Ala`apapa/Olapa Hula Notes - by Kaiulani Kanoa-Martin

December, 1999

This is in answer your questions on the difference between ala`apapa and olapa hula. I don't know that much and am not aware of all the differences between the two.

In our day, we called all of it olapa. The distinction was kid's olapa and adult olapa. The adult olapa or ala`apapa dances were probably the older secular chants that may have evolved into what we classified as olapa, at that time. I am going to call the kid's dances olapa and the adult dances ala`apapa to differentiate between the two.

Some of the kid's olapa were dances like Kawika, Liliu E, Healoha Kauiki, Kai Mamala, Anoai, A Hilo Au, and Heeia. In preparation for a new olapa, we were only told a very short, literal translation of the hula. We listened to the beat and did the steps that matched the beat. We changed our steps accordingly, when the beat changed. The motions were very simple and only portrayed the main theme of the stanza. If the words were about the wind, we did the same ka makani motion for the gentle breeze or the skin-stinging wind.

Question: Did age play an important part in transition.

Answer: Yes, but more important was the student's performance, talent and understanding of the hula. About age 12 or 13, the dancer was sent to the junior class. At this time, you were told the literal translation. The steps were more difficult and the motions more descriptive. Some of the ala`apapa were E Manono, Nopu Talala, Aia I Honolulu, and Hole Waimea.

Between the ages of 14 -18 was usually, if you were ready, when you were sent to the ladies class. At this point, we were taught the kaona and the mai dances. Some motions and steps were adjusted slightly, to interpret kaona, but were still in keeping with the literal translation.

Question: What are some of the differences between the olapa and ala`apapa.

Answer: Many of the olapa chants were set to music at a later date, but we cannot use this as a rule of thumb because it is not consistent, i.e. the ma`i dances were also set to music. Notice the lyrics and beat of the olapa are more methodical and standard. Perhaps this was due to the modern influence, not so with the ala`papa. The poem and beat of the ala`apapa has no orderly cadence. They just tell the story in no particular rhythm and with no consistent beat.

The kapu was not as strict with the olapa-ala`apapa. We kept some of the traditions in our line, wearing of the la`i and sprinkling of salt water. We were prohibited from smiling in pahu, but constantly giggled when performing ala`apapa. Some hula steps were peculiar to pahu and never used for ala`apapa. They can be used for auana.

The Day of Promotion or Selection

We had been practicing a chant, combination pa`i and hula, for some time (3-6 months) with the ipu heke `ole (the long ipu with no top attached). One day we arrived for class and the long ipus had the heke (round top gourd) attached. We were instructed to make a cord to attach around the neck of the ipu heke. There were strips of red material that could either be braided or twisted to make the cord. After we finished the cord, we were instructed to tie it around the neck. The way one fashions the cord and ties it around the neck has great religious significance. My completed ipu heke was not satisfactory and I was busted back to a dancer. I was never again considered for promotion to a chanter. To this day, I still don't know the correct way to attach the cord.


Pahu Hula Notes - by Kaiulani Kanoa-Martin

This page is a response to a hula document written by a kumu in Maui. I am answering questions on pahu hula, specifically in the tradition of Tom Hiona. You are invited to direct questions to e-mail address:

Feb 15, 1999

Aloha, This is in response to your questions:

Question: What do you think about the different styles of kahiko? I know there is a controversy about this. I just assumed that the harder more military kahiko was the correct way. Can kahiko be interpretive to a point, or is there a line that should not be crossed.

Answer: The line should not be crossed. The 2 types of kahiko are (1) pahu or drum and (2) ala`apapa or olapa. Specifically, I am a pahu or temple dancer.

To clarify:

a. Ha`a is the Hawaiian religious ritual or ceremony performed in heiau, similar to the Catholic Mass, Protestant Service, etc.

b. Sacred dance or hula:is incorporated into ha`a ritual and the dance is called pahu hula. This pahu hula is danced in the ha`a style (bended knee), hence the misnomer of hula ha`a. Pahu hula did not evolve into ala`apapa or olapa. They were separate.

c. Secular hula: performed outside of the heiau is called hula ala`apapa, hula olapa, hula ku`i

