We’re right in the middle of Merrie Monarch week! The entire festival runs from April 4th to the 10th with craft and culture events all week long culminating in a hula competition that starts today at 6:00 pm HST. You can become a fan on their Facebook page for live updates and photos.

Most of the material out there regarding the festival is on DVD (or VHS depending on how far back you go) and rightfully so. It’s hard to capture the emotion of the performances with just text and still photos, although there are some stunning photo book compilations with images from various festivals throughout the years. In celebration of this internationally renowned event, here’s some quick book recommendations and links to help get you in the mood and enrich your hula viewing experience.

There are a couple of really nice history of hula titles published, mostly by Bishop Museum Press, but for something a little lighter I would check out Hula, Hawaiian Proverbs & Inspirational Quotes Celebrating Hula in Hawaii (Mutual Publishing, 2003). Part of their series of inspirational books, Hula was put together by Mutual’s editors as a collection of quotes, sayings and short anecdotes that everyone can relate to. With vintage photos as a backdrop, the book is an interesting and uplifting read that’s very different from other works of hula literature. The old photos (more than any drawing you see in the history books) really give you a sense of how long hula has been practiced, and how important it was and is to the cultural identity of Hawaiians. Hula is more than just dance, more than just art… it is the physical representation of our stories passed down through generations, a fact that is emphasized in seeing these old photos.

One of the more recent contributions to the literature of hula is Lele Kawa: Fire Rituals of Pele (Kamehameha Publishing*, 2009) by Taupouri Tangaro. Lele Kawa has been nominated for the Hawaii Book Publishers Association’s  Ka Palapala Po’okela Award in several categories and is an extraordinary collection of 40 mele, all of them classic ai’ha’a (hula Pele)  that have survived centuries of oral tradition. Tangaro is a kumu hula and holds a PhD in Hawaiian Studies and Humanities. Speaking from years of study in hula and the literature of Pele, Tangaro lovingly offers original translations and insightful interpretations of each one. You can even hear these chants beautifully performed by the author himself here at this Lele Kawa website. The book is simple and elegant, and an amazing contribution because it’s important to record these things for the future. I loved how he gave details as to why certain words are important to the mele or how various phrases are specific to honoring Pele. There’s no doubt that this book is culturally significant but I wanted a bit more. Pele is such an influential character in the identity of these islands, I wanted to know more about the dances–when were they typically performed, how often, why, who’s known for dancing them, how has hula Pele changed or not changed… I just had so many more questions!

Those that are interested in traditional mele and their translations can also check out Unwritten Literature of Hawaii: The Sacred Songs of Hula recorded by Nathaniel Bright Emerson. It was originally printed in the 1920’s but is now widely accessible digitally or in book stores. You can read it (via Google) here.

Thankfully there’s a lot of material out there for those that love hula, the books above are only a sliver of what is available. Hopefully these ignite in you a hunger for more hula and hula mele. Enjoy the rest of Merrie Monarch week!

* Coincidentally Kamehameha Publishing is the official distributor for the 2010 Merrie Monarch DVD!