Hula on Hawaii’s Big Island
Hula is a uniquely Hawaiian dance, accompanied by chant or song, that preserves and perpetuates the stories, traditions and culture of Hawaii. Hawaii’s Big Island has the honour of hosting the world’s biggest and most renowned Hula competition, the Merrie Monarch Festival. Held annually in Downtown Hilo (follows Easter Sunday in March-April), the Merrie Monarch Festival was named after King David Kalakaua, who revived hula in the late 19th century after decades of disapproval by Christian missionaries. An olelo (saying) from King Kalakaua has been adopted by the Merrie Monarch Festival: “Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”
Although getting tickets to the hula competitions can be difficult, the Merrie Monarch Festival includes a variety of free events that are open to the public. There are also many other hula competitions and exhibitions held throughout the year. Other events include: Hula Arts at Kilauea series (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park), Iolani Luahine Hula Festival and Hula Scholarship Competition (February, Kailua-Kona), Queen Liliuokalani Festival (September, Hilo), Moku o Keawe International Festival (November, Kohala Coast). And you can often see live performances at historic sites like Hulihee Palace and the Big Island’s hotels and resorts.
A luau is another fun and festive place to watch the hula and learn about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. Hula is traditionally taught by a kumu hula (hula teacher) in a hula halau (hula school) but visitors can sometimes get free lessons at select Big Island hotels and resorts. If you’re brave enough, some luau performances even let you take to the stage to show off your new hula skills.
The hula was born in early Hawaii and is still a powerful way to share myths and legends, as well as everyday life. Today, many hula halau make pilgrimages to the rim of Halemaumau Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to honour the volcano goddess, Pele, who has always been an important figure in the hula and chants of the Big Island. This is a testament to the mana (spiritual power) of Hawaii’s Big Island and the commitment of its people to honour and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture through the hula.