Tongan lakalaka is an art form in which poetry, music, movement, scent, and dress coalesce into sociopolitical theatrical events.
Knowledge of Tongan politics, culture, history, and shared values is required for fully understanding lakalaka. This communicative competence makes it possible to decode and make sense of the processes and products of this cultural form, in which human bodies move in time and space according to cultural conventions and aesthetic systems of the Tongan people.
Individuals decode the discourses according to their backgrounds and understandings of particular performances as well as their own mental and emotional states at the time. For a viewer to respond, knowledge of movement conventions and dress is not sufficient; only through communicative competence can dance and dress reveal meaning as a sociopolitical discourse.
This according to “Dance and dress as sociopolitical discourse” by Adrienne L. Kaeppler, an essay included in Proceedings of the 17th symposium of the Study Group on Ethnochoreology (Nafplion: Peloponnīsiakó Laografikó Idryma, 1994 45-52; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1994-2706).
Below, a performance from 2009.
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Hula performers began touring throughout the continental United States and Europe in the late 19th century. These hula circuits introduced hula and Hawaiians to U.S. audiences, establishