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Hula Resilience

Cover Image: Detail of Hawaiian dancers at ʻIolani Palace during King Kalākaua’s Jubilee; Honolulu, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. November 1886, Bishop Museum Archives. SP 73610.

Following the arrival of the missionaries, many traditions including hula were not looked upon favorably. The missionaries would describe hula using words such as naʻaupō (ignorant), hewa (sinful), haumia (filthy), lapuwale (foolish), pegana (pagan), uko ʻole (useless), and hilahila (shameful). It did not take very long before Hawaiians themselves can be seen in the newspapers using those same words and sentiment to call out their neighbors.

Here are just a few of the many articles found in the Hawaiian language newspapers criticizing hula.

Image: Lihauwai. “Na Mea Hou o Olowalu, Maui.” Ka Lahui Hawaii, February 17, 1876, p. 3

Lihauwai of Olowalu writes:

Last November, I witnessed the regular practice of the youth here in Olowalu, that after 12 noon each day, a musket was shot off from Kawelo’s house by the hula ʻulīʻulī instructor calling to his/her students to gather in the area set aside for them, and they worshipped together before the altar that was fully adorned with greenery of the forest, decorated with the beauty of Laka, the goddess of the hula people.

The name of the instructor is Kanawaliwali. From 12 noon to 12 at night, it is a constant deafening and sleeplessness, and our nights go without rest because of this idle activity, and this is directly connected to filthy relations. One day, a man was furious with his wife because she was absorbed in the hula and did not sew his pants, so he gave it over to another woman to take care of; another was mad because the coffee fire was not lit, the other’s hands were supposedly too sore to take care of it. Yet when it came to the hula gourd, the hands thumped repeatedly, they were not sore, just so lively!

(Lahui Hawaii, 2/17/1876, p. 3)

An anonymous writer warns:

Image: “Aohe kohu iki…” Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, March 21, 1874, p. 3.

The hula dancers who went dancing this Monday evening were not appropriate at all—sounding their ʻulīʻulī, gesturing their hands this way and that, with their mouths puffing in the wind—These activities are embarrassing for you, O Hawaiians; these are things only befitting pagans of this age—Do not abuse yourselves, O Hawaiians! Make hula taboo.

(Kuokoa, 3/21/1874, p. 3)

Perhaps the following comes from one of the two editors of the Kuokoa at the time, Samuel Kaaikaula or Hezekia Aea:

Image: “Hula Hawaii.” Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, August 14, 1880, p. 2.

Hawaiian Dance.

Nearly all gone are the old amusements of our people and the games of the olden days. Lele koali (swinging on a koali vine), heʻenalu (surfing), maika (“bowling”), kūkini (racing), uma (hand wrestling), and the other amusements which our kūpuna were used to during the time of Kamehameha have been abandoned by us, their descendants. And in place of those amusements we substituted those of enlightened lands. We must take good and clean amusements from other lands for our youth. However, is it wise for us to abandon the old amusements of the land, those that were familiar to our parents? If the amusement is evil, then it is right to abandon it. And if the amusement incites mischievous acts, then we should not indeed take it up once again.

What about the hula that is now being encouraged by some? Is this good amusement that should be taught to our youth, and be viewed by them? It is clear that hula is a remnant of the pagan acts of our ancestors. Idolatry is tied together with hula, and in that way, hula is bad. But it is not just that. Along with hula are encouraged lewd and indecent acts that are shameful for learned people. Do not be mistaken O Readers, that dignified and learned people go and see the hula. The truly dignified do not go to those sorts of places. And even if they may be seen sometime at those places, they were there by mistake. It would be a good thing if all our youth did not witness the pagan deeds of our ancestors. Leave behind things of the past and support things of the future. Leave behind ignorant amusements and seek enlightened things. The hula gatherings that are spreading these days, they are nation-eradicating gatherings, for all pagan acts are acts that are deadly. All wholesome activities are lifesaving.

(Kuokoa, 8/14/1880, p. 2)

On the other hand, there were aliʻi who fostered tradition:

Image: “La Hanau o ka Moiwahine Emma.” Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, January 9, 1875, p. 2.

Birthday of Queen Emma—This past Saturday, Queen Emma Kaleleonālani celebrated her birthday at her residence, and there were many who went to see the festivities of the day, and to eat heartily of all the foods on the great table filled by her generosity. They ate extravagantly. Following the feasting, there was much dancing of hula before the growing crowd, and as a result, the lānai of Rooke House broke with all the daring folks upon it peering down at the hula people dancing.

(Kuokoa, 1/9/1875, p. 2)

Image: Program of hula performed by Ioane Ukeke and his hula troupe at the coronation of King Kalākaua, as it appears in “Papa Kuhikuhi o na Hula Poni Moi, Feb. 12, 1883.” Bishop Museum Archives. SP 201824. [GR Folk Pam 53]

Image: Studio portrait of Ioane Ukeke and hula troupe. From left to right: sister-in-law of Ukeke, wife of Ukeke, Ioane Ukeke, Anne Kapule, and Mary Kapule; Hawaiʻi. ca. 1880. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 76818

Here is a description of the festivities held on Tuesday night, November 23, 1886, in celebration of Kalākaua’s 50th Birthday:

Image: “Kulaia ma ia Po.” Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, November 27, 1886, p. 2.

The gates of the palace grounds were wide open that evening so that anyone could enter. In the late evening, there were many inside who wanted to witness the entertainments that were taking place. There were many hula folk, men, women, and small children of seven or eight years old. And the adults were about forty or so years old. They were wearing beautiful adornments. The women wore short costumes with skirts, and as they danced, they danced in unison up and down as their skirts spun, and their hands gestured this way and that as their feet leapt. They danced for a long time, starting in the evening until the cock crowed in the morning hours. There were also singing voices, but not as widespread as the hula. There was much shouting from the people, perhaps at how good, or perhaps at how bad it was? That is not known, but some say that the shouting mainly was because of how good it was. The palace grounds and palace were lit with gas and electric lamps. The light of the lamps was lovely. These hula people put in a lot of work.

(Kuokoa, 11/27/1886, p. 2)

Image: Hula dancers at King Kalākaua’s Jubilee Celebration at ʻIolani Palace; Honolulu, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. November 1886. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 102289

The resilience of hula and those dedicated to its practice has brought us to today, where we are celebrating 60 years of the Merrie Monarch Festival! Kū haʻaheo, all you poʻe hula and all of you who strive to uphold traditions here in Hawaiʻi nei and across the globe.

Image: Cover of the “First Annual Merry Monarch Festival Official Program & Guide.” Hilo, Hawaiʻi. April 1–4, 1964. Bishop Museum Archives. SM 216357. [MS Group 354 Box 1.2] (Duke Kahanamoku Collection).

This post is part of He Aupuni Palapala: Preserving and Digitizing the Hawaiian Language Newspapers, a partnership between Bishop Museum and Awaiaulu with assistance from Kamehameha Schools. Mahalo nui loa to Hawaii Tourism Authority for their support. Learn more about this project here.

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