As Merrie Monarch approaches, we are reminded of the significance that hula plays in the Hawaiian culture. Merrie Monarch allows us to reminisce and feel connected to our ancestors and our values. That said, it’s important to understand how sacred the past is to our present – Hula Kahiko is the oldest style of Hawaiian Dance, it is the traditional hula.
Hula Kahiko is full of hypnotic, deep and resonant sounds that separates it from the more modern 'auana dance that is usually paired with a ‘ukulele. The sounds of ancient hula Kahiko are made from purely percussion instruments — like rhythm sticks, gourds carved into drums and rattles, or bamboo sticks. It requires the dancer to have an incredible sense of one’s body in relation to others. Kahiko requires great strength, both mentally and physically. In ancient Hawai‘i, Hula Kahiko was used to honor the akua or gods and chiefs. Typically, the kumu hula will oli or chant to introduce his/her halau or dance group. The oli can be specifically for your own halau, a place, genealogical, and greeting the audience. The hand motions, body movement and chants are used to tell a story.
At the Merrie Monarch festival, judges look at how in tune dancers are with one another – it’s extremely important for each group to perform as one. When you watch the Merrie Monarch Festival this year, think about the cultural significance it represents for the Hawaiian people! Good luck to all of the kumu hula and halau’s performing this year!