Hula: Past and Present, Local and Global
copyright by Anne-Kristine Tischendorf 2005.06.15
My intention with this paper is to reflect on my personal experience with and knowledge of hula dance in the present day Hawaii, locally as well as outside of the Hawaiian islands. I came to Hawaii the first time in 1993 with very little knowledge of the culture. I quickly gained an interest in the subject that I have since pursued. My background was as a new dance developer in the marginal dance scene in Europe. My questions had been around how to create an authentic dance expression, authentic in the meaning of true to my sense of identity and original as a personal expression. This was a most challenging endeavour - who was I and how could I create a "new" expression of the collective psyche in a way that would be interesting and comprehensible to my audience? With these questions unanswered hula entered my life and touched my heart!
II. Hypothesis and theory
Some of the questions from Helene Eriksen's article on "Strategies for the performance of Iranian dance in the Diaspora" can very well be transferred to the practice and performance of hula in the Diaspora. Who or what is authentic in a global setting? Is a woman who learned hula from a Norwegian the more authentic because she is Hawaiian? Is a Hawaiian who learned the tradition at home more authentic than a good outsider who learned through study and research? Is a girl who is half Hawaiian and half European also half authentic? Is interest in a culture as valid a reason as descent? And who is competent to judge and control authenticity? I will let these questions just float through my writing.
In the article "Balkan tradition, American Alternative," June Adler Vail writes "Unlike a living folk dance tradition on native ground, often integral to maintaining social identities and achieving political goals, Balkan dance in Maine had only a transitory capacity to create a world for its members and communicate with its viewers" This statement triggers my curiosity in relationship to hula!
Can hula serve a purpose outside of Hawaii or for non-ethnic people? Can hula keep its authenticity when moved to and adapted into other countries and other cultures? In what ways is the language of hula universal?
III. Description and history
What is Hula?
For many with whom I have spoken, hula is all about being Hawaiian. For others it is about feeling the spirit of Hawai'i deep within the soul and upholding her culture and traditions. For some, it is about feeling lost and searching out that which brings them closer to feelings of completeness. It is about respect and love for our heritage, our kupuna (elders), the 'aina (a spiritual connection to the land), and one another. It is about giving unselfishly, unconditionally and finding peace within.
Background; historic and spiritual.
Hula is the Hawaiian folkdance, particular to the Hawaiians and unlike the Polynesian dances. It is the living history of the Hawaiian people, telling their myths and legends, stories and values through songs, chants and music accompanied by dance with descriptive hand gestures and rhythmic movement of feet and hips. It's roots go back to pre-historic times. Before contact with the westerners the Hawaiian history tradition was oral, only some petroglyphs are found as possible "written" documentation. Preservation and continuation of the history was dependent on the excellent memory of the keepers of traditions. The hula of precontact Hawaii is said to have served mainly religious and ceremonial purposes, used by the priests (kahuna) and the political leaders and chiefs (ali'i). But there was also a hula outside of the temples that had the ability to change with the social conditions.
In the older days the Hawaiians lived in a communal society where much of the family possessions were owned by the whole community, though an individual's personal possessions were treated with the greatest respect. But few things were individually owned. The land, the sea and the sky were free for all men. With the changes brought by the white missionaries, "new ways were introduced and the old family system of rule was thrown aside. The new ways, were foreign ways and useless to the Hawaiian heart. It left the Hawaiians without identity. He lost his family, his way of ruling himself, his history and his dignity in few short years, all in the lack of understanding."  [Editor's note: The first three sentences of this paragraph represent a commonly-held modern viewpoint that is not supported by the early writings of literate Hawaiians, such as David Malo and Samuel Kamakau. Specifically, according to written history, Hawaiians lived in extended family groups where possessions belonged to individuals, but were often shared within the family. Land, the sea close to land, and anything in the sky overhead belonged to the ruling chief. The deep ocean was free to all. SKK]
As the Hawaiian people and their cultural practices underwent suppression, the kumu hula (hula masters) would keep their knowledge and be very selective with whom they would share their wisdom. Hula did not disappear, in some ways it grew even stronger, but adapted its expression to one more acceptable to the suppresser, first the missionaries and later the American political leaders. The traditions were kept alive in the rural areas. Nevertheless, in the early sixties the first Hula Competition was invented in honour of King Kalakaua, in Hilo on the Big Island, mostly to give a boost to tourism. It was a success and the competition became an annual event that was essential in reviving the interest in hula kahiko (ancient style hula) and its tradition.
