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Hula Kahiko, Photograph by Denis Oda


Hula was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by original settlers from Polynesia, long before the first contact with Europeans in 1778, and has remained largely uninfluenced by other world dance traditions. Associated initially with religious practices, the origins are shrouded in legend. Best known is the attribution to Hi'iaka, who allegedly invented the dance to appease Pele, the volcano goddess, and Hi'iaka's epic is the basis for many hulas. Traditionally, prayer and ritual were part of hula training, when both teachers and dancers were dedicated to Laka, the hula goddess. Movement, gestures and poetry—mele—were equally important in presentations with percussive musical accompaniment. The oldest versions featured movements of the head and arms that were performed while chanting in a standing or sitting position. At least two subsequent developments brought contemporary variations. During the reign of King David Kalakua (1874-1891), hula ku'i evolved as a "mixture of old and new," with less emphasis on spiritual aspects. Song-accompanied hula later incorporated concessions to non-Hawaiian spectators and an emphasis on entertainment values.

Pictured left: Tiana-Lynn Nalani Manuel from Hālau Kekuaokala'au'ala'a'iliahi in Maui, competes in the 2012 Merrie Monarch Festival and Hula Competition for the coveted title of "Miss Aloha Hula." Competitors are judged on an 'oli (chant) presentation, a kahiko dance (this image is from Manuel's ancient hula performance), and an 'auana(modern style) hula. Miss Aloha Hula contestants practice intensely for years to compete against one another. (Photograph courtesy of Denis Oda.)


Essay by Angeline Shaka -- Selected resources


The men of Oakland, California's Academy of Hawaiian Arts. Photograph by Denis Oda



Pictured right: The men of Oakland, California's Academy of Hawaiian Arts, led by kumu hula Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu, dance a kahiko mele called "Nā Kia'i Kai" as part of the group competition in the Merrie Monarch Festival's 2012 hula competition.

The mele is an original composition by Ho'omalu in honor of the Hawaiian guardians of fishing. Tattooed and dressed in elaborate malodyed in blues and greens, representing the sea and decorated with traditional prints, the men perform moves mimicking the seas swells, the tossing and collecting of fish nets, and the fish swimming in the sea. In pre-colonial Hawaiian society men's and women's roles were strictly defined. While men and women fished, women fished in tide pools close to shore while men fished in the deeper waters and off rocky cliffs, which were daily pounded by the ocean's substantial force. Guardians were called upon to keep fisherman safe and to provide a bountiful harvest. Photograph courtesy of Denis Oda. 

Wahine dancers of 'Ilima Hula Studio. Photograph by Denis Oda



Pictured left: In this kahiko (ancient) style hula the wahine (female) dancers of 'Ilima Hula Studio pay homage to Hawaii's last monarch, the beloved Queen Liliuokalani.

This kahiko mele (song) talks about Lanakila, the royal train and private coach car Liliuokalani rode across O'ahu to visit her adoring subjects. When she alights from the train, the song says, she boards a horse-drawn carriage that takes her to the outlying plains of Leilehua. The dancers wear colors and flowers associated with the Queen and with Hawaiian royalty: shades of purple, as well as a strippedla'i (ti-leaf skirt), while their necks and heads are adorned withPuakalaunu, or Crown flowers. They also dance with a single'uli'uli (rattle), which provides rhythmic accompaniment to theho'opa'a's chanting. Photograph courtesy of Denis Oda.