Friday, July 31, 2009
Hawaii's Own Dance
The hula is a dance unique to the islands of Hawaii. Although most people picture hula dancers wearing grass skirts, it wasn't until the late 1800s that the dancers switched from kapa cloth to grass. Kapa cloth had been made for centuries by pounding and dying mulberry bark, a laborious, time consuming process. Kapa cloth was used for swaddling babies, loincloths, skirts and blankets. The dancers Captain Cook and his sailors observed in 1779 were kapa clad. With the arrival of missionaries around 1830, mass produced cotton and wool cloth became widely available and the tradition of pounding bark fell by the wayside. The art was eventually lost until it was revived only recently.
The missionaries didn't look kindly on the hula and this sums up their reaction succinctly: "The natives would practice in the hot sun for days on end. Drums pounded, gourds rattled, singers chanted, and hundreds of dancers wearing garlands of green leaves and flowers and dog-tooth anklets moved endlessly to and fro in lines, their brown skin glistening with sweat, with no sign of boredom or tiredness." For a while, the hula was banned from towns and performed only in the countryside.
These days, luaus staged for tourists expose the tradition to people from all over the world.