Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hula Goes There

Magnet # 91: Hawaiian Hula Dancer

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Dad

The 18th Annual World Invitation Hula Festival begins today in Honolulu. Professionals from 16 different countries, including unlikely locales like France, India, and Mexico will be performing for three days. There are plenty of chances to win, as awards are made in 14 different categories.

The hula dance is a longstanding tradition in Hawaii, going as far back as Polynesian times. It accompanies a mele, a song or chant, and it dramatizes the music. Nowadays, the dances fall into two categories - ancient hula, or kahiko, was developed before European settlers came to Hawaii, and 'aunana, more modern versions that include a Western influence.

The hula can be secular, but there are also sacred versions that are used to honor the gods. Pele, Hawaii's most famous goddess, who reigns over its volcanoes, has hula dances all her own, most of which involve a great deal of wild gesticulation in keeping with her fiery nature. One legend tells that Pele danced the first hula to celebrate escaping her sister, Namakaokaha'i, the ocean goddess, when she found a chain of islands and was able to leave the oceans. But another tale credits Hi'iaka, the goddess of hula dancers, with its creation. She is also the patron goddess for Hawaii and the favorite sister of Pele, although their natures are completely opposite. Hi'iaka is known for her gentle, compassionate ways. When her family fled from Tahiti to Hawaii, Hi'iaka was not yet born, and Pele carried her there in an egg form, never letting go of her. There is a popular Hawaiian myth that tells of the one time these sisters quarreled. Pele had fallen for a Hawaiian chief named Lohiau and wanted one of her sisters to bring him to her. All but Hi'iaka, the youngest, refused. Pele demanded that she return with the chief in 40 days, and that she never embrace him or try to steal him for herself. Hi'iaka agreed, but had one request for Pele, however: that in her absence, she guard Hi'iaka's sacred grove, which she loved more than all else, and protect her best friend, Hopoe, who lived there with her. Eager to have Hi'iaka on her way, Pele agreed.

Hi'iaka had own own oddessy ahead of her, filled with fierce battles with monsters and demons. And the one companion she had abandoned her along the way. Finally, she reached Lohiau, only to find that he had perished of a broken heart while waiting for Pele. She was able to bring him back to life, but the delay cost her dearly. As Hi'iaka was returning home with Lohiau, fighting her growing feelings for the chief, Pele became convinced her sister had betrayed her and, enraged, wiped out her grove, killing Hopoe in the process. When Hi'iaka returned home, she was devastated by this loss, and finally gave into her feelings for Lohiau. Pele caught them, and once again brought forth her lava, killing Lohiau a second time. Once again, Hi'iaka was able to resurrect him. Finally, Pele was able to calm down and give the couple her blessings. By then, she had become infatuated with another man, anyway...

I'm not sure if there is a hula dance depicting this ancient Hawaiian legend, but there are certainly no shortage of dances to honor both Pele and Hi'iaka. You never know, one might be performed this weekend at the festival. It could even be a winning choice for one of the teams of dancers. After all, you can never go wrong siding with the gods, right?

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