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!

Yesterday’s Thought

by Dr. Pualani Kanahele


huakai kahaluu2 082

Image by Kalei Nuʻuhiwa via Papaku Makawalu Smugmug


This is for my husband, portrays the lasting throb of his existence, 16 years after his passing.

My Bedroom


I felt your breath upon the folds

Of the blankets we used

So long ago before we knew

You would be gone

Despite the numerous wash and sun dry

The memory lives on as the bed is made

And the pillow fluffed to erase

The imprint of your head

But time, and time again

When the light of the moon

Through the west window

Reveals the photo on the wall

Visions of your being lingers



One of my many images of my mother, Edith Kanaka’ole, as a mother, a provider and her relationship with environment.

My Mama


Tidal pools and early mornings

Mama heads for the ocean

In her muʻumuʻu

During ancestral hour

Drifts of seaweed picked in salt water spray

Small eyed net set for ohua

Baby fish just hatched before sunrise

Now drying on the rock

While Mama with bamboo pole

Fish for a string of hinalea

Or anything else that will bite

Scoops a bag full of shellfish

And heads for home

Breakfast is served by 8 am.


This is for the persona, Edith Kanaka’ole, with her expression, passion and belief as a Hawaiian.

The Icon


She chanted the song of volcanic eruptions

Enumerating the genesis of the islands’ birth

The explosions and the flows

Weaving between mountains and out to sea

Under earth and over earth

Fountains erupt, spreading abroad

Reaching for the passing clouds

Tainting the atmosphere red, yellow, russet

Sulphur, breathe the breath

Of the earth, honi

While dancers’ record the event of time

Directing movements, consuming space

To the depths of the earth

It is done, feel the heat that chums spatial water.


She chants the song of growth

Enumerating the particles, the mote, the lichen

That clings to the warm earth

Finally throwing up majestic trees

Who kisses clouds, honi

A protocol for the exchange of water

While dancers braid their leis of greenery

Directing movements, conquering space

To the depths of the forest

The earth is green, water flows.


She chants the song of the edge of the earth

Where sweet and salty water mingle

Rivers of tide flows horizontally and vertically

Towards the horizon

Enumerating the worms, the architects of structures


Innumerable, colors reflecting lives

Creatures large and small, colorful and drab,

Creeping, slithering, swimming

They exploit the structures for food, for shelter,

They belong to the coral reef,

And the coral belongs to the ocean

The ocean is life!

While dancers compose shells into anklets,

Bracelets and neck leis

Directing movements sustaining long breaths

In the depths of the ocean

Sending yet a wisp of breath to the memory

Of the sky, honi

This she knows!


This poem is for me, as a reminder to slow down, each decade your body loses its rhythm and therefore its balance, life needs to slow down to maintain balance. The revelation of this realization is provided with light hearted intent and should be taken as such. The profound realization is another poem.

78th Birthday


Ready or not my 78th birthday

Was launched in September ‘15

A couple of weeks after, give or take

Without warning, without care

My body broke down

In a taxi cab in Manhattan

Almost at midnight

The terrible truth was

The atrocious fact that my body has limits

It would go on no more, except to

The emergency room of the nearest hospital

Over crowded with foreigners

When in fact I was the foreigner

My eyes searched for the gradation of conditions

Illnesses that is

Realizing that I indeed won the prize

A fact which some of the other patients


“Take her, take her, she’s going to die”

Pleaded a woman two beds away,

I wasn’t going to die on foreign soil

But she was right, I could not breathe

My ‘aumakua, familial guardians

Could not find me on this distant island

This profound experience forced me to concentrate

On breathing in and out very slow and shallow

My left lung shored up its strength

To carry me through

While my right lung hung heavy with shadowy haze

They arrived a few days later, my familial guardians

The Kekuhikuhi(s) and the Keali’ikanaka’ole (s)

Heard the plea to rescue

The one whose life force had scattered

To the forces of Kana

I made it back to my Pana’ewa

And the eruptions of Pelehonuamea


A lesson was taught and learned

Age and constant physical and mental stress

Are synonymous to emergency rooms

At age 78

Thus, therefore and thereafter

I will recognize the limitation of the body

In preparation for ages 79 through 99.

