When a Hawaiian Scout at the 1969 national jamboree asked if he could twirl another boy’s fireknife, a major element in the first youth’s life—and the lives of his future family—was set forever.
The Ahunas showcase Polynesian and American Indian dances. Joe and Janice, in Aloha attire, are surrounded by (clockwise from top left) daughter-in-law, Marlise; Joseph III; Ruth; Michael; Angela; David (with hoops); and James.
Joe Ahuna, a 14-year-old Boy Scout, took home vivid memories from Farragut State Park—just like thousands of other Scouts who attended the 7th national jamboree, held in northern Idaho in 1969.
But Joe also took something uniquely his own back to his home state of Hawaii—a desire to perform Samoan fireknife dancing, a skill he saw demonstrated by an American Samoan Scout at that jamboree. He has since learned and mastered the art and passed it on to several of his children. Call it the Ahuna family’s jamboree legacy.
“It’s important that we develop certain talents that we may gain from different experiences,” said Joe, a longtime Scouter from Kaneohe, Hawaii, in theAloha Council and most recently first assistant Scoutmaster of jamboree Troop 604 at the 2005 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. “But what is more important in developing these talents is to share them.”
In this case, Joe has shared his fireknife dancing skill with his sons Joseph III, David, Michael, and James. And along with his wife of 27 years, Janice, who sings and plays the ukulele, Joe has developed shows that have included their daughters Ruth and Angela, who perform hulas and a variety of other Polynesian dances.
The Ahuna boys have also been trained by their dad in the Navajo hoop dance. A Boy Scout who had learned the American Indian dance in the Order of the Arrow taught it to Joe in exchange for Joe’s instructing him in the fireknife dance.
A USO TOUR AND ‘TO TELL THE TRUTH’
In the 36 years since the jamboree that witnessed Eagle Scout Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon and Joe Ahuna’s first hesitant twirls of a borrowed fireknife, the family’s jamboree legacy has emerged through Dad Joe’s dancing and then the performances of the whole Ahuna clan.
Joe, an Eagle Scout at 15 who attended college and law school in Hawaii and Utah, worked at perfecting his Samoan fireknife dance, combining it with years of prior experience playing the ukulele and singing in several venues. In 1973-74, a year after he started college, a six-month stint of daily fireknife dancing at a hotel in Japan helped him refine his entertainment skill—and earn money. That period was essentially the only time he ever asked for or expected payment for his talent.
Ruth and Angela perform a traditional Tahitian Otea group dance.
Prior to and after his hotel job, Joe toured with a talented group of song-and-dance “good-will ambassadors” from his college in Hawaii. Soon he was asked by the group’s director to perfect his Navajo hoop dance, in which a dancer generally uses up to 22 hoops to trace out such shapes in nature as animals and plants. He then performed in a USO tour of the Far East—in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Korea.
That tour completed, as well as a two-year mission for his church, Joe then transferred to the Provo, Utah, campus of Brigham Young University and began dating Janice. Joining another song-and-dance group on the new campus, Joe was soon performing the hoop dance on a tour of the East Coast and through the countries of Romania and Bulgaria, and then later, in Poland and what was then the Soviet Union. He even appeared as himself—Joe Ahuna, the fireknife dancer—on the nationally broadcast television game show “To Tell the Truth.”
A HINT OF THINGS TO COME
After his marriage in 1978 and the birth of his son Joseph the next year, Joe made one last good-will tour with his fellow students, to China. Then came three years of law school in Utah and a return to Hawaii in 1983 with Janice and their growing family.
Janice had already gotten a hint of things to come when their first three children, Joseph, Ruth, and David, were born, respectively, in 1979, 1980, and 1982.
“Rather than saying, ‘It’s a boy,’ or ‘It’s a girl,’ the first thing I said was, ‘We’ve got a hoop dancer or a fireknife dancer,’ or ‘We’ve got a hula dancer,'” admitted Joe.
Having felt “blessed with all these neat experiences traveling throughout the world” performing, Joe longed for his family to share the same kind of experience. Why not continue with my own family? he thought to himself at the time.
Thoughts have consequences.
With the births of Angela, Michael, and James in 1985, 1990, and 1992, the immediate family troupe was complete. All the boys learned the Navajo hoop dance by the age of 3 or 4, and the Samoan fireknife dance at various ages between 8 and 16. Ruth and Angela were doing Hawaiian hulas and dances from Tahiti, New Zealand, Samoa, and other Polynesian cultures almost as soon as they could walk. Throw in lessons on the piano, guitar, drums, and bass, as well as instruction from Joe for all on the ukulele, and the family’s performing bent was launched.