Today there is the modern hula' auana and the more traditional hula kahiko, which tells of the history of Hawaii - its unwritten literature. The traditional kahiko style requires a knowledge of protocol when danced. "To have a tradition, you have to have the many generations doing the same thing," said de Silva, the kumu, or "source," of Halau Mohala 'Ilima. "If every third generation changes the feet or the hands, then there's no tradition. It doesn't go back and you can't trace it as far."
The hula 'auana, the modern hula, involves more melodic music using modern instruments and more sensual moves than the hula kahiko. Hula 'auana allows more creativity, for the choreographer as well as the dancer.
When learning hula, you learn the language and about the culture as well. It is all interwoven. The structure of the language embodies Hawaiian values. Learning about the hula implements, gathering ferns, seeds, or shells teaches you about the land, its history and values like respectful behaviour.
There is an intimate relationship between the dance and the music and singing or chanting in hula. Hula does not exist on its own. The gestures follow the singing or chanting and the music follows the feet. Until recent days when musical recording has become common, hula would always be accompanied by live musicians. Still this is the most common, both when practicing and performing. And as a dancer you also learn to accompany the dance by calling out the verses, singing or chanting as well as by using dance instruments like rattles, bamboo sticks, or gourd drums.
Background; cultural and political position in a historic perspective.
Motion as a language.
Hula is designed not only to entertain but to instruct and inspire as well. A true hula dancer is able to move the audience so that they will rethink themselves and their place among humanity.
Dance in all cultures has been a medium for communication of images and beliefs. In hula the forefathers have consciously woven into the hula songs and chants, proverbs, information and poetry, migration stories and creation tales in an artful way to be carried into the future.
"Hula is like a breath of life that is exquisitely embodied and expressed in patterns of movement and sound. It is everything that makes up the universe. Hula is a vital expression of our Hawaiian culture and is performed throughout the world. The pahu, ipu heke, chants, and language of hula all inspire us to a deeper understanding of the heritage and traditions of the Hawaiian people."
The heritage of hula comes through the masters of hula who have carefully passed on their knowledge through the generations. What is a master, a kumu hula? Kumu means source or foundation and is equivalent to the title of being a master teacher. You cannot decide to become a kumu. It is a title earned when, from being a proficient dancer ('olapa), your kumu decides to take you through iniki (initiation). Dedication is essential but not sufficient; outstanding memory, proficiency in chanting, knowledge to preserve the kahiko, creativity and ability to compose and choreograph 'auana dances is also required.
Participating observer and student of hula.
I started studying hula on Kauai, not with a kumu, but with Kalena, a local friend of my massage teacher. I had learned my first hula and hula steps from her as part of my training as a practitioner of Hawaiian lomilomi nui massage. As we both had a deep enthusiasm for the hula, she took me along to meet Kalena and learn more. We would be a few people coming together at a pavilion by the beach every Wednesday before Kalena went to play live guitar at a local bar called "Side out". "Side out" was my first stage and where I had my first encounter with hula as a living dance form. The crowd was definitely not all Hawaiians by blood. But maybe what they had in common with the Hawaiians was belonging to the minorities in society in one way or another. They were a colourful mix of bikers, transvestites, bums and plumbers! No tourists, but some "outsiders" like myself! But when it came to dancing we were all one. The musician would call out the next song inviting anyone to come and dance it! He knew his audience( like they knew him) and he always got people up on their dancing feet, or got the waiter to put down his tray and do a number. So there I shared what I had just learned and danced along with others who had different interpretations of the same song. An appreciation was expressed for the willingness to share what one knew of hula. And when the live music part was over, and all drinks and arguments were put down, we would all hold hands and sing "Aloha 'oe" - until we meet again! In this place I learned that hula is alive, not only in the marketplaces and hotel bars as part of the tourist image. Not only in the hula competitions and festivals or as practice or rituals for special groups, but in the daily live of the ordinary people finding community in a local bar!
