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Impact of Tourism on the Hula

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Tourism
Wordcount: 1645 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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The performances of Hula represent traditions, histories customs of Hawaiian Culture. The nature of tourism industry impacts on the art of Hula as the performance is represented. The representation of Hula is modified and reduced to meet tourists’ expectations.  When most tourists think about Hula, the first impression in their mind is the head moving Hula dancer doll which is placed on the dashboard of American cars. Hula is being performed knowing the knowledge and the interest level of the tourists about the Hawaiian culture. Traditional hula was performed by men and women together, however, now only female dancers perform on stage wearing coconut bras and grass skirts, therefore, the “Tourist Art” is a useful term to describe the representation of Hula at tourist venues in the Asia-Pacific region. (Brush, 2005)

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Hula is ancient Polynesian dance which is performed by chants & bodily gestures. This dance form was developed by Polynesians who settled in the Hawaiian Islands. Hula has become the symbol of Hawaii and the culture of Hawaiian people. The hula is performed by both men and women but as per the claim of Hawaiians, it was only performed by the men. The Hula only represents the dance form of Hawaiians, all other Polynesian cultures have their own dance forms. For example, The Samoans’ dance form is called the sasa or lapalapa, the Maoris’ dance form is called haka, the Tongans’ dance form is called lakalaka and the Tahitians’ dance form is called aparima. There are many types of hula in the Hawaiian culture but two main types hulas “Hula Auana” and “Hula Kahiko” are more famous than the others. Hula Kahiko is an ancient form of hula which was performed by the Hawaiians wearing traditional costumes and signing ancient chants before western came to Hawaii. Hula Auana was developed with the involvement of westerns in 19th & 20th century. This art form was performed with the westerns outfits and musical instruments like guitar and drums. In the 19th century, with the influence of Christianity hula started disappearing and became a forgotten art. The hula was changed and recreated drastically in the beginning of 20th century and became a commodity performed for tourists, such as the Kodak Hula Show. The traditional hula was preserved by only a few practitioners in the community. (Lakainapali, 2004)

The tourism industry developed in the mid of 19th century with the advancement in the aviation industry. And with the same new class of people called “Tourist “was born with the desire to explore the world and different culture. The hula was transformed into “Tourist Art” when it became a paid performance to entertain the tourists. The Royal Hawaiian hotel changed the performance of Hula to increase tourists’ interest into how and who can perform the Hula in front of the tourists. The normal tourist was looking to visit Hawaii in search of “Island Life” and how “Authentic” people live with nature and live their life. The tourists were visiting Hawaii to see the life before modernization. So the performances were recreated in order to increase interest level of the tourists which alienated locals and the local Hawaiian people started thinking that these performances are only designed for the tourists only and it created a negative impression. To the Hawaiian people the image of “hula girl” is demeaning. Tourists believe that the “hula girl” and represented hulas are “Authentic” Hawaiian. However, These performances are nothing but the adopted version of the original hula. Another reason for the hula modification was to manage and complete the hula representation on time and within the tourists’ time schedule. The tourists are visiting Hawaii for the limited period of time where they expect to know about Hawaiian life and culture as much as possible. As their time is divided among different activities they are going to do on the island, they have very limited time for the hula performance. The traditional hula was unnecessarily sexualized and made sensual, the movement of hips and legs in dance steps are seen as sexual by the visitors.

As per the writer Molly Brush, till 1950’s the hula was transformed totally into tourist commodity. In 1920’s the hula was performed in the theaters in solos, this performance was performed by mainly local Hawaiian people in Hawaiian language and dances were allowed to have their original look which made hula “authentic”. However, in 1950’s the hula was shifted to outdoor stage and was performed by a large number of dancers. They also added the Tahitian fire dance into the performance to increase the element of interest and entertainment. The hand movement and gestures were changed and by the time it was no longer preference of individuals, all the dancers had to move hips and hand gestures at the same time. Once the hotel started charging the tourist for the for the hula performance, it became the most profitable tourist attraction. The tourist from 1920’s was not looking for entertainment; they were in search to know the culture. The tourists wanted to see every dance to perform hula as per their own creative ways and ideas.  However, now it was converted to solely entertainment. (Brush, 2005)

On October 12, 1963, the theme park was opened in Oahu Hawaii with name of the Polynesian Cultural Center. The PPC was established by Mormon Church in forty acres of land with theater, gift shops, restaurants and the seven Polynesian villages representing the culture of different Polynesian islands such as Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga and Aotearoa. Each village was build with the different replicas of different islands demonstrating the crafts, daily customs and arts. The PCC claimed itself “living museum” and “preserves and demonstrates and art and culture of Polynesia.” (Purpose And History Of Polynesian Cultural Center) The center started charging tourists forty dollars and promised tourist to show the islands as they hoped the way it would be. However, these activities were performed by the Mormon Church College students who are pretending be real Polynesians and doing traditional activities in authentic native dresses. The PCC was started getting criticism from historians and anthropologists for earning revenue in the name of preserving culture and authenticity.

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As per the writer T. D. Webb, tourist art is the art which is recreated for the tourists and the purpose of this art to provide entertainment, souvenirs, and mementos to the tourists. The intention of producing a Tourist art to gain economic benefits and to increase business based on cultural tourism. The PCC and The Royal Hawaiian Hotel has produced this tourist art to create audiences which are the tourists and to earn revenue out of it. The article of Molly Brush was in brief about how hula was modified from 1920’s to 1950’s and how the changed tourists’ requirements changed the form of hula. The idea and definition given by T.D. Webb seem more comparable to the term “tourist art”.  (Webb, 1994)

The authenticity means which is original, real and genuine. However, everyone has a different argument when it comes to authenticity in the tourism. It is very difficult to create cultural tourism which is suitable to all tourists’ needs. Authenticity is divided between two forms, product, and experience. The authenticity of the product can be easily measured such as crafts, carvings, and paintings which a tourist can buy in a physical form. And the other form of authenticity is experience, which is very crucial, this authenticity can be in form of plays, dances, and culture that tourist can see and feel. In the 19th century, when tourists’ interest increased in Hawaiian culture, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel started performances of hula as a commodity as a staged authenticity. Staged authenticity is when host organization recreates the form of a culture which is representing local culture, values, and lifestyle of the local people. Culture, values and traditions are valuable to local people which are being ignored and beings less important against that tourist wants to see and would like to pay for. (Taylor, 2001)


The commoditization of hula is the result of religious changes, modernizations and colonialism. And the Royal Hawaiian Hotel took the opportunity and changed hula performance into commodity. The most tourists visiting Hawaii are interested in Hawaii Culture and would like to know the authentic culture of Hawaiian people. The regular tourist and Hawaiian people, who are leaving in Hawaii from many years, are disappointed that the hula is being forgotten art and they are unable to see authenticity. Many native Hawaiian believes that its very important for tourists to respect Hawaiian culture and for the same the tourists should experience the real native Hawaiian culture. Tourism plays very important role in recreating the way tourists will know the new culture and different people. It’s a responsibility of people who are involved in tourism business to present correct way of cultural tourism. They might claim that tourism has increased visitors in Hawaii and its beneficial for the economy of Hawaii, however these businesses had only created jobs in Hawaii as Waiters and Maids. The performance of hula can be impressive even without sexualized costumes.


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