Brief History of Hula
According to Hawaiian history, you will find many explanations for the beginnings of hula. Most know of the story of Laka. Laka is known as the goddess of the hula and the forest. Even today, in very traditional hula halaus, an altar or offering is prepared in honor of Laka with a very specific succession of plants. In some traditions of Hawaii the hula was brought to the islands by a brother and sister, both named Laka. Although prayers are addressed to Laka in many hula performances, few, if any, hulas are ever dedicated to her.
There are two types of hula: Auana and Kahiko. Hula auana is the more graceful, entertaining type. There is music, singing, guitars, ukuleles and colorful costumes to enhance the dance. Hula kahiko is the old style which was used for rituals and ceremonies. This has changed over time and the dance is now used for entertainment as well. It includes percussion, ipu gourds, chanting and traditional costumes.
Dancers must become one with the dance and the actions, objects or images they are imitating in the dance. Every movement of the body represents something. The hands are very important in the dance. The dancer may be imitating a palm tree, war or even animals.
Hula dancers wear various costumes when they are performing. They may wear a lei made of flowers, kukui nuts or shells around their neck, ankles or wrists. They may wear a ti leaf or tapa pau skirt or a muumuu dress.
In the past, hula was danced as a religious ritual. Because of this, the rules regarding hula dance were very strict and those who were involved were required to follow those rules. Hula students could not cut their fingernails or their hair, eat forbidden foods or engage in intercourse. It was believed that if the students did not do any of the forbidden activities, they would become better dancers.
Hula almost disappeared in the 1800s when missionaries arrived in Hawaii. The missionaries believed that hula was devilish and against God because the dancers would practice in the hot sun for hours on end. They believed the dancers to be possessed because of this. The missionaries tried to convince the Hawaiians to stop dancing altogether. King Kalakaua didnt want the Hawaiians to stop dancing because the missionaries didnt understand the meaning and purpose of the dance. He developed his own group of dancers and taught them to continue dancing the old style hula. Because of his perseverance, we are still able to dance the hula today.