Henry Ohumukini, Jr.
2001 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Henry Ohumukini is a respected hula master, talented musician, highly skilled craftsperson, and tireless advocate for Pacific Island culture. Born in Honolulu, his family excelled in many Hawaiian arts and he was only six years old when his father taught him to make kukui nut leis. Ohumukini attended the Kamehameha School, where students of Hawaiian ancestry learn traditional arts in addition to the standard curriculum. He worked for six years at the school’s famed Bishop Museum, demonstrating Hawaiian arts for visitors. After high school, Ohumukini earned a degree in education and later married talented Tahitian dancer Aroariitetara. In 1983 they moved to Orlando to work as entertainers at Sea World. In Florida, Ohumukini became a pivotal and highly respected member of the Polynesian community.
Ohumukini’s father advised him never to take the same job twice so that he would always continue to learn. Perhaps that accounts for the amazing range of occupations that Ohumukini mastered during his working life: professional musician, middle school teacher, dancer, paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy), undercover detective and karate instructor for police in Japan, security guard, gardener and business owner. There have been many other fascinating twists to his life—including winning an award for Hawaiian falsetto yodeling, performing and socializing with Elvis Presley, and serving as a dispute mediator for his clan.
In his retirement, Ohumukini devotes himself to many arts learned in his youth. At eight years old, he learned to fish and make octopus lures from his uncle and granduncle. Today he again produces the old-style makau iwi (bonefish hook), makau laau (wooden fish hook), and octopus lures prized by Pacific Islanders and now worn as neck ornaments. Ohumukini creates a variety of Hawaiian instruments, including the ipu heke (gourd drum); uli’uli, (feathered gourd shaker); bamboo nose flute; hula pahu (log drum); and hula puniu (coconut knee drum).
An extensive body of chants (mele) preserves Hawaiian history and culture. Hula movements are visual embellishments of themele hula or other poetry. Hula is taught within a halau hula, or hula school, by a teacher (kumu hula) who serves as an important source of information about Hawaiian culture. The highest ranking kumu hula in Florida, Ohumukini shares the extensive body of knowledge surrounding the hula tradition with his students. In addition, he organizes a highly successful annual hula competition to stimulate interest in the art and provide a means for Pacific Islanders from throughout the southeast to meet and express their culture.
In recent years, Ohumukini has been a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program (1999-2000 and 2001-2002), received the 2001 Florida Folk Heritage Award, and has presented numerous demonstrations and performances of traditional arts. He was recognized for his excellence and devotion to Hawaiian arts with a Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2001, and his instruments were featured in the exhibition Florida Folklife: Traditional Arts in Contemporary Communities. But his greatest satisfaction is in knowing that his dedication to Hawaiian arts has resulted in the preservation and flowering of Hawaiian culture in Florida.