Janice became the unofficial stage manager and official costumer, making intricate outfits for the entire family without patterns. “I feel very fortunate that my children have had their dad, that he has passed his talents to them, and that they have been able to be blessed with wonderful experiences as he was,” said Janice. “It’s also made them learn how to give.”
Eagle Scout Joseph demonstrates skill and agility in a performance of the Samoan fireknife dance.
A COMMITMENT TO SCOUTING
Of Joe and Janice’s sons, Joseph and David are Eagle Scouts. Younger sons Michael and James attended the 2005 national jamboree as Scouts, and they and their troop’s ukulele-strumming choir were among the nine finalists in the Scout talent search for “Jamboree Idol.” The two Ahuna boys performed a Samoan fireknife dance and sang as part of jamboree Troop 604’s “James and Michael Ahuna and Boyz.”
Michael, James, and their troopmates also put on a Hawaiian show at their campsite for Scouts from the Western Alaska Council, to help uplift their spirits after the loss of four of their leaders in a tragic accident a few days earlier. Michael and James performed the Navajo hoop dance with 22 white hoops, as well as the fireknife dance.
Over the past 20 years, Dad Joe has been a Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Varsity Coach, Exploring Advisor, and Venturing Advisor, and is now a unit commissioner. A Daily Stage Show staffer, then director, at the 1997 and 2001 National Scout Jamborees, Joe also served as an adult leader with the Hawaii contingent at several national jamborees, most recently in 2005. Janice has been a den leader, Cub Scout committee chair, and Scout advancement chairman.
“What Scouting is all about is making families stronger,” said Joe.
In the family’s early days of performing, Scouting also offered opportunities for the Ahuna kids to sharpen their skills. Joe went out of his way to look for Scouting venues at which his children could perform, like talent shows, camporees, and the like. Many of the family’s appearances were at charity events, like a Big Brothers Big Sisters fund-raiser; many others were revues at nursing homes, hospitals, ophanages, and churches.
Family practices before shows were not optional. “Practicing meant we had to get the program together, and in order…to make the program work, we all had to be there,” said daughter Angela. “We all had to cooperate and work together as a family.”
CHURCH EVENTS AND WAIKIKI BEACH
Perhaps key to Joe and Janice’s attitude toward their children’s performing has been their steadfast encouragement, regardless of whether a particular song or dance number came out just as planned or not. A dropped fireknife or hoop, a botched dance step were no big deal. As a result, their children don’t fret over mistakes and miscues.
Janice also says performing has been an antidote to all six of her children’s natural shyness. Oldest son Joseph agrees.
“Even in just getting along with people, [performing has] helped me to get out of my shell,” Joseph said. “Dancing has helped me overcome fears.”
Costumes are all created by Mom Janice. Michael (in lava lava), Ruth (in Tahitian outfit), and Angela (in Maori dress) kid around offstage as (left, rear) their sister-in-law, Marlise (in Samoan attire), looks on.
Dad Joe’s favorite philosophies, “If you can dream it, you can do it” and “It’s better to shoot for the stars and miss than aim at nothing and hit it,” have apparently sunk in, too. After years of doing benefits for many church events—always sharing, in service, with gratitude, and never for a fee—the Ahunas, collectively and individually, have been performing in more glamorous venues for some time. Tokyo Disney. Waikiki Beach. Epcot Center. The 2001 National Scout Jamboree, in which the family performed throughout the week on the Daily Stage. The World Cup Soccer Games in Korea and the Winter Olympic Games—both in 2002. Tours in Japan, Puerto Rico, the Czech Republic, Holland, and many other countries. And still never asking a fee.
James, 12, who likes to sing, is a member of the well-known Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus, which sang the title song for the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch” and recently completed its East/West Coast Tour 2005, with a performance at Ground Zero in New York City, site of the 9/11 tragedy.
A daughter-in-law, Joseph III’s wife, Marlise, has also begun to perform with her husband.
CHAMPION FIREKNIFE DANCERS
There were also numerous fireknife dancing competitions along the way, like the annual World Fireknife Competition at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the island of Oahu in Hawaii and, more recently, the annual Polynesian Festival on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in May 2005, at which James (2nd), Michael (2nd), and David (3rd) all placed in their respective age groups.
“In my family,” said Joe, “performing together and developing this talent that I learned at the national jamboree—not only developing it but sharing it—has brought us closer together as a family. And it’s brought us much happiness and joy in this life.”
Joseph and Marlise recently had a son, Joseph IV—Joe and Janice’s first grandchild—whose Hawaiian name, Joseph Peter Kia’inainoa’anaakupunaeho’omaukehanaikapono Ahuna IV, means “Remember and carry on the good works of your ancestors.”
Like his parents, aunts and uncles, he’s sure to receive his part of the Ahunas’ jamboree legacy.
Kathy Vilim DaGroomes is associate editor of Scouting magazine.
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