It was said, it is free, let it fly!


This is according to Pua!


Wisdom Directs The Soul

Image by Kuʻulei Kanahele via Papaku Makawalu Smugmug


Wisdom wears an indigo jacket.  She takes long

walks in the purple hills at twilight, pausing to

meditate at an old temple near the crossroads. She

was sick as a young child so she learned to be

alone with herself at an early age.

Wisdom has a quiet mind.  She likes to think

about the edges where things spill into each other

and become their opposites.  She knows how to look

at things inside and out.  Sometimes her eyes go out

to the thing she is looking at, and sometimes, the

things she is looking at enters through her eyes.

Questions of time, depth, and balance interest her.

She is not looking for answers.  (Unknown)


I like to formulate puzzles as a way to titillate the thinking process so that beyond this day a look at some of the things encountered may bring realization! Moving forward with wisdom and satisfaction of realizing the fullness of an existence.  It does not happen in leaps and bounds but more practical life experiences much like the unfurling petals of the hibiscus, which after its fullness and beauty, dies.  What is the wisdom gained?  Enjoy the moment of its fullness.  There is the obvious assurance that another will bloom again and will go through the same process.  However, the gaining of wisdom happens when there is a simultaneous realization that the fullness of the bloom parallels all of the full blooms in your life.  Graduation can be counted as a full bloom stage.  Birthing a child is another full bloom.  For a female having a menstrual period is a full bloom. All these full blooms will fade and die when you are thrown into the mundane world of the working class.  From then forward it is a challenge. This is one of the puzzles, I offer the challenge to continue to look until you instinctively recognize the fullness of beauty and bloom of everything around you. Then you will say, Ahh!


During adolescence, I collected poetry and prose because it was soothing and allowed a feeling of good inside.  This provided a private world for my thoughts.  My challenge was to memorize the poems of life.  This memorization happened while engaged in menial, boring, mundane, but necessary tasks such as washing dishes, hanging clothes, ironing, etc. … “The Ancient Mariner”, “Man with the Hoe”, “If”, “Annabelle Lee”, I was fourteen.


You pass this way but once

Any good you can do for your fellow man

Do it now, for you shall not pass this way again.

This was found on the kitchen wall of my Auntie’s house at the ranch behind the door to the bathroom. Simplicity yet poignant and doable. Is this a full bloom? Poetry that emphasizes life’s journey becomes the mechanism to understand and appreciate other world views, of acquiring knowledge of life styles, and eventually wisdom.


Eventually the life style focused on my passion that is Hawaiʻi.  The first concentrated effort to understand a substantial Hawaiian literary work was to delve into the Kumulipo. I was forty years old. The Kumulipo is not like any other poetry composed. It is a serious chant that delves into life so earnestly and fully that it allows a window into the thinking process, the levels of knowing, and that source of urge for survival which our ancestors possessed.   The Kumulipo is in fact the worth of lifetimes of observation, generations of accumulated knowledge for growth and knowing life cycles. This is truly how one earns insight of the fullness of the bloom or see the sunset and say, “Ah!”  Because both phenomena, after all, are related.


At the time when the earth became hot

At the time when the heavens turned about

At the time when the sun was darkened

To cause the moon to shine

The time of the rise of the Pleiades

That slime, this was the source of the earth

The source of the night that made night

The intense darkness, the deep darkness

Darkness of the sun, darkness of the night

Nothing but night

The night gave birth

Born was Kumulipo in the night, a male

Born was Pōʻele in the night, a female

Born was man for the narrow stream,

The woman for the broad stream

Born was the ʻEkaha moss living in the sea

Guarded by the ʻEkahakaha fern living on land

Darkness slips into light

Earth and water are the food of the plant

The got enters, man cannot enter.


