History of Hula

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hulaHistory of Hula

Hula is synonymous with Hawaii. Most images of the islands includes the grass skirt and ukelele. Here is the history of the dance and how it came to be so important.

is synonymous with Hawaii. Most images of the islands includes the grass skirt and ukelele. Here is the history of the dance and how it came to be so important.

Hula is a dance accompanied by a chant or song. It was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there. The chant or song is called a mele. The hula motions tell the story of the mele. Hawaiian history was oral history. In the absence of a written language, this was the only available method of ensuring accuracy. Chants told the stories of creation, mythology, royalty, and other significant events and people.

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.

Costumes play an important role in the hula. Women traditionally wear skirts or dresses known as mu'u mu'u. Men may wear long or short pants, skirts, or a malo (a cloth wrapped under and around the crotch).



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hulaThe mele is the song or chant that accompanies the hula. The hula encompasses a wide variety of styles, from the sacred to the frivolous. Many hula were created to praise the chiefs and performed in their honor, or for their entertainment, and many were for religious purposes. There are over 300 hula on record.

There are two different forms of hula, the hula kahiko and the hula 'auana. The kahiko is the traditional form of the dance, created before Western influence. Ai kahiko is Hawaiian for "in the ancient style", which are songs written in the 20th and 21st century that have been written to imitate the traditional style. The main difference between kahiko and 'auana is the instrumentation.

Hula Kahiko

Hula kahiko does not use Western instruments like the guitar or ukelele. Instead, it uses instruments like the ipu, which is a single gourd drum, the pu'ili, split bamboo sticks and the kala'au, or rhythm sticks.

Hula 'Auana

tiki godsHula 'auana began in 1893, after the introduction of Western instruments and music styles. These are the most popular and famous mele, the ones played in television commercials and movies. Most people will recognize the songs "Aloha 'Oe" (written by Hawaii's last queen, Liliuokalani).

The history of hula has been Westernized by artists like Don Ho and Elvis (with songs like “Tiny Bubbles” and “Blue Hawaii”, respectively.) This is known as Haole hula (haole is the Hawaiian slang term for Caucasian.)

Arguably the most famous singer of hula in the 20th century was Israel “Brudda Iz” Kamakawiwo'ole. His medley of the songs “What A Wonderful World” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” have been featured in dozens of movies, television shows and commercials, including 50 First Dates and the 100th episode of Scrubs.

There are various stories about the history of hula. One such myth involves the goddess Laka, goddess of hula, who gave birth to the dance on the island of Moloka'i. Another story is about the goddesses Hi'iaka and Pele. Hi'iaka was dancing to appease her sister, Pele, the volcano goddess. Another story involving Pele has her creating the hula, after escaping a third sister, Namakaokaha'i, the goddess of the oceans.