Military family brings the spirit of Pacific Island culture to amazed audience
The deep, hollow rumble of the drums invites the dancers’ heartbeats to follow the same rhythm as their bodies draw elegant and gentle movements in the air that embraces them with the memory of the salty waters of the Pacific Ocean and the smells sweet and exotic islands. Greeting their audience with the Hawaiian Alohathe Samoan Talofa and the Tahitian ‘Ia Ora Naa salute from each island they represent, the dancers and drummers of Hiti Mahana use body language and sound to tell stories of love for the sea, respect for the land and devotion to their values.
“Hiti Mahana means Sunrise in the Tahitian language,” said Yasmin San Nicolas Reyes, who, along with her sister Jacinta Napua Ma’ae, founded the company, originally called Desert Polynesia, in San Antonio, Texas, in 2009. The new name is a nod to look at the family’s move to Florida, where Reyes’ husband, Air Force Master Sergeant Jeff Reyes, is stationed at Patrick Space Force Base. “The sun rises in the east and living on the east coast of Florida we see some of the most beautiful sunrises,” she said.
Shortly after moving to Florida, Reyes’ family followed. She explained, “My sister and her husband Gabe Ma’ae, who is from Samoa, my brother Nico and his wife, Lehua Ahnee, who is from Hawaii, helped us establish and develop Hiti Mahana. More recently, we moved our parents, who have been our biggest supporters, from Texas to Florida to live the rest of their retirement days near us.
Daughters of a veteran who served 22 years in the U.S. military and retired to Texas, Reyes and Ma’ae, along with their brothers, were born in the first-generation state, with their parents hailing from Guam. . Through the many ups and downs of military life, Reyes and his siblings honored their cultural heritage as Pacific Islanders and remained true to their core values centered around the importance of family.
“Due to the nomadic nature of military life, our parents wanted us to stay connected to our island culture and made us join Polynesian dance schools wherever the military took us,” Reyes said. “As military life has challenged us with difficult work schedules, moves and deployments, our main constant has always been our connection to the culture, in the hope that our children can grow to embrace it and This deep connection is also what has allowed us to make the company what it is today.
Welcoming students from all cultural backgrounds, Hiti Mahana’s family has grown even bigger and stronger. “Our students bring something unique to the family and their collective hard work is what makes every performance successful,” Reyes explained. “When students from all walks of life are eager to learn the dances and the culture, it’s like throwing a stone into a pond to create a ripple effect that continues to spread. When your family comes from such a small island and such a small population, those ripples can have a huge impact across the world.
Hiti Mahana is taking Florida and the East Coast by storm, as their dancers and drummers perform not only for the local military base, but for an ever-growing number of civilian and corporate communities, winning important competitions while sharing their passion and love for the Pacific Islands with their amazed audience.
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