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Oceania / Polynesia

Hawaiian Islands

Hawai`i is a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean, 2,400 miles west of the US mainland. In 1959, Hawai`i became the 50th state of the United States.


Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Ancient Hawaiian Hula
Hālau ʻo Keikialiʻi

Hula is a sacred tradition for the Hawaiian people, going back to ancient times, when chants and body movements were first used as forms of communication with the gods. Until fairly recently, the Hawaiian language was primarily oral rather than written, with history and tradition passed down through dance and chants from generation to generation. The survival of hula is an integral part of Hawai`i's past and future, having kept alive much of the culture's history, including a chronology of important events, battles fought and genealogical histories of the people. Hula has also preserved details about traditions from old Hawai`i, such as that of making leis, flower gathering, and preparing vegetation for medicinal purposes. The practice of hula continues to honor certain gods, goddesses, and other deities, as well as natural elements, historical figures, and other aspects of creation.

During Hawai`i's missionary era in the early 1800's, most forms of native Hawaiian expression, including hula, were suppressed, and it wasn't until 70+ years later that the art form was again performed publicly. King Kalakaua, the last reigning king, once said, "Hula is the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people." Hula continues to carry the history and tradition, and the spirit and strength of the Hawaiian people through the generations.

Here are some of the musical "implements" and instruments used in hula.

Ipu Heke or
Ipu Heke `ole A double gourd drum. Basic beats help keep the time and rhythm for the dancers to follow.
Pu`ili: Split bamboo stick used to enhance and express the meaning of the song. The sounds are meant to be reflective of nature.
`Ili`ili: River worn stones castanets. Smooth stones (2 in each hand) used to keep time and rhythm of the dance and express the natural surroundings the particular dance speaks of.
Ka`eke`eke Bamboo stamping pipes. 2 different sized (1 tall, 1 shorter) bamboo pipes stamped on the ground gives 2 different harmonizing pitches used to keep timing of the dance.
`Ohe Hano Ihu: Bamboo nose flute. This flute with only 3 holes for the fingers and 1 hole for air is used with the air from the nose. It is said that the air from the ihu (nose) is most pure.
Pahu: Shark skin drum. A hollowed coconut log attached with sennit (a rope from the coconut fruit) and stretched shark skin top. This drum was once only used for sacred religious ceremonies. Today, although still used for religious ceremonies, the pahu is also used to accompany dances outside of ceremony.


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