© All Rights Reserved - Peter T. Richards

“Hula is the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”     -King David Kalakaua

Hula has always been part of the Hawaiian culture. The exact origins are shrouded in myth but most legends say that hula was created by one of the Hawaiian goddesses, Pele, Laka or Hi’iaka, making the dance sacred to the Hawaiian people. In ancient times, teachers and students were dedicated to Laka, the goddess of hula, living and training in sacred places. Many of those rituals are still observed today.

There are other dances that come from different Polynesian islands such as Tahiti, The Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and Aotearoa. However, hula is unique to the Hawaiian Islands.

Hula is taught in schools, called “halau” and the teacher is the Kumu Hula, with Kumu meaning “the source of knowledge”. Hula dancing involves many hand, body, and foot motions, which are used to convey the chant or “mele”. Those mele represent history, genealogy, legends, and much more.

There are multiple styles of hula, which are commonly divided into two broad categories: Kahiko, or ancient hula, and Auana, a more modern interpretation.

 

Hula Kahiko encompasses an enormous variety of styles and meanings with sacred mele celebrating the Akua (Hawaiian Gods), the lives and accomplishments of various island chiefs, and the beauty of the Hawaiian people and their islands.

In Hula Kahiko, movement and gesture support the mele. Every movement has meaning and can represent anything from the ocean to the moon and speaks of love or war.

 

Many Hula Kahiko are characterized by traditional costuming that can include a skirt made of kapa cloth (Pa’u) for women or a loincloth (Malo) for men, Ti Leaf skirts and various lei, wristlets and anklets made from local flowers, as well as feathers, tusks, and teeth from animals of the islands. These dances are performed with a reverence for their historical and spiritual roots.

 

Hula Auana evolved under Western influence. These dances are characterized by less traditional costuming, using modern fabrics. These dances are not necessarily ceremonial; they can be quite playful and joyous in nature and are often performed with the support of modern instruments such as the ukulele or guitar. These dances often reflect modern life on the islands.

 

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Kumu Hula and their students, Hula is still practiced and performed today around the globe, culminating in the largest and most celebrated gathering—the Merrie Monarch competition.

The majority of the photos seen in the Gallery are images of Hula Kahiko. I will add new photos throughout the year, including limited editions.

Story of Hula