Kumu hula Mililiani Allen dances hula kahiko
while her students chant a hula mele on the beach near Wai'anae, Oahu
Photo by Lynn Martin, 1988

VFest: Hula in Hawai'i


Hula has always been a focal point of Hawaiian culture. The hula reflects many of the central ideas and events of Hawaiian history. Before European contact, men and women were members of separate halau hula (hula schools) that taught young dancers and performed for special occasions. Young dancers still study in halau hula. Under the strict guidance of kumu (teachers), 'olapa (students) learned to perform dances depicting the legends of Hawai'i, the exploits of past kings and the beauty of the islands. This older style of hula is now referred to as hula kahiko (ancient hula). It is performed to mele (chants) accompanied by percussion instruments.

When missionaries arrived in the early 1820s, they disapproved of what they considered the "licentious" nature of hula and its ties to ancient gods. They virtually banned it from public performance for at least fifty years. Fortunately, some of Hawaii's monarchs saw that hula was integral to a Hawaiian sense of pride and identity. As a public declaration, King David Kalakaua invited dancers from around the islands to perform at his coronation in 1883.

Around the turn of the century, hula began to evolve into a less formal style, hula 'auana. In hula 'auana, a dancer interacts more closely with the audience, but still concentrates on telling a story. Western stringed instruments such as the guitar, bass and ukulele accompany voice, sometimes in falsetto. One is likely to enjoy this dance at a party, especially a lu'au, or at a local bar.

Video samples below are in QuickTime format, playable on Macintosh or Windows. Free QuickTime (.MOV) player

video iconhula 'auana at private party: 8 sec, -screen, 580 kB .MOV
(same): 12 sec, -screen, 4 MB .MOV

video iconhula 'auana on stage: 5 sec., -screen, 630 kB .MOV
(same): 11 sec, -screen, 3.8 MB .MOV

VFest dance from Borderlands

[Lu'au] [CFCH Home]
29 April 1996