Hula, a World Phenomenon?

by Dr. Pualani Kanahele

ku-i-wailua-ka-pou-hale“Kū i Wailua i ka pou hale”

I beg a question, why is hula popular with other cultures of the world?

It has always been a puzzle to my mind, the fascination hula has to many different cultural groups of the world.  There is no doubt that hula thrives and has become a million dollar business (elsewhere besides Hawaiʻi) because of this fascination.

We from Hawaiʻi, who are involved in hula, are called out to different parts of the world not only to perform but to teach hula.  We have been to Amsterdam, Mexico, throughout Canada and the USA, France, Tahiti, New Zealand, Taiwan, Ukraine, Philippines, Japan, and Korea.  There are other places which I have not included to which other hālau may have ventured. Please, be inclusive!

Participating in a festival, an exhibition of folk dancing, or a stage performance is a way of sharing one’s folk art.  This is one level of exhibiting our folk dance. Another level is to teach a group of non-Hawaiʻi people a repertoire of hula.  Another level is to endow someone an expert or Kumu Hulaship when they have not experienced Hawaiʻi.  After all, hula is all about Hawaiʻi. Hula is about the environment of the islands inclusive of the ocean, the rise and set of the sun, moon, stars, it is about the growth in the forest, the birth of the island and it is about the people of the Hawaiian archipelago.  It seems a difficult task to evoke the essence of the islands to persons without island experiences. Or can the emotion and passion of hula be injected into the psyche of persons physically disassociated with the land of origin?

Hula was initially a form of communication to engender a relationship with the spiritual essence of the island environment that we recognize as being something subjective and genealogical, having ÿaumäkua status therefore maintaining ancestral traditions.

If this is not or was not recognized, then hula is merely entertainment. So be it!  Or is it?

ke-ahi-maka-pa-o-ka-la“Ke ahi makapā i ka lā”

I grasp the understanding that many cultures of the world also may have a connection to their environmental personas and therefore may see hula as an avenue to their primordial beginnings. The connection may also be a survival mechanism.  If this is so, it may be a subconscious effort to be involved in the continuous cycle of life.  However, this is too honorable and sacred an approach to most popular cultures of today. Conversely we should not dismiss this philosophical possibility altogether.

The worth of hula is that it serves both the sacred and secular. Hula was introduced to most of the world as a form of entertainment.  And so it is!  The importance of any performance is to whom it is being presented always, whether seen or unseen.

There are many elements of hula worthy of discussion:  1) are we addressing hula kahiko or hula ‘auana; 2) is the root of hula indigenous, how, why; 3) what is hula; 4) is hula an occupation or is it an eventuality of erudite status; 5) is time and space relevant in hula, why, how, where; 6) is what we share as hula with the rest of the world merely choreography; 7) how does hula serve the individual, the group, the kumu, the ho’opa’a; 8) is hula a kingdom (s) and if so who is (are) the reigning sovereign; 9) how is hula connected to gods, goddesses, etc.,  who are these gods, goddesses, etc., what are their forms and functions; 10) is it possible for hula to be transported to another place and become uniquely indigenous to that place?

Intrigues, machinations, maneuverings, collusions!!  We must answer these questions without defamation to our hula community and utilize this mode as a way to expand the excitement and diversity that is hula.

Is the last question (#10) a futuristic possibility?  Can a form of hula be considered a Japanese original? For example, the lilt of the music would be familiar, even the choreography would be familiar, however, the words to the music will be in Japanese describing their environment and the profound importance of their trees, the rain, the winds, the ocean spray, the animals that live on their land, etc., etc.  Do they have names for their winds, rain, and other elementals?  Can they choreograph their mythology into this form known as hula?  Would it still be hula or will it be something else having the sinew of what we know as hula?  This fad could also be duplicated in Mexico, France, Amsterdam, Canada, and the USA.  Think global because hula is global!

Consider! After all, in the early 20th century hula was taken to many places, but as a novelty or exhibition, never to teach.  So another 100 years, who knows!

e-kauilanuimakehaikalani“E Kauilanuimākēhāikalani”

I think hula comes from the inside out which is my fascination.  The intent of hula is universal or complete, it connects your body and therefore your psyche with the space in which you are dancing about. It allows one the venue to let go of the present and re-enter the event described in the mele.  Hula is hypnotic.  You can be in a state of semi-trance for the length of a mele. Just think about hula kapu and the possibility of being in a transcendental state for hours or days.  Hmm another consideration!

Is this the fascination or draw hula has on the hula practitioners of the world?  Have they discovered this mystery of hula before we did?

This certainly is not finished according to Pua!

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