Twilight at Kalahuipuaa host Danny Akaka shares the stage with beloved Hawaiian performers such as Raiatea Helm (right). // © 2017 Anna Akaka
Feature image (above): Monthly Twilight programs mesmerize locals and visitors in a picturesque shoreline setting. // © 2017 Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows
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Each month on the Saturday closest to a full moon, an intimate outdoor party unfolds on the Kohala Coast. Local musicians strum beloved Hawaiian tunes, and vocalists sing about their island home. Guests jump up from the audience to offer a spontaneous hula, and folks speak of myths, legends and tales of the old days. Time seems to stand still.
This heartfelt tradition, called Twilight at Kalahuipuaa, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in September. The free program takes place by the sea, just south of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows. It takes place at the Eva Parker Woods Cottage — a charming replica of a guesthouse that once stood nearby — which is located beside ancient royal fishponds. There, as in years-gone-by, locals and visitors assemble for music, dancing and stories..
The monthly aloha fest is the brainchild of Danny Akaka, cultural historian for Mauna Lani. Akaka created Twilight in honor of similar gatherings he and his wife attended in the early 1970s, when they were Hawaiian Studies students at the University of Hawaii on Oahu. Occasionally, they were invited to join impromptu Hawaii Island get-togethers with longtime residents of the area.
“We were hosted by the Kihe family, whose matriarch, Emily Kihe, would share stories of the past as we sat on the lanai of the original cottage and listened eagerly,” Akaka said. “We enjoyed those magical evenings, usually around sunset, with our ukuleles and guitars. Sometimes, we would complement her stories with a song or a hula.”
Those parties were the early seeds of Twilight, which Akaka launched in September 1997. Over the past two decades, it has grown into a hugely popular community event that draws sizable crowds to each show.
“For me personally, Twilight is reminiscent of those good times past,” Akaka said. “There are times when I can almost feel the spirit of former residents and the ancients, who are enjoying and celebrating these special moments with us.”
The cottage’s lanai serves as a stage for showcasing Hawaii’s finest entertainers. Since its inception, Twilight has presented great performers such as Don Ho, Aunty Genoa Keawe, Mahi Beamer, Melveen Leed, Amy Gilliom, Alan Akaka and the Islanders, Cyril Pahinui, Emma Veary, Roy Sakuma, the Lim Family and Raiatea Helm, along with a veritable who’s who from the hula world.
Before every program, however, Akaka doesn’t reveal the names of that night’s performers.
“We like to keep that as our special surprise,” Akaka said. “That way, people who attend Twilight come for the function itself, no matter who may be there in the way of entertainment.”
For locals, Twilight is an important date on the calendar, so clients should get there early. By the time the program starts at 5:30 p.m., hundreds of people already have spread out their blankets and chairs across the grounds, opened their picnic baskets, greeted old friends and made new ones. The event wraps up at 8:30 p.m.
By the end of the evening, chances are good that audience members will feel the event’s magic and encourage others to experience it.
“I hope that Twilight will flourish indefinitely,” Akaka said. “I hope it will continue to inspire visitors and locals alike through the preservation and sharing of stories, music and hula, ‘talk story’ style.”