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Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Some Aspects of
Hawaiʻian ʻOlapa

Hawaiʻan Dancer


Usually the subject matter of the chants and dances concerned the patrons. Many verbal allusions could be understood only by the composers, performers, and the elite for whom the performers were dedicated. When and if the uninitiated were permitted to hear or view such performances, they knew from the onset that they would not be privy to full understanding of the deep meaning.

Because of the supreme importance of the chants and the dangers of words, improvisation was usually out of the question for chants.

In traditional Hawaiʻi, affective culture was stratified so that the refined performing arts were relegated to a select group of specialists. Ordinary people could not become those specialists, but once they became members of a hula troupe, their obligations were to the chiefs and their dance masters (Kumu Hula).

Ancient Hawaiʻians did not personally and informally indulge in the dance for their own amusement... Hawaiʻians of the old times left it to be done for them by a body of trained and paid performers... Because the hula was an accomplishment requiring special education and arduous training in both song and dance, and more especially because it was a religious matter, to be guarded against profanation by the observance of tabus and the performance of priestly rites.

The dance specialist in traditional Hawaiʻi were subjected to a rigorous training program when they were surrounded by restrictive tabus affecting the food they ate, where they slept, the clothing they wore, and even their conversation and behavior during non-dance periods. The sacrosanct nature of the hula school (Halau) was maintained by numerous rituals and by the exclusiveness which surrounded it. The training schools were off-limits to non-initiates, and any visitor to the school had to prove his authorization by performing a special chant.

Dance troupes were sponsored by members of the Hawaiʻian ruling class, and their major performances were limited to areas that were off-limits to the general populace. A special three months period of the year, called the Makahiki, that was associated with the presentation of the first fruits to the aliʻi (Royalty), was a period when the tabus were lifted and liberties were enjoyed by all.

From Kaʻahumanu's time (1820s) until the reign of King Kalakaua, the hula was generally in ill repute and sometimes was legally banned. Hula went underground. There were sufficient numbers of hula masters to respond to Kalakaua's summons when he wanted to restore the prestige of the hula. Hula masters and their students appeared from all over the islands to perform at Iolani Palace in Honolulu. This period of Kalaʻaua’s reign is generally regarded as a golden era of hula. It is clear that he was a true patron of the performing arts.

When they talk about not having access to a deeper understanding of the chants, it's referring to the "kaona" that Moon mentioned at the concert. "Kaona" means hidden meanings, and is often only known by the composer. Some kaona are rather well known, but there can be deeper layers of kaona. As a simple example, the mele or oli may refer to "pua" (flower), but it is talking about a person, and comparing them to a flower. That is a common kaona.