Johnny Lum Ho The Unconventional Kumu Hula

Known as Hilo’s most creative Kumu hula, composer, and musician, Johnny Lum Ho is the most Iconic when it comes to choreography.  Lum Ho and his halau is always a crowd pleaser at the Merrie Monarch Festivals. People know him as the Unconventional Kumu Hula. For many years he has been known for his halau’s performances on stage and his compositions of mele.

Johnny was born and raised in Keaukaha Homestead, Hawaii island by his pureblood Hawaiian mother who loved gardening. His mother was a mahi’ai or farmer and every day she worked the land. Their yard was full with breadfruit and coconut trees and a garden that they all were raised to take care of. In Panaewa they had a farm lot with haupu’u ferns and taro patches. From that taro, they made their own daily consumption of poi.

Growing up Johnny loved singing, but he was very shy. He rushed home from school before everyone else and grabbed a big pot, his ukulele and started to play it and sing. The pot was used like a microphone, a unique way to improvise for a young boy. Eventually, he became quite good at it and he soon started singing in the church choir. As time went by Johnny also started dancing with the Haili choir and performed at many nearby towns.

Making A Name For Him In The Hula World

It was George Naope who encouraged Johnny to start a halau and enter the Merrie Monarch Festival sometime in the late 1960’s. Johnny followed Naope’s advice and the rest, as they say, is history. His halau at that time was called Johnny Lum Ho Hula Studio. In 1972 his halau won the ancient and modern division of the competition. In 1977 Johnnys halau won in the Women Auana and in 1978 they won in the Women Hula Kahiko. From there on Johnny entered off and on as rules began to change that Johnny didn’t agree with. He was a very unconventional Kumu hula and it didn’t matter to him if he won or not. They were a flamboyant crowd pleasers and as far as Johnny was concerned, if the people were happy then they were winners already.


Ka Ua Kani Lehua win again by star advertiser


It was in 1980 when Johnny Lum Ho Hula Studio had their first win in the Miss Aloha Hula Competition. Miss Kaula Kamahele carried the title for that year. The following year his dancer Brenda Alidon won that prestigious title for Miss Aloha Hula. In 1982 Johnny change his halau name to Ka Ua Kani Lehua,  “rain that makes the lehua flowers rustle.” And for the next two years, two more of his dancers took the title. Dayna Kanani Oda 1982 and Geola Pua in 1983. No one halau has done that since.  Then once again his dancer Lisa Ku’uipo Doi won in 1987.

Halau o Ka Ua Kani Lehua from Hilo came in second overall and won the wahine overall title with 1202 points, as well as the wahine kahiko and wahine ‘auana titles.

Winning The Crowds Heart Miss Aloha Hula 2001

But it was his entrant in 2001 that wild the crowd after the halaus five-year absence. With her impressive performance of “Mele Aloha No Kaulana-i-ka-poki’i E Keaomelemele,” Natasha Kamalamalamaokalailokokapu’uwaimehanaokekeikipunahele Oda won the hearts of the crowd. Her extraordinary style and interpretation of Mo’o-Inanea, a sister of Kane and Kanaloa, who dwell at Waolani pleased the crowd. The story  tells of Keaomelemele, who passes on her knowledge of hula and chant to her beloved younger sister Kaulana-i-ka-poki’i. The two sisters then perform to the great interest and delight of others.

Auana 2001 Natash Oda

Auana 2001 Natasha K. Oda by star bulletin

Not used to being soloed out, Natasha, wasn’t sure if this was right for her at first. She convinced herself that her performance is “not about me or a competition but about sharing and giving back.” It’s my moment to share my heart and give back through my dance to everyone who has given to me my whole life. I will use the dance to express my heart.”

Lum Ho knew he had made a right choice with Natasha. “Natasha is ready, she may not understand it right now but she has been working toward this her entire life,” Ho says. “I believe in her.”

After a lifetime of performances that wooed the crowds, when Johnny entered, people couldn’t wait to see what he was bringing to the stage. Every performance was outstanding and worth waiting in long lines to see. Unconventional Kumu or not Lum Ho has always been a favorite.

Johnny is still entering the Merrie Monarch competitions but hasn’t had a Miss Aloha Hula since Natasha in 2001.  We wait impatiently with excitement to see the next thrilling performance that Johnny Lum Ho has in his future.

Here is Natasha Odas amazing performance in its entirety

Courtesy of Hulagasuki on Youtube