Later I had the opportunity to study with a kumu hula, hula master Kawaikapuokalani Hewett. There was a preparatory process over a couple of years before it happened. My massage teacher had invited him to come and lecture in the workshops of Aloha International on Hawaiian healing arts.
Kawaikapu is a well known composer, musician, dancer and healer and has his own halau hula ( hula school). We wanted so much to learn hula from him, however for several years he would only lecture to this group of international students on oli, chants and the Hawaiian language. He emphasised that you have to know the language to dance the hula. After a couple of years my massage teacher suggested the two of us were ready to ask for the privilege to learn his dances! He accepted us and we were told to bring a video camera and come up to his hotel room. We had one hour and one dance to learn. But within this hour a deeper process was started. He was very precise in his instruction and gave us a clear understanding of the background for the legend portrayed, his poetic interpretation and his choreography. It was an extremely intense hour! We went home to study the material in depth, desiring to be worthy carriers of his knowledge. We repeated this process several times and learned several dances. This way of studying lay the foundation for the next face of merging with the essence of hula. We would spend time with him; talk story, come to his home, his workplace, follow him and observe. For my massage teacher this has been an ongoing process due to living in the islands. For me it is occasional, when visiting Hawaii. But it is clear to me that when the student expresses a dedication, the kumu responds. This is as much an inner connection as an outer expression.
So through my own path to learn hula I have experienced some of the changes taking place in how the hula is being passed on and fighting the possible extinction it could suffer if "the old way" was the only way! By "the old way" I mean Hawaiian children being selected from an early age and trained systematically by a kumu hula to carry on the tradition of his or her specific lineage.
Passing hula on to next generations.
Puluelo Napai Park says: "Don't hide. Give out. That is why you are teachers."
Before the revival of the hula in 1960's there was, like with many other ethnic minority groups, a banning of the expression of cultural practices including speaking their mother tongue. This was detrimental in Hawaii. A whole generation, even if they didn't want to, had to become "good Americans" and give up their ethnical identity. Their children would become alienated from their grandparents who could to some degree hide but not forget their roots and traditions. According to my kumu hula, who also works as a spiritual counsellor in Waimanalo Health Centre on Oahu, this causes big social problems in Hawaii today. The family structure is the core of a healthy Hawaiian society.
The concept of hula competitions seems somewhat foreign to the Hawaiian way of thinking but it seems to have served a purpose in focusing the interest and setting certain standards and a framework of references. As kumu hula Joan Lindsey express it: "The competition isn't important. Not all of the kids are talented, but this is the group I'm going to take. I can have impossible dancers, but the impossible dancer is going to be part of the group, because that's how it goes. They pay tuition, they come to hula, they're there when we need them; so I can't and I will never pick just the best in the group to perform or to compete, because that's not part of learning. That's not the Hawaiian way. The Hawaiian way that I know (is when) the one who needs the most love and the most time, you need to give them that time - you know, you come from a Hawaiian family. That's how it is: So all your (other) kids are perfect, but you have an imperfect child. All your attention is going to the imperfect child. Not that you cherish that child more than the other children, but that child needs to get on track." 
It is the belief of Kaili'ohe that the 'ohana system was the originator of what was later called the Aloha spirit. "For all life was founded on love. There was love of family, love of land, love of sea and love and respect for yourself and all around you! All were one"! 
The sense of 'ohana, community or belonging is a recurring theme among the kumu hulas and in the hula schools. As Rita Moon on Lanai says; "Our halau is an extension of our homes. We share with and care for each other, making sure not to cause hurt by worry or deed. My haumana become hula sisters, part of the 'ohana, not just acquaintances in dance".  [Ed. Note: haumana means "student" and 'ohana means "family."]
Over the last 10 years the hula scene has gone through new changes and the interest goes more towards festivals and workshop events where kumu hulas from different lineages are brought together to share and the focus is on learning and exchanging knowledge in a non-competitive environment.
In the Aloha Fest festival that took place in Germany in 2000, Uncle George Na'ope was the guest of honour. He has been given the prestigious title of "a living treasure" by the president of the U.S.A. He is one of the last carriers of the wisdom of the past and during the festival he wanted to teach an ancient temple dance to the best skilled European hula dancers. We found it an enormous honour, but he simply said " it is of no use if the knowledge dies with me!"
