Hula on Kauai Sustains Ancient Hawaiian Traditions

Chanting and Hula Perpetuate Culture on Garden Island

Hula and Hawaiian chants perpetuate the legends and history of the Hawaiian people and preserve a connection to their ancestors and ancient past. On Kauai this hula and the accompanying chants are alive and well, thriving in many halau (hula schools) throughout the island.

Since ancient times hula and chants have been used to tell stories of heroic adventures, record genealogies, and pay reverence to Hawaiian cultural and spiritual beliefs.

On Kauai, as on the other Hawaiian Islands, to prepare for the performance the dancers traditionally gather plants from the forest and then braid and weave the leaves, vines, and flowers into lei to adorn the wrists, ankles, neck, and head.

They may gather fragrant leaves of the maile, leaves of ti, and also the palapalai fern that represents the hula goddess Laka.

Also used is the palaa or lace fern, considered to be an incarnation of Hi’iaka, the younger sister of the volcano goddess Pele. It was Hi’iaka who was so powerful and graceful when she performed the very first hula at the request of the fiery Pele.

The ancient Hawaiian people had no written language. Instead theirs was an oral tradition in which the knowledge of the culture was held through the creation and memorization of chants and hula dances that told of historical events and the stories of the gods.

In the ancient form of hula known as kahiko (which means ancient) an invocation precedes each dance. The women may be adorned with knee-length skirts fashioned from the flat green leaves of the ti plant. Ferns woven into bracelets around their ankles and wrists are called kupe’e.

Around the dancers’ heads and long, flowing hair may be the woven lei po’o, and around their necks are the lei a’i woven from flowers and vines or from polished kukui nuts.

Ancient Hawaiian chants often included kaona which are varied meanings or references that allow the chant to be interpreted in more than one way. Some chants may be interpreted only by the haku mele who trained from a young age in the art of chanting.

These kaona are often metaphorical, such as the flower lehua referring to love, or to someone’s lover, or to the goddess Hi’iaka because it was her sacred flower.

Different vocal techniques are used for various chanting styles depending upon the story being told. For example, mele ipo, or love chants, often use the ho’aeae style with its prolonged vowels and short phrases.

Other types of ancient chants include mele inoa (name chants) and mele kahi (place chants). Microtonal inflection involves the up and down weaving of sounds and inflecting tones to enhance the artistry of the chants. Sometimes the tone is tremulous or staccato, while other times it is more lyrical.

Hula brings forth and enhances the meanings of the chants including stories of migrations, love and adventure. Hula is considered a narrative movement that embraces the chant’s meaning while releasing the dancers’ spirit and grace. The dancer has a particular awareness of their feet touching the ground as the earth is considered the source of the dance’s power.

Accompanying the hula and chants in ancient times were such rhythmic instruments as the pa ipu (gourd drum), hula ili’ili (waterworn stones used as clappers), and the pahu hula, a drum made from the trunk of the coconut tree with a sharkskin drumhead.

Other traditional instruments included uli’uli (gourd rattles) adorned with feathers and la’au ho’okani pahu (drumming sticks), and pu’ili (split bamboo rattles). There are many different opportunities to see authentic hula on Kauai and enjoy the beauty of this ancient art.

If you are planning a Kauai vacation please feel free to give us a call. The Bali Hai Realty vacation rental staff will be happy to help you find the perfect Kauai vacation rental as well as plan fun Kauai activities during your stay.