Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hula Costuming

It's that time of the year again when our halau starts planning for summer hula performances and ordering all the necessary fabric, dresses and accouterments for our costumes.

We need two costumes, one for the 'auana, or modern hula, and one for the kahiko, literally ancient, but meaning the more traditional hula. The basic difference between the two styles is that 'auana hula is more carefree, with lots of smiles and "modern" instruments, namely ukuleles and guitars.

The costume is usually a long, figure-fitting dress in a pretty Hawaiian print. We usually order our dresses from CC Fashions in Honolulu. I stopped by there when I was in Honolulu in February and it was clear they cater to the Japanese hula dancers, with all signs in Kanji and sales people fluent in Japanese.

For our kahiko dance, accompanied only by the ipu gourd drum and chanting, we will probably sew our own costume, basically a skirt and top in cotton/poly fabric, with lots of elastic here and there. But what really completes the kahiko costume is the küpe'e, or adornment.

We wear leafy bands on our wrists, ankles and head, sometimes neck, as well. In Hawai'i, there are really gung-ho halaus that seek their küpe'e in the forest and string the leaves together. We order silk leaves already strung together with elastic.

For my Fun Fact at our last class, I shared some information about how hula dancers costumed in days of yore. Don't tell my beloved dog Daphne this, but in the old days küpe'e often were constructed from dog teeth. The choppers were pierced and then strung together, sometimes on fiber netting to make six or so rows of clinking, clanking teeth. This garment was tied on the calf right under the knee. It was an adornment as well as musical instrument, for the noise of the chattering teeth contributed to the performance.

The purpose of the küpe'e was to draw attention to the movements of the hands and feet. After all, that's where the hula story is told.

Back then, the skirt, called a pä'ü, was not poly/cotton, but was made of kapa, which was pounded bark. The resulting fabric was decorated with stamped and painted patterns.

The men wore a malo, a loincloth made of kapa. And they and the women dancers went topless. Ah, the good old days!

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