Sacred Texts  Pacific 
Buy this Book at

Hula Dancer [1909] (Public Domain Image)

Unwritten Literature of Hawaii

The Sacred Songs of the Hula

by Nathaniel B. Emerson


Contents    Start Reading    Page Index    Text [Zipped]

Emerson's classic study of the Hula is a gold-mine of information for explorers of Hawaiian language, music, dance and culture. He gives the full annotated Hawaiian text of the songs, along with a free English translation.

As in many other traditional cultures, Hawaiian art, dance, music and poetry were highly integrated into every aspect of life, to a degree far beyond that of industrial society. The poetry at the core of the Hula is extremely sophisticated. Typically a Hula song has several dimensions: mythological aspects, cultural implications, an ecological setting, and in many cases, (although Emerson is reluctant to acknowledge this) frank erotic imagery. The extensive footnotes and background information allow us an unprecedented look into these deeper layers. While Emerson's translations are not great poetry, they do serve as a literal English guide to the amazing Hawaiian lyrics.

While Emerson does not describe the Hula dance per se as much as one would like, he does provide very detailed background information on the cultural setting in which the Hula was performed, including ritual procedures of the Hula schools, or halau. One other weak point is that the illustrations are primarily sketches of plants mentioned in the songs, musical instruments and so on; only two of them portray Hula dancers (one of which is fully clothed!). The book notably includes musical transcriptions of a number of songs, including the Hawaiian anthem, Hawai'i Ponoi.

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to acquire a deep understanding of traditional Hawaiian culture.

Title Page
Prefatory Note
Illustrations and Musical Pieces
I.--The Hula
II.--The Halau; the Kuahu--Their Decoration and Consecration
III.--The Gods of the Hula
IV.--Support and Organization of the Hula
V.--Ceremonies of Graduation; Début of a Hula Dancer
VI.--The Password--The Song of Admission
VII.--Worship at the Altar of the Halau
VIII.--Costume of the Hula Dancer
IX.--The Hula Ala’a-Papa
X.--The Hula Pa-ípu, Or Kuólo
XI.--The Hula Ki’i
XII.--The Hula Pahu
XIII.--The Hula Úli-ulí
XIV.--The Hula Puíli
XV.--The Hula Ka-laau
XVI.--The Hula Íli-íli
XVII.--The Hula Ká-éke-éke
XVIII. An Intermission
XIX.--The Hula Niau-kani
XX.--The Hula Ohe
XXI.--The Music and Musical Instruments of the Hawaiians
XXIII.--The Hula Pa-hua
XXIV.--The Hula Pele
XXV.--The Hula Pa’i-umauma
XXVI.--The Hula Ku’i Molokai
XXVII.--The Hula Kieléi
XXVIII.--The Hula Mú’u-mú’u
XXIX.--The Hula Kolani
XXX.--The Hula Kolea
XXXI.--The Hula Manó
XXXII.--The Hula Ilío
XXXIII.--The Hula Pua’a
XXXIV.--The Hula Ohelo
XXXV.--The Hula Kilu
XXXVI.--The Hula Hoo-na-ná
XXXVII.--The Hula Ulili
XXXVIII.--The Hula O-niu
XXXIX.--The Hula Ku’i
XL.--The Oli
XLI.--The Water of Kane
XLII.--General Review