History of the Hawaiian Hula

Jun 26, 2018 | General Information

Table of Contents
When the voyagers of Polynesia came to Hawaii, they brought with them traditions and legends that would be passed on to generations to come. Since there was no written language, these traditions and their stories were artfully expressed in combination with movements that later became known as the ‘hula’.

Hula accompanied prayer to Hawaiian deities and was used to honor visiting chiefs and others regarded highly. Performed with bare feet, the dancers’ attire consisted of loin cloths for men and a simple skirt wrap for women. Leis were worn as part of the prayer service and offered to the altar of the gods that dancers were honoring. Hula movements mimicked those found in nature.

After the arrival of missionaries, hula along with Hawaiian religion were banned throughout the islands. After disappearing for many years, tourism brought hula back with differences in costumes and instruments and of course not connected to religion.

Today the costumes of hula dancers are much more elaborate than they were originally. Performers are accompanied by Western string instruments instead of a gourd drum, but they still use traditional hula implements. As in its inception, contemporary hula tells a story. Hula implements used by dancers and musicians express and give meaning to these stories.

Dancers tape Pūʻili together — pieces of dried bamboo – that provide rattling sounds heard in a bamboo forest. Calabash gourds – Ipu – are used as accompaniments by dancers and musicians. Small gourds filled with shells or seeds create a rattle — ʻUlīʻulī – that is beautifully decorated with feathers. Like a unique form of castanets, hula dancers use ili’ili — smooth volcanic stones – to provide a rhythmic beat. Two simple wooden sticks — Kālaʻau – hit together produce another rhythmic sound.