Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hula Pahu

“For many weeks in succession, the first sound that fell on the ear in the morning was the loud beating of the drum, summoning the dancers to assemble. … Day after day, several hours in the day, the noisy hula - drumming, singing, and dancing in the open air, constituted the great attraction …”  (Hiram Bingham)

The Hawaiian term ‘Pahu’ translates into ’drum’, ‘Niu’ being the Hawaiian word for ‘coconut’.   The traditional pahu hula (hula drum) was carved from coconut stumps and covered with sharkskin (although possibly other types of native wood (koa, breadfruit, etc.) may have been used.)

The pahu is carved out of a single piece of wood; a bowl-like septum separates the sound chamber from the base or carved arches and a sharkskin membrane is lashed with sennit to the base.

The original material used for the Pahu’s waha (head) was either shark or ray skin. Heiau Pahu tended to be originally made with a waha of ray skin, while non-religious Pahu often used sharkskin.  (Kalikiano)

Pahu were made with great care. In pre-European times (pre-1778) each part of the drum's body, especially the sennit, 'aha, used to lash the sharkskin to the base, required special prayers which were chanted during the processes of making the sennit and lashing the skin to the drum.

The power of the prayers became entrapped in the lashing, the wood, the skin and remained with the drum always. The rows of inverted arches carved out of the base, called hoaka, are visually symbolic of outstretched hands supporting joined human figures overhead and are poetically symbolic of the shadows of gods (hoaka means to cast a shadow.)  (Smithsonian)

“Their wooden drum, with one sharkskin head, is beaten by the fingers of the musician, sitting cross-legged beside it as the uncovered end stands on the ground.”  (Hiram Bingham)

Laʻa is generally credited for introducing the drum to Hawaiʻi.  Laʻamaikahiki (Laʻa-from-Kahiki) brought the first sharkskin pahu to Hawaiʻi from Kahiki (Tahiti,) “sounding over the oceans” sometime around AD 1250.

On nearing the land he waked the echoes with the stirring tones of his drum, which so astonished the people that they followed him from point to point along the coast and heaped favors upon him whenever he came ashore.

Laʻa was an enthusiastic patron of the hula and is said to have made a tour of the islands, in which he instructed the natives in new forms of the dance.  (Emerson)

The shorter variety of Pahu (Pahu Hula) was used to beat time in Hula dances and to accompany chanting mele. It was made to be played by a standing person (always a priest, Kahuna, or Chief), whereas the Hula Pahu was made to more suitably accommodate a seated or kneeling individual.

The sounds of the pahu are referred to as leo (voice) and the drum head is referred to as waha (mouth.)  During state rituals in the large open-air heiau, the pahu was a receptacle for a god who spoke through the ‘voice’ of the drum.

There is reason to believe that the original use of the pahu was in connection with the services of the temple, and that its adaptation to the hālau was simply transference from one to another religious use.

Music, particularly drumming, was traditionally important in Hawaiian ritual. A drum would have been played as part of hula - a larger version was used in temples.  The seated musician normally played the pahu with one hand and a smaller drum, sometimes tied to the knee, with the other.  (British Museum)

Hawaiian musical traditions are essentially vocal. Percussive musical instruments are never played alone, but always to accompany chanting and dancing.

The pahu is an instrument of power and sacredness that exemplifies traditions of ritual music and dance that are steeped in time. The drum is both a sound producer and a symbol. Its music represents the fundamental principles of Hawaiian perceptions of time and timing in traditional music.

Pahu were given proper names and passed down from generation to generation as objects of mana (power) and kapu (sacredness) producing sounds that carried the knowledge of generations of aliʻi and kahuna (specialists, including priests.)  (Smithsonian)

Hula is a form of cultural expression of the utmost complexity, reaching back through the centuries to a time in the islands when history was recorded entirely by story and song, and passed along to succeeding generations by skilled individuals.

Since the essence of modern Hawaiian Hula is a medium of expression for communicating thoughts, stories and feelings that are for the most part translated by patterns of bodily motion in which not just the arms and hands, but the entire body, act as story telling devices.  (Kalikiano)

Hula combines dance and chant or song to tell stories, recount past events and provide entertainment for its audience.  With a clear link between dancer’s actions and the chant or song, the dancer uses rhythmic lower body movements, mimetic or depictive hand gestures and facial expression, as part of this performance. (ksbe-edu)

"The hula was a religious service, in which poetry, music, pantomime, and the dance lent themselves, under the forms of dramatic art, to the refreshment of men's minds. Its view of life was idyllic, and it gave itself to the celebration of those mythical times when gods and goddesses moved on the earth as men and women and when men and women were as gods." 

"(W)hen it comes to the hula and the whole train of feelings and sentiments that made their entrances and exits in the hālau (the hall of the hula) one perceives that in this he has found the door to the heart of the people."  (Emerson, son of Missionaries)

In describing a hula danced before Keōpūolani and her daughter Nāhiʻenaʻena, in Lāhainā in 1823, Missionary CS Stewart wrote:  "The motions of the dance were slow and graceful, and, in this instance, free from indelicacy of action; and the song, or rather recitative, accompanied by much gesticulation, was dignified and harmonious in its numbers.”
”The theme of the whole, was the character and praises of the queen and princess, who were compared to everything sublime in nature, exalted as gods." (Missionary Stewart)

“This was intended, in part at least, as an honor and gratification to the king, especially at Honolulu, at his expected reception there, on his removal from Kailua.  Apparently, not all hula was viewed as bad or indecent.”

“In the hula, the dancers are often fantastically decorated with figured or colored kapa, green leaves, fresh flowers, braided hair, and sometimes with a gaiter on the ancle, set with hundreds of dog's teeth, so as to be considerably heavy, and to rattle against each other in the motion of the feet.”  (Hiram Bingham)

The image shows a pahu hula (British Museum.)

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