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Introduction To Hula

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Hula (pronounced /?hu?l?/) is a dance form accompanied by 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 dramatizes or comments on the mele.

There are many styles of hula. They are commonly divided into two broad categories: Ancient hula, as performed before Western encounters with Hawai?i, is called kahiko. It is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments. Hula as it evolved under Western influence, in the 19th and 20th centuries, is called ?auana. It is accompanied by song and Western-influenced musical instruments such as the guitar, the ?ukulele, and the double bass.

Terminology for two main additional categories is beginning to enter the hula lexicon: "Monarchy" includes many hula which were composed and choreographed during the 19th century. During that time the influx of Western culture created significant changes in the formal Hawaiian arts, including hula. "Ai Kahiko", meaning "in the ancient style" are those hula written in the 20th and 21st centuries that follow the stylistic protocols of the ancient hula kahiko.

Hula is taught in schools called h?lau. The teacher of hula is the kumu hula, where kumu means source of knowledge. 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.

There are other dances that come from other Polynesian islands such as Tahiti, The Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Aotearoa (New Zealand); however, the hula is unique to the Hawaiian Islands.

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History of Hula

Legendary Origins

There are various legends surrounding the origins of hula.

According to one Hawaiian legend Laka, goddess of the hula, gave birth to the dance on the island of Moloka?i, at a sacred place in Ka?ana. After Laka died, her remains were hidden beneath the hill Pu?u Nana.

Another story tells of Hi?iaka, who danced to appease her fiery sister, the volcano goddess Pele. This story locates the source of the hula on Hawai?i, in the Puna district at the H??ena shoreline. The ancient hula Ke Ha?a Ala Puna describes this event.

Another story is when Pele, the goddess of fire was trying to find a home for herself running away from her sister Namakaokaha’i (the goddess of the oceans) when she finally found an island where she couldn’t be touched by the waves. There at chain of craters on the island of Hawai’i she danced the first dance of hula signifying that she finally won.

One story is that Pele asked Laka to amuse her because Pele was bored. So right away Laka got up and began to move gracefully, acting out silently events they both knew. Pele enjoyed this and was fascinated thus Hula was born.

During the 19th Century

Dancer with p??ili (Hula ?auana), Merrie Monarch Festival

American Protestant missionaries, who arrived in 1820, denounced the hula as a heathen dance. The newly Christianized ali?i (royalty and nobility) were urged to ban the hula—which they did. However, many of them continued to privately patronize the hula.

The Hawaiian performing arts had a resurgence during the reign of King David Kal?kaua (1874–1891), who encouraged the traditional arts. With the Princess Ruth Keelikolani who devoted herself to the old ways, as the patron of the ancients chants (mele, hula), she stressed the importance to revive the diminishing culture of their ancestors with in the damaging influence of foreigners, and modernism that was forever changing Hawaii.

Practitioners merged Hawaiian poetry, chanted vocal performance, dance movements and costumes to create the new form, the hula ku?i (ku?i means "to combine old and new"). The pahu appears not to have been used in hula ku?i, evidently because its sacredness was respected by practitioners; the ipu gourd (Lagenaria sicenaria) was the indigenous instrument most closely associated with hula ku?i.

Ritual and prayer surrounded all aspects of hula training and practice, even as late as the early 20th century. Teachers and students were dedicated to the goddess of the hula, Laka.

20th Century Hula

"Honolulu Entertainers" sideshow at a circus in Salt Lake City, 1920

Hula changed drastically in the early 20th century as it was featured in tourist spectacles, such as the Kodak Hula Show, and in Hollywood films. However, a more traditional hula was maintained in small circles by older practitioners. There has been a renewed interest in hula, both traditional and modern, since the 1970s and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

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