To understand this classic Hawaiian dance, watch the feet and hands
An old saying about hula claims “the hands tell the story.” Butgraceful fingers tell only part of the tale, according to kumu hula (dance master) Manu Boyd.
“The hands are important, but the words of the mele (chant) tell the real story,” says Boyd. “Traditionalhula is very verbal. We tell stories when we dance.”
Hula, as old as the Hawaiian culture, was once shared by all ofthe people. They danced to mele that expounded on every aspect oflife ― warfare, death, birth, sex, even surfing. But contactwith the Western world changed hula. Considered lewd by Americanmissionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820, hula nearly vanished in1896, when the Hawaiian language was abolished from localschools.
The dance survived, however, and, thanks to Hollywood and abudding tourist industry, became the enduring emblem of the Islandsduring the 1920s and ’30s. The more traditional forms have resurgedsince the late 1960s, when native Hawaiians began rediscoveringtheir historical culture.
According to Boyd, 1893, the year the Hawaiian monarchy wasoverthrown, marks the divergence of two styles of traditional hulastill performed today. While the footwork of kahiko (ancient) and auana (modern and unrestricted) are almost identical, thethemes of auana stories tend to be more lighthearted. Costumes andmusic are also different: Kahiko is danced to rhythms of the pahu (drum) and ipu (gourd); auana uses piano, guitar, ukulele, andbass.
The state’s best dancers perform both styles of traditional hulaat the following festivals.
• MerrieMonarch Festival. The Super Bowl of hula, with the same glamourand drama. INFO: 808/935-9168.
• 34th Annual King Kamehameha HulaCompetition. Brings more than 20 groups to dance. INFO: June22-23; Neal S. Blaisdell Center Arena, Honolulu; 808/536-6540.
Video hula demonstration conducted by Hālau ‘o Keikiali’i/APOPHawaiian Cultural Center.
Sunset April 2001