Hula ‘Āla‘apapa — an introduction

My hula students are a courageous group. From the familiar and comfortable world of hula ‘ōlapa, they are now exploring the more esoteric world of hula ‘āla‘apapa, which was the topic of my first (and accidental) book—Sacred Hula: The Historical Hula ‘Āla‘apapa (Bishop Museum Press, 1998). Yesterday‘s class has inspired me to offer a list of tracks I recommend for study.

The hula ‘āla‘apapa is a category of ancient hula that is accompanied by ipu heke. The category and the pieces that have come down from the past predate the Kalākaua era. As far as how to distinguish whether or not a hula with ipu accompaniment is a hula ‘āla‘apapa, the easiest way to explain this is by describing what hula ‘āla‘apapa is not. These pieces are different from hula ‘ōlapa dances. In hula ‘ōlapa, the text is most often divided into stanzas. Every stanza is identical in length, most often two lines of text. There is one tune, and that tune is repeated for all of the stanzas; there is also a pā—a rhythmic pattern—between each verse, most often the equivalent of a kaholo to the right and then to the left. In hula ‘āla‘apapa, if there are stanzas, the stanzas are most often NOT of identical length, and lines within stanzas are not required to be identical in length.

Here are my recommendations for five well-known hula ‘āla‘apapa that have come down into the present in continuous performance. The recordings listed here are all available in print. If you are fortunate to live in Hawai‘i, these recordings can be found at Borders or Barnes & Noble. Otherwise I recommend Hawaiian Music Island at, which offers an extensive selection of recordings in print.

  1. “No luna e Kahalekai.” Maiki Aiu Lake, Chants and Mele of Hawai‘i (Hula Records, 1992). Aunty Maiki is often referred to as the mother of the Hawaiian Renaissance, for having trained and graduated as kumu hula many of the premier figures in the hula world.
  2. “Ke ha‘a lā Puna i ka makani.” Hālau o Kekuhi, Hi‘iaka i ka Poli o Pele (Mountain Apple, 2007). This hālau, founded by Aunty Edith Kanaka‘ole and currently under the leadership of her daughters, Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele and Nālani Kanaka‘ole Zane, is the preeminent guardians of traditional hula repertoire for Pele.
  3. “Ke welina mai nei ke kini o lalo.” Palani Agosto, Chants of the Islands (Neos, 2004). For a wonderful alternative, Manu Boyd‘s recording uses kā‘eke‘eke in place of the ipu heke, on Ho‘okena‘s Ho‘okamaha‘o (Ho‘omau, 1996).
  4. “Kua loloa Kea‘au i ka nāhelehele.” Hālau o Kekuhi, Hi‘iaka i ka Poli o Pele (Mountain Apple, 2007)
  5. Pā mai ka makani, naue ka lau o ka niu.” George Na‘ope, Na Mele o Ka Wā Kahiko (MDL Records, 1985).
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