Tiki and the Love of Dance

Hawaiian Men preparing to Dance with Fire in Maui | Deborah Kolb

Yes, even the discount aisle at Target now carries Tiki products. For $1 to $3 this month you can buy everything from Tiki head containers to little planters, signs, and other Tiki décor to complete your party plans or your Tiki collection.

In the midst of this resurgence of the Tiki trend, let’s continue to look back at what brought us to where we are with Tiki. Tiki probably would not have caught on like it did in the 50s without the music and the dances. In this article we will explore the many dances from the early Tiki era.

Different kinds of Hawaiian music created a dancing fad with Hula girls dancing to the music. It wasn’t long before the Hula style dancing was a dance that everyone was doing and a trip to Hawaii had to include a “Luau” complete with Hula dancing. There was also a type of dancing called exotica that went along with the exotica music. The ukulele played a big role in creating the Tiki dancing and music scene.

Photo by Fernando Macias Romo

The original Hula dance is a way of telling stories of war or religious context. Ancient hula was performed before any Western influences with Hawaii and is called Kahiko. This dance is accompanied by chants and traditional instruments. Hula, after the Western “encounters” is called Auana. This means “to drift” or “to wander.” This is where the guitar and the ukulele come in.

There are two forms of Hula dance. One is sitting and one is standing. Some dances involve both forms. Hula dancing involves many motions and is a complex art form. The hand and leg movements symbolize several aspects in nature, such as a tree swaying in the breeze, or the wave of the ocean. They can also represent a feeling or an emotion such as joy or sadness, love or despair.

Many hula dances that were passed down from before the 1800s were considered to be religious performances. They were usually dedicated to honoring a Hawaiian goddess or a god. The ceremonies at the time were held at the hula which was the platform temple. It was the tradition and practice that even a slight error was considered to invalidate the performance. It might even have dire consequences. Dancers who were learning to do such hula, were ritually secluded and under the protection of the goddess Laka during the learning period, so when they made mistakes, they were safe. The ceremonies marked the successful learning of the hula and the end of seclusion.

Hula Dancer on the Beach in Kauai at Sunset | Christian Kieffer

Often a chant accompanied the Hula. The Hawaiian proverb, “O oe ka lua’ ahi o kau mele” translates loosely as “you bear both the good and bad consequences of the poetry you compose. This idea comes from the ancient Hawaiian Hawaiian belief that language possessed mana or power gained form a spiritual source when delivered through a chant. The chant was delivered reverently and was an important part of the ritual of dance and of the Hawaiian society.

A law passed in Hawaii in 1896, shortly after the American overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom, that banned the use of the native language of in Hawaiian in schools. All Hawaiian culture in general was usurped and this contributed to a mass decline of the Hawaiian language. As Christianity spread the changing became viewed as a pagan practice. Because of the Tiki craze in the 60s, the Hula and the chanting made a comeback as well as the Hawaiian identity. Now the Hawaiian State Department of Education sponsors Hawaiian language immersion schools as well as major hula competitions every year.