Thinking about the term “hula kui”

Dear Readers, many of you know that my research has focused on historical aspects of the hula kuʻi tradition.

Many of you have asked me, over the years, why I use the term “hula kuʻi” even when Iʻm talking about songs, especially when it is not clear that some of those songs were actually danced as hula. Over the years Iʻve done the conventional scholarʻs tactic of formulating more precise yet cumbersome wordings like “mele in the format of hula kuʻi” and even “mele in the format of songs for hula kuʻi.”

And some have asked why I choose not to use the term “mele kuʻi” when Iʻm talking about mele but not necessarily about hula.

In cleaning out my email account last week, I came across email exchanges from twelve years ago, asking me these very questions. Hence I began to think about these questions again. Then I went back into my collection of sheet music, photographs, and notes. And the answer stared back at me.


This is the cover of sheet music published in 1892. (I had the extreme fortune to win this item on eBay many years ago.) Both songs are labelled “HULA KUI“. Do we know whether “Ipo Lei Manu” was actually danced then? Queen Kapiʻolani composed it while King Kalākaua was in San Francisco seeking medical care. He died in San Francisco without hearing it. This 1892 publication is months after his death and funeral. Was it actually danced at that time? Hard to imagine, isnʻt it? And yet, when the sheet music is published, it is identified as “HULA KUI“.

A very esteemed acquaintance is fond of saying “when da tʻing stay staring you in da face . . . “

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