A Brief History of Hawaii: The History of Hula Dance
To know the history of hula is to know the history of Hawaii. The vibrant mana (energy) of the islands is channeled through the hula, a celebration of flora, fauna, elders and the gods, among other things. The earliest forms of hula were dances of worship—either in conjunction with special temple ceremonies and rituals, or in direct gratitude to the gods. Soon thereafter, hula spread to honoring a’lii (royalty), and other times, out of pure pleasure. In any instance, mana flowed through the chants and movements of the dance, celebrating the sacred and eternal covenant between man and aina (land). As the Hawaiians were without a written language, the memorization and memorialization of these performances and songs was crucial. Music played an important role in hula dancing—dancers used snakeskin drums, or pahu, and hollowed gourds, among other found instruments. The most important instrument was arguably the singer’s voice; his timbre dictated the mood and emotional tone of the dance. The patron god of the forest, plants, and love, Laka, is also considered to be the patron of the hula. Hula is a sacred act, and as such, is very strict with many guidelines—dancers must exhibit severe discipline, excellent posture, cleanliness, and even in some cases sexual abstinence. Students often studied hula for a couple of years under a mentor before graduating with a giant graduation feast. With the arrival of Christianity to Hawaii in the mid-19th century, hula began to die out as both religious sacrament and leisure activity. It was not until 50 years later, when King Kalakaua ascended the throne, that the hula was restored and cherished as a cultural treasure. The modern day finds hula among the most prized facets of Hawaiian culture, as it was so many years ago. Native and non-natives both practice hula now, as ultimately it celebrates the oneness of ohana (family), the beauty and splendor of the land, and the pure energy that fuses all of it together. You can see hula at places like Polynesian Cultural Center or Chief Sielu’s famous luau.