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Hula School


Heiau  top

The uppermost platform of Ka Ulu a Paoa heiau. It is said that here, by the Altar of Laka, Lōhi‘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.

On the slope below Makana mountain sits the remains a heiau (Hawaiian temple) and famous hula school of old. 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."

Heiau coastline

The coast below the heiau, 2017.

“It was not for the faint-hearted to enter into scholarship at this hālau,” Chipper adds. “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 hālau. 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 Kē‘ē. 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 hālau.”

Uncle Nathan talks about hula traditions on Kaua‘i.

Hawaiian folklorist Henry E. Kekahuna made a map of the heiau/dance-platform complex at Hā‘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:

Altar of Laka

The Altar of Laka, at the top of the heiau.

“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 Lōhi‘au (Lōhi‘au o Hā‘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.

Heiau map

Henry Kekahuna's map of the heiau complex.

“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 Hā‘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.

“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.”

“When we were young and you know like the old lady Wahinekeoli, she was the last teacher down by the hula ground," Uncle Tom remembers. "That lady we called her grandma. I never did see her walk, she was crawling. And always weaving mats or something or crochet or something. She was the hula teacher. Down here, the heiau. And then I used to hear her sing like, “O Kalena Kai.” Used to hear her sing that song. We used to hang around her while she would weave mats. She used to weave mats in the living room. I think the last teacher was Kila. Kila was the one that went carry on.””

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


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