Coming Out of the Shadow of Colonialism, Hula At present is Experiencing a Renaissance


In a flowing blue-green robe, her arms naked, her lengthy hair swept up elegantly and encircled with blossoms, Kayli Ka‘iulani Carr confidently took the stage on the 2016 Miss Aloha Hula contest in Hilo, Hawai‘i. This was the fashionable portion of a high-pressure contest, and he or she danced to the aching melody of “Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha,” which tells a narrative of a heartbroken lover who summons a magical, “love-snatching” wind to recapture the center of his beloved. Carr dazzled the judges, the viewers and the social media world.

Within the conventional portion, she carried out “Eō Keōpuolani Kauhiakama,” a dance celebrating the highest-ranking spouse of King Kamehameha I. Draped in volumes of gold cotton stamped with scarlet and black patterns, she opened with an oli kepakepa, a rapid-fire, conversational chant.

“It’s actually quick and actually lengthy, and you need to get lots of phrases in at one time; then comes the problem of getting emotion with these phrases,” Carr advised the Honolulu Star Advertiser after her win. “Not simply talking quick, however talking with a function.”

The video of Carr’s efficiency went viral, and if you’d like a style of hula at this time, you want go no additional than the YouTube clip. Neglect Hollywood photos of lithe ladies in coconut bras and grass skirts. Neglect the made-for-tourists Kodak Hula Present in Waikiki, which supplied one model of hula for 65 years earlier than shutting down in 2002. And neglect “The Hukilau,” the hapa haole, or half-English hula, that’s generally trotted out at industrial luaus.

The Essence of Hula

Actual hula is primal, archetypal, esoteric and ever- evolving. And it’s now shared digitally everywhere in the world. This can be a good factor, as a result of it helps genuine hula unfold, not simply through extra hula faculties (known as “hālau hula”), but additionally by way of conferences, theatrical performances and festivals within the fiftieth state, the continental U.S. and Japan. You will discover performances at Wolf Lure, Carnegie Corridor and the Nationwide Museum of the American Indian. And even on the most touristy venues, you’ll be able to witness gorgeous hula practitioners like Carr, who has danced within the luau at O‘ahu’s Sea Life Park.

The Miss Aloha Hula contest is only one occasion on the Tremendous Bowl of Hawaiian dance, the 59-year-old Merrie Monarch Hula Competition. Normally held the week after Easter, the Merrie Monarch attracts hundreds of spectators for its acclaimed hula competitors, Hawaiian arts honest, hula exhibits and grand parade by way of Hilo. Many extra watch the occasion from afar, as it’s streamed dwell on the internet. And nonetheless extra comply with it on social media.

At competitions, faculties of conventional dance compete in two main classes: Hula kahiko (“historical dance”) options highly effective actions and tough percussion; performers adorn themselves with skirts made from bark material or ti leaves and with garlands made from flowers, ferns, nut and shells. Hula ‘auana (“wandering hula”) is the lyrical, sleek model danced to the music of guitars and ukuleles; costumes vary from the lengthy skirts and high-neck blouses of the Victorian period to the denims, T-shirts and backward baseball caps of at this time.

But as thrilling—and affirming—as contests just like the Merrie Monarch are, many hula practitioners keep away from them. Some even see the competitions as distorting hula by inserting undue emphasis on crowd-pleasing poses and memorable apparel.

large group of dancers performing in front of large screen
Nā Lei Hulu i ka Wēkiu in I Mua. Photograph by Lin Cariffe, Courtesy Makuakāne.

Rejecting Colonialism

The “Merrie Monarch” within the title is King David Kalākaua, who revived the traditional artwork of hula throughout the Eighties. “Hula is the language of the center and due to this fact the heartbeat of the Hawaiian individuals,” Kalākaua as soon as mentioned. In historical Hawai‘i, hula expressed the intimate relationship between man and nature, the on a regular basis and the divine. People have been siblings to crops, and all issues possessed religious presence, or mana. One may discuss on to the winds—or swim with fish and be amongst departed family.