Hula as a dance form is about unity. Unity of mind(s) and body(ies). Unity between man and the elements of nature.
The dance is choreographed, using gestures to tell the story being sung or chanted. The dancers movements have clear instructions to where they belong at any given moment. When seeing a hula performed by a group, the impression is one of harmony, much like a flock of birds migrating. Dancing as a group you strive to move as one body. Your sense of individuality has to surrender to the group body expressing the spirit of the story being danced. Dancing as a soloist it is about unity as well. Of being able to bring dancing skills, knowledge of the history, understanding of the song and its contents into a higher union with your interpretation, imagination and creativity.
"For when it is done well, hula represents a metaphysical union of the forces that have always characterised man's attempts to make himself one with the universe". 
Hula - Identity - Authenticity
When I looked up "identity" in the dictionary  I found the Hawaiian word to be Ho'omaopopo, which in English means to understand. I find this interesting in the way that in the hula training much emphasis is put on expanding your knowledge. And it is knowledge in a broad sense. Research in the language, texts and stories, use of hula implements and music is but one layer. Understanding of self and social values is another.
As Michael Pili Pang says about his haumana (students) of Halau Hula Ka No'eau, "They (our haumana) are strongly encouraged to use their individual knowledge, skills and creativity as ways to build self-esteem, community pride, and social identity within their hearts and minds". 
A curiosity and interest in other cultures and ways is also encouraged. Kumu hula Kapi'olani Ha'o's motto is: A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka halau ho'okahi - "not all knowledge lies in one school". She is but one example of a kumu striving to provide her haumana (students) with the opportunity to travel to different places and learn about different cultures.
Another word for identity is ho'oia, to see, true and oia'i'o, which means true; truth, fact; truly, firmly, certainly, genuine, real, sure, authentic; faithfulness. Keeping the variety of synonyms in mind - how does one see oneself, see the 'ohana, see the values inherent in the hula? How does one perceive truth, authentic and faithfulness to hula and its heritage?
In the hula communities there is a strong emphasis on kindness, inclusiveness, being agreeable, humble and patient. The prevailing sense of 'ohana - sense of family and kinship, strengthens this. It is the active cultivation of 'ohana that makes hula satisfactory or meaningful to those who "feel lost and search out to that which brings them closer to feelings of completeness".
What makes hula attractive to non-Hawaiian people?
Hula has the ability to touch laymen as well as connoisseurs. It's appealing not only to the eye but all the senses. The movements are graceful, the dances are structured in a way that enhances the sense of balance, harmony and dynamic. It seems the hula can be characterised as a universal language.
It can look good and feel good to watch and listen to hula, as well as to practice it. As one student in Tromsø exclaimed to me after her first hula class; " Does hula make you a nicer person?!" She felt more balanced and happy about her self after having done the hula moves. But hula can do more than this.
For people who are attracted to hula and want to learn more than just some moves or a new dance, there is a resonance with the values inherent in the practice and ingrained in the song and dances. I will refer to June Adler Veils: "Folk dances are often assumed to express the participants' shared identity, reflecting an already defined social world.... Reciprocally, folk dances also induces casts of mind and creates ways of experiencing and behaving. We dance the dances and they "dance" us".  To some people hula becomes a practical spiritual practice.
To Ishmael Stagner, hula is synonymous with the definition of George Kanahele. In his article "On Hawaiian Values" Kanahele says that hula is "that body of dances uniquely done for or by Hawaiians with themes, contents and purposes wrapped up in values that have historically been important to people calling themselves Hawaiians." 
Though the stories and references in the various hula dances are unique to the Hawaiian Island culture, it is possible to see them symbolically and transfer the meanings to universal themes we can identify with in our own culture.
The idea of an authentic hula has a meaning in the sense of a dance tradition that originates from ancient Hawaii. Hula has its uniqueness within certain technical characteristics different from related Polynesian dance traditions. Ethnic identity, of course, relates to several cultural phenomena, like language, history, music, dance, handicrafts and crafts etc. Through hula the Hawaiians can recognise their own identity. However this does not exclude people of any other origin to identify with the roots of hula. In other words hula, like all other folkdances, has a global appeal.
