The Rebirth of Hula

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“Hula is the language that speaks to the heart and resonates within the Hawaiian people,” declared King David Kalakaua, emphasizing its significance. Among the three themes – revolution, reaction, and reform – the revival of hula garnered the most response. During this resurgence, it became evident how the missionaries reacted to the preexisting Hawaiian customs and practices, particularly towards hula and its inclusion of nudity.”

The arrival of the missionaries in Hawaii in 1820 resulted in a quick and clever effort to change the Hawaiian people. The missionaries’ disapproval of hula, a traditional Hawaiian way of connecting with the gods, led to the rebirth of this art form. Hula used to be an integral part of the Hawaiians’ identity, but everything changed with the arrival of the missionaries. One social factor that contributed to this change was the missionaries’ differing opinions on hula. Even some of the earliest missionaries, like Captain Cook, acknowledged the grace and beauty of the native dance (Marty, AA2).

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According to Hiram Bingham’s diary entry, he believed that the old hulas had a purpose of promoting lasciviousness, which did not fit well with modest communities. These hulas were tied to superstitions and served the honor of their gods and rulers. Bingham did not approve of this art form and viewed it more as a tourist attraction rather than a means of spiritual connection.

The economic cause of hula going “underground” was due to it being seen only as a tourist attraction and not meant to be performed or practiced. However, in 1851, the missionaries had the idea of using hula as entertainment for visitors. As a result, hula was allowed in public and performed for sailors and travelers. Unfortunately, due to the power possessed by the missionaries compared to the Hawaiian ali’i, hula was declared illegal.

The “noisy” and “heathenish” hula greatly appalled many missionaries, leading them to make extensive efforts to ban the dance (Snorokel, Molokini, Q1). Eventually, the missionaries successfully converted the royalty to Christianity, enabling them to declare hula illegal (Snorokel, Molokini, Q1). According to Hawaiian beliefs, hula originated from the command of Pele, the goddess of fire, who ordered her sister Laka to dance for her. Another theory suggests that Hi’iaka danced to please her sister Pele. Many of today’s dances are based on Hi’iaka, with many also being a way to honor Laka.

Laka, known as the goddess of hula, played a significant role in the development of hula. The progression of hula to its present state follows a chronological order: Laka or Hi’iaka danced for Pele, hula kahiko emerged as the traditional style of dancing, the arrival of missionaries who disapproved and criticized hula, resulting in the conversion to Christianity and the subsequent ban on hula. However, in 1874, King Kalakaua was elected as king, leading to the revival of hula and the introduction of a new style called ‘auana. The missionaries arrived in 1820 and declared hula illegal due to their perception that it was noisy and heathenish (Snorokel, Molokini, Q1).

King Kalakaua revived hula during his coronation in February of 1883 (Harington, Daniel, I2). Hula was inherent to the Hawaiian culture, originating from their gods and continuing through human beings as a means of connecting with them. It was an exclusive connection between the Hawaiians and their deities. Unfortunately, the hula was prohibited by the missionaries who deemed it as inappropriate.

When King David Kalakaua ascended to the throne, he aimed to rectify the damage caused by the missionaries. The process began when the missionaries arrived in 1820 and introduced Christianity, resulting in the prohibition of hula. However, when King Kalakaua assumed power, he made efforts to revive hula. This significant journey commenced in February of 1874, coinciding with his 50th birthday and his planned coronation day (Mark, K1 and Schmitt, Robert, U2). His coronation ceremony involved a blend of both Western and Hawaiian traditions.

Planning balls and other western entertainments, Kalakaua also organized olis and hula dances to be performed, employing approximately 50 dancers to present a show comprising 260 songs and olis, some of which were specifically created for this occasion. Considering the state of Hawaiian traditions at that time, it was not surprising for Kalakaua to undertake these initiatives and strive to restore the fading heritage before it vanished completely.

According to Honua (Kalani, P1), he emphasized that hula serves as the language of the heart and is crucial to the very essence of the Hawaiian people. He expressed genuine concern about the potential loss of hula, as that would mean the absence of a heartfelt language and identity for the Hawaiian community. To prevent such a loss, he made efforts to revive hula. However, this revival brought about a change in hula itself. The emergence of a modern dancing style called hula ‘auana marked an initial shift from traditional hula.

Before the arrival of missionaries, the Hawaiians utilized various instruments in hula kahiko, including drums (pahu), feathered guards (uli uli), rock castanets (‘ili ‘ili), bamboo rattles (puili), and striking sticks (kala’au). This traditional dance form was predominantly performed by men (Polynesian Cultural Center, GG2). In contrast, hula ‘auana incorporated more westernized instruments such as the guitar, ukulele, and bass-guitars (Hopkins, Jerry, R4 and Joeroes, Conchita, W3). The primary distinction between hula kahiko and hula ‘auana lies in the energetic style of the former, accompanied by chants and percussion instruments, without the inclusion of music.

The hula ‘auana is a modernized version of the dance that showcases elegant movements and beautiful flowers, often accompanied by the romantic sounds of steel drums and ukulele (Polynesian Cultural Center, GG4). However, despite these changes, the true purpose of hula, which was originally a means of communication with the gods, has been overshadowed by its role in attracting visitors to the islands (Polynesian Cultural Center, GG4). This transformation holds great significance for the Hawaiian people and their culture, as hula is considered the heartbeat of their community (Ohumukini, Vance, J1).

