HULA: A Living Hawaiian Tradition

"The language of our heart, therefore the heart beat of the Hawaiian people."

King David Kalakaua

The Story of Hula

HULA. The dance known as hula was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by their original Polynesian settlers, who migrated there by canoes from southeastern Pacific islands beginning in the fifth century. Two-way voyaging continued for several centuries, during which people brought domesticated animals, plant seeds and trees, and all the different cultural necessities for life on these uninhabited islands. Other ethnic groups have come to Hawaii since the first European contact in 1778. Western and Asian settlers have contributed to Hawaii's present multicultural dance culture. The hula, however, has remained largely uninfluenced by other dance traditions.

The origins of hula are contained in many legends. One story describes the adventures of Hi'iaka, who danced to appease her fiery sister, the volcano goddess Pele. The Hi'iaka story provides the basic foundation for many present-day dances. As late as the early twentieth century, ritual and prayer surrounded all aspects of hula training and practice. Teachers and students were dedicated to Laka, goddess of the hula, and appropriate offerings were made regularly.

Hula is now highly visible, especially in two annual competitions. At the Merrie Monarch Festival each April on the island of Hawaii, male and female groups compete in hula kahiko and hula 'auana categories, and solo female dancers vie for the title Miss Aloha Hula. The King Kamehameha Traditional Hula and Chant Competition each June on Oahu features competitions for male, female, and mixed groups in hula kahiko and hula 'auana. Popularity also comes from the introduction by younger choreographers of faster and flashier movement designed to maintain visual interest, since audiences no longer understand the Hawaiian-language text in most songs.

The term hula refers to movement and gestures. Hula, however, cannot be performed without mele or song, the most important component. Mele are records of cultural information ranging from sacred mele pule and mele inoa to topical mele ho'oipoipo or love song and mele 'aina a song praising the land. The type of mele used is one way of classifying the dances. Allusion is greatly valued in the poetry, and hula gestures are a secondary level of abstraction. They do not tell the entire story but rather interpret key aspects of the mele. The concept of hula therefore involves mele and its recited realization in performance.

In Hula the most commonly used instruments are the ipu or dried gourd, the 'uli'uli or feather-decorated gourd rattle, the pu'ili or split bamboo rattle, the 'ili'ili or stone pebbles, two in each hand, and kala'au or wooden sticks. Also very popular is the pahu drum. It is a low sounding drum that helps to keep time.

Hula is definitely a tradition thet will never die. As a culuture, we Hawaiians embrace the rich traditions that lie within Hula. Hula has come a long way and continues to beat strong within the hearts and lands of Hawaii and its people. We need to remember that Hula is truly a gift given to all of us. We must embrace it and share it with all. Lets us remember and cherish the saying of our great King Kalakaua, "Hula is the language of our heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people." Yes, it surely is!

'A'ohe i pau ka 'ike i ka halau ho'okahi. (All knowledge cannot be contained in only one place.)


Na Ke'ehi I Ka Ha'a- Hula steps

The Merrie Monarch Festival

Holo Mai Pele

Ka 'Imi Na'auao O Hawai'i Nei

Real Hula

Alternative Hawaii Hula: Ancient and Modern