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Hula in the Hawaiian Islands

Hula is Life

More than just a dance, more than just a way of life… Hula is life itself.

History of Hula in Hawaii

In ancient Hawaii, a time when a written language did not exist, hula and its chants played an important role in keeping history, genealogy, mythology and culture alive. With each movement – a hand gesture, step of foot, swaying of hips – a story would unfold. Through the hula, the Native Hawaiians were connected with their land and their gods.  

Before the arrival of Western missionaries, the hula was danced for protocol and social enjoyment. The songs and chants of the hula preserved Hawaii’s history and culture. Many believe hula was born on the island of Molokai, but other legends tell of hula originating on Kauai. For many years following the arrival of missionaries, the hula as well as the Hawaiian language and music were suppressed. The hula, specifically, was even outlawed. It wasn’t until King David Kalakaua came to the throne in 1874 that Hawaiian cultural traditions were restored. Public performances of hula flourished and by the early 1900s, the hula had evolved with modern times. 

Today, this unique art form, deeply rooted in culture, has become a worldwide symbol of Hawaiian culture, and one that you can experience on your trip to the islands.

The Art of Hula

There are two types of hula – Hula Kahiko and Hula Auana.

Hula Kahiko is the traditional or ancient style of hula tied to hula lineage with motions, voice and choreography that comes from an old place, patterned after ancient hula. It can also be ancient hula still being danced today. This unique style of hula is performed to chants and is accompanied by percussion instruments such as the pahu or ipu (different types of drums). Hula Kahiko requires much training and dedication and is regarded as being a dance of spiritual connection to ancient Hawaii. 

Hula Auana is the modern style of hula, usually coming from a school of hula that has a genealogy, but with new choreography and music. Influenced by contemporary times but with old knowledge, this style of hula is accompanied by modern instruments such as the ukulele, guitar, steel guitar, bass or piano.  

Where Can I See Hula?

You can see hula throughout the Islands at a number of festivals and events as well as at hotels and resorts. If you want to see the best of the best in hula, head to Hilo on the island of Hawaii in the spring for the Merrie Monarch Festival. Dedicated to King David Kalakaua, known as the Merrie Monarch, the week-long festival features the world’s premier hula competition and includes art exhibits, craft fairs, demonstrations, performances and a parade. Tickets for the festival can be tough to get so planning ahead is suggested. 

The Prince Lot Hula Festival (July), as well as the Kauai Mokihana Festival (September) also showcase hula. Molokai, which is especially proud of its hula traditions, celebrates the artform every May at the Molokai Ka Hula Piko Festival. On Oahu, the Annual Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition (July) showcases the talented youth of Hawaii.

Find More Information About Hula

Hula on Kauai

Read more about hula on Kauai.

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Hula on Oahu

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Hula on Molokai

Read more about hula on Molokai.

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Hula on Maui

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Hula on the Island of Hawaii

Read more about hula on the island of Hawaii

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Hula Terminology

Kahiko: ancient, long ago.

Auana: to wander, drift, go from place to place.

Halau Hula: Hula School

Kumu Hula: Hula Teacher

Hoomakaukau: To prepare, make ready. 
Often used by the kumu hula (hula teacher) before the hula performance has begun to signal the halau to get ready.  

Ae: yes; to say yes.
The halau’s response to the kumu hula, letting him/her know they are ready to begin. 

Pa: a sound; to sound; beat; signal to begin a dance

Haina: the two or more last verses of a song.
You may hear this term used by the halau in the middle of the performance. This means the halau is nearing the end of the song, the end of the story. 

See Hula Performed at a Luau

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