Hula is a Polynesian Dance dating back many many centuries before Hawaii was even known. It was Captain Cook who discovered the islands in 1778. And even then, the natives had been performing the hula centuries before.
The Polynesians pay tribute to Laka, the Goddess of Hula, who gave birth to the dance. Hula dancers honor Laka by addressing their prayers to her. Legends and myths are told through story-telling in their dance performances. Dancers would often perform in front of their chiefs for entertainment giving them honor and praise.
Missionaries arrived in the islands around 1820. After witnessing hula for the first time, the missionaries developed a strong negative attitude towards the dance. There were too much superstition and an honor to other gods, that which did not fit with their Christian beliefs. The dances promoted physical enjoyment and old heathen beliefs.
Over the years, the missionaries were successful in converting a number of rulers to Christianity. With the support of Christian rulers, the missionaries were able to convince Queen Kaahuman in 1830 to outlaw the hula and it was never to be performed in public again.
Even though hula performances were outlawed, they were not gone. Hula was, and still is, an important part of the culture in Hawaii. It’s what keeps their history alive. It connects the natives with their land and their gods. It could not be kept underground forever.
The chiefs refused to recognize the ban on hula. And Kamehameha III even disobeyed the law himself. Soon, in 1851, hula became regulated. And in 1874 when King Kalakaua came to the throne, the old cultural traditions of Hawaii were restored.
It was during Kalakaua’s reign when the Portuguese came to Hawaii and introduced the ukulele. Hula dances were then accompanied by this lively little instrument, giving it a much more upbeat and modern sound. Later, the steel guitar was added to the mix.
Hula dances were now being performed at many royal functions. It started becoming a symbol of Hawaiian culture. And by the 1900s, performances had flourished to many public events and festivities across all the islands.
When you come to Hawaii, be sure to check out some hula performances. You’ll learn a lot about the history and culture of the islands. And you might even learn to hula yourself.
There are a number of free shows on Oahu. Below is the top three located in the Waikiki area. Click on the links to find out specific days and times when performances are scheduled.
Royal Hawaiian Center
Image by: Hilton Hawaiian Village