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The history of the Hawaiian hula skirt and the hula dance

The history of the Hawaiian hula skirt and the hula dance


When you think Hawaii, we have no doubt that one of the first images your brain conjures up is that of a hula skirt (amongst white sandy beaches, coconuts and crystal clear ocean waves, of course). But why is this one of the predominant things we all think about?

Today we're going to tell you a little bit about the history of the hula skirt and the dance that accompanies it!

The hula skirt history

So what's up with that big grassy skirt? The costumes that dancers wear today are a little different than back in the day. These Those outfits were much less vibrant and barely covered the body - women wore a wrap called a pau made of tree bark while men wore loin cloth called a malos. In replace of the bright flower leis, these dancers accessorised with whale bone or dog teeth depending on what items they could readily get ahold of.

When missionaries came to the island, they insisted that Hawaiians dress a little more modestly. The missionaries couldn't get the natives to completely comply, but the hula skirt was a good compromise for them all.

A Hawaiian tradition with some Polynesian flavour

The hula dance has strong influence from Polynesian islands like Tonga, Tahiti and Samoa! The hula dance itself is all Hawaii though, there are several tales of how this dance really originated. The most popular legend explains that Hi'iaka, the loyal sister of Pele the volcano goddess, invented the song and dance to please her sister after all their other siblings refused to entertain her.

Another tale recollects that Pele was running from her sister Namakoakaha'I, the goddess of the ocean. But Pele made it to the craters on Hawaii's Big Island which meant she could not be touched by her sister. She then invented the dance in celebration that she had beaten her sister. Perhaps you'll have to find a Hawaiian native to learn the real origins!

This theatrical dance has always been performed for enjoyment, but it also recounts Hawaiian traditions, myths, culture and philosophy. Today, this dance is taken very seriously, and those who choose to learn it have to undergo rigorous training. Seeing one of these performances in person is an immense treat and a real window into the Hawaiian culture.

Well there you have it! Now you're ready to head to Hawaii and properly enjoy or even join in on some dance lessons yourself!