like coconut husking, basket weaving and firemaking.
Family, friends and veterans of Hawai'i's Polynesian entertainment world -- a big community that plays a key role in the state's worldwide identity as a prime tourist destination -- converge at PCC to support the children.