This is the challenging puzzle, here are the words!  What are the thoughts, insights, the actions and experiences which created these words?  Realization sometimes is slow but rewarding.  To rediscover, internalize, and digest the ancestral truths possessed eons before is to untangle the enigmatic value of the ages.  They have left clues. Find the clues, practice them, then teach them.  Don’t look for an answer to gain life experiences, do the work!


Gaining and maintaining wisdom has a lot to do with DNA. Know who you are, where you come from, and trust the voice of your subconscious. Wisdom deals with the issues of life and its special value for living, it is practical and can be found right behind you with the words of your ancestors.  Mau Piailag, the man from Satawal, taught our Hawaiian men to again traverse the Pacific Ocean on their waʻa or canoes.  He said, “Because I have faith in the words of my ancestors I can travel the ocean.”


Education is important for living in this world and making a darn good salary.  But it is as important to know who you are and become passionate about it.  Wisdom is practical and not just knowing fundamental truths if these are unconnected with the guidance of life or with a perspective on its meaning.  If the deep truths that physicists describe about the origin and functioning of the universe have little practical import and do not change our picture of the meaning of the universe and our place with in it, then knowing it would not count for wisdom.  (However, a view that traced the origin and continuance of the universe to a divine being’s plans could count as knowledge and wisdom because it is yielded conclusions about the purpose and most appropriate mode of human life.)


Education is gaining knowledge and we can regurgitate knowledge without having practical use of it ourselves.  I have knowledge of how one can surf by standing on shore and watching the angle of the wave and trying to understand its velocity however it would be foolish to want to be a surf coach.  How can one know to swim without going into the water?  How can a psychologist give council to married couples when his/her marriage experiences have been bad ones?  Socrates said, “One can have knowledge and understanding but to gain wisdom one must use the knowledge and live it.”


How can I understand the poetry of the Kumulipo if I have not given birth?  Is this not the slime of the earth?  Or if I have not seen the viscous eruptive phases of Pele and plant life erupting out of it soon after, is this not the slime of the earth?  Or if I have not been to Waipiʻo to plant a taro in the mud, produced and sent down by the constant flow of water, is this not the slime and source of birth for the earth?


The controversial story of Pele and Hiʻiaka as gods also have a practical side of understanding your family relationships.  It talks about a life’s journey without telling you that you are actually on one now.  It also teaches the lesson that specificity does not happen in a box because all aspects of life are interrelated.  One cannot be a lāʻau lapaʻau or medical practitioner without knowing how to take life.  One cannot become a kumu hula without knowing the symbols of the rise and set of the sun or the characteristics of the vegetation you use for dancing.  These are all interrelated.  This kind of knowing is family, practical, everyday education.


Knowing the words of your ancestors allows you to know yourself and deal with the simple, practical things of life.  Wisdom is food because it provides full satisfaction that you gained this knowledge and understanding of life all by yourself, it is your soul because it is an extension of your family.  And so in a way, wisdom has always been there waiting for you to fit into it when you mature and blossom.  Wisdom is soul’s food.


How fortunate we are

When in life’s looking glass

Our souls we see

Reflection of the past,

Previewing eternity.

By Parley Kanaka’ole

This is according to Pua!

He Ui

Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele asks: Can we consider all elemental forces (forms) kapu?  And if so why or why not?  If so how do we gauge the hierarchy of the elementals? And why?

Ao Polohiwa a Kāne 2012

Aloha nui kakou! Happy brand new Hawaiian lunar month of Ka’aona. This is the time for the low low tides triggering the coral to spawn. Fishing is going to be productive from this month. Sudden appearances of summer storms occur. Birds are tending to their young, lychee season is ending and the aku/ahi frequent our waters.

Happy full blown Ao Polohiwa a Kane. Get your Kane/Ku juices flowing Gangeh. All you fellow sun babies out there, enjoy the pendulum swing and alignment.

~Kalei Nuuhiwa