Monday, April 1, 2013

The Hawaiian Hula

At this time of the year, Hawaii becomes the focus of much of the world not because of Hawaii's volcanoes but because of that dance that originated from Hawaii -- the Hula.  Annually a Hula festival, known as the "Merrie Monarch"  is held on the Big Island of Hawaii.  "Halaus" (Hula schools) from all over the Hawaiian islands as well as those from the US mainland and even  Japan travel to Hilo, the capital of the Big Island, to participate in dance exhibitions and compete in  Hula dance contests. The Hula festival lasts for a week during which hotel rooms and rental cars are hard to get. This year it is from March 31 to April 6.

Ancient Hawaiians have always danced the Hula.  In those days, men wore only loin cloths and the women, skirts made of palm or Ti leaves. 

Then Christian missionaries from the US mainland descended on Hawaii in 1820,  pretty much took control of the Kingdom's culture shortly thereafter, and declared the Hula to be a sinful and vulgar heathen ritual. They convinced the early Hawaiian monarchs to ban the Hula although its teaching and practice continued clandestinely.

Hula was only revived during the reign of King Kamehameha III, who demanded religious freedom. The dance was performed openly but women had to concede to  "modesty" and wore high-necked Western style gowns.

During the mid 19th century King David Kalakaua, who loved Hawaiian festivals and celebrations,  decided to lift  the Hula to a more prominent role in Hawaiian culture by encouraging its performance and even creating new steps. costumes and songs.  King Kalakaua was known as the "Merry Monarch."  From then on more of the world came to know about the enthralling dance.

Hollywood movies have impacted Hula to a great extent that many people's notion of Hula is the one they've often seen in movies.  Pseudo Hula dancers gyrate their hips and move their hands thinking they are dancing the Hula. Little do they know that more than any part of the body, the hands are the most important focus of a Hula dance. The hands tell a story. The movements are pure poetry.

Many people outside Hawaii only know the modern Hula. There are really two distinct kinds:  the ancient Hula and the modern Hula.

Called Kahiko, the ancient Hula  is danced amidst chants and the beat of drums, usually made of gourd.  The  body movements are sharp, abrupt and rapid. Dancers wear traditional loin cloths and skirts made of leaves or their representation .

Modern Hula, called Auana, is a mix of ancient Hula and modern influences. It is danced to melodic music accompanied by guitars and ukeleles. The movements are more languid than those of ancient Hula.

But Hula is really more than just a dance. The seamless fluidity and evident grace of trained Hula dancers come from years of devotion to not only dancing but the study of Hawaiian culture.  It is a form of discipline and  a representation of values that Hawaiians cherish -- graciousness, gentleness,  and an intimate relationship with nature.

The links below will give you an idea of the Hula.

Photo by David Olsen

A modern depiction of a Hula dancer in ancient Hawaii. Photo:


(Single performer dancing Kahiko or traditional Hula)

(Group performance of the traditional Hula)

(Single performer dancing modern Hula or Auana)

(Group performance of the modern Hula, Auana)

(Hula history)

 - Ariel Murphy


  1. Great blog, Ariel - Loved it!

  2. Once again, Ariel, your ability to be thorough and concise amaze me...well done!

  3. Thanks Peter and Paul! Wow! That sounded nice. If only a "Mary" would come along. lol!