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Hula Dancing Culture

The Importance of Hula to the Hawaiian People

Hula dancing is known to the world as a dance done to guitar and ukelele music, on the beaches of Hawaii, by beautiful Hawaiian girls in grass skirts wearing leis. The general conjecture seems to be that the dance is done mostly to "honor" the tourist. While hula is performed at resorts all over Hawaii, this is not how the dance began or was performed for hundreds of years. There were no guitars. No ukeleles. No grass skirts. No tourists. There was only ha'a (the original name of the dance), Laka and Pele.

In the 1970's, Hawaii underwent a "hula revolution". The ancient culture began to emerge after decades of subversion and exploitation by tourism and media entertainment. While the modern dance is beautiful, the ancient dance leaves a pounding in your heart and a whisper in your soul.  

Before the first European explorers found Hawaii in the 1820's, Hula was done ceremoniously by men and women in honor of the goddesses, Pele and Laka. The origins of hula begin in the myth of Pele and her sister, Hi'iaka. Some accounts say that Hi'iaka learned the dance from Laka and performed it for Pele. Other accounts say Pele made Hi'iaka perform the dance and it was given to Laka for safekeeping. However the story plays out, the ha'a - hula was done in reverence to the Polynesian goddesses.

The intricacies of hula dancing involve the hands, eyes, hips and legs. It is with the hands that the story is described. The eyes give expression to the story. The movements of the feet and the undulations of the hips speak of rhythm and power.

Here's a video that uses traditional dance moves as well as traditional music...

In the beginnings, hula was done to the "mele" a specialized poetic chant performed by men. Traditionally, men would chant, play drums and rattles while women danced. But men danced the ha'a, too. They depicted battle and epic stories of violence, loss and myth. After, leis were left on the altar of Laka as an offering to the keeper of the dance. Grass skirts were not a part of hula until the 20th century. Women wore wraps and men wore loincloths. Leis, wrist and ankle bracelets, and necklaces remain from the long ago time of ritual prayer,chanting, dancing and offerings in the temples of the goddess.

Children were taught to perform ha'a in specialized schools. The education was strict because the dance was to be taken seriously. Not only was it done to honor the goddess, it was the Hawaiian record of history. It was believed that changing the dance would change history. Now, schools for hula exist and the history and meanings of the movement are considered sacred, but it is also meant to be enjoyed.

When government officials and businessmen came up with the idea of annual festivals, their purpose was in making a profit through tourism. However, it is with these festivals and competitions that Hawaiian culture is preserved. They have been able to take back the meaning and the symbolism of the dance. It is their dance, their culture, and their birthright.


by Hula Jack -

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