Basic Hula Words

Source: Pukui, Mary Kawena & Elbert, Samuel H., HAWAIIAN DICTIONARY,
University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1986.
Pronunciation Guide

Nâ Po`e o ka Hula - The People of Hula

alaka`i hula
[ah' lah kah' ee hoo' lah]

hula leader

ka`i means "to lead, guide, direct"

[ah nai' nah]

audience, gathering, crowd

[hau MAH' nah]

student, pupil, apprentice

hau = to lay before one
mâna = a ball of masticated (chewed) food

ka haumâna = the student
nâ haumâna = the students
NOTE: the plural form is preceded by and there is no letter "s" after haumâna in English. In other words, DON'T say: haumânas.

[hoh' oh pah' ah]

  • chanter.
    Other words for chanter:
    mea oli and mea olioli,
    oli meaning "chant"
  • drummer
    Other words for drummer:
    mea ho`okani pahu, pa`i ipu.

ho`o = "to make"
pa`a = "solid, firm"
Literally, "to make solid or firm"
Figuratively, "the memorizer"

[hoo' lah]


"Hula is the language of the heart
and therefore the heartbeat
of the Hawaiian people."

David Kalâkaua,
King of Hawai`i,
1874 to 1891

hula dance, hula dancer, to dance the hula; song or chant used for the hula

Reflecting many of the central ideas and events of Hawaiian history, the hula is a focal point of Hawaiian culture. Without a written language, Hawaiians used the hula and its accompanying chants as talking books of history, genealogy, and communication.

The hula transcends time and space.

Missionaries arrived in Hawai`i in the early 1820s and disapproved of what they considered the "lascivious" nature of hula and its ties to ancient gods. Hula was virtually banned it from public performance for at least fifty years.

Insightful Hawaiian monarchs saw that hula was integral to their people's sense of pride and identity. As a public declaration, King David Kalâkaua invited dancers from around the islands to perform at his coronation in 1883.

hula `auana
[hoo' lah au' (w)ah nah]

modern-day hula; informal hula without ceremony or offering, in contrast to hula kuahu; modern hula

Around the turn of the century, hula began to evolve from the hula kahiko into a less formal style, the hula 'auana. In hula 'auana, dancers interact more closely with the audience. A story is still told, but often to the accompaniment of singing, sometimes in falsetto, and the playing of stringed instruments such as the guitar, bass and `ukulele.

>> Video clips of the hula `auana

`auana = wandering, drifting; it does not mean "modern"

hula kahiko
[hoo' lah kah hee' koh]

ancient hula

This older style of hula is performed to mele (chants) accompanied by percussion instruments. Dances often depict the Hawaiian legends, the exploits of past royalty, and the beauty of nature.

kahiko = ancient, old

kumu hula
[koo' moo hoo' lah]


hula master, hula master teacher

The use of the word kumu implies the attainment of formal training, mastery and strong expertise, and is reserved for the qualified, tested few.

In ancient days, kumu hula were considered sacred persons inspired by the gods.

mea hula
[meh' (y)ah hoo' lah]

hula dancer

mea = thing, person
hula = Hawaiian dance
mea hula = person Hawaiian dance = hula dancer

Merrie Monarch

Nickname of King David Kalâkua, under whose reign the hula was reborn.

Since 1963, he is honored with the "Olympics" of hula competition every spring in Hilo.

>> Coffee Time's Merrie Monarch Remembered

[OH' lah pah]

name applied to dancers, in contrast to the ho`opa`a (chanter).

Also refers to any hula accompanied by chanting and drumming on a gourd drum. Literally, `ôlapa means "to flash" or "blaze suddenly."

[OH' loh heh]

hula expert, skilled

`Ôlohe means bare, hairless or bald. Skilled persons were so called because the beards of lua (Hawaiian martial arts) fighters were plucked and their bodies greased. Hairless men were thought to be stronger, so much so that their bones were desired for fish hooks.

Kekahi Hua `Ôlelo Hula - Other Hula-Related Words

[HAH' lau]

long house, as for canoes or hula instruction; temple of dance training

Before European contact, men and women were members of separate hâlau hula.

[hee oo vai'] 

water purification festivities

These were held on the second night of the month of Welehu (ancient Hawaiian month, when little could be done due to its storminess, approximately November). The people bathed and frolicked in the sea or stream after midnight, then put on their finest kapa (cloth made from bark) and ornaments for feasting and game.

[HOH' ee keh]

exhibition; to show or exhibit

hô = to cause, to make happen
`ike = see
hô`ike = to cause to see = exhibit

[hoh' oh koo' poo]

ceremonial gift-giving as a sign of honor, respect; appeasing gift; an offering

"A bottle of gin and `ôhelo berries, tied up in a red scarf" is a ho`okupu that is often given to Pele, the volcano goddess.

>> Paying Respects

[hoo' eh leh' poh]

small graduation exercises

This is held for hula students at noon outside in the dust (lepo)

kapu kai
[kah' poo kai']

ceremonial bath in the sea,
in sea water or in other salt water; often marks the preparatory ceremonies of a hula dancerís `ailolo (graduation) from training.

  • Not the same as pî kai, ceremonial sprinkling with sea or salt water.
  • Also, not the same as `au`au kai, bathing in the ocean for physical cleanliness.

>> Becoming Kumu

[koo (w)ah hoo]


It is raised in honor of Laka, the goddess of hula.

>> Greenery for the Hula Altar

[lah' kah]

sylvan goddess of hula
(sylvan = woods, forest)

Laka is the sister of Lono, the supreme god, the close friend of Pele, the volcano goddess. Laka's moods led to grace.
>> Gift for Laka

pâ hula
[PAH' hoo' lah]

hula troupe, hula studio, or place reserved for hula

= platform, enclosure, courtyard

>> Salon Magazine: Kaua`i Sacred Site
>> Kaho`olawe's Pâ Hula
>> Moloka`i: Pâ Hula Building Enactment

[pah' ee poo' nah heh' leh]

to honor a favorite (punahele)

The punahele was honored by composing songs and staging dances and feasts for him/her.

[OO' nee kee]

graduation exercises for a hula class

Probably related to niki (to tie), as the knowledge was bound to the student.

>> S-B Article: Keepers of the Knowledge
>> S-B Article: Kumu Hula

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