AskDefine | Define hula

Dictionary Definition

hula n : a Polynesian rain dance performed by a woman [syn: hula-hula, Hawaiian dancing]

User Contributed Dictionary



From hula



  1. A form of chant and dance, which was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there.

Derived terms


Hawaiian chant and dance



hr-noun f




  1. a form of dance native to the Hawaiian Islands
  2. a hula dancer
  3. a chant or song which accompanies the dance


  1. to dance the hula
  2. to chant in accompaniment with the dance
  3. to twitch

Derived terms


Extensive Definition

Hula () is a dance form accompanied by chant or song. It was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there. The chant or song is called a mele. The hula dramatizes or comments on the mele.
There are many styles of hula. They are commonly divided into two broad categories: Ancient hula, as performed before Western encounters with Hawaii, is called kahiko. It is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments. Hula as it evolved under Western influence, in the 19th and 20th centuries, is called auana. It is accompanied by song and Western-influenced musical instruments such as the guitar, the ukulele, and the double bass. Terminology for two main additional categories is beginning to enter the hula lexicon: "Monarchy" includes many hula which were composed and choreographed during the 19th century. During that time the influx of Western culture created significant changes in the formal Hawaiian arts, including hula. "Ai Kahiko", meaning "in the ancient style" are those hula written in the 20th and 21st centuries that follow the stylistic protocols of the ancient hula kahiko.
Hula is taught in schools called hālau. The teacher of hula is the kumu hula, where kumu means source of knowledge. Hula dancing is a complex art form, and there are many hand motions used to signify aspects of nature, such as the basic Hula and Coconut Tree motions, or the basic leg steps, such as the Kaholo, Ka'o, and Ami. There are other dances that come from other Polynesian islands such as Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga and Aotearoa (New Zealand); however, the hula is unique to the Hawaiian Islands.

Hula kahiko (Hula Olapa)

Hula kahiko encompassed an enormous variety of styles and moods, from the solemn and sacred to the frivolous. Many hula were created to praise the chiefs and performed in their honor, or for their entertainment.
Serious hula was considered a religious performance. As was true of ceremonies at the heiau, the platform temple, even a minor error was considered to invalidate the performance. It might even be a presage of bad luck or have dire consequences. Dancers who were learning to do such hula necessarily made many mistakes. Hence they were ritually secluded and put under the protection of the goddess Laka during the learning period. Ceremonies marked the successful learning of the hula and the emergence from seclusion.
Hula kahiko is performed today by dancing to the historical chants. Many hula kahiko are characterized by traditional costuming, by an austere look, and a reverence for their spiritual roots.


Hawaiian history was oral history. It was codified in genealogies and chants, which were memorized strictly as passed down. In the absence of a written language, this was the only available method of ensuring accuracy. Chants told the stories of creation, mythology, royalty, and other significant events and people.


  • Ipu—single gourd drum
  • Ipu heke—double gourd drum
  • Pahu—sharkskin covered drum; considered sacred
  • Pūniu—small knee drum made of a coconut shell with fish skin (kala) cover
  • Iliili—water-worn lava stone used as castanets
  • Ulīulī—feathered gourd rattles
  • Pūili—split bamboo sticks
  • Kālaau—rhythm sticks
The dog's-tooth anklets sometimes worn by male dancers could also be considered instruments, as they underlined the sounds of stamping feet.


Traditional female dancers wore the everyday pāū, or wrapped skirt, but were topless. Today this form of dress has been altered. As a sign of lavish display, the pāū might be much longer than the usual length of kapa, or barkcloth, which was just long enough to go around the waist. Visitors report seeing dancers swathed in many yards of tapa, enough to increase their circumference substantially. Dancers might also wear decorations such as necklaces, bracelets, and anklets, as well as many lei (in the form of headpieces, necklaces, bracelets, and anklets).
Traditional male dancers wore the everyday malo, or loincloth. Again, they might wear bulky malo made of many yards of tapa. They also wore necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and lei.
The materials for the lei worn in performance were gathered in the forest, after prayers to Laka and the forest gods had been chanted.
The lei and tapa worn for sacred hula were considered imbued with the sacredness of the dance, and were not to be worn after the performance. Lei were typically left on the small altar to Laka found in every hālau, as offerings.


Hula performed for spontaneous daily amusement or family feasts were attended with no particular ceremony. However, hula performed as entertainment for chiefs were anxious affairs. High chiefs typically traveled from one place to another within their domains. Each locality had to house, feed, and amuse the chief and his or her entourage. Hula performances were a form of fealty, and often of flattery to the chief. There were hula celebrating his lineage, his name, and even his genitals (hula mai). Sacred hula, celebrating Hawaiian gods, were also danced. All these performances must be completed without error (which would be both unlucky and disrespectful).
Visiting chiefs from other domains would also be honored with hula performances. This courtesy was often extended to important Western visitors. They left many written records of 18th and 19th century hula performances.

Hula auana

Modern hula arose from adaptation of traditional hula ideas (dance and mele) to Western influences. The primary influences were Christian morality and melodic harmony. Hula auana still tells or comments on a story, but the stories may include events since the 1800s. The costumes of the women dancers are less revealing and the music is heavily Western-influenced.


The mele of hula auana are generally sung as if they were popular music. A lead voice sings in a major scale, with occasional harmony parts.
The subject of the songs is as broad as the range of human experience. People write mele hula auana to comment on significant people, places or events or simply to express an emotion or idea. The hula then interprets the mele.


The musicians performing hula auana will typically use portable acoustic stringed instruments.
  • Ukulele—four-, six- or eight-stringed, used to maintain the rhythm if there are no other instruments
  • Guitar—used as part of the rhythm section, or as a lead instrument
  • Steel guitar—accents the vocalist
  • Bass—maintains the rhythm
Occasional hula auana call for the dancers to use implements, in which case they will use the same instruments as for hula kahiko.



  • Nathaniel Emerson, 'The Myth of Pele and Hi'iaka'. This book includes the original Hawaiian of the Pele and Hi'iaka myth and as such provides an invaluable resource for language students and others.
  • Nathaniel Emerson, 'The Unwritten Literature of Hawaii'. Many of the original Hawaiian hula chants, together with Mr. Emerson's descriptions of how they were danced in the nineteenth century.

External links

hula in Arabic: هولا
hula in German: Hula (Tanz)
hula in Spanish: Hula
hula in Dutch: Hula
hula in Japanese: フラ
hula in Portuguese: Hula
hula in Simple English: Hula
hula in Finnish: Hula
hula in Turkish: Hula dansı
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