Unwritten Literature of Hawaii, by Nathaniel B. Emerson, , at sacred-texts.com
Gesture is a voiceless speech, a short-hand dramatic picture. The Hawaiians were adepts in this sort of art. Hand and foot, face and eye, and those convolutions of gray matter which are linked to the organs of speech, all worked in such harmony that, when the man spoke, he spoke not alone with his vocal organs, but all over, from head to foot, every part adding its emphasis to the utterance. Von Moltke could be reticent in six languages; the Hawaiian found it impossible to be reticent in one.
The hands of the hula dancer are ever going out in gesture, her body swaying and pivoting itself in attitudes of expression. Her whole physique is a living and moving picture of feeling, sentiment, and passion. If the range of thought is not always deep or high, it is not the fault of her art, but the limitations of her original endowment, limitations of hereditary environment, the universal limitations imposed on the translation from spirit into matter.
The art of gesture was one of the most important branches taught by the kumu. When the hula expert, the olohe, who has entered the halau as a visitor, utters the prayer (p. 47), "O Laka, give grace to the feet of Pohaku, and to her bracelets and anklets; give comeliness to the figure and skirt of Luukia. To each one give gesture and voice. O Laka, make beautiful the lei; inspire the dancers to stand before the assembly," his meaning was clear and unmistakable, and showed his high valuation of this method of expression. We are not, however, to suppose that the kumu-hula, whatever his artistic attainments, followed any set of formulated doctrines in his teaching. His science was implicit, unformulated, still enfolded in the silence of unconsciousness, wrapped like a babe in its mother's womb. To apply a scientific name to his method, it might be calk inductive, for he led his pupils along the plain road of practical illustration, adding example to example, without the confusing aid of preliminary rule or abstract proposition, until his pupils had traveled over the whole ground covered by his own experience.
Each teacher went according to the light that was in him, not forgetting the instructions of his own kumu, but using them as a starting point, a basis on which to build as best he knew. There were no books, no manuals of instruction, to pass from hand to hand and thus secure uniformity of instruction. Then, again, it was a long journey from Hawaii to Kauai, or even from one island to
another. The different islands, as a rule, were not harnessed to one another under the same political yoke; even districts of the same island were not unfrequently under the independent sway of warring chiefs; so that for long periods the separation, even the isolation, in matters of dramatic art and practice was as complete as in politics.
The method pursued by the kumu may be summarized as follows: Having labored to fix the song, the mele or oli, in the minds of his pupils, the haumana, he appointed some one to recite the words of the piece, while the class, standing with close attention to the motions of the kumu and with ears open at the same time to the words of the leader, were required to repeat the kumu's gestures in pantomime until he judged them to have arrived at a sufficient degree of perfection. That done, the class took up the double task of recitation joined to that of gesture. In his attempt to translate his concepts into physical signs the Hawaiian was favored not only by his vivid power of imagination, but by his implicit philosophy, for the Hawaiian looked at things from a physical plane--a safe ground to stand upon--albeit he had glimpses at times far into the depths of ether. When he talked about spirit, he still had in mind a form of matter. A god was to him but an amplified human being.
It is not the purpose to attempt a scientific classification of gesture as displayed in the halau. The most that can be done will be to give a few familiar generic illustrations which are typical and representative of a large class.
The pali, the precipice, stands for any difficulty or obstacle of magnitude. The Hawaiian represents this in his dramatic, pictorial manner with the hand vertically posed on the outstretched arm, the palm of the hand looking away. If it is desired to represent this wall of obstacle as being surmounted, the hand is pushed forward, and at the same time somewhat inclined, perhaps, from its rigid perpendicularity, the action being accompanied by a series of slight lifting or waving movements as of climbing.
Another way of dramatically picturing this same concept, that of the pali as a wall of obstacle, is by holding the forearm and hand vertically posed with the palmar aspect facing the speaker. This method of expression, while perhaps bolder and more graphic than that before mentioned, seems more purely oratorical and less graceful, less subtly pictorial and elegant than the one previously described, and therefore less adapted to the hula. For it must be borne in mind that the hula demanded the subordination of strength to grace and elegance. We may at the same time be sure that the halau showed individuality in its choice of methods, that it varied its technique and manner of expression at different times and places, according to the different conception of one or another kumu.
