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Hula School


Entrance to Heiau

One entrance to the Altar of Laka and Ka Ulu a Paoa heiau. One reaches this site complex through what is now an overgrown, jungle trail across from Ke‘e Beach. Makana rises in the back.


On the slope below Makana mountain sits the remains of the Altar of Laka and the famous hula school of old. Chipper states, "The hula school down here was considered to be the Harvard, or Stanford, or Yale if you will, of the hula schools. It was considered to be the most revered of the hula schools, and today we still have halau that make a pilgrimage here.

"It was not for the faint-hearted to enter into scholarship at this halau. It was expected that you would dedicate your life to learning. And I mean literally dedicate your life, because there were many strict kapu that governed the protocols of being a haumana in the halau. There was a mano—a shark—that lived off the beach, and part of the graduation ceremony was that you had to swim from this point, around the channel and into the beach at Ke’e. And you might have fooled all your students and you might have fooled your kumu, but you couldn’t fool the shark! He was supernatural, and would devour any students who had not followed all the protocols of the halau."



Hawaiian folklorist Henry E. Kekahuna made a map of the heiau/dance-platform complex at Ha‘ena in 1959, and wrote a commentary that is now widely quoted. Here is his description of the activities involving the heiau and the dance platform:

"The ancient, most renowned hula seminary of the island of Kaua‘i, Ka Ulu o Paoa, institution for the growth (ulu) of knowledge of the art of hula dancing, founded by Paoa, nestles at the base of the cliff on the west side of the famed fire-throwing cliff of Makana (Ka Pali O Ahi o Makana). It is adjoined by the northern side of its celebrated heiau of the same name, that slopes downward toward the sea. Thus it is commemorated Pauao, a dearest chiefly friend of chief Lohiau (Lohiau o Ha‘ena), who centuries ago was king of the island of Kaua'i, and who together with Paoa, is associated in relation with the great volcano goddess Madame Pele.

"The noted hula seminary, with its strict tabus imposed during training, was the most famous in all the Hawaiian islands. Many graduates of notable hula seminaries elsewhere came to Ha'ena to seek higher learning through post-graduate courses. Before aspirants were permitted to enter as students, they were selected through severe tests of the heiau division. If these tests were successfully passed, the elect then entered the seminary."



View down the Heiau

Looking down from the top, one sees the many terraces of the heiau descending to the sea, where students had to swim around the point to pass graduation.


"Before graduation, to determine whether any student had broken a severe tabu, tests were made. It is even said that one of the tests was to swim the length of the offshore channel, Kohola, at the middle of the seaward side of which, in the shallowly submerged coral reef (apapa), a ferocious shark lurked in its cavern and would attack any violator of tabu.

"The distinctive color of the institution's hula skirts was yellow. Whenever the student body performed in honor of a certain chief, however, the skirt would be of the special color to represent his family, and genealogical rank. For dances dedicated to Pele, (hula Pele), the skirts would be red in her honor as queen of volcanic fires."



Altar of Laka

It is said that here, at the Altar of Laka, Lohi‘au had a large banquet hall built for a celebratory feast after he had been brought back to life. A separate table, in a separate and sealed room, was laid for the gods.


The tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele is performed today, as a whole or in parts, by many hula halau (dance troupes). One of the foremost keepers of the tradition is the Halau O Kekuhi, from the Big Island of Hawai‘i, under the direction of Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele and Nalani Kanaka‘ole. Pua Kanahele once told Chipper how the traditions associated with the hula are the most powerful link we have today with the Hawaiian traditions of the past:

"In the ancient days, the hula was a very, very sacred dance," Chipper reports. "When you're looking back for the clues of the past, if you look back into the ancient chants, they are the most genuine record because of their sacredness and the importance that they be remembered word for word, of getting things exactly perfect. Story tellers had a little artistic license—they didn't have to repeat the stories word for word.

"But when it came to some of these chants, it was literally word for word, so the importance of dedication and getting things exactly perfect in learning the ancient hula, was all important."



The Hula School represents the most important activity that took place in Ha‘ena during. But another distinct activity took place on Makana.



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