The different styles of kahiko are both correct. The basic difference is pahu is prayer and not open to interpretation. Ala`apapa is drama, story-telling or interpretive hula, the forerunner of what we call auana. I have no problem with the ala`apapa. It is like auana and open to artistic interpretation. With pahu, there is a problem. I would caution trying to make any or too many innovations. Pahu and ala`apapa cannot be intertwined. You must use only the pahu style for the pahu hula. For instance; you cannot do ala`apapa for Kaulilua; you cannot use pahu hula for Kawika. I combine ala`apapa with olapa, but there is a difference. Olapa really means the dancer, but has become synonymous with the type of hula. For instance: we say "a glass of water" but it really is a tumbler of water. Since tumblers were made of glass, we use glass to mean tumbler. We say kleenex which is the trade name when we mean tissue, or Q-tip when we mean swab. One of the differences between olapa and ala`apapa is: the motions of one is the kaona, the other expresses the literal meaning. I do not know all of the differences; will have to check with the other dancers who are more knowledgeable in this area. I put it together because I can never remember all of the differences, and they are basically the same type of ancient hula.

What do you mean by military? If you mean must everything be synchronized, yes. The drummer, in pahu, follows the dancer. If the dancers were not together, the chanter would not be able to follow the prayer. Incidentally, I was taught the opposite way. I dance to the drum beat or follow the drum beat, just as today, the dancer follows the musician. The older dancers say I was taught that way because I was so young. This is the reason I cannot dance unless the drum beat is correct. Also, I think that is one way you learn rhythm. Have you ever worked with dancers who always seem to be half a beat off? When you teach/learn hula, you always do the footwork first; this is the tradition.

Question: King Kalakaua added new steps, new instruments, was this okay because he had the pure blood line (I'm assuming on his bloodline)? Is it possible that one style was handed down from one kupuna, and another style was handed from another kupuna, both of pure Hawaiian ancestry?

Answer: King Kalakaua did not add new steps, he revived hula, the old steps, and gathered the hula masters/kahunas and became their protector/supporter/benefactor. Don't forget, Hawaiian culture was out-lawed. He may have picked this idea up in Europe. The style he promoted was ala`apapa and ku`i (court) style dancing. The blood line had nothing to do with it. He was proud to be Hawaiian, loved his people and culture and struggled to save his race from disappearing. The Huapala Archives has a chant he composed "Ka Momi". If you read the translation it gives insight into his character. He was proud, wanted to hob-nob with the aristocrats but in the end realized what he had was far superior to any other kingdom or culture on earth. He was a good man and a benevolent king. One of these days I will try and put something about the Hale Naua on the Archives; if I can find a mele to relate it to.

Style or tradition is based mostly on the island rather than blood line. When we were young, I would hear na kupuna say "they dance Maui style" or "they dance Hawaii style". Each island had some peculiarities. Some Hawaii dancers always turned their heel into an almost 45-degree angle when they did the 4th count of the vamp. Throwing the knees wide open instead of up is male style of uwehe and considered very vulgar when used by female dancers, unless they are doing a ma'i hula.

Question: I did not know of the ala`apapa, and I thought that the pahu hula was a hula that replaced the hula ha'a after the overthrow of the Hawaiian religon. So now instead of worshiping as in ha'a, the pahu told stories of the gods, would that assumption be correct?

Answer: Pahu hula is sacred or temple dances also known as ha`a. This is primarily worship but they also honored people or nature. Genealogy also was chanted because pre-missionary Hawaiians had no written language and the ali`i wanted to prove their bloodlines to the ancient gods. I prefer the term pahu to ha`a because hula ha'a is more correctly a style of dancing rather than a type of dance, just like ku`i molokai is a type of hula from that island, not to be confused with the ku`i style or court dance of the monarchy period. This kui or court style is the tradition that Maiki Aiu developed. You know that the ku`i step from Molokai is when you pound or strike your foot on the ground. The ku`i or court style hula from the monarchy period is what we (the old dancers) call old-fashioned hula. Ku`i means to weave or put together as to "ku`i a lei". This type of hula weaves or tells a story and is the liason between the old and the new.

If you know the trilogy: 1-Kaulilua. 2-Aua Ia, 3- A Koolau, these are pahu hulas that are noa or free from kapu.

Aua Ia - ai haa - is danced with the ami step (the only style that is noa)
Aua Ia - ai holo - this is danced with the running step
Aua Ia - ai hela - this is danced with the hela step

The chants/words are almost the same, but the drum beat is different.

