Hawaii ( ) Polynesia, USA
Hula is a dance form accompanied by chant (oli) or song (mele). It was developed in the
Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there. The hula dramatizes or portrays the words of the oli or mele in a visual dance form.
There are many sub-styles of hula, with the main two categories being Hula 'Auana and Hula Kahiko.
There are also two main positions of a hula dance - either sitting (noho dance) or standing (luna dance). Some dances utilize both forms.
Hula is taught in schools or groups called hālau. The teacher of hula is the kumu hula, where kumu means source of knowledge, or literally just teacher. Often you will find that there is a hierarchy in hula schools - starting with the kumu (teacher), alaka'i (leader), kokua (helpers), and then the 'olapa (dancers) or haumana (students). Most, if not all, hula hālau(s) have a permission chant in order to enter wherever they may practice. They will collectively chant their entrance chant, then wait for the kumu to respond with the entrance chant, once he or she is finished, the students may enter. One well known and often used entrance or permission chant is Kunihi Ka Mauna.
Hula dancing is a complex art form, and there are many hand motions used to represent the words in a song or chant. For example, hand movements can signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or yearning. Foot and hip movements often pull from a basic library of steps including the kaholo, ka'o, kawelu, hela, 'uwehe, and 'ami.
There are various legends surrounding the origins of hula.
According to one Hawaiian legend, Laka, goddess of the hula, gave birth to the dance on the
, at a sacred place in Ka’ana. After Laka died, her remains were hidden beneath the hill Pu’u Nana. island of Moloka’i
Another story tells of Hi’iaka, who danced to appease her fiery sister, the volcano goddess Pele. This story locates the source of the hula on
, in the Puna district at the Hā’ena shoreline. The ancient hula Ke Ha’a Ala Puna describes this event. Hawai’i
Another story is when Pele, the goddess of fire was trying to find a home for herself running away from her sister Namakaokaha'i (the goddess of the oceans) when she finally found an island where she couldn't be touched by the waves. There at chain of craters on the
she danced the first dance of hula signifying that she finally won. island of Hawai'i
One story is that Pele asked Laka to amuse her because Pele was bored. So right away Laka got up and began to move gracefully, acting out silently events they both knew. Pele enjoyed this and was fascinated. Thus Hula was born.
American Protestant missionaries, who arrived in 1820, denounced the hula as a heathen dance. The newly Christianized ali’i (royalty and nobility) were urged to ban the hula—which they did. However, many of them continued to privately patronize the hula. By the 1850s, public hula was regulated by a system of licensing.
The Hawaiian performing arts had a resurgence during the reign of King David Kalākaua (1874–1891), who encouraged the traditional arts. With the Princess Liliuokalani who devoted herself to the old ways, as the patron of the ancients chants (mele, hula), she stressed the importance to revive the diminishing culture of their ancestors within the damaging influence of foreigners and modernism that was forever changing
Hula changed drastically in the early 20th century as it was featured in tourist spectacles, such as the Kodak Hula Show, and in
Hollywood films. However, a more traditional hula was maintained in small circles by older practitioners. There has been a renewed interest in hula, both traditional and modern, since the 1970s and the Hawaiian Renaissance.
Ancient hula, as performed before Western encounters with
, is called kahiko. It is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments. Hawai’i
Hula kahiko, often defined as those hula composed prior to 1893 which do not include modern instruments, encompasses an enormous variety of styles and moods, from the solemn and sacred to the frivolous. Many hula were created to praise the chiefs and performed in their honor, or for their entertainment. Types of hula kahiko include ‘āla’apapa, ha’a, ‘olapa, and many others.
Many hula dances are considered to be a religious performance, as they are dedicated to or honoring a Hawaiian goddess or god. As was true of ceremonies at the heiau, the platform temple, even a minor error was considered to invalidate the performance. It might even be a presage of bad luck or have dire consequences. Dancers who were learning to do such hula necessarily made many mistakes. Hence they were ritually secluded and put under the protection of the goddess Laka during the learning period. Ceremonies marked the successful learning of the hula and the emergence from seclusion.
Hula kahiko is performed today by dancing to the historical chants. Many hula kahiko are characterized by traditional costuming, by an austere look, and a reverence for their spiritual roots.
Hawaiian history was oral history. It was codified in genealogies and chants, which were memorized and passed down. In the absence of a written language, this was the only available method of ensuring accuracy. Chants told the stories of creation, mythology, royalty, and other significant events and people.
Traditional female dancers wore the everyday pā’ū, or wrapped skirt, but were topless. Today this form of dress has been altered. Dancers might also wear decorations such as necklaces, bracelets, and anklets, as well as many lei (in the form of headpieces (leipo'o), necklaces, bracelets, and anklets (kupe'e)).
Traditional male dancers wore the everyday malo, or loincloth. They also wore necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and lei.
The materials for the lei worn in performance were gathered in the forest, after prayers to Laka and the forest gods had been chanted.
The lei and tapa worn for sacred hula were considered imbued with the sacredness of the dance, and were not to be worn after the performance. Lei were typically left on the small altar to Laka found in every hālau, as offerings.
Instruments and implements:
Ipu—single gourd drum
Ipu heke—double gourd drum
Pahu—sharkskin covered drum; considered sacred
Pūniu—small knee drum made of a coconut shell with fish skin (kala) cover
‘Ili’ili—water-worn lava stone used as castanets
‘Ulī’ulī—feathered gourd rattles (also ‘ulili)
Pū’ili—split bamboo sticks
The dog's-tooth anklets sometimes worn by male dancers could also be considered instruments, as they underlined the sounds of stamping feet.
Hula as it evolved under Western influence, in the 19th and 20th centuries, is called ‘auana (a word that means "to wander or drift"). It is accompanied by song and Western-influenced musical instruments such as the guitar, the ‘ukulele, and the double bass.
The mele of hula ‘auana are generally sung as if they were popular music. A lead voice sings in a major scale, with occasional harmony parts.
The primary influences were Christian morality and melodic harmony. Hula ‘auana still tells or comments on a story, but the stories may include events since the 1800s. The subject of the songs is as broad as the range of human experience. People write mele hula ‘auana to comment on significant people, places or events or simply to express an emotion or idea.
The costumes of the women dancers are less revealing and the music is heavily Western-influenced.
The musicians performing hula ‘auana will typically use portable acoustic stringed instruments.
‘Ukulele—four-, six- or eight-stringed, used to maintain the rhythm if there are no other instruments
Guitar—used as part of the rhythm section, or as a lead instrument
Steel guitar—accents the vocalist
Bass—maintains the rhythm
Occasional hula ‘auana call for the dancers to use implements, in which case they will use the same instruments as for hula kahiko. You will often see a hula 'auana with the dancers using ‘Ulī’ulī (feathered gourd rattle).
© Text: Wikipedia / Photo: Jordi Canal-Soler