Arts and Culture

Where, When, and How to Enjoy One of Hawaii’s Richest Traditions: Hula

One of the best things about living in the Hawaiian Islands — or even just visiting — is experiencing the culture. And one of the deepest roots of that culture is the Hawaiian form of dance, hula.

A Brief History of Hula

Hula is actually a sacred practice that dates back to hundreds of years before western contact with the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1700s. Because written language didn’t exist in Hawai`i until the 1820s, the dance was used as a method for passing knowledge from each generation to the next.

The earliest form of hula was the kahiko style, in which dancers were accompanied by oli (chant) and instruments such as hollowed gourds and pahu (drums). Kahiko was used to tell stories, teach a love of the land, celebrate natural elements and happenings, recount family and community hierarchies, and honor gods and goddesses.

Because kahiko was also danced with women wearing only a pā`ū (a short wrap skirt made of cloth) and men wearing only a malo (loincloth), Christian missionaries attempted to discourage its practice by regulating it strictly. The tradition was revived in the last two decades of the 1880s, though, during the reigns of King David Kalākaua and Queen Lili`uokalani.

A more modern style of hula, `auana, emerged after Portuguese sailors arrived in the Hawaiian Islands with small guitars that evolved into what we now know as the ukulele. `Auana is accompanied by mele, or songs, rather than chants. As this style developed, grass skirts also became more common attire for the dance.

Hula went underground again near the turn of the 19th century, when the U.S. annexed the Hawaiian Islands. However, the 1970s saw the beginning of a Hawaiian Renaissance (still happening today) in which the language and traditional cultural practices have been revitalized.

How to Experience Hula Today

If you’re a Hawai`i resident, you or your keiki (child) may choose to join a hālau hula (hula school) and learn this rich tradition from a kumu hula (hula teacher). Even if you’re just visiting, you may have the option of a drop-in class — for example, the one offered here on Maui at The Shops at Wailea every Friday at 4 p.m.

The Hula O Nā Keiki competition (which takes place annually on Maui) gives children between the ages of five and 17 a chance to perform – and the public a chance to appreciate their talent! And the Big Island hosts the Merrie Monarch Festival each year, often referred to as the Olympics of Hula. Group and individual events take place throughout the week, and the festival culminates in the crowning of a Miss Aloha Hula.

Year-round, Maui residents and visitors can enjoy hula at venues like Old Lāhainā Lū`au. In recent years, many of our resorts have also made an effort to create and share a more authentic lū`au/hula experience, like the Wailele Lū`au at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa and the Drums of the Pacific at the Hyatt Regency Maui. And the Lāhainā Cannery Mall even features a free hula show every Sunday at 1 p.m.

Of course, hula is just one of the many unique and beautiful aspects of living in the Hawaiian Islands. For more information about Hawai`i life — or Maui real estate specifically — please reach out to me any time!

Nancy Beebe, REALTOR(S), SRES

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