As part of new Hawaii football coach Timmy Chang‘s efforts to mend a program that was in peril prior to him taking the job, countless steps have been made to dig into the program’s past in hopes of reviving fanfare around the team.
During the team’s ‘Island Day‘ spring game earlier in the month, another blast for the past made its return for the foreseeable future.
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Under the tutelage of former UH linebacker Brad Kalilimoku, the ha’a is back. Specifically, it is the same original ha’a the team performed during its storied 2007 season in which the team finished the regular season 12-0, culminating in a Sugar Bowl appearance. Written by Kalilimoku, 2007 was the only season it was used.
Until 2022. After Kalilimoku taught select members of the team the ha’a, the entire team performed it prior to kickoff on Island Day. The plan is to carry it into the 2022 regular season and beyond.
“Coach Timmy reached out to me and he said ‘We want to bring the ha’a back’ and I was like, ‘Sweet.’ So I hit up the other two boys that helped me with it, Guton Galdeira and Keala Watson,” Kalilimoku recalled to KHON2. “We all kind of worked on the ha’a together and then coach was like, ‘Can we get some of the boys together?’ We got the boys together in the dance studio and sat them down. We sat in like a half circle and was like, ‘OK, who’s ready to be the leader?’
Kamehameha alumnus and current Rainbow Warrior defensive lineman Jonah Kahahawai-Welch stepped forward and was selected as the leader.
Before the ha’a was brought to the UH football team in 2007, the team used to perform a haka used by the New Zealand national rugby team in the years prior. Perhaps the main difference between a ha’a and haka is the language in which it is performed. A ha’a is Hawaiian, while a haka derives from Maori culture.
Kalilimoku says when the ha’a he wrote came to fruition approximately 15 years ago, representing the Hawaiian culture was at the forefront of his intentions.
“We have our own culture here, the Hawaiian culture, so why wasn’t a ha’a ever created? So when we were able to create that in 2007, a lot of the community responded well to it and they felt like we actually gave something back to them,” Kalilimoku recalled.
“A lot of times, our people here feel like they lose a lot of stuff every single day. Our people are moving out, just financially, economically, all these reasons. So, when we was creating the ha’a, we were thinking about our people and our team. So, in some of the words of the ha’a, it revolves around our teams fighting and striving to be victorious but we actually call upon our people and I think the good thing about this is that Timmy reached out to me and he wanted support, and what better way to bring the ha’a back to connect our community to the football team? I think a lot of our boys need that.”
Both the ha’a and haka have a complicated history with University of Hawaii football. During the Norm Chow era, as well as the back end of the Greg McMackin era, the team abandoned the ha’a and performed the ‘Tika Tonu’ haka prior to its games, the same haka Kahuku’s football teams would perform before the advent of Seamus Fitzgerald’s ‘Kaipahua Kura’ haka.
UH returned to performing a ha’a different from the one Kalilimoku wrote during the beginning of Nick Rolovich’s tenure, but it was short-lived and gone entirely by 2018. Since then, there has been no ha’a or haka to speak of for the Rainbow Warriors. That changed during Island Day.
“For me, as a Hawaiian growing up here, it’s super emotional,” says Kalilimoku, who is also a prominent actor. “A lot of the things that we do, we do it for our families. Even just things like your family has a hard time paying bills, we work and help out the family at a young age. We just try to make the people in our family proud. I hope that when they do the ha’a, they feel a sense of pride about the family and the place that they represent.
“I wanted to perform. I was really emotional. I was like, ‘Put me in, coach.’
“When it first left I was kind of bummed. A lot of the boys were bummed. It’s funny because when Timmy came back, I think that’s when the re-connect came back. Like, there’s a head coach that really cares about the people and the community. Not just the football team. It really says a lot that he brought it back. We’re actually hoping that a lot of the fans will learn it. Our people will learn it so that when the boys do it everybody else can do it at the same time.”