Hula Dancing: History and Evolution

Hula Dancing: History and Evolution

Introduction to Maui Luaus

Hula Dancing: History and Evolution

Hula Dancing: History and Evolution

The Hawaiian Hula Dance Has its Roots in Storytelling

The hula dance is a popular performance at Maui luaus and has been for centuries. Although we may have a tendency to think of it merely as a Hawaiian dance that involves music, grass skirts, and hip movement, this slow, graceful dance was originally developed as a way of telling stories at celebrations. In reality, its history and origins are comprised of so much more than a performance. 

Hula is the Language of the Heart. Therefore the Heartbeat of the Hawaiian People. — KALĀKAUA REX

While people across the Hawaiian Islands make the claim of being the birthplace of hula dancing, the undeniable aspects are that the hula definitely originated in Hawaii, revolves around gods and goddesses and has a significant meaning to the people of Hawaii. Among the various islands taking credit for the creation of the hula dance, which ranges from Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, and Molokai, each conveys their own story of how the hula came into creation.  We love the hula dancing at the Feast at Lele in particular.

Every Island Has Their Own Hula Mythology

For example, some give credit to the goddess of navigation Laka, who created the dance on Molokai as something sacred. Other stories credit Kapo, the goddess of fertility as the first to perform the hula dance, while another story says that Hi’iaka, danced the hula for the very first time in Kauai, as a way to calm her sister, Pele who was the fiery volcano goddess. 

Overall, the origin of the hula dance may be somewhat difficult to pinpoint, but perhaps more important is to realize its significance and connection to the Polynesian society, which is prominent throughout all the islands of Hawaii. The Polynesians were the first to settle in Hawaii, coming from New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, and Samoa; and, like most cultural sects, the various groups of people brought with them, their traditions and diversity. 
King Kamehameha II

The Polynesian society created the hula while living in Hawaii, so regardless of its origination details, the hula is specific to Hawaii and has always revolved around gods and goddesses. There are two primary types of hula dance, the ancient form referred to as Hula Kahiko and the Hula Auana, which is the more modern style of hula. 

Hula Dancing Isn’t Just For the Ladies!

In ancient times, men exclusively performed the Hula Kahiko. The dance always told a story, incorporating the use of rocks and bamboo noisemakers, sticks, drums, chants, it described the history that was passed down among families from generation to generation. At the Maui luaus, such as the Marriott Te Au Moana, you’ll see men and women dancing the hula together.

The King’s Impact on Hula Dancing

During the 1700s when Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, the hula dance was not well received. Hawaii was under the rule of King Kamehameha I at that time who is said to have united all Hawaiian Islands in 1810. Had it not been for this unification, the infiltration of Captain Cook and his western ways may have resulted in major cultural ramifications in Hawaii much earlier. 

King Kamehameha I died in 1819 and then in 1820, when American Protestant Missionaries came to the islands of Hawaii, the hula dance along with other native traditions were banned entirely. The people of Hawaii were forbidden to celebrate most everything they had always held sacred. 

Fortunately, after several decades, in 1874, when King David Kalakaua took reign over Hawaii, he revived the traditional hula dance along with other cultural traditions. He ruled over the lands for nearly two decades and earned the name “Merrie Monarch” because of his adoration for festivities, music, and food.  While his celebrations were always enjoyed, the Hawaiians honor him most for his revitalization to the community that allowed them to reclaim their roots and take pride in their culture once again. 

Hawaii’s Hula Festivals

King Kalakaua considered the storytelling hula dance as the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people and his people loved him for once again celebrating their history. In 1963, the Merrie Monarch Festival was first established, in honor of King David Kalakaua in the quaint town of Hilo, located on the Big Island.

To this day, the annual festival takes place during the month of April, as residents come together to organize the weeklong celebration of Hawaiian arts, crafts, music, parades, and of course hula performances and competitions. Young women from all around compete in both the ancient (hula kahiko) and modern (hula ‘auana) forms of hula dance to claim the “Miss Aloha Hula” title.

This competition is one of several that take place throughout the year in Hawaii. These competitions have some of the most talented hula dancers worldwide and will give any onlooker an amazing experience and insight into the in-depth meaning of the hula dance. 

In addition to the Merrie Monarch Festival, other popular competitions held in various parts of Hawaii include the World Invitation Hula Festival, the Queen Lili’uokalani Keiki Hula Competition, Mokihana Festival, and the KaPiko Hula.

The bottom line, when planning your trip to Hawaii, you should make it a priority to experience the hula dance. Whether you plan on attending a luau or watching a competition, you’ll understand why it has been called “the heartbeat of Hawaii.”

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