Progression, as in walking or traveling, is represented by means of a forward undulatory movement of the outstretched arm and hand, palm downward, in a horizontal plane. This gesture is rhythmic and beautifully pictorial. If the other hand also is made a partner in the gesture, the significance would seem to be extended, making it include, perhaps, a larger number in the traveling company. The mere extension of the arm, the back-hand advanced, would serve the purpose of indicating removal, travel, but in a manner less gracious and caressing.
To represent an open level space, as of a sand-beach or of the earth-plain, the Hawaiian very naturally extended his arms and open hands--palms downward, of course--the degree of his reaching effort being in a sense a measure of the scope intended.
To represent the act of covering or protecting oneself with clothing, the Hawaiian placed the hollow of each hand over the opposite shoulder with a sort of hugging action. But here, again, one can lay down no hard and fast rule. There was differentiation; the pictorial action might well vary according to the actor's conception of the three or more generic forms that constituted the varieties of Hawaiian dress, which were the málo of the man, the pa-ú of the woman, and the decent kiheí, a togalike robe, which, like the blanket of the North American Indian, was common to both sexes. Still another gesture, a sweeping of the hands from the shoulder down toward the ground, would be used to indicate that costly feather robe, the ahuula, which was the regalia and prerogative of kings and chiefs.
The Hawaiian places his hands, palms up, edge to edge, so that the little finger of one hand touches its fellow of the other hand. By this action he means union or similarity. He turns one palm down, so that the little finger and thumb of opposite hands touch each other. The significance of the action is now wholly reversed; he now means disunion, contrariety.
To indicate death, the death of a person, the finger-tips, placed in apposition, are drawn away from each other with a sweeping gesture and at the same time lowered till the palms face the ground. In this case also we find diversity. One old man, well acquainted with hula matters, being asked to signify inn pantomimic fashion "the king is sick," went through the following motions: He first pointed upward, to indicate the heaven-born one, the king; then he brought his hands to his body and threw his face into a painful grimace. To indicate the death of the king he threw his hands upward toward the sky, as if to signify a removal by flight. He admitted the accuracy of the gesture, previously described, in which the hands are moved toward the ground.
There are, of course, imitative and mimetic gestures galore, as of paddling, swimming, diving, angling, and the like, which one sees
every day of his life and which are to be regarded as parts of that universal shorthand vocabulary of unvocalized speech that is used the world over from Naples to Honolulu, rather than stage-conventions of the halau. It will suffice to mention one motion or gesture of this sort which the author has seen used with dramatic effect. An old man was describing the action of Hiiaka (the little sister of Pele) while clearing a passage for herself and her female companion with a great slaughter of the reptilian demon-horde of mo’o that came out in swarms to oppose the progress of the goddess through their territory while she was on her way to fetch Prince Lohiau. The goddess, a delicate piece of humanity in her real self, made short work of the little devils who covered the earth and filled the air. Seizing one after another, she bit its life out, or swallowed it as if it had been a shrimp. The old man represented the action most vividly: pressing his thumb, forefinger, and middle finger into a cone, he brought them quickly to his mouth, while he snapped his jaws together like a dog seizing a morsel, an action that pictured the story better than any words.
It might seem at first blush that facial expression, important as it is, owing to its short range of effectiveness, should hardly be put in the same category with what may be called the major stage-gestures that were in vogue in the halau. But such a judgment would certainly be mistaken. The Greek use of masks on the stage for their "carrying power" testified to their valuation of the countenance as a semaphore of emotion; at the same time their resort to this artifice was an implicit recognition of the desirability of bringing the window of the soul nearer to the audience. The Hawaiians, though they made no use of masks in the halau, valued facial expression no less than the Greeks. The means for the study of this division of the subject, from the nature of the case, is somewhat restricted and the pursuit of illustrations makes it necessary to go outside of the halau.
The Hawaiian language was one of hospitality and invitation. The expression mai, or komo mai, this way, or come in, was the most common of salutations. The Hawaiian sat down to meat before an open door; he ate his food in the sight of all men, and it was only one who dared being denounced as a churl who would fail to invite with word and gesture the passer-by to come in and share with him. This gesture might be a sweeping, downward, or sidewise motion of the hand in which the palm faced and drew toward the speaker. This seems to have been the usual form when the two parties were near to each other; if they were separated by any considerable distance, the fingers would perhaps more likely be turned upward, thus making the signal more distinctly visible and at the same time more emphatic.
