Ancient sensuality

Ancient sensuality

Hawaiian moves

Ancient sensuality

“O Hawaii no ka aina maikai” (Hawaii is the best island) or “Huki, Huki, Huki, Hukilau”…as the bass drums pound hard, at first slowly, then faster, and faster… the dancers put their hands on their hips… sway them in a rhythmic manner... as the vigorous dancing reaches a feverish crescendo, the Hawaiian Hula dance gets the spectators grooving.

A Hawaiian luau is actually a celebration of the aloha (welcome) spirit, enticing you to clap, dance and sing along with the local Hawaiian singers. No trip to Hawaii is complete without attending a luau party, which usually begins with a lavish Hawaiian spread of a kalua pig, lau lau (fish, chicken or pork wrapped in taro leaves and poi) and ends with chants of the rhythmic Hula dance.

Legend has it...
According to legends, Polynesians from the Pacific Ocean, who were the first settlers in Hawaii, brought Hula here. Hula evolved from the rhythmic dances from the Tahitian islands thousands of years ago.

Another legend goes that centuries ago, when gods and people shared these Hawaiian islands, and time was measured by the waxing and waning of the moon, Hula was born. The first dance was linked to Pele, the goddess of volcanic fires, who made the request of dance to her younger sister, Hi’iaka. The Pele cycle enriched the Hula with a repertoire that was both religious and entertaining. Rhythmic and poetic chants (mele) combined with disciplined motion were used to tell stories of love and passion, anger and revenge and loyalty and betrayal, all parts of Goddess Pele’s tempestuous nature.

Later, when contact between Tahiti and Hawaii was lost, the Hawaiian culture evolved on its own and Hula was part of that evolution. The Hula dances, inspired by poetic chants, were accompanied by beats of shark skin drums (pahu), gourd rattles (uli, uli), slit bamboo sticks (pu’ili), tapping sticks (kalau), clapping stones (ili ili) and dogtooth anklets (k’upe’e niho ‘ilio).

Hula then were performed to honour and appease the gods, ancestors, chief, and kumu (teachers). Earlier, powerful chiefs maintained Hula dancers as part of their retinues. Both men and women danced the Hula. Men wore the simple kappa malo (loin cloth of pounded bark) and women the sheer kappa skirts.  Haku (head garlands) brought Laka’s presence to the dancers. Anklets of dog teeth rattle as the dancers moved in unison, the chanters directing the dancers’ movement and drawing their vocal participation.

Dancers are trained in movements that told Hawaiian tales. Hands used sign language for ideas like love or anger or objects like the moon, rain or fragrant flower. The Hula dance differs from island to island, each Hula influenced by the style of its kumu. Oli (chants not danced to), mele and Hula were treasured possessions, passed on from generation to generation.

Age of repression
The missionaries who came to the Hawaiian islands looked upon Hula with disdain. Missing the spiritual message and mistaking the sensual for sin, the missionaries went on to repress it, nearly abolishing its practice in the process. Luckily in more remote places where missionaries could not go, the Hula tradition continued.

King Kalakaua, known as the Merrie Monarch, gave back the Hula its glory. Credited with having rescued the Hula from oblivion, Kalakaua sponsored performances at his coronation in 1883 and birthday jubilee (1886). He sponsored its practice and expanded the repertoire with new chants and dances in keeping with Victorian era sensibilities. In keeping with the chiefly tradition, he invested his people with a pride in their past and by reviving  Hula, turned it into a powerful symbol of continuity.

Hula’s evolution as a storytelling art had by then moved well beyond the transitory phase, allowing it to not only survive but also prosper, securing a powerful place in contemporary Hawaiian culture that began in 1970s and continues to this day.

Presently two styles of Hula are danced, each with its own variation. Hula kahiki is the traditional dance and dancers follow costumes and theme that ranges backward from Kalakaua restoration while Hula auana (modern) moves forward towards the present from Kalakaua’s time.

Many hula festivals like Merrie Monarch Festival, Kodak hula Show at Waikiki shell, Honolulu, Na Mele O Maui festival at Maui, Molokai Ka Hula Piko at Molokai islands are held across the Hawaiian islands from time to time.

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