By Sonia R. Garza
very September, we look forward to the festivities of the annual International Folk Festival. Attendees have their senses ignited with aromas and sights from around the world, allowing entrance into their lives. But, what defines a culture? Most would agree that food is an integral ingredient…as is the music, but (in my opinion) a country’s culture is defined by their fashion. The anticipated Parade of Nations displays fashions, where we delight in the colors and pageantry of the clothing and witness the country’s artful expression.
Two cultures represented, Hawaii and Thailand, are separated by the Pacific, but united by their love of country. Kui Rivera is not a native of Fayetteville, but found herself at Fort Bragg following her husband on a military assignment. That is the story of so many residents of the area and that did not stop her from pursuing her dreams of bringing a piece of Hawaii with her. Originally from Honolulu, Kui knew she had to return to her roots. “I didn’t want to lose my tradition,” she said. So in 2006 she made her dream come true when she founded the Hawaiian dance group and has participated every year in the Folk Festival.
One look at Kui and it is easy to be transported to the Hawaiian Islands. She radiates and embodies the culture of Hawaii, with her long hair and her inviting smile. The dance group meets to practice at E.E. Miller Recreation Center and is comprised of both men and women, of various ages and nationalities…from Filipino to Indonesian. And it is no surprise that because Fort Bragg is home to the Special Operations Command, two of the three male dancers of the group have worn the coveted Green Beret.
Hula is the more popular and widely recognized dance. Watching the group dance hula is like seeing ocean waves come ashore with both a fluidity and loveliness that makes you feel instantly at ease. “We wear a pa’u,” Kui said. “It’s a calf length flowery skirt that moves more easily with the hips.” Males wear a wrap around the waist called a pareo. "It is also known as a sarong," said Kui.
“I teach the group how to sew their own outfits,” Kui said proudly. Skirts are made with love as each blade of grass is measured and cut to a precise length. She then advised her students, “Treat your skirts with tender love and care.”
A veteran to the group, Freda Kerr, has traveled from Raleigh for three years to dance hula. “It’s a passion for me,” she said. Hawaii holds a special place in her heart...as her and her late husband first traveled to Hawaii on their 10th anniversary. “Hawaiian culture is passion….it’s heart,” she paused. “When I put the clothing on, it’s peaceful for me. You can say it’s my meditation,” she said while smiling.
One of the youngest students of the group is Katrina Pappa, a senior at Jack Britt High School. She has been dancing with the group since November and this will be her first year dancing in the festival. “I feel more immersed in the culture and history when I wear the clothing. It makes me happy and feel good inside,” she said, fixing the hibiscus flower above her right ear, signifying she is single. Worn to the left means you are taken.
Traveling further west is Thailand, located in Southeast Asia. Kingkeaw May is the Thai dance group representative and also came to Fayetteville on her husband’s military orders. Much like the culture of Hawaii, Thai culture tells stories through dance and song.
Modesty is evident in Thai clothing and ever so graceful and elegant. Each piece is hand spun with the finest silk and lace with beads strung by hand. The traditional Thai dress for women is vibrant with bold colors and combinations with intricate patterns woven throughout. Women's attire consists of a pha nung, a long, rectangular cloth worn around the lower body that can be folded in several different ways. "No matter which way you pull the fabric, you will not see my legs," laughed Gaid Manee, a dancer in the Thai group.
Accessories include a sabai, a shaw-like garment, draped diagonally around the chest over the left shoulder and dropped to the back. Manee wears gold jewelry, a headpiece adorned with gemstones and an orchid in her hair to give it a formal touch. “It makes me feel young to wear this,” said Gaid. “Yes,” Kingkeaw agreed. “It makes me feel proud to wear them too.”
A traditional men’s costume consists of a chong kraben or pants worn by wrapping around the waist and twisting the ends together to pull the twisted fabric between the legs.
The group consists of about 20 friends and family from the Buddhist Temple, Wat Mungme Srisuk, in Camden. The temple is currently under construction and the group is hoping that fundraisers will help finish it.
These two cultures have traces and elements of western influence, but with ever changing fashion the core stays deeply rooted in history and tradition.