Ana Kini Kapahukulaokamāmalu Ku‘ululani McColgan Huhu (Kini Kapahu – Jennie Wilson) was born March 4, 1872, the daughter of a Hawaiian woman and an Irish immigrant to Hawai‘I, John N. McColgan.
As an infant, she was adopted by a Hawaiian woman, Kapahukulaokamāmalu, who was an expert chanter, hula performer, and friend of Queen Kapi‘olani, Kalākaua’s consort. She and her adoptive mother lived on a property adjacent to the royal palace. (Imada)
“Kalākaua always had dancers in his court dancing for his pleasure…. There were parties for his guests from the mainland on their way to Australia with dancers as well. They weren’t only for his friends, but for everyone in Honolulu.” (Kupahu; Tong)
In 1886, the same year of his jubilee, Kalākaua assembled Hui Lei Mamo, a group of eight Hawaiian women and girls under the age of 20. Hui Lei Mamo was a ‘glee club’; it performed acculturated hula performance as well as choral music. (Imada)
Kapahu was fourteen years old when she joined Kalākaua’s hula court; other members of the group included Pauahi Pinao, Annie Grube (transliterated in Hawaiian as Ani Gurube), Malie Kaleikoa, Aiala and Namakokahai. All the girls were daughters of court retainers except for Kapahu. (Imada)
As a member of the royal family and the reigning monarch of Hawai‘i, King Kalākaua had the rightful authority to dictate when the hula would be performed. (Tong)
While Kalākaua’s older court dancers performed pre-contact forms of hula with indigenous instrumentation and chanting, the young women of Hui Lei Mamo performed only the hula ku‘i, ‘the modern hula’.
An acculturated dance that developed in the king’s cosmopolitan court, hula ku‘i merged Western music and instruments with traditional hula steps. It is suggested that Kalākaua himself was the inventor of this hybrid genre …
“[The king] took some steps out of the old-fashioned [hula] and put them into the modern [hula] with guitar. He was the first one to start this.” (Kapahu; Imada)
When Kalākaua died in 1891, the dancers no longer had a place in court. Nevertheless, they continued to benefit directly from Kalākaua’s cultural renaissance through training in hula ‘schools’, called hālau hula or pā hula.
Namake‘elua (who is sometimes recorded as Nama-elua), a hula teacher Kalākaua summoned for his jubilee, had decided to remain in Honolulu instead of returning to his home on the island of Kauai.
The handful of students undertook training in hula genres associated with Indigenous pre-European contact traditions, very different from the hula ku‘i of the court. (Imada)
Four women entered the hālau hula – three of them were Hui Lei Mamo dancers, including Kapahu. Their intensive training commenced in 1892, with the young women taking residence in the teacher’s home.
For about six weeks, the dancers were kapu (sacred or consecrated). They dedicated themselves to the goddess Laka, the patron of hula, and erected a hula kuahu (altar), imploring Laka to give them knowledge.
They danced for about six hours a day, taking swims in the ocean and meals in between practices. The repertoire was ‘very religious’. Hula practice was a part of a sacred realm and governed by strict rules, because hula performances manifested the gods’ and ali‘i’s mana (sacred power) and rank.
On the day of the ‘ūniki (ritual graduation), graduates of other hula schools came to watch the four women dance. Only after undergoing ‘ūniki were they released from sacredness and became noa (free). The following day, they celebrated their release with a feast and public performance for friends and family.
At the end of their graduation, Kapahu and three others graduates and two men as chanters and musicians were chosen to go to Chicago for the Exposition in 1893. They were the first hula dancers to dance on the mainland, or for that matter, anywhere in the Western world. (Kealiinohomoku)
They were a ‘smashing success’. While they left the Islands with a 6-months contract, they extended their tour for four years, during the time they travelled over Europe and Russia. (Kealiinohomoku)
“On the way back from Europe, Jennie met Johnny Wilson in Chicago. They were both 24. He was managing a tour of Hawaiian Band — another big hit on the vaudeville circuit. They’d been childhood playmates. Now they simply fell in love.”
However, “Back home in Honolulu, Johnny’s mother refused to allow him to marry a hula dancer. … Johnny and Jennie respected his mother’s feelings, but finally she passed on and in 1908 they were married.” Kapahu then became known as Jennie Wilson.
“Johnny became a builder of sewer systems, roads, breakwaters and even of the highway over the Pali. And he built respect for social new deals along democratic lines and that’s why the people of Hawaii came to love and respect him”. (Honolulu Record, November 21, 1957)
Johnny Wilson brought Jennie to Pelekunu to live in 1902. The entry in Johnny’s diary for Tuesday, April 8, 1902, reads, “Arrived Pelekunu & occupied Koehana’s house”. According to Bob Krauss, Jennie was “one of Hawai‘i’s premier hula dancers” and not used to country life; the Hawaiians in the valley wondered how long Jennie would stick it out.
In the beginning Johnny and Jennie lived at the shore, but sometime after the 1903 tsunami Johnny built Jennie a house farther back in the valley. Later, Johnny bought Jennie a piano, the only one in Pelekunu. (Krauss)
Jennie did stick it out for quite a while. She helped teach the children in Pelekunu and ran their taro operation while Johnny was away. Eventually, however, Jennie did leave the valley; in the summer of 1914, Jennie finally got tired of the rain. She staged a one-woman mutiny and moved to a drier place on Molokai at Kamalō, where Johnny had a cattle ranch.
Wilson tried to aid the small native Hawaiian farmers by arranging for a steamer schedule to remote taro- and rice-producing areas. When his plans for a commercial line fell through Wilson convinced the federal administration to place a post office in Pelekunu, guaranteeing regular steamer visits to deliver the mail. (Cook)
However, when his wife left (she was postmistress,) no one filled the post and the post office closed. The steamships tried to keep regular schedules to Pelekunu to support the valley’s residents. However, they were not regular enough and eventually others abandoned Pelekunu valley, deeming it as too isolated to remain viable in a cash economy. (Cook)
John (Johnny) Henry Wilson was born December 15, 1871 to Charles Burnett (CB) Wilson and Eveline (Townsend) Wilson. His parents’ friends included the John and Lydia Dominus (Lili‘uokalani) and Kalākaua.
“We had known Mr. Wilson quite well as a young man when he was courting his wife. My husband and myself had warmly favored his suit; and, with his wife, he naturally became a retainer of the household, and from time to time they took up their residence with us.” (Liliʻuokalani)
During her imprisonment, Queen Liliʻuokalani was denied any visitors other than one lady in waiting (Mrs. Eveline Wilson – Johnny’s mother.) Johnny would bring newspapers hidden in flowers from the Queen’s garden; reportedly, Liliʻuokalani’s famous song Kuʻu Pua I Paoakalani (written while imprisoned,) was dedicated to him (it speaks of the flowers at her Waikiki home, Paoakalani.).
Johnny Wilson got involved with politics and is credited as being the most important Democrat in the first half of 20th-century Hawaiʻi; his name is used with Jack Burns in the party movement. He was in a meeting on April 30, 1900 that organized the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi.
He would serve three stints as mayor: 1920 to 1927, 1929 to 1931 and 1946 to 1954. (From 1941 to 1946, he was Director of Public Works.) Jennie Wilson made her most significant strides for women’s rights in 1919 as first lady to the Honolulu mayor.
She organized what’s considered “the first meeting of women in the territory to discuss the new sphere of womanhood” that the 1920s suffrage movement ushered in. (Hawai‘i Magazine) Johnny Wilson passed away on July 2, 1956 at the age of 84; Jennie Wilson died July 23, 1962 at the age of 90.