To represent their relationship with nature, dancers wore ornaments crafted from the pure world. But it surely was phrases that outlined the dance. Hula was the historical past ebook of a individuals with no written language. Chants ranged from sacred prayers and encomiums to chiefs, to like ballads, to odes to favourite locations. Then there have been the mele ma‘i, or “procreation chants,” which celebrated—certainly inspired—unbridled eroticism.

It was the hula ma‘i that troubled the missionaries who arrived from New England in 1820, desirous to unfold the phrase of their god—and to dominate island politics, commerce and tradition. They rapidly denounced the hula as heathen. However after a 50-year dormancy, Kalākaua elevated the hula, hoping it might shore up a tradition battered by illness and colonialism. He and others wrote new Hawaiian poetry and organized it into stanzas, melodies and tempos (together with waltz and polka). String devices and even piano have been enlisted to melt Hawaiian­ percussion, like gourd drums, feather-decorated gourd rattles, split-bamboo rattles, sticks and stone castanets.

Kalākaua couldn’t have guessed that hula’s area would widen so dramatically. It turned a key a part of the Hawaiian Renaissance of the Nineteen Seventies, as Native Hawaiians sought not simply to revive Hawaiian tradition but additionally reanimate it. By the top of the twentieth century, hula would declare delight of place alongside hip hop, Cajun, tango and different standard types of world music and dance throughout the U.S.

dancers performing in a studio wearing traditional costumes holding paddles
At Unukupukupu, Hawai‘i Neighborhood School: Candidates dance a hula hoe (paddle dance) for kumu hula who certify the ‘uniki (ceremony for graduating from hula dancer to hula instructor). Photograph by Maria Elena Andaya, Courtesy College of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Motion as a Message

Some hula masters are experimenting with the shape itself, choreographing dances to nontraditional music, say, or creating longer dramas that deal with modern points, like AIDS and immigration. “Salva Mea,” an iconic excerpt of the bigger work The Natives Are Stressed, by Patrick Makuakāne, a kumu hula (grasp hula instructor) based mostly in San Francisco, takes on the brutal colonialism of the missionaries.

Others are choreographing full-length dramas. Hānau Ka Moku is a large-scale hula manufacturing created by Tau Dance Theater with a famend household on Hawai‘i Island, the Kanaka‘oles, who rely eight generations of chant and hula masters of their lineage. For the work, they grafted conventional components of hula (sharkskin drums, chants for the gods) with components of contemporary dance (dancers roiling and kicking inside a large, stretchy pink sock counsel transferring, molten lava). The outcomes vary from the comical to the ethereal.

Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman, a College of Michigan professor and musicologist, cites the proliferation of such pioneers as some of the putting phenomena in hula at this time. “Extra kumu are taking alternate paths away from competitors and towards theatrical spectacles,” she says, citing Makuakāne (my very own kumu) together with island entertainers and educators like Micah Kamohoali‘i, Kuana Torres Kahele and Taupōuri Tangarō.

Tangarō is a part of the Kanaka‘ole household; his Unukupukupu establishment at Hawai‘i Neighborhood School in Hilo exhibits how the observe of hula has moved far, far past the dance class. “Unukupukupu” means “Shrine of Ferns Rooted in Contemporary Lava,” and the identify is anchored within the explosive Kanaka‘ole dance traditions. It was created, Tangarō says, “to not exchange the hālau, hula college or hula studio,” however to “meld deep tradition and better training” and to show the rituals that join us to nature and our ancestors. The purpose? To encourage us to develop into advocates of “environmental kinship.” The concept, he provides, is to develop consciousness and foster actions to maintain our sacred lands—and the sacred lands worldwide of our college students—“pure and undefiled.”

