Hula Kahiko, Photograph by Denis Oda Photograph courtesy of Denis Oda. Read about this photo.


Hula was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by original settlers from Polynesia, long before the first contact with Europeans in 1778, and has remained largely uninfluenced by other world dance traditions. Associated initially with religious practices, the origins are shrouded in legend. Best known is the attribution to Hi'iaka, who allegedly invented the dance to appease Pele, the volcano goddess, and Hi'iaka's epic is the basis for many hulas. Traditionally, prayer and ritual were part of hula training, when both teachers and dancers were dedicated to Laka, the hula goddess. Movement, gestures and poetry—mele—were equally important in presentations with percussive musical accompaniment. The oldest versions featured movements of the head and arms that were performed while chanting in a standing or sitting position. At least two subsequent developments brought contemporary variations. During the reign of King David Kalakua (1874-1891), hula ku'i evolved as a "mixture of old and new," with less emphasis on spiritual aspects. Song-accompanied hula later incorporated concessions to non-Hawaiian spectators and an emphasis on entertainment values.

Learn more in Hula, an essay by Angeline Shaka.


The men of Oakland, California's Academy of Hawaiian Arts. Photograph by Denis Oda Photograph courtesy of Denis Oda. Read about this photo.



Wahine dancers of 'Ilima Hula Studio. Photograph by Denis Oda Photograph courtesy of Denis Oda. Read about this photo.