Few American icons are as well known for their popular kitsch as the hula dance. From old Hollywood movies to entertainment for tourists, the hip-swaying girls in grass skirts and colorful lei have long masked an ancient cultural tradition. Now, after years of being shadowed by stereotypes, the hula is experiencing a rebirth that celebrates Hawaiian culture. Hawaiians — wherever they live — are challenging misconceptions by redefining the evocative storytelling art of the hula dance across the American mainland.
For Hawaiians, the hula is a way of life. Since ancient times, hula has preserved history through oral tradition, and expressed the soul of Hawaiian spirituality. The sacred chants communicated with the gods, recorded genealogy, honored the chiefs, exalted nature and celebrated humanity. Yet by the early 20th century, many of the unique cultural traditions of Hawai'i were in danger of disappearing — especially the hula. Denounced as a "heathen" practice with the arrival of American missionaries, the hula was soon outlawed and forced underground. Hawaiians were discouraged from being proud of their ancestry, and soon even the language was banned. Nearly lost after decades of assimilation following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, the hula emerged as a symbol of fierce ethnic pride during the Hawaiian renaissance that swept the islands in the 1970s.
American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawai’i shows the survival of the hula as a renaissance continues to grow beyond the islands. With the cost of living in Hawai'i estimated at 27 percent higher than the continental United States, large numbers of Hawaiians have left the islands to pursue professional and educational opportunities. Today, with more Native Hawaiians living on the mainland than in the state of Hawai'i, the hula has traveled with them. From the suburbs of Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area, the largest Hawaiian communities have settled in California, and the hula continues to connect communities to their heritage on distant shores.
- Lisette Marie FlanaryProducer
- Evann SiebensProducer