It’s rare any visitor would come to Hawaii without being, at least marginally, familiar with hula. After a “re” explosion several decades ago, hula has become synonymous with Hawaii and popular around the world. Dozens of countries have hula “halau” (schools), and the dance appeals to just about anyone who has an affinity for expressive movement.
That being said, few know the real origins of hula (and, frankly I didn’t either). So, we thought we’d do an educational post of sorts and learn the history of hula in Hawaii.
Here’s what we learned, thanks to the Bishop Museum’s publication Historical Perspectives:
According to Historical Perspectives, most of the myths surrounding the origins of hula in Hawaii connect hula with goddesses. A modern myth, occasionally repeated in literature, holds that in ancient times only men danced hula. Not only is there no documentary evidence to support this contention (For example, James Cook, the first European to visit Hawaii, records seeing women dance on Kauai in 1778.), but the association by Hawaiians themselves of hula with goddesses argues against it.
Early Hula (after 1778)
Later Hula (after 1893)
As it had done ever since its beginnings, hula continued to evolve during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the early 1960’s, a group of Hilo businesspeople instituted a hula competition. They created categories of hula kahiko (ancient dances or modern ones in the ancient style) and hula auana (modern). Today this festival, named Merrie Monarch in honor of King David Kalakaua, is a major media event. It has also significantly influenced hula teaching and performance.
The festival runs every April in Hilo on the Big Island, which makes it the perfect excuse to hit this amazing island. Fly to Kona, book a Big Island Off-Roading Tour or Kona Culture and Coffee Tour, and save time for the drive to Hilo to enjoy the festival.
In the early twenty-first century, hula and Hawaiian culture continue to evolve and spread. Ethnic Hawaiians now live and raise families in North America, Europe, Australasia, and other regions of the world. The western United States are home to especially large multi-generational colonies of Hawaiians, many of whom proudly practice and display their culture as a way of asserting their connection to their ancestral homeland. Thanks in part to them, people in Europe, Japan, Mexico, Canada, mainland USA, and other lands now study and dance hula.
I was one of those folks who danced hula in Nevada, and nothing made me feel more connected to Hawaii than performing with my halau.
Thanks to the rich history of hula in Hawaii, YOU can enjoy it, too!