In the expression of unvoiced assent and dissent the Hawaiian practised refinements that went beyond our ordinary conventions. To give assent he did not find it necessary so much as to nod the head; a lifting of the eyebrows sufficed. On the other hand, the expression of dissent was no less simple as well as decisive, being attained by a mere grimace of the nose. This manner of indicating dissent was not, perhaps, without some admixture of disdain or even scorn; but that feeling, if predominant, would call for a reenforcement of the gesture by some additional token, such as a pouting of the lips accompanied by an upward toss of the chin. A more impersonal and coldly businesslike way of manifesting a negative was by an outward sweep of the hand, the back of the hand being turned to the applicant. Such a gesture, when addressed to a huckster or a beggar--a rare bird, by the way, in old Hawaii--was accepted as final.
There was another method of signifying a most emphatic, even contemptuous, no. In this the tongue is protruded and allowed to hang down fiat and wide like the flaming banner of a panting bound. A friend states that the Maoris made great use of gestures with the tongue in their dances, especially in the war-dance, sometimes letting it hang down broad, fiat, and long, directly in front, some-times curving it to right or left, and sometimes stuffing it into the hollow of the cheek and puffing out one side of the face. This manner--these methods it might be said--of facial expression, so far as observed and so far as can be learned, were chiefly of feminine practice. The very last gesture--that of the protruded tongue--is not mentioned as one likely to be employed on the stage in the halau, certainly not in the performance of what one would call the serious hulas. But it might well have been employed in the hula ki’i (see p. 91), which was devoted, as we have seen, to the portrayal of the lighter and more comic aspects of daily life.
It is somewhat difficult to interpret the meaning of the various attitudes and movements of the feet and legs. Their remoteness from the centers of emotional control, their detachment from the vortices of excitement, and their seeming restriction to mechanical functions make them seem but slightly sympathetic with those tides of emotion that speed through the vital parts of the frame. But, though somewhat aloof from, they are still under the dominion of, the same emotional laws that govern the more central parts.
The illustrations brought to illuminate this division of the subject will necessarily be of the most general application and will seem to belong rather to the domain of oratory than to that of dramatic or
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PHYLLODIA AND TRUE LEAVES OF THE KOA (ACACIA KOA)
stage expression, by which is meant expression fitted for the purposes of the halau.
To begin with a general proposition, the attitude of the feet and legs must be sympathetic with that of the other parts of the body. When standing squarely on both feet and looking directly forward, the action may be called noncommittal, general; but if the address is specialized and directed to a part of the audience, or if attention is called to some particular region, the face will naturally turn in that direction. To attain this end, while the leg and arm of the corresponding side will be drawn back, the leg and arm of the opposite side will be advanced, thus causing the speaker to face the point of address. If the speaker or the actor addresses himself, then, to persons, or to an object, on his right, the left leg will be the one more in advance and the left arm will be the one on which the burden of gesture will fall, and vice versa.
It would be a mistake to suppose that every motion or gesture displayed by the actors on the stage of the halau was significant of a purpose. To do that would be to ascribe to them a flawless perfection and strength that no body of artists have ever attained. Many of their gestures, like the rhetoric of a popular orator, were mere flourishes and ornaments. With a language so full of seemingly superfluous parts, it could not well be otherwise than that their rhetoric of gesture should be overloaded with flourishes.
The whole subject of gesture, including facial expression, is worthy of profound study, for it is linked to the basic elements of psychology. The illustrations adduced touch only the skirts of the subject; but they must suffice. An exhaustive analysis, the author believes, would show an intimate and causal relation between these facial expressions and the muscular movements that are the necessary accompaniments or resultants of actual speech. To illustrate, the pronunciation of the Hawaiian word ae (pronounced like our aye), meaning "yes," involves the opening of the mouth to its full extent; and this action, when accomplished, results in a sympathetic lifting of the eyebrows. It is this ultimate and completing part of the action which the Hawaiian woman adopts as her semaphore of assent.
One of the puzzling things about gesture comes when we try to think of it as a science rooted in psychology. It is then we discover variations presented by different peoples in different lands, which force us to the conviction that in only a part. of its domain does it base itself on the strict principles of psychology. Gesture, like language, seems to be made up in good measure of an opportunist. growth that springs lip in answer to man's varying needs and conditions. The writer hopes he will not be charged with begging the question in suggesting that another element which we must reckon
with as influential in fashioning and stereotyping gesture is tradition and convention. To illustrate--the actor who took the role of Lord Dundreary in the first performance of the play of the same name accidentally made a fantastic misstep while crossing the stage. The audience was amused, and the actor, quick to avail himself of any open door, followed the lead thus hinted at. The result is that he won great applause and gave birth to a mannerism which has well-nigh become a stage convention.