Hula Ku‘i & Hula ‘Ōlapa–The “Crossovers”

When talking about “ancient hula” and “modern hula,” some folks like to draw an impenetrable boundary between the two categories. Ancient hula uses traditional percussive instruments  to accompany the standing dances–ipu, pahu. Modern hula uses stringed instruments to accompany dances. The core instruments are the ʻukulele trio–ʻukulele, guitar, and bass; then other instruments join in to enhance, elaborate, fill. The sonic distinction between “ancient” and “modern” is obvious to any listener.

Complicating this sonic distinction, however, is a group of mele that were passed from the 19th to the 20th century as BOTH hula ku‘i AND hula ‘ōlapa. In other words, these same mele are taught, learned, and performed as both ancient hula and modern hula. I refer to them as “crossovers” because they cross over the ancient / modern dividing line.

Here is a list of the most well known of these mele. The list is presented here in alphabetical order. It is drawn up from my longstanding research on hula music through archives, sound recordings, and as a student of chant in the 1970s. There are mele that were taught before the 1970s as both ancient chanted hula ‘ōlapa and modern sung hula ku‘i. There are sound recordings of the same mele performed as either ancient or modern. And, most fun of all, there are recordings that combine both ancient/chant and modern/sung versions of the mele in the same recording!!

I welcome  contributions and recollections of other mele that have crossed over between hula ku‘i and hula ‘ōlapa. [Note: a song like “Hole Waimea” would not apply here, because that mele was neither a hula ku‘i or a hula ‘ōlapa. It was originally a hula ‘āla‘apapa, and when set to music in the later 19th century, it was set as a mele Hawai‘i song.]

And in future posts, I will comment on recordings, versions, performances . . .

  1. A Kona Hema ‘o Kalani
  2. Aia la ‘o Pele i Hawai‘i
  3. Alekoki
  4. Noble: Hilo E
  5. Ia oe e ka la
  6. Kai o Māmala (also known by its first line: Kahi mea i aloha ‘ia)
  7. Kalaniana‘ole
  8. Kaʻuiki
  9. Kawika
  10. Kalākaua
  11. Lili‘u E
  12. No ke ano ahiahi
  13. Panini Puakea
  14. ‘Ula Nōweo
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2 Responses to Hula Ku‘i & Hula ‘Ōlapa–The “Crossovers”

  1. keoladonaghy says:

    Could “Hole Waimea” (also known as “He Mele No Kamehameha”) have started out as a mele oli? I’m thinking of Kuluwaimaka’s recording of it in a kepakepa style. Or do you think it was likely done as a hula form first and later as a mele oli? I know it’s impossible to be sure, but curious what your thoughts are.

  2. amykstillman says:

    Hi Keola–you ask a question that should make us all pause and ponder. Quite possible, indeed! There are other examples of mele that have come to our generation as mele hula, but were recorded in the 1920s or 1930s as oli. And in the Papa Kuhikuhi o Na Hula Poni Moi from 1883, the presenter S. Ua did both “Kaulilua” and “Hoe Puna i ka Waa” as oli.

    Regarding “Hole Waimea,” donʻt forget that Emerson cited it in the chapter on “Hula ‘Ala‘apapa” and Emersonʻs book was published in 1909, over 10 years before Kuluwaimakaʻs recordings were made. And Hole Waimea is part of a set of mele that all share a consistent formatting (not hula ‘ōlapa, though)–and the set includes “Hoe Puna i ka wa‘a” which Emerson also cites in the hula ‘āla‘apapa chapter. But, as I just wrote above, S. Ua did in 1883 as an oli. Hmm.

    Nevertheless, I believe that “Hole Waimea” was a mele hula first, and that Kuluwaimakaʻs recording of it in oli style suggests that mele hula could also be oliʻd–perhaps if and when there were no hula dancers present anyway?

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