In Memory of Roiti Tahauri Sylva. Heaven gained the most unique Angel and we lost the most beautiful, special and talented woman. She left us sooner than we expected and we will miss her greatly! She has instilled and inspired in so many the love of her culture, people, church and most of all her family. She didn't have much but she gave unceasingly what she could. We have been so privileged that Heavenly Father brought her into our lives. May we continue in her behalf what she left behind!
Roiti Tehetu Tahauri Sylva was born on the island of Takaroa in the Tuamotu Islands (French Polynesia). She danced for the legendary dance instructor Madeleine Mou'a among other notable Tahitian dance instructors in Tahiti. She came to Hawaii in 1959 before statehood and was a featured dancer in Waikiki under the direction on Teri’Rua and Tavana. There she choreographed many of the show performances and helped to formulate the Ahuroa~Ahupurotu style of dance.
It was an idea for a new take on an old dance, traditional, innovational, show stopping. The year was 1967, and Roiti Tahauri Sylva, a Tahitian immigrant to Hawaii, was on stage at the Queen’s Surf in Honolulu. She had a group of performers with her, all of them wearing long, elegant dresses with fitted sleeves and ruffles, tropical flowers adorning the fabric. They were to dance in front of a large audience: tourists, locals, complete with journalists. The dance was to consist of a slow ‘aparima, done in waltz time, to the song, Tau Tamaiti Here. But before they could go on stage, Roiti was asked a simple question by the master of ceremony and co-creator of the dance, Tavana Hare Salmon: “What is the name of this dance?” After a seconds pause, she answered, “‘Ahuroa.”
On the second show that night, Roiti reconsidered her choice in the name and called it an ‘ahu’purotu. Both names have since gained a certain resonance. The word, ahu, refers to any cloth or garment, and roahas numerous definitions, but in this context, it pertains to one complete piece of an object, long in length. The word, purotu, translates into beautiful. Each name then references the dress the dancers wear:‘ahuroa is a single piece, long dress; ‘ahu’purotu is a beautiful dress. Both names continue to be used today, usually interchangeably.
Meant to be performed for only that weekend, the ‘ahuroa took on a life of its own. The dance was such a success that dancers in the group as well as dancers in the audience started copying the specifics of this new style and performing them in other nearby venues, sometimes calling it an ‘ahuroa, other times an ‘ahu’purotu, or simply referring to it as a slow or formal‘aparima, which is considered one of the four recorded surviving forms of Tahitian dance: the others being the ‘ōte‘a, hivinau, and pā‘ō‘ā.
Among other cultural endeavors, she taught Tahitian language courses at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Not only was she a constant leader, supporter, teacher and judge at all the many competitions and festivals throughout the United States and Japan.
Roiti also conducted hundreds of workshops in California and Japan to so many eager dancers and halaus who respected and trusted her judgement. Her participation at most Tahitian dance competitions was a given. She was not afraid to criticize directors and dancers, but always did so in a loving and teachable manner. People would leave the critique sessions feeling informed and good about their performance. She just had that effect on everyone!
On behalf of the family, we’d like to take some time to remember those that have past on. In Polynesia, Family is more than who is your brother, sister, mother or father. Family is defined by the people you love and care about. You will see many extended Families that cross all ethnic bounds. We can only say Aloha, and Mahalo to those that have left us…
E Mauruuru A Vau, Farewell my dearest Auntie Roiti. I will always remember your generosity, hospitality, concern and sincerity, you made us feel so loved. You were always there for us, from my earliest childhood memories of family gatherings and special events. I am so blessed to have had you in my life and will miss you so much!
E Mauruuru A Vau.