Unukupukupu is hardly the one conventional college of hula to show environmental stewardship, amongst many different issues. Makuakāne’s hālau, Nā Lei Hulu i ka Wēkiu, often invitations Hawai‘i students, activists, craftspeople and composers to offer lectures and workshops.

large group of dancers wearing white shirts and black skirts, man carrying a cross
Nā Lei Hulu i ka Wēkiu in “Salva Mea”. Photograph by Lin Cariffe, Courtesy Makuakāne.

Custom Meets Innovation

Hula has tailored to the pandemic in generally unexpectedly wealthy methods. Performances have been canceled or taken exterior, and courses have moved on-line, each a blessing and a curse for college kids. Makuakāne devoted himself to constructing a brand new “altar” every week within the room the place he taught courses on Zoom. This was an innovation on the standard hula kuahu, the altar constructed to have a good time Laka, the divine essence typically known as the “goddess of hula.” (The kuahu and the chants provided to it summon her to encourage dancers to speculate energy and which means of their observe.)

To construct the brand new kuahu every week, Makuakāne foraged among the many ferns in his backyard and took journeys to the flower market, dragging in drums, draping cloth and inserting mementos. He launched every class with a chant, typically inserting a lei in a spot of honor. Makuakāne’s kuahu have been casual, although, supposed principally to assist the dancers shift focus on the finish of a pandemic day, escape from the monotony of Gallery View, enter a consecrated area and spend a particular hour and quarter-hour with a hula group.

“I’m utilizing the kuahu to interact my haumana (college students) on this platform we’re caught with,” he says. “I wish to have a higher-level communication with the individuals on this room with me.”

Different kumu hula have additionally searched for brand spanking new educating paths throughout the pandemic. Some turned to educating workshops exterior Hawai‘i, exposing extra individuals to their very own artistry and increasing the bottom of hula dancers. Others started to show on-line. Stillman notes that this has “made critical hula instruction accessible, eradicating geographical boundaries, and displaying kumu how a lot starvation there’s for data.”

The Hawaiian phrase for data is ‘ike, and the phrase is the inspiration for the Hawaiian proverb “Ma ka hana ka ‘ike” (“Via doing, one learns”). And this can be essentially the most thrilling improvement in hula at this time: not the flamboyant footwork or the innovation in kinds or the growing sophistication of performances, however the concept increasingly and extra persons are engaged within the totality of the observe, within the quest for historical knowledge.


hula kahiko

“Outdated” or “historical dance,” wherein chanting is accompanied by sharkskin drum, double-gourd drum, or hollowed-out log overwhelmed with sticks. Some hula kahiko honor gods and inform legends; others honor chiefs or reward locations.

hula pahu

The pahu is the carved wooden and sharkskin drum as soon as thought of particularly sacred. That is the model of dance prevalent earlier than Europeans got here to Hawai‘i—primal, percussive, sexual, and highly effective.

hula ku‘i

Ku‘i means “to hitch, sew, splice, or unite,” and refers back to the hula of the late 1800s, which stitched collectively the musical and dance vocabularies of outdated with new components from indigenous and Western cultures. The dance turned extra secular and fewer rooted in Hawaiian spirituality.

hula ‘auana

Actually “wandering hula,” the sleek, sensuous, and playful hula that developed after the monarchy years. Typically praises elements of a secular world: good-looking ships, a queen’s diamond ring, the “well-known fireman” of Honolulu, or a trysting spot for lovers in Waikīkī. 

hula mua

Mua means “ahead,” and this termis used for Patrick Makuakāne’s new model, pairing Hawaiian traditions of storytelling-through-movement with non-Hawaiian music, from the “Flower Duet” by Léo Delibes, to “Bow Down Mister” by Boy George, to “I Left My Coronary heart in San Francisco,” by Tony Bennett.


The ‘aiha‘a is to hula what the plié is to ballet. It refers to hula’s low-to-the-ground stance, knees deeply bent.


“Vamp” motion most individuals affiliate with hula, when the dancer strikes aspect to aspect, following a 4/4 beat, letting the hips movement. There are eight fundamental hula steps, and plenty of extra superior ones.


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