Hawaii Traditions and Customs

Hawaii Traditions and Customs


Emanating from the social rules of yesteryear, the great Polynesian arts are the same from one archipelago to another: dancing, singing and tattooing. Dance and song, closely linked, had and still have a vocation to count and illustrate the history of ancestors, filiations, migrations, the exploits of missing heroes, the power of their mana, the beauty of the girls and the landscapes, the strength of the gods and the fear they inspire in men.

Delivery charges omnipresent gods, whose innumerable forms permeate the primordial elements and their manifestations: the sun and the moon, the sea and the mountains, rain and lightning. Each one, in turn, takes shape in the dancers, who “become” clouds or rainbow, wave that comes and goes, bird that flies - divine anger or sublimated wonders of nature. Men are united with the great whole. The blood that flows, even more during menstruation, echoes the tides, the waters of torrents, the very movements of life. Everything is linked, in a naturalistic cosmogony where everything has its place. To overturn the framework is to modify the order of the universe: an intolerable affront, once safeguarded by a thousand kapu (taboos).

Banned by the colonial authorities, reduced to hiding, dance resurfaced in the 1970s with the awakening of Hawaiian cultural awareness. On the sidelines of the hula 'auana (modern) shows especially intended for tourists, the kahiko (ancient) was given pride of place, accompanied by the pahu, the drum stretched with sharkskin, the umeke (calabash ) or only mele (songs). It is taught today in the four corners of the archipelago, in a hundred halau (schools) and even in Japan! An apparent revenge that could threaten its integrity by focusing on aesthetics alone.

The hula responds to a precise vocabulary : each movement of the body, feet, arms, hands, eyes, sometimes slow and sunk, sometimes jerky and warlike, conveys a specific message. Beyond the established standard, each kumu hula (dance teacher) brings his vision of the world through the choreography. Similar notions are transcribed differently from one island to another. Each one favors what is specific to it: the halau of Kaua'i, the most western of the archipelago and the most watered, thus stage much more rain than the others ...
And the Big Island, seated on the forges of volcanoes, makes room for Pele, goddess of fire and protector of dancers. The flower necklaces which they surround on the forehead, against a background of forest green and white berries, allusion to the snow with which the goddess Poliahu halos the summit of Mauna Kea, are stained there with the blood red of the flowers of 'ohi' a (red molten lava).

Adapted to life events, the hula can be made happy during a birth, or sad at the time of a death. Some dances, composed when the children of royal lineage came into the world, celebrate their sexual power. A well-known song thus evokes, by metaphor, the genitals "of the greatest" of the young king Kalakaua… Even today, certain singers, held in very high esteem, can memorize and chant thousands of verses.


Primordial in the past in all Polynesian cultures, almost abandoned under the influence of missionaries, the kakau is now undergoing a renaissance. Originally, it would seem that it was to scare enemies that the tattoo developed. Very quickly he took a social function first-rate, marking the social status of each and the stages of life. A sort of physical identity card, revealing to the eyes of the community heroic acts or past treacheries ...

- reasons, mainly geometric, responded to precise codes. Originally mostly tattooed between the waist and the knees, men gradually developed intricate patterns covering the entire body. Hawaiian tattoos were largely inspired by those made in the Marquesas Islands, the archipelago of origin of the first settlers. The warriors were distinguished by one side of the blank body and the other completely covered in black. Women generally wore fewer tattoos, limited to certain parts of the body.

The tattoos were made using an ink drawn from the burning of the kukui nut (bancoulier), with for any instrument a shark's tooth or a sharp bone driven under the skin using a small mallet . The ceremonies surrounding the sessions usually lasted several days - as is still the case in Samoa today. Tattoo artists, kahuna (priests) whose office was hereditary, occupied a high social position.

Forbidden for religious reasons, tattooing was lost among the Hawaiian population with the adoption of Western clothing. Ironically, Cook's sailors, some of whom had been tattooed, exhibited their trophies on their return to European ports… The fashion spread. A time challenge to colonial governments, tattooing today manifests above all a desire to strengthen the feeling ofcultural affiliation.

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