If hula is only about being Hawaiian in blood, it is a dying art along with the Hawaiian race slowly watering out. If hula is about "respect and love for our heritage, our kupuna (elders), the 'aina(land), and one another, the spirit can resonate with people beyond their (Hawaiian) ethnic identity. Through hula, dancers of any colour or nationality can give unselfishly, unconditionally and find peace within. One kumu puts it this way: "Our halau (Halau Hula O Napunaheleonapua) motto is "It doesn't matter who you are, or where you come from, for as long as you have love for hula, you belong here". 
Hula as a traditional dance form has developed from ritual dance and folkdance. These dance forms have survived changing political and religious regimes throughout the history, more or less as subcultures.
The revival of the hula in the 1960's developed simultaneously with trends and tendencies of ethnic uprising internationally. Political awareness and the demands of the tourist industries created opportunities for the hula revival. Hula now gains a new and different public acceptance, social and political standing.
On the other hand this leads to institutionalisation of a subculture with an origin in ancient Hawaii. Now we can find hula in festivals, competitions, schools, colleges etc. But in spite of hula being institutionalised it remains a dynamic contemporary art. The hula of today reflects the roots and ethnic identity of the Hawaiian culture. The hula of today still has two strong tendencies:
1. to preserve the past as close to an idea of original authenticity as possible, and
2. to be creative, innovative and express the current needs and beliefs of its people in a global community.
"Hula is the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people." - David (Kawika) La'amea Kalakaua, King of Hawaii 1874-1891.
The Keiki Hula Competition, Kona, Hawaii. November 1997.
E Pili Kakou Hula Festival, Kauai, Hi. January 1998,1999 and 2005.
The Aloha Fest, Hawaiiana Festival. Munich, Germany. June 2000 and 2004.
1) Berinobis, Floyd Shari 'Iolani 2004. The spirit of hula : photos and stories from around the world. Bess press, inc. Honolulu, Hi. pp. vi.
2) Lee, Jae Lee and Willis, Koko 1990. Tales from the Night Rainbow. Night Rainbow Publisher Co. Honolulu, Hi. Pp 31.
3) Enomoto, Catherine Kekoa, "Keepers of the knowledge"September 29,1997. Star-Bulletin http://starbulletin.com/97/09/29/features/story3.html.
4) ) Berinobis, Floyd Shari 'Iolani 2004. The spirit of hula : photos and stories from around the world. Bess press, inc. Honolulu, Hi. pp. 16.
5) L. Aragon, "Becoming Kumu". Star Bulletin, Mon. Sept.14, 1998.
6) Enomoto, Kekoa Catherine, "Kumu hula Joan Lindsey teaches her students that it's participating - not winning - that counts". Star-Bulletin, July 30,1996. http://starbulletin.com/96/07/30/features/story1.html.
7) Lee, Jae Lee and Willis, Koko 1990. Tales from the Night Rainbow. Night Rainbow Publisher Co. Honolulu, Hi. Pp 32.
8) Berinobis, Floyd Shari 'Iolani 2004. The spirit of hula : photos and stories from around the world. Bess press, inc. Honolulu, Hi. pp. 52.
9) Stagner, Ishmael. 1985. HULA! (ed.) Kelley, P. The Institute for Polynesian Studies. Laie, Hi. Pp.1.
10) Pukui and Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary. 1986 University of Hawaii Press. Honolulu, Hi.
11) Berinobis, Floyd Shari 'Iolani 2004. The spirit of hula : photos and stories from around the world. Bess press, inc. Honolulu, Hi. pp. 2.
12) Berinobis, Floyd Shari 'Iolani 2004. The spirit of hula : photos and stories from around the world. Bess press, inc. Honolulu, Hi. pp. 26.
13) Veil, June Adler. "Balkan Tradition, American Alternative". Moving words. Re-writing dance. (Ed.)Gay Morris.
14) Stagner, Ishmael. 1985. HULA! (ed.) Kelley, P. The Institute for Polynesian Studies. Laie, Hi. Pp. 3.
15) Berinobis, Floyd Shari 'Iolani 2004. The spirit of hula : photos and stories from around the world. Bess press, inc. Honolulu, Hi. pp. 12.