It’s nearly impossible to imagine a Hawaiian Luau without a traditional Hula Dance. They go together like the ocean and the sand. Like sunsets and tiki torches. That’s because the Hawaiian Hula Dance has become synonymous with Hawaiian culture. It’s a staple of Hawaiian luaus and its people.
The Hawaiian Hula Dance is also a breathtaking art form. One that combines energetic music and dance. More than that, it’s a dance that tells a story. It captures the history of the islands and the essence of its people. This makes hula something more than an exciting performance.
It is also a genuine display of Hawaiian culture and history. A magical retelling expressed through frenetic rhythms and unique dances. Let’s see where the magic of Hula all began.
Hula Dancing History & Myth
Hula is a tradition nearly as old as the Hawaiian people. Because of that, its origins are somewhat mysterious. Some legends say the navigator goddess Laka first invented the hula dance. Others say the goddess Hi’iaka created the dance for her sister Pele.
Pele herself was the goddess of volcano and fire. Some versions say it was she who created the hula. The hula honored her escape from her sister Namakaokaha’i, the goddess of the oceans.
Another theory is that hula comes from the Hawaiian creation myth – the Kumulipo. In this story, the gods perform a chant along with arm and leg movements. Historians theorize that this could be a reference to the first hula dances.
There are nearly as many legends as there are Hawaiian regions. Traditional hula can vary just as much based on location. Before the 1800s, the Hawaiian people did not have a written language. Hula served as one way to pass down knowledge through generations. Early hula was more than artistic expression. It was a way for stories to be told and wisdom to be imparted.
Hula & the Hawaiian Luau
The Hawaiian Hula dance goes hand-in-hand with Hawaii today. However, there was a time when its future on the islands was in question. In the 1800s, Christianity came to Hawaii. Many traditional ways of life were eyed with suspicion by those who converted. Many Christian Hawaiians began to see hula as immoral. They thought it expressed pre-Christian beliefs. That was something that couldn’t stand.
In 1830, Christian Queen Ka'ahumanu made it illegal to perform the hula publicly. However, this ban didn’t last long. After her death in 1832, the hula quickly re-entered public life.
Ultimately, there was never lasting success at suppressing hula. It also found its way through passed down Hawaiian traditions. The dance did change over the 19th century, however.
The chants accompanying the dances shifted in tone. They become more melodic and song-like. The subject of hula also began to shift. Hula had traditionally told ancient stories of golden gods and the islands’ birth. This new hula focused instead on the present. It glorified the king and queen and described the beauty of Hawaiian nature.
This era of hula would soon come to a close as well. In 1893, the monarchy ended in Hawaii. In 1900, the island officially became a United States territory. As Hawaii was integrated into the United States, many traditions were pushed to the wayside. For a time, American culture was widely adopted.
Luckily, this proved to be only a brief period in Hawaii’s history. As we mentioned, the hula was an enduring tradition. By the 1960s and 1970s, traditional Hawaiian culture experienced a renaissance.
Traditional Hula Dance
Many types of hula have existed throughout Hawaii’s history. Nowadays, there are typically two distinct styles we’ll see. One is called Hula Kahiko – often referred to as traditional hula. The other is Hula Auana – also called modern hula.
Hula Kahiko is performed in the style that existed before the monarchy’s end. This means the subject of the dance relates to praising chiefs and honoring old gods. This is a more traditional approach to hula. A story is told, and knowledge is passed down.
This kind of hula is also distinct in its presentation. Modern instruments aren’t used. Instead, it relies on rhythm sticks and traditional drums or rattles. Hula Kahiko also relies on chants called oli rather than songs to tell its stories. Some of these oli are very old, passed down through the generations. Others are new, expressing recent tales about the Hawaiian people. Hula Kahiko is steeped in tradition and history. However, it continues to develop and grow to this day.
On the other hand, Hula Auana is what tourists and Hawaiian travelers are most familiar with. This hula was developed during Hawaii’s integration into the Western world. Auana is less formal than Kahiko and isn’t used for ceremonial purposes. This hula still tells stories about Hawaii and its people. However, it is more curated for a foreign audience.
The hula Auana made popular the iconic grass skirts used by dancers. The method of storytelling also changed. Oli chants are forgone in favor of a mele or song. The accompanying instruments are typically ukuleles, guitars, bass, and (if you are lucky) the steel guitar. Although, traditional drums and rattles may still be used.
Entertainment is core to the hula Auana experience. Dancers often interact with the crowd and employ the dance as a method of cultural exchange. Other dances, such as the Samoan Fire Knife Dance, often accompany these shows. Though not traditionally from Hawaii, the Samoan Fire Knife Dance is an exciting visual experience, for this reason, the fire dance is not presented at the Old Lāhainā Lūʻau.
Join Us at Old Lāhainā Lūʻau!
These traditional hula dances are just a few of many wonders to be found at a traditional Hawaiian luau.
We invite you to celebrate Hawaiian culture at the Old Lāhainā Lūʻau. We offer the ultimate Maui-style entertainment and onolicious cuisine with luau Maui tickets available on our website. We also pride ourselves on keeping a strong focus on Hawaiian history and culture.
At Old Lāhainā Lūʻau, our luaus are held daily during sunset hours. This makes for a stunning show, breathtaking photo opportunities, and food cooked to perfection in traditional imu pits. We welcome you to the next one! If you’d like more information, check out our information page here.