The hula underwent numerous changes, resulting in a style that incorporated elements of both hula kahiko and hula ‘auana. This hybrid style, known as hula ku’i, combined elements from both traditions, with a heavier focus on ‘auana (Joeroes, Conchita, W2). Hula held great significance for the Hawaiians since they lacked a written language until the arrival of the missionaries. As a result, the art of hula served as the primary means of passing down information, traditions, and stories from one generation to the next. Unlike merely being regarded as a tourist attraction, the Hawaiians danced hula for a deeper purpose.

In ancient times, hula was performed as a religious ritual rather than solely for tourism (McKenzie, Bill, HH1). I concur with the author’s perspective as the Hawaiians relied on chanting and hula to convey stories and preserve legends. The absence of hula or chanting would have hindered their ability to convey stories to the younger generation. They would engage in practice within a grand structure containing an altar dedicated to the goddess, Laka (Hanalei, Nani, O1). This demonstrated that hula was not merely entertainment, but a dance performed as homage to Laka. Hula encompassed a level of complexity beyond its outward appearance.

According to the Colombia Encyclopedia (X1), the hula dance in Hawaii was characterized by graceful movements using the symbiotic arm and hand gestures. The hula schools in Hawaii had strict rules for learning the dance. For instance, dancers were prohibited from cutting their hair or fingernails. Additionally, they were not allowed to have sex or consume foods that were considered kapu (forbidden) to them. These rules were enforced by the kumu hula (hula teacher) as they believed that adhering to these restrictions would enhance the students’ ability to learn the hula (McKenzie, Bill, HH1).

The rebirth of hula in Hawaii had a significant impact on Hawaiian traditions. It transformed hula from its original purpose of praising deities like Laka to becoming more focused on entertaining tourists. This shift in hula’s purpose changed how foreigners perceived Hawaiians. Although Hawaiians still danced with intention, outsiders began to view it as merely a pleasant spectacle. The rebirth of hula ultimately ended the traditional significance of the dance, giving it a completely new reason for being performed.

There has been a significant amount of change over time in the hula. Two different styles emerged from hula kahiko, with various instruments, movements, steps, and costumes being added (“Hula”, FF2). This change is important because tourists come to Hawaii hoping to experience something “Hawaiian,” such as the hula. However, they often view it as just a beautiful dance to watch. The hula, along with other Hawaiian traditions, is something Hawaii is known for. As a result, every visitor expects to see the hula in some form, whether it is traditional or not (Mark, K2).

The art of hula has been perceived as graceful and beautiful by some, but for Hawaiians, it is also a storytelling medium, possibly conveying the gods’ tales to the people (Polynesian Cultural Center, GG1). Despite going through challenges like death, revival, and change, hula has persevered throughout the years due to the response it received from the missionaries. However, if Kalakua had not incorporated hula into his coronation, this significant tradition may have been lost for the Hawaiian people. Kalakaua’s actions were driven by his passion and concern for safeguarding this tradition.

If Kalakaua had not cared about Hawaiian traditions, the art of hula may not have become what it is today. Without Kalakaua’s assistance and considering the unfavorable stance of the missionaries towards hula, the art form would likely still be extinct.

Bibliography (Secondary, F) Ka’imi Na’auao o Hawaii Nei. “The History of Hula”. 2005. 17. Aug. 2011. <>.

(Secondary, I) Daniel Hanngton. “Hula and Mele”. Culture/leis. 20. Aug. 2011. < mele.asp>.

(Secondary, J) Vance Ohumukini. “Hula History”.

Dancers.2009.20.Aug.2011.<>.(Secondary, K) Mark.“History of Hula”.2007.20.Aug.2011.<>.(Secondary, L) Robert Schmitt.“Missionaries and the Decline of Hula.Library.2011.20.Aug.2011.<>.(Secondary, O) Nani Hanalei.“history of Hula.2006.23.Aug.2011.<>.(Secondary, P) Kalani Honua.“Hula at Kalani.Culture and Arts.2000.23.Aug.2011.<>.Secondary, Q) Molokini Sonorkel.Hula.Hawaii’s Art and Soul.1997.23, August 2011.<>.(Secondary, R) Jerry Hopkins.Kalakaua-ther merrie monarch.The Hula.Hong Kong: Leonard Lueras.1982.(Secondary, U) Robert Schmitt.David Kalakaua.Library.2011.25, August 2011.< &pageID=404>.(Secondary, W) Conchita Joenoes.Hula Auana.Dance.25, August 2011.<>.(Secondary, X) Colombia Encylopedia.Hula.Encyclopedia.2007.23, August 2011.<>.(Secondary, AA) Marty.Hula.The Heartbeat of the Hawaiian Culture.2011, Aprill, 29.25, August 2011.<>.(Secondary, FF) Hula Culture and history.29, August 2011.<>.(Secondary, GG) The Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii offers a comprehensive experience of Polynesian culture, including the famous Hula dance. Date accessed: 29th August 2011. Website:

(Secondary, HH) Bill McKenzie has written about the history of the Hawaiian Hula dance. The article was published on 5th February 2006 and accessed on 29th August 2011. Website:

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The Rebirth of Hula. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved from

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