Question: When I see a hula kahiko that is done with grace and at times even with a smile, would it be correct to assume that is it most likely the ala`apapa, or is most of the kahiko shown, for instance during the Merry Monarch, ala`apapa.

Answer: Your assumption is correct. All pahu hulas are kapu. The kapu has been lifted from the Trilogy and a few other pahu hulas. Pahu hula is not meant for competition. It may be used for exhibition, but never competition. It is my understanding that all kahiko performed with the pahu drum at the Merry Monarch, with a few exceptions, is not authentic.

One of my friends, Kamakanoenoe, was a student of Iolani Luahine. She attended the Kamehameha Song Contest in 1994 or 1995. She saw a pahu hula performed by students under the direction of Randie Fong, the artistic director of the Schools. She was so impressed with the chant/hula he composed, it could have been authentic.

One of the greatest misconceptions on the kapu is: the kapu is on the dance, not the dancer. Certainly, when a dancer was in training there were certain restrictions, but ceremonies to lift the kapu from the dancer only commissions one to perform. The kapu on the dance remains and must be lifted for public performance.

If you can dance pahu correctly, which is the foundation of hula, you will be a graceful dancer simply because pahu teaches body control. If you do not have a good foundation you will end up doing the Hollywood hula or a hootchy-kootchy dance.

Question: On the pahu hula, when you say it is not open to interpretation, does this mean that this hula must be learned by someone in whom the hula has been passed on through time, with the motions being exactly the same, and would this also mean that the pahu hula is treated like the ha'a was?

Answer: Yes, pahu hula is hula ha`a. There are exceptions if the kapu is lifted. If you look at some of the chants I have on the Archives, I have the whole text and yet only a portion of it is danced. The pahu hula we learned was always taught in its entirety, but we very seldom performed the whole dance in public. Tom knew the whole dance was prayer and cut the parts that were very deep. Some of the chant is from the dark side and should not be passed on. It could be used the wrong way. He was criticized for this action which caused much friction between him and other kumu, some of whom later, became his adversaries. Some thought that he should pass on the whole dance, but he felt it would not be wise if future teachers did not understand the full implications and did not know how to protect themselves and their students.

Na pahu hula that honor animals usually have a stricter kapu. The animals may represent the family's aumakua (family gods) and performance is unique and restricted to members of that ancestral line. Permission from the family is needed to perform those dances.


Feb 23, 1999

To continue Tom Hiona's tradition on pahu hula.

Question: As you will read in the hula document that I put together, I mention the kapu placed on the hula ha'a until the kumu was sure the haumana knew exactly what the movements and meaning were.

Answer: This was not the primary reason for the kapu. The kapu was placed so the dancer would have the right spirit. If your spirit is right, your dancing will be pono. (story here) Of course, one had to learn the dance to perfection, but that took practice, not the placing of a kapu. In the old days, the students were taken from their parents and trained in halaus. The kumu was a surrogate parent and ho`ola. Upon their uniki, they were released and would resume normal life. This was not the case in our time, but many of the traditions cling. I will try and list some of the kapus and will add more as I remember.

Kapus on pahu hula:

1. Pikai: When we prepared for performance of kapu hula, our kumu would pikai (sprinkle salt water) on the performers and say a prayer that might almost be considered a minor exorcism. This was done to remove na kapu on the dance. Our particular prayer is forbidden to be passed on. Tom requested that all prayer be said in English. He felt it was dangerous to use Hawaiian as the mispronounciation of one syllable could compromise the prayer. Pikai is still observed.

2. Ma`i: Dancer with menstrual period was forbidden to perform. This was not strictly enforced in our halau. If the girl was not feeling well, she was excused, otherwise, she was expected to dance.

3. Sex: When we would rehearse prior to the performance, he would remind all the dancers, especially the unmarried ones, that we must abstain from sex until after the performance. We would all groan and say "we cannot dance". This became a joke and probably no one observed this kapu.

4. La`i: All dancers expected to wear ti leaf (la`i) somewhere on their person; still observed.

5. Costume: the color, style, leis must be correct for the dance. This custom is still observed and is one of the criteria used in judging competitions. White is never worn for pahu hula, this is the Hawaiian funeral color. Hala leis are never used as adornment, the connotation is - error.

