Hula ʻŌlapa — An Introduction

The very third post on this blog (on Aug. 23, 2009) was an introduction to core repertoire for hula ‘āla‘apapa. Yet I did a very cheeky thing by starting my explanation in this way:

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.

So let me back up and offer a proper introduction to hula ‘ōlapa. These are hula performed in ancient style—in what is now called hula kahiko. The accompaniment is provided primarily by the double-gourd ipu heke, an instrument of indigenous Hawaiian origin. Choreographies may also call for the dancers to use one out of a variety of hand-held sound-producing implements, such as the ‘ūlī‘ulī (feather-decorated gourd rattle), pū‘ili (a rod of split bamboo), or ‘ili‘ili (waterworn pebbles). [OMG, Iʻve slipped into ethnomusicologist scholar-speak. Iʻll try to keep that to a minimum.]

These hula date from the later 19th century—especially the reigns of King David Kalākaua (r. 1874-1891) and his sister and successor, Queen Lili‘uokalani (r. 1891-1893). Hundreds (if not thousands) of mele poetic texts have been written down in manuscripts now in the Bishop Museum and Hawai‘i State Archives; hundreds (if not thousands) more were also published in Hawaiian-language newspapers at the time.

Mele for hula being composed during the Kalākaua-inspired revival of hula were being written in a particular pattern that was new for that time.

Here is a rundown of structural features of a mele for hula ‘ōlapa:

  1. The text is divided into stanzas.
  2. Each stanza is identical in length, most often two lines of text.
  3. There is one tune, and that tune is repeated for all of the stanzas.
  4. There is a pā—a rhythmic pattern—that is performed between each verse.
  5. The final verse signals the conclusion of the mele. The most common form of this signal is the line “ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana”, meaning “thus the story has been told.” There are variants on this line, as well as other lines used that fulfill this function of signaling conclusion.

Okay, here is a list of “core” mele for hula ‘ōlapa that every hula student learns. Each mele has been recorded many times over. Furthermore, a search on YouTube is bound to turn up many videos of these dances, from rehearsals and shows alike. (Caveat emptor: listeners must decide whether performances are actually good or reliable.)

  1. Kawika (first line: Eia no Kawika, ka heke a‘o nā pua)
  2. Kalākaua (first line: Kalākaua, he inoa)
  3. Lili‘u ē (First line: Lili‘u ē, noho nani mai)
  4. ‘Ula Nōweo (‘Ula nōweo lā, lā e ka kae lā, ka pua ‘ilima lā ē)

And here, to mix things up, is my list of favorite tracks of hula ‘ōlapa to use during hula class warmups. My students at University of Michigan really love doing warmups and “basic feet” drills to these hula ‘ōlapa tracks.

  1. Keali‘i Reichel. “No ka moku kiakahi ke aloha.” E Ō Mai (Punahele, 1997). Reissued on Kamahiwa (Punahele, 2006).
  2. Randy Ngum, “Nani Ka‘ala i ka Uluwehi.” Nā Kumu Hula / Songs from the Source Vol. 1 (State Council on Hawaiian Heritage, 1997).
  3. Sonny Ching, “He Lei No Kapi‘olani” [Aia i Haili kō lei nani], Ho‘oūlu I Ka Na‘auao / To Grow In Wisdom (Four Strings Productions, 2002)
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One Response to Hula ʻŌlapa — An Introduction

  1. Tnelson says:

    what a great site and informative posts, I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

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