Hula, Rites of Prayer, and Holy Mass

No, I do not dance actual hula at Mass.

Nonetheless, starting in my childhood in Hawai’i and on into my earliest adulthood in California, the hula, specifically its ancient version danced by men and women to percussion and chanted poetry, gave me the lesson and the experience that the body, and not only the soul, is able to pray, express prayer, and feel prayer. This began to affect and still affects how I attend, experience, participate in, and preside at the Catholic Mass and other ceremonies of prayer and worship in church and my life in the monastery.

In ancient Hawai’i, the teaching, learning, and performing of chant and hula were sacred disciplines consecrated to the goddess Laka. Today, about two-thirds of Hawaiians are Christian. Chanted prayer formulas or spontaneous prayers still take place before and after hula lessons, when beginning to make hula costumes and put them on, when going to gather leaves and flowers to make garlands and crowns for the dancers, and just before the chanters and dancers are about to step out before an audience.

During the actual chant and hula, there are always specific moments for offering explicit homage to revered historical personages or to divinity.

Once a dancer has absorbed the meaning of a particular hula chant, and has mastered the bodily gestures, postures, movements, and rhythms to fulfill during that chant, the dancer can at times experience during the ancient hula a sense of entering somewhat effortlessly into a focused, prayerful, mental, emotional, and physical absorption with the meaning of the chant and the hula.

A Hawaiian, Christian chant and hula.

Yesterday was the Memorial of St. Damien of Molokai, a Catholic priest who volunteered to live with and serve the victims of disfiguring, deadly Hansen’s disease, that is, leprosy, in exile on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokai in the Kingdom of Hawai’i.

Here is a video of a Hawaiian chant and hula in the ancient style, honoring St. Damien and thanking God for him. The chant represents the prayer of a leper, while the gestures and movements of the dancers echo the words. The video, filmed on a Molokai beach, has a voice-over translating the Hawaiian into English. At the end, the dancers turn to gaze down the coast toward Kalaupapa itself.

HE KANE MAIKA’I NO KE AKUA
“A Good Man of God”

English translation of the chant.

Kalaupapa
A place of sadness, hopelessness and death.
God brought hope to this place in the form of a man.
Thank God for this man who sacrificed his life for me.
Thank God for this man who sacrificed his life for me.
Abandoned on this barren land of great Molokai,
disease and hopelessness filled my body and soul.
No water, no home, no life, no love.
I was left here to die.
I was left here to die.
I was left here to die.
A miracle from God arrived.
No longer would I live ashamed and worthless.
He loved me, held me, showed compassion to me, with the heart of Jesus.
Blessed be this man sent by God.
A miracle from God arrived.
No longer would I live ashamed and worthless.
He loved me, held me, showed compassion to me, with the heart of Jesus.
Blessed be this man sent by God.
Kalaupapa
A place of sadness, hopelessness and death.
God brought hope to this place, in the form of a man.
Thank God for this man who sacrificed his life for me.
Thank God for this man who sacrificed his life for me.
Long live the story of Kalaupapa.

Ongoing Conversion
Ongoing Conversion

Published by Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, O.S.B.

Benedictine Monk and Priest of Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, California, in the Order of Saint Benedict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: