Posted on: Wednesday, March 31, 2004

OUR HONOLULU

Hula store does more than retail

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

In its time, the hula has generated some unusual history, not the least of which can be found at Hula Supply Center on the corner of South King and Isenberg streets in Mo'ili'ili. This colorful establishment will be 50 years old tomorrow.

This is where hula dancers go to equip themselves for the Merrie Monarch Festival. And through this door for many years passed Anna Machado Cazimero, stepmother of the Brothers Cazimero, on her way to work.

The store is in this building because the door faces east. The door in the previous store down the street faced in the wrong direction.

The venerable Hawaiian sage who founded this bastion of art and culture was a golf-playing, kung fuifighting, hard-drinking man of Chinese ancestry who got his start selling Hawaiian dolls, cribbage boards and coconut ashtrays at the Navy Exchange. His son is a master hula instrument maker.

That's what makes Our Honolulu such a unique place. It's in the heart as well as the blood.

For a delightful hour and a half, I sat amid feathery 'uli'uli, hibiscus bark skirts and those smooth stones you click between your fingers, and listened to Mike Kop tell me about his father, the late B.K. Kop, one of nine brothers and sisters who changed their name from Kwock.

According to Mike, his father was a noted kung fu fighter who liked to gamble and played golf every day his brother, Guinea Kop, being a professional golfer. "What got my father into the hula business was his artistic ability," said Mike.

He painted faces on dolls and sold them while working at the Navy Exchange. This led to a business of his own selling hand-carved cribbage boards, coconut ashtrays, Hawaiian dolls, etc., in his own curio shop. Collectors pay high prices for the dolls today.

By the late 1940s, B.K. had turned his hand to hula implements. He made a double 'umeke for legendary kumu hula Maiki Aiu Lake in the early 1960s. Mike helped his father clean out gourds as a boy, and never stopped.

Now Mike spends his work days at his hula instrument factory in Palama, which supplies the store in Mo'ili'ili. For recreation, he takes hula lessons once a week from Uncle George Holokai in a class that includes language guru Puakea Nogelmeier and recording artist Keali'i Reichel, who flies in from Maui.

Hula Supply Center also sells custom-designed Hawaiian leisure and resort wear under the supervision of Mike's wife, Syl, in the best tradition of Hawai'i's cultural diversity. You see, she's from Germany.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.


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