hula, traditional Hawaiian dance usually performed standing with symbolically descriptive arm and hand movements and gracefully sensual undulations of the hips; it is also done in a sitting position. Hawaiian myth ascribes hula's invention to Hi'iaka, sister of the volcano goddess Pele, and its safekeeping to the goddess Laka. Originally part of religious ceremonies, it was danced by groups of specially trained women who illustrated the various accompanying texts ( mele ), which were chanted by men. Instruments were limited to percussion–sharkskin drums, gourds, stone castanets, and bamboo rattles. Missionaries, who arrived in Hawaii in 1820, labeled the dance heathen and succeeded in having it banned. Nonetheless, it continued to be clandestinely taught and danced. Hula was again encouraged during the reign (1874–91) of David Kalakaua, Hawaii's last king; in this period it was expanded in text, song, movement, and costume. Although it was again subject to official disapproval after American annexation (1898), the hula was revived in a commercialized form in the 20th cent. Chant accompaniment yielded to music, drums and gourds to ukelele and guitar. The sensual swivel of the hips was accentuated, and the dance became a tourist staple and a feature of Hollywood productions. In the 1970s, however, a Hawaiian cultural renaissance revived interest in traditional hula.
See D. B. Barrèere et al., Hula: Historical Perspectives (1980, repr. 1997), R. Laes and R. Goldsmith, The Art of Hula (1996), N. B. Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawaii: The Sacred Songs of the Hula (1999), and A. Seiden, The Art of Hula (1999); documentary films, dir. by R. Mugge, Hawaiian Rainbow (1987) and Kumu Hula: Keepers of a Culture (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.