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Music and dance
To Hawaiians, hula or Hawaiian dance, is as much a celebration of life as it is a proud statement of cultural identity. According to legend, hula originated when Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, commanded her younger sister Laka to dance. Schools were begun in honor of the goddess of the dance and temples were dedicated to her. Dancers lived on the temple grounds, subjected to strenuous training regimes and kapu (taboos) befitting the sacred art of hula.
Hula was the method in which ancient Hawaiians passed along the stories and legends of their culture to subsequent generations. Hula kahiko, or ancient hula, uses dance and chanting to relate the proud and somber history, customs, ceremonies and traditions of ancient Hawaii and her people. Hula auwana, or modern hula, is the dance form most people are familiar with, combining dance and music for a more playful, joyous and spirited recounting of contemporary life in the islands.
Missionaries who arrived in the islands in the 1820s thought the hula to be a little too suggestive and outlawed it as a pagan practice. However, during the reign of King David Kalakaua (1874-1891), there was a resurgeance of the old Hawaiian customs, including sports activities and hula. "Hula is the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people," he once said.
Today, people from different cultures and all walks of life eagerly spend hours researching chants and practicing dance techniques as part of a hula halau or house of hula instruction, perpetuating the respect, love and sharing that are as essential to this dance art as the movements, words and music.
Fashioning clothing from kapa or bark cloth was a duty belonging to the village women. It was a laborious task to make cloth out of the inner bark of certain trees and plants, such as breadfruit trees, the paper mulberry or wauke plants. Men climbed to the wet highlands to harvest mamaki, sometimes as high as 4,000 feet, or they grew wauke in the lowlands.
After the outer bark was stripped away, the inner bark was soaked for several days in fresh or salt water. Strips of bark were then removed from the water, laid over a stone and pounded into thick strips with a round pounder. After a second soaking, these thick strips would be laid on a wooden log or anvil, which was always made of hard wood. Kawau was a favorite wood for anvils because of the booming sound it made when the kapa was struck.
The booming anvils often told far-away listeners stories of what was happening in the village. Far-away kapa makers would repeat the story on their anvils to those even further away and, in this way, kapa makers sent a story around the island in a few hours.
Kapa beaters, frequently made of kauila wood, had four sides or faces, each smooth, polished and carved with a different pattern. A shark's tooth set in a bone handle or a piece of sharp stone was used to do the carving.
When the kapa was finished, it was often dyed, painted or stamped with colored designs. Berries, bark, roots and even the soot from burning kukui nuts were used to create dyes in shades of gray, brown, blue, red and yellow. Paint brushes were made from hala fruit, and stamps were made from bamboo. In this way, regular designs were repeated.
Since kapa was more like paper than cloth, the Hawaiians would soak it in kukui nut oil and coconut oil to give it additional protection from the rain. Kapa was often laid away with sweet smelling things, which would impart their natural perfumes to the cloth.
The flower lei, a garland worn like a necklace, is created by stringing individual flowers into a single strand or multiple strands and tying the ends together. A lei may be wide and flat or thick and round. It may not even be made of flowers at all, as is the case with the maile, a fragrant vine with shiny green leaves, that is draped U-shaped around a person's neck or placed upon an altar.
In ancient Hawaii, the presence of lei signified special occasions, such as when villagers gathered to tread a taro patch prior to its planting or when they came together to celebrate their collective efforts to build someone's home. In this context, the presentation of a lei symbolized sharing.
The lei also figured into more formal ceremonies. Jasmine flowers or pikake are traditionally used in courtship and marriage. The flower was name "pikake" or peacock because Princess Kaiulani had jasmine bushes and peacocks in her garden. The pua kika or cigar lei, made of hundreds of tubular red-orange flowers strung in a spiral pattern, is presented to bridegrooms.
The Ilima, which is the flower of Oahu, ranges in color from yellow to deep gold to bright orange. This velvety lei requires 2,000 delicate and easily bruised flowers, which must be picked unopened before dawn and strung before they bloom in late morning. Often associated with, but not restricted to royalty, strands of Ilima many feet long were said to have been presented each morning to the Hawaiian monarchs.
Traditional haku-lei styles, which require significantly more skill than the average lei, have recently become popular once again. This technique involves setting or mounting the flowers face up amid greenery on a backing of banana or other natural fiber. The ends of the fibers are tied together to have the haku lei encircle the recipient's neck or head.
Today, in addition to weddings and special ceremonies, flower lei are most often presented to honor birthdays and graduations. Islanders also don the lei on May 1, which May Day or Lei Day in Hawaii, and during the Aloha Week festivities that take place throughout the islands during the Fall.
Thank you Wendy for contributing some of the information for this article.
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