Hula ‘Auana | Hula Kahiko | Hula Terms | Study Hula | Hula Article | Further Enjoyment

“Hula is the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”
King David (Kâwika) La`amea Kalâkaua

“Hula” – the very word evokes the most beautiful of images—stunningly beautiful Polynesian women moving to exotic music beneath swaying palm trees, as their “lovely hula hands” tell their stories and their hips dip and sway oh, so sensuously. If you have ever seen a hula performance, you will never forget it and you will long to see another …it truly is one of the world’s most beautiful art forms.

Hula is an extensive subject and I neither profess to be an expert on it nor pretend to address it completely here. Rather, what I have done in this first article is to address some of the more important issues relating to hula. But trust me—I love the subject more than most people and will continue to expand this entry as time and my knowledge permit. I wish I could do research on hula every day!

Hula History

There are several legends relating to how hula dancing originated.

According to one Hawaiian legend Laka, goddess of the hula, gave birth to the dance on the island of Moloka’i at a sacred place in Ka’ana. After Laka died, her remains were hidden beneath the hill Pu’u Nana.

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 Hawai’i, in the Puna district at the Hā’ena shoreline. The ancient hula Ke Ha’a Ala Puna describes this event.

Another story contends that Pele, the goddess of fire was trying to find a home for herself while 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 island of Hawai’i, she danced the first dance of hula signifying that she had finally won.

Another story is that Pele asked Laka to amuse her because she (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.

Obviously, Hawaiians were performing the hula when American Protestant missionaries arrived in the early 1820. These missionaries denounced the hula as a heathen dance, one that was far too sensuous and sexually charged (don’t you just have to love how missionaries always squeezed the fun out of life, both for themselves and for people they had no business affecting that way?) The Hawaiian ali’i (royalty) were brow-beaten until they banned the hula, even though many continued to enjoy it in private. (Sound a little bit like Prohibition??)

Hawaiian performing arts had a resurgence during the reign of King David Kalākaua (1874–1891), who encouraged the traditional arts. With the Princess Ruth Keelikolani who devoted herself to the old ways, as the patron of the ancients chants (mele, hula), he stressed the importance to revive the diminishing culture of their ancestors with in the damaging influence of foreigners, and modernism that was forever changing Hawaii.

From a historical perspective, there are two categories of hula dancing: the ancient dancing, accompanied by chanting and traditional instruments is called kahiko, and modern hula dancing, as it evolved in last one hundred-plus years, is called ‘auana and is accompanied by songs and Western instruments such as the guitar, ‘ukelele and the double bass.

First, though, some basic terms and relationships:

The hula is a dance form accompanied by chant or song. It was developed solely in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there. The chant or song accompanying the hula is called a mele.

The hula dance itself illustrates the mele.Hula is taught in schools called hālau. The teacher of hula is the kumu hula, where kumu means “source of knowledge.” Hula dancing is a complex art form, and there are many hand motions used to signify aspects of nature, such as the basic Hula and Coconut Tree motions, or the basic leg steps, such as the Kaholo, Ka’o, and Ami.

Implements of the dance (kahiko and ‘auana)

  • 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
  • Pū’ili—split bamboo sticks
  • Kāla’au—rhythm sticks
  • In what may seem like a reversal of order (it is!), I’d like to address hula ‘auana dancing first, as it is the kind of hula that I believe most people are more familiar with and think of first when the subject comes up.

    Learn More about Hula…

    Hula ‘Auana | Hula Kahiko | Hula Terms | Study Hula | Hula Article | Further Enjoyment


    Know more about Hawai'i Hula?
    Share it with us! Join Our Ohana or Log-in and start posting!