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On Language: "Bashfulness Should Be Left at Home"

Hawaiian was not a written language until the 19th century, so much of Hawai'i's cultural history is collected in oral traditions.

Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings

1. 'A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka halau ho'okahi. Click to hear
All knowledge is not taught in the same school.
(One can learn from many sources.)

2. Kuhi no ka lima, hele no ka maka. Click to hear
Where the hands move, there let the eyes follow.
(A rule in hula.)

3. I le'a ka hula i ka ho'opa'a. Click to hear
The hula is pleasing because of the drummer.
(The lesser details that one pays little attention to are just as important as the major ones. Although the attention is given to the dancer, the drummer and chanter play an important role in the dance.

4. 'A'a i ka hula, waiho ka hilahila i ka hale. Click to hear
When one wants to dance the hula, bashfulness should be left at home.

5. Pa'a ka waha, nana ka maka; hana ka lima. Click to hear
Shut the mouth; observe with the eyes; work with the hands.
(One learns by listening, observing and doing.)

6. Mai pa'a i ka leo, he 'ole ka hea mai. Click to hear
Do not withhold the voice and not call out [a welcome].
(From a password chant — mele kahea — used in hula schools. It was often used by one who would like a friendly invitation to come into another's home.)

7. 'Eli'eli kau mai e Pele e! Click to hear
A profound reverence, o Pele!
(A refrain from hula chant "Holo Mai Pele," a mele inoa name chant for Hi'iaka)

8. E ho'oulu mai ana 'o Laka i kona mau kahu, 'o makou no a. Click to hear
Laka inspires her devotees — us.
(Line from a prayer chant to Laka, goddess of hula)

9. 'I ulu no ka lala i ke kumu. Click to hear
The branches grow because of the trunk.
(Without our ancestors we would not be here.)

Selected Glossary of Terms

aina land
aloha love, affection; greetings, salutation
'aumakua ancestral family spirit
halau school
haumana students
hula dance
hula 'auana "modern dance," i.e., dance using flowing and languid movements, and accompanied by westernized song and instruments
hula kahiko "ancient dance," i.e., dance using vigorous and bombastic movements, and accompanied by indigenous percussive instruments
kaona layers of hidden meaning in Hawaiian-language poetry
keiki child
kumu source, foundation
kumu hula hula master; literally, one who is a source of knowledge of hula
kupuna elder; grandparent
maika'i good
makana gift
mana power, lifeforce
mele a poetic text; also its performed rendition as song
Na Mo'i Hawai'i the ruling monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom, 1810-1893
'ohana family, related by blood, marriage, or adoption
Palama a place of enlightenment


Hula proverbs drawn from Mary Kawena Pukui, 'Olelo No'eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983).

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