6. Absolutely no jewelry worn during performance.

7. Seriousness of expression: no smiling, giggling, laughing or playing around. The dance was prayer, very devout and must be danced in unison. The belief was that prayer performed in unison was more powerful than a single prayer offered by one person. If you laughed or played around, then you were not sincere in your prayer.

8. Invisible dancer: not seen before or after performance. The exception was at a family party or a performance for good friends.

9. Eating restrictions: must fast before performance. After performance, may not eat from a common bowl (poi). Usually, even at a family party, the dancers' food is prepared separately.

If a dancer cannot honor the kapu, then the kumu must take it upon himself and make all of the sacrifices for the dancers. The kumu has great responsibility and accountability.


Question: My understanding is that there are certain movements that are unique to the ha'a, and that the ha'a was only danced on heiau grounds.

Answer: In the old days, this was correct.

Question: When you speak of the hula pahu and that the kapu is lifted when doing performances (not competitions) is the kapu placed by the kumu and released by the kumu?.

Answer: In our case, yes. In 1943 or 1944, Tom lifted all kapus from his dancers, forever (story here, will tell how he lifted kapu). He made a red pu`olo (bundle) containing human bones, human hair, aumakua, ku`ula, kauwila stick and other things. What he did with it, I don't know, but I will tell you about my family.

My grandfather's mother, Theresa Haia, embraced the new religion and discarded the old Hawaiian religion. She made a pu`olo, wrapped it in a red cloth and took it to the beach. She prayed and cast it upon the water where the current goes back to Tahiti. This physical action was her way of sending the old gods back to where they came from. Upon her death bed, she told her children that she was taking all of the old kapu to the grave with her and her issue would forever be free.

The one request that Tom made of his kapu dancers was that they would not teach pahu hula until his death or unless they had his permission (story here). This did not include ala`apapa, auana or dances that were not kapu. He was always afraid that he did not `oki (cut) correctly, but promised to take all the old kapu to the grave with him to protect his haumana. All of our hewa (sins or mistakes), he placed on himself. I would caution you not to place restrictions on your haumana. This will come back to haunt you and you will be held accountable.

Question: Is this kapu with the same purpose so that the dance is done correctly by the dancer & once the kapu is lifted from the dancer, is he or she made noa to dance this dance when they want (not competitions) or is it placed and lifted at the kumu's discretion regardless of the dancers knowledge of the dance?

Answer: No, the dancer is always free, only the dance is kapu. If we are dancing under the direction of another kumu, we always dance their style. If we are dancing for one of Tom's disciples, then their drumming and style would be the same as his. Tom's tradition might be a little different from the other lines, but it is probably more pure since his line is from Maui. The Maui/Molokai line did not go as far underground as did the Oahu/Hawaii line. Because of geographic location, Maui/Molokai was not policed as heavily when hula was outlawed. My understanding is the kapu in the Hawaii line was very harsh.

In Tom's halau, the male and female dancers were taught separately. We did not have an alakai or head dancer as you know it today. Certain kapu dancers were given hulas to malama. This became their legacy and they were the alakai for that particular hula. If I wanted to teach a dance that was given to another, I would need permission from that dancer before I could pass it on. After Tom's death, we decided to establish one rule and set everyone free (story here). As we advanced, we were not automatically elevated to chanter. If you wanted to learn to oli and chant, you would have to take lessons and not all were endowed with this talent. Henry Pa, George Naope and Kaupena Wong took chanting from Tom. This is the reason Kaupena Wong is a chanter, not a dancer.

Today, many of the young kumus use the word "puka" when they are given permission to teach or have their own halaus. The old kumus/dancers always say pono or ho`okohu for pahu hula. There is a slightly different connotation. Pono is to make correct, kohu to commission, puka to emerge.

Feb 26, 1999

Question: Is there a song in the Huapala archives that is a Pahu Hula and is Kapu?.

Answer: Yes, Kaulilua (noa), Ohelo and Aua Ia (noa). I have slightly different, edited versions on the Archives, and therefore the translations are not completely accurate. I only put up what has already gone public. There are more verses in Kaulilua and No Luna Ka Hale Kai, but those verses are never danced. I only performed the last verse to the Ohelo once, in public. I have never seen it done since then, although, I could be mistaken.