To understand the history of hula, you must first realize that there are many different dances throughout the Polynesian islands of Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand, but Hula is unique to the Hawaiian islands. There are a lot of different legends surrounding the origin of hula. According to one legend, Laka (the goddess of hula invented the dance at a sacred place in Ka’ana, on the island of Molokai. Another legend tells us that Hi’iaka danced to appease her sister Pel’e (the fiery volcano goddess). Hi’iaka is said to have invented hula in Kauai’s north shore valley of Ha’ena. Another legend states that Pele’ the volcano goddess was running from her sister Namakoakaha’I (the goddess of the oceans).
When Pele’ finally reached the chain of craters on the big island, where she couldn’t be touched by waves, she danced the first dance of hula signifying that she had beat her sister.
The history of hula deals with two different forms of hula. They are Hula Kahiko, (ancient hula) and Hula Auana (modern hula). Hula Kahiko was danced by the ancient Hawaiians as a religious homage to their Gods. This ancient dance was accompanied by meles (chants), drums, bamboo rattles, rock castanets and striking sticks. In those times, Hula was danced exclusively by men. The dance told a story (like a pantomime) and was carried down through the family. This was the way the ancient Hawaiians passed along their history. After Captain Cook’s arrival in the late 1700’s, Hula was frowned upon. American Protestant Missionaries arrived in 1820 and denounced Hula as a lewd heathen dance. The newly Christianized ali’I (royalty) were urged to ban Hula. The ali’I banned public performances of hula, but continued to patronize it. With the convert to Christianity, Hula, like many other things, soon became a dying part of Hawaiian culture.
In 1874 with the accession of King David Kalakaua, Hula once again, officially went public. King Kalakaua was know as the Merrie Monarch because of his love of gatherings, celebrations and parties. He had performances of Hula at his 1883 coronation and his 1886 Jubilee. After Kalakaua’s death in 1891 and his sister Queen Lili’oukalani being forced from the throne by American businessmen, Hula came to an end as a part of official government protocol. Hula had again died for almost a century.
Hula although not as popular as it once was, continued to evolve. Dancers started blending native elements of the dance with foreign ones. Hula Kui (joined hula) soon became popular. In the late 1800”s after steamship travel became popular, many people traveled to Hawaii from all over the world. Likewise, Hawaiians also started to travel. American and European musicians introduced Hawaii to new melodies and dances. Hula continued to evolve with more and more western influences. In the early to mid 1900”s, Hula began to evolve into a less formal style now called Hula Auana. Hula Auana doesn’t have meles and ancient instruments, instead the dancers dance to guitars, bass, steel guitars and ukuleles and a singer often times singing falsetto. The modern hula, or Hula Auana still tells stories of Hawaii, but has lost almost all of it’s religious significance and has become pure entertainment. Some Hawaiians still practice Hula Kahiko and go to a Hulau (Hula school) for many, many years. The Kumu (teacher) is usually very serious and strict. The Kumu teaches the dancers the history of hula and how to dance each form.
Ancient instruments are still used for Hula Kahiko. When you are visiting Oahu, it is a must to find a Hula show on the Island. The best place to see Hula Kahiko or Hula Auana is at Paradise Cove Luau or you can learn the history of hula and see a true hula kahiko preformance at Polynesian Cultural Center. Whatever you choose to do, it is a must to see a hula preformance and the love and devotion these preformers have for their heritage.
Copyright 2007 Discover-Oahu.com