Here in Hula we take a look at this ancient dance of storytelling. Hula was proscribed during the missionary era of the 19th century because it was seen as lascivious, anti-Christian, and a bit seditious. The missionaries, which had become the commercial and political power behind the throne, sensed a threat in this assertion of traditional Hawaiian culture. Today, hula is enjoying the return of its predominant role with the Hawaiian Renaissance.


Kuhi no ka lima, hele no ka maka. – Where the hands move, there let the eyes follow.

Hula is a Polynesian dance form accompanied by chant (oli) or song (mele). It was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there, perhaps more than a thousand years ago. The dance dramatizes or portrays the words of the oli or mele in a visual dance form.

There are many types of hula, with the main categories being hula ʻauana and hula kahiko. Ancient, as it had been performed before Hawaii’s encounter with the West, is called kahiko, and is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments such as gourd drums. Modern style evolved under missionary and other Western influence in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is called ʻauana (“to wander” or “drift”). It is accompanied by song and Western musical instruments such as the guitar, the ukulele, and the double bass. In addition, the “Monarchy” style includes any hula composed and danced during the 19th century. During that time, Hawai’i experienced significant changes and disruption in the formal Hawaiian arts, especially hula. The ai kahiko (“in the ancient style”) are those hula written in the 20th and 21st centuries that conform to the nuances and style of the ancient hula kahiko. There are also two main postures: either sitting, as in the noho dance, or standing as in the luna dance. Some dances combine both forms.

The dance is complex, with many hand motions used to represent the words in a song or chant. Hand motions also invoke aspects of nature, such as the rhythmic swaying of a coconut palm in the breeze or a wave ebbing and flowing in the ocean, or a feeling of fondness or yearning. The motions of the feet and hip often draw from a compendium of steps that include the kaholo, kaʻo, kawelu, hela, ʻuwehe, and ʻami.

There are comparable dances throughout the islands of Polynesia that include the tamure, hura, ‘aparima, ‘ote’a, haka, kapa haka, poi, Fa’ataupati, Tau’olunga, and Lakalaka. But hula is unique to the Hawaiian Islands.

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Hula’s Main Event: Merrie Monarch Festival


The Merrie Monarch Festival is a non-profit organization that honors the legacy of King David Kalākaua, who inspired the perpetuation of our traditions, native language and arts. Our week-long festival features an internationally acclaimed hula competition, an invitational Hawaiian arts fair, hula shows, and a grand parade through Hilo town.

Untold treasures await you in The Great Hawaiian Bazaar!

If you have a taste for history, we invite you to WisdomMaps: The Future of the Past!