The deep hollow rumble of drums invites dancers’ heartbeats to follow the same rhythm as their bodies draw elegant and gentle moves into the air that embraces them with the memory of the Pacific Ocean’s salty waters and the islands’ sweet and exotic smells. Greeting their audience with the Hawaiian Aloha, the Samoan Talofa and the Tahitian ‘Ia Ora Na, a salute from each island they represent, the Hiti Mahana dancers and drummers 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 Rising Sun in 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 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.
Soon after moving to Florida, Reyes’ family followed along. She explained, “My sister and her husband Gabe Ma’ae, who is from the Samoan Islands, my brother Nico and his wife, Lehua Ahnee, who is from Hawaii, helped us establish and expand Hiti Mahana. More recently, we moved our parents, who have been our biggest supporters, from Texas to Florida to live out the rest of their retirement days close to us.”
Daughters of a veteran who served 22 years in the U.S. Army and retired in Texas, Reyes and Ma’ae, along with their brothers, are first generation state-born, as their parents are from Guam. Through the many ups and downs of military life, Reyes and her siblings have honored their cultural heritage as Pacific Islanders and stayed 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 had us join Polynesian dance schools wherever the Army took us,” Reyes said. “As military life has challenged us with tough work schedules, relocating and deployments, our main constant has always been our connection to the culture, in hopes that our children can grow to embrace it and pass it down to future generations. This deep connection is also what has enabled us to grow the company into what it is today.”
Welcoming students from all cultural backgrounds, the family of Hiti Mahana has become even bigger and stronger. “Our students bring something unique to the family and their collective hard work is what makes each performance successful,” Reyes explained. “When students from all walks of life are eager to learn the dances and culture, it is as if we have thrown a rock into a pond to create a ripple effect that continues to spread. When your family comes from such a small island and population, those ripples can make 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 also for a constantly rising number of civilian communities and companies, winning important competitions as they share their passion and love for the Pacific Islands with their awestruck audience.
You can keep in touch with Hiti Mahana through their social media platforms: