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Hawaiian Dance Music

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Hawaiian Dance Music

Hula Dancing In Depth - Hula’s Foundation of Chants and Music

Hula has its origins primarily in the mele. The "mele" is a poetic chant that was historically done in honor of Polynesian deities. The text was elaborate and long. While the mele was chanted, instruments were played such as drums made of shark skin, gourds, bamboo rattles and stone castanets. Dancers played out the story or prayers expressed by the mele.

The mele is what gives life to the hula. Every mele tells a story that gives expression to the culture, values, beliefs and love of the Hawaiian people. Going to a traditional hula performance is similar to attending a narrated play. Without the narration, the actions of the players would not be as meaningful. When the dance is done without the chanting and the old instruments, it is a pretty dance but it does not have the impact it has when it accompanies a chant.  

As state before, the mele has been done in honor of the Polynesian deities, most specifically, Pele and Laka. But it is much more than that. The chant and dance tell of Hawaii's rich history and gives meaning to the laws of nature in spiritual terms.

Here's an excellent performance that showcases traditional hula music along with traiditonal hula dance moves...

In the ancient past, the hula or Ha`a as it was called before the 19th century, was kept sacred. The participants would spend long hours in prayer. They would chant and dance and then leave their leis on the altar of the goddess. The hula was a record of their history. If anything was done incorrectly, it was believed that history was changed. According to some authorities, this was serious enough to warrant a punishment of death. Contrary to the beliefs of arriving missionaries in the 19th century, it was not meant to be interpreted in a sexual manner, but only as a means of interpreting and expressing the love they had for their land and their deities.

The Hula Preservation Society's website contains several texts of chants written in Hawaiian and in English. Following is an excerpt from a sample given on their site:

Ho`opuka Ë Ka Lä I Kai O Unulau
In English: The sun rises over the sea of Unulau

"The sun rises over the sea of Unulau
Churning are the waves of Kaunä
Roughly broken by the coming of the storm
The sun rises over the lehua blossoms of Pana`ewa ..."
What is beautiful in English is that much more so when said in the native tongue.

Along with such text, the dancers convey its meaning with the gestures of their hands and the expression in their eyes.

As is the case with many ancient cultures, the instruments were used not only to keep a rhythm but also as a means of being heard by the gods. Stones were struck together, drums were pounded and rattles were shaken to bring attention to their devoted performance and to convey devotion.

Although hula has changed in many ways, it is not completely different. In the 1970's a revival of the ancient ways began. Now, there are two ways of performing the hula: the ancient and the modern. Both can be experienced in the exotic state of Hawaii. 


by Hula Jack -

No Limit Records

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