The Prince Lot Hula Festival is one of the best places to see hula. Held in the Moanalua Gardens in Honolulu, the event is the largest non-competitive exhibition of the dance in Hawaii.
Hula is a celebration of the trees, the sky and the weather. In other words, it’s a celebration of the beauty of nature. Moanalua Gardens is a beautiful setting for hula. It has one of the few remaining pa hula (hula mounds) in Hawaii, which sits in front of backdrop of stately monkeypod trees.
The iconic Hawaiian dance involves undulating hip and flowing arm movements, which symbolise natural and mythological phenomena. It’s set to a chant or song that speaks of the stories, traditions and culture of Hawaii.
There are many types and styles of hula. Hula auana (modern hula) is danced to Western-influenced music and features a more modern and fluid style. Tourists are more likely to see this type. Hula kahiko (ancient hula) is danced to dramatic chants and percussion with more traditional costumes.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the festival was dedicated to preserving Hawaiian traditions, so only the more traditional kahiko was performed. Today, both styles are on show, danced in a relaxed atmosphere without the stress of competition.
The emphasis remains on tradition though. The groups, or halau to use the proper term, must bring their own musicians. No recorded music is allowed, which certainly adds to the atmosphere.
Now in its 35th year, the festival has become a cultural fixture, attracting up to 8,000 visitors every year. Locals make up the vast majority of festival patrons. They bring their whole families – straw mats and beach chairs in hand.
The festival isn’t only about sitting in the shade of the monkeypod trees and watching hula. There are also various Hawaiian art demonstrations such as lauhala weaving, feather lei making and native Hawaiian games.
It’s free to attend. But it’s also good manners to make a donation to the non-profit group that runs the festival – Moanalua Gardens Foundation – by way of buying a commemorative button.
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(Image: Hawai’i Visitors & Convention Bureau)