In its earlier years, only keiki or children competed
in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Moanikeala Festival, and they
only performed hula auana or the modern style of the traditional
Hawaiian dance, compared with the hula kahiko or ancient
style of the dance.
Today, the Moanikeala Festival is no longer a competition, but
an exhibition or ho'ike as the Hawaiians would say. It also
includes adult dancers performing in both the hula auana and
hula kahiko styles.
In the ancient times of Hawaii, as with almost all aspects of
life, hula was integrated with traditional religion.
Ritual played a key role and dancers — almost always
men — were
sometimes dedicated to the goddess of hula, Laka. They
had to learn hundreds of stylized motions, many of which have
survived to this day.
Hula kahiko is usually vigorous, requiring strength and
agility. It was and is performed to chants — not music.
Hula kahiko is also usually accompanied by pahu
or drums of various sizes and types. Some of the drums are as
small as a coconut shells, others are ornately carved from large
tree trunks. These larger drums were and still are considered so important that some of them
have been given names. Some percussion instruments and implements
traditionally associated with hula kahiko are also used
in the modern form of the dance, including ipu or hollowed
gourds used somewhat like a drum by the dancers and chanters,
puili or bamboo rattles, and uliuli or feathered
gourd rattles that are usually shaken. The dancers also sometimes
use iliili or small flat rocks like castanets, sticks to
strike together, and even weapons or other implements that are pertinent to a story they are portraying.
The men often wore malo, a type of breech cloth wrap-around,
while women as well as the men would sometimes wear voluminous
skirts. Dancers adorned themselves with headbands, lei garlands,
anklets and wristlets, often woven from various leaves and
greenery — for
example, the so-called "grass skirt," which in Hawaii is usually made of green ti leaves, but not the flowers
commonly seen in . . .
the modern form of the dance, is characterized by more fluid,
graceful motions — often based on and inspired by their
origins in hula kahiko. Beautiful, harmonious island music
invariably accompanies hula auana, using guitars, ukulele
and other modern instruments. The whole world is familiar with
the genre of Hawaiian music that often backs up what most people
now think of as, simply, hula. It's even common now days for hula
to be performed to non-Hawaiian music. For example, many halau
hula or schools include a White Christmas number in
their repertoires during the holiday season.
The dancers often take special pride in their appearance, sometimes
using elaborate, even elegant costumes with beautiful floral accents.
The headbands of ancient times, which were made of greenery, are
now intricately braided with colorful flowers and leaves into
what is usually called a haku lei. Some dancers and their
hula "families" spend hours and hours gathering and preparing these
lei and other adornments.
Halau hula also spend hours practicing under the direction
of their respective kumu hula or teachers. Most kumu
hula have Hawaiian heritage and share a deep love of the culture.
Many also operate their schools as a business, and the haumana
or dance students usually pay a monthly fee and supply their own
costumes and travel expenses. Like many high school and organizational
athletic teams, halau hula often get involved in fundraising
to offset some of these expenses. Parents also get involved, shuttling
their children to practices and performances.
Some halau specialize in teaching only children, others
adults, some mixed; and some only take experienced dancers while
others will work with beginners. Halau hula thrive throughout
Hawaii and in other parts of the world, and often come together
either to compete — as in the famous Merrie Monarch Hula
Festival each spring in Hilo, or the Keiki [children's]
Hula Competition in Honolulu — or to display their talents,
such as in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Moanikeala Hula Festival.
Whether competing or exhibiting, their graceful dances are marked
by precision and complex choreography . . . and, of course, the
beauty of the costumes, music and flowers.
You can learn more about both ancient and modern hula in the
Polynesian Cultural Center's Hawaiian
began to include both keiki (children) and adult dancers
performing both hula auana and hula kahiko.
The festival is named in honor of Aunty Sally Moanikeala Wood
Naluai, who served as the Polynesian Cultural Center's first kumu
hula or "hula master" from its opening on October
12, 1963, until she retired in 1980. After retiring, Aunty Sally
remained a hula consultant until she passed away in January 2000.