Kumu Hula: Keepers of a Culture (1989)

Genres - Dance, Culture & Society, Music, Language & Literature  |   Sub-Genres - Sociology  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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Despite the best efforts of well-meaning Christian missionaries and the more sinister behavior of the U.S. government, many elements of the culture of the former Kingdom of Hawaii remain alive and vital even today, and native Hawaiians are making a concerted effort to recover their lost cultural and religious traditions, including important skills, such as instrument-free deep-ocean navigation. This documentary explores the work of the Kuma Hula, the holders and teachers of the sacred hula tradition of dance and song. These hula dances are not the frequently pictured seductive entertainments performed for tourists. Rather, they are the means by which the elaborate stories and myths of Hawaiian culture are maintained and transmitted through the concerted efforts of musicians, singers, and dancers. In order to be considered of religious value, each of these very elaborate and long songs (in Hawaiian) must be sung and performed without a single error. Mastering the skills to do this takes many years of practice and study. The documentary screens satisfyingly long portions of several of these. Teachers are shown reflecting on their work, as well as actively teaching. One humorous highlight of the documentary is the performance (by genuine hula dancers) of a satirical dance called "the Aerobics Hula." Some ironic shots of the more familiar tourist-type hula dance are shown, including scenes from the incredibly silly 1936 film Waikiki Wedding, featuring songs performed by Bing Crosby and Shirley Ross.

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Keywords

dance [art], Hawaii, hula-dance, island, tradition