Senior shares cultural wealth through dance


Photo courtesy of Aradaisia Walker

In the summer of 2016, Lela Hautau had the opportunity to travel to Tonga with her father. It was the first time he went back to visit in over 20 years. Hautau danced for the Royal Family and met the Queen of Tonga.

Story by Lily Stephens, Multimedia Editor

Almost everyone on Baker’s campus knows senior Lela Hautau, a California girl with Tongan roots . Whether she is your resident advisor, sits next to you in choir, always says hello to you at Mungano or helps edit papers for your English class, this woman is everywhere. At 8 p.m. April 29 Hautau was in McKibbin Recital Hall teaching a Tongan and Polynesian dance class to her fellow students.

The child of Tongan immigrants, Hautau has spent her life very connected to her island roots. As a member of Mungano, she is able to share her culture and heritage with the campus through events like these.

“As the only Polynesian woman at this institution, I feel an obligation to educate my peers about Polynesian culture,” Hautau said. “So that they are exposed to the beauty of all the Polynesian islands, beyond stereotypical assumptions of Hawaii.”

Hautau has been dancing since childhood and spent up to four hours in dance rehearsals when she was preparing to dance at an event. While most of her background is in Tongan dancing, she is also familiar with the dances of other Polynesian islands.

At the event Hautau shared some of those dances with students including a, “Tahitian dance to the song, ‘Tutuki’ by Te Vakaa…Tongan tau’olunga and a Samoan siva.” Te Vakaa is the group that did the majority of the music for the soundtrack for the Disney movie “Moana.” Students were eager to learn more about Tongan culture and engaged with Hautau as she taught them the traditional dances.

“They were so attentive to the detail of the dances and the meaning behind it, they were so keen on perfecting every aspect as a group,” senior and former Mungano President Aradaisia Walker said.

Walker also shared that it was special to see “Lela in her element and being one with her culture.”

With her senior year coming to a close in the next few weeks, Walker hopes to see Mungano continue to grow and provide more events like Hautau’s dance class. The organization celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and is a large part of extracurricular life at Baker.

The club’s adviser and Coordinator of Inclusion and Wellness Education Paul Ladipo said that he hopes students know that Mungano is centered on celebrating ethnic heritage. Even as students, he said, it is important to celebrate where you come from and never forget that part of your identity.

To meet new people, learn new things about fellow students and discuss current social and cultural issues, head to Mungano. Meetings reconvene Fall 2019 at 8 p.m. every Tuesday in the Harter Student Union Den.