Hawaiian Hula Customs

May 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Hawaii Culture |

Hawaii has long been a state rich with customs and traditions. The art of hula is perhaps one of the most famous of those traditions. The iconic vision of beautiful Hawaiian women and men hula dancing is one of the first things that comes to mind when one thinks of Hawaii. The history and reasons behind hula are as interesting as the dances themselves.

Nobody actually knows for sure exactly when the first hula dance happened, but most Hawaiian traditions say that the god or goddesses were the first. This Hawaiian belief makes hula dancing a very important sacred ritual of dance. While originally the hula was thought to only be done by men, it is now known that the tradition was for men and women. While originally a religious form of worship, the hula today is done primarily as a source of reverence and entertainment.

To an outsider, the hula appears to be a series of random movements and motions. The reality is that hula has a very specific meaning, and each of the motions are part of that communication.

Some movements represent certain animals, plants, or even past achievements or wars. When a hula dancer performs the movements, they actually feel that they are that thing that the dance is representing.

The hula dance is a dance that tells a Hawaiian story. Every movement is a part of the story, and often chants are performed along with the dance. These chants are often in a native tongue. The movements and gestures are almost operatic in nature, and a wonderful expression of the dancer and their heritage.

The hula dancers also wear specific costumes for the dance. This usually consists of the Hawaiian lei, a hula skirt, and ankle and wrist jewelry made of animal bones. These traditional Hawaiian costumes are quite attractive and often are very colorful like the island itself.

Hula was religious in origin, and the training was extensive and strict. All students were held to a strong code of conduct, and were not allowed to do many things. This is the classic hula kahiko, or the old style of performing hula.

The new style of hula is called hula auana. This new and modern version of hula dancing allows for great musicality. This hula includes songs, guitars, and even other instruments and nontraditional costumes.

While the art of hula has changed over the years, the old style of hula is still alive and well. There are hundreds of hula schools called halau hula all over every island on the mainland. The important traditions and culture is still alive and well.

Though hula is strong today, it was almost not so. In the 19th century, hula was considered to be an aberration and vile. Local missionaries tried to eliminate hula as a form of worship or entertainment. Fortunately, Kind David Kalakaua revived the custom when he restarted the hula schools and formed a troupe of hula dancers in the late 1800′s.

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