Wants to share love of Hawaiian culture
By Matthew Harris
EPHRAIM—Roy Leabig doesn’t just know a thing or two about Hawaiian culture. It’s his way of life.
For over 30 years, Leabig has dedicated himself to learning and embracing the native traditions and philosophies of Hawaii. Now, he is bringing that experience and love to Sanpete County in the form of family-style classes for local residents.
Classes will be held on Saturdays beginning Aug. 27 and are open adults and children 8 years and older. The classes will meet from 10 a.m.-noon at the Eva Beal Auditorium in the Manti City Building (50 S. Main) and from 2-4 p.m. at the Central Utah Counseling Center, 390 W. 100 North in Ephraim.
Some of the topics and activities covered will include Hawaiian culture, dancing and ukulele.
The classes are not anything like you may have experienced before, Leabig says.
“A lot of what I am teaching is actually seeing what’s going on and being able to express what you’re seeing,” he said. “It isn’t a class of textbooks and reading…It’s bringing in a drum and inviting all to participate.”
Classroom interaction helps the teacher share his message, Leabig says. Through drums and dancing, “I tell them a story. All of our dances and all of our words have meanings.”
Leabig says he began learning about Hawaiian culture because of a dare. In a relationship with a person learning Tahitian, he attended an event featuring all kinds of Polynesian dances, including Hawaiian. From there, Leabig took in all that he could, eventually traveling with a nonprofit group to Hawaii where his love for the islands only grew.
As a student, Leabig described his early self as “the tall, white guy in the back row…always smiling.”
So bright was his smile, he said, that his Hawaiian teachers called him “Kala”, meaning “the sun,” and the name stuck with him even until now.
“Gradually I was invited to go up closer, given more responsibility and so forth,” Leabig said of his efforts to learn about the culture and the language. “Each time I took it on, I liked it more.”
Native to the Bay Area in California, Leabig moved to Hawaii to become a record producer, producing only in the Hawaiian language. After two years, a group came from the island of Maui, where technology was limited, asked Leabig to produce their music. A friendship was born, and inspiration continued to flow, Leabig said.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Leabig frequently hosted missionaries at his house. Upon learning of one missionary’s plans to attend Snow College in Ephraim, his interest was piqued.
Returning to California, he contacted that now-returned missionary and ultimately decided to move to Utah. He purchased a house in Ephraim and became a permanent resident.
“There was a niche for me here,” Leabig said.
As a resident in Sanpete, he began working with youth from local boys’ homes, teaching them Hawaiian.
“Forty-four boys…spoke fluent Hawaiian after four months,” Leabig said.
Attending one of his classes, Leabig said, was a person working for Snow College who offered him the opportunity to teach Hawaiian Studies at the college.
“The door opened….and I said ok,” Leabig remarked.
Though a resident of Sanpete County, Leabig still has a school in Hawaii.
“Wherever I go [in Hawaii], I see people smile, be courteous, move out of themselves a little bit. That’s what I’m trying to establish here,” he said.
Leabig said Hawaiian has had a lasting influence on his life.
“It has allowed me, in an artistic field, to express myself,” he said. “It’s changed me into more of myself.”
Those who attend Leabig’s lessons are given the opportunity to feel the same way, to express themselves and to learn compassion towards one another, Leabig says. He asks that those who come to learn are willing to learn and be exposed to something new.
“Take your shoes off, come to a space wanting to be taught, come into a space that you know is totally foreign, but want to do it,” Leabig said. “I ask for courtesy, family and concern. I want for my students to be able to turn to me after class and say ‘Is there anything I can help you with, teacher?’”
Registration for each class is $10, or $80 over the eight-week course. There is no advance registration; Leabig said participants can pay at the door.