Unwritten Literature of Hawaii
The Sacred Songs of the Hula
by Nathaniel B. Emerson
Emerson's classic study of the Hula is a gold-mine of information for explorers of Hawaiian language, music, dance and culture. He gives the full annotated Hawaiian text of the songs, along with a free English translation.
As in many other traditional cultures, Hawaiian art, dance, music and poetry were highly integrated into every aspect of life, to a degree far beyond that of industrial society. The poetry at the core of the Hula is extremely sophisticated. Typically a Hula song has several dimensions: mythological aspects, cultural implications, an ecological setting, and in many cases, (although Emerson is reluctant to acknowledge this) frank erotic imagery. The extensive footnotes and background information allow us an unprecedented look into these deeper layers. While Emerson's translations are not great poetry, they do serve as a literal English guide to the amazing Hawaiian lyrics.
While Emerson does not describe the Hula dance per se as much as one would like, he does provide very detailed background information on the cultural setting in which the Hula was performed, including ritual procedures of the Hula schools, or halau. One other weak point is that the illustrations are primarily sketches of plants mentioned in the songs, musical instruments and so on; only two of them portray Hula dancers (one of which is fully clothed!). The book notably includes musical transcriptions of a number of songs, including the Hawaiian anthem, Hawai'i Ponoi.
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to acquire a deep understanding of traditional Hawaiian culture.