May 30, 2012

Hula 101

A traditional Hawaiian hula skirt
Image source

Even though we all think of the hula as a dance, the actual dance is only one component of the hula. The chants or mele are very important because they tell stories. Many of the stories honor the Hawaiian gods and natural beauty as well as love.  Beyond the chants, instruments are also important. Percussive instruments such as ipu — gourds and a pahu — sharkskin-covered drum enhance the chanting.

Another incorrect assumption about the hula is that the costume does not actually involve the grass skirt. The actual costume is a kappa—a skirt made out of the mulberry tree. Men and women wear this skirt along with leaves, flowers and leis. 

Even though present-day hula is performed as entertainment, it used to be associated with faith. During the 1820s, the American Protestant missionaries banned the dance from Hawaii because they thought it was pagan. Hawaiians practiced the dance secretly until 1870 when King Kalakua encourage public performances once again.

Woman playing pahu, traditional sharkskin covered drum.
Contemporary ones are usually made from cow skin due
to expense and environmental conservation efforts for sharks.
Image source.

The westernized style of the Hula is known as the Hula ‘Auana, while the traditional hula is called Hula Kahiko. The difference between the two hulas is that the westernized style wandered from Hawaii and became less about ritual and more about entertainment. 

This is just a brief explanation about the hula and its distinct qualities. If you want your child to learn more about the hula and all the other unique aspects of Hawaii, you should look into the Hawaii Culture class at Bemis!

Y5 Hawaiian Culture: Art, Dance and Music
(Ages 6-8)
Mon., 7/23-8/6 | 1:00-3:00 p.m.
$82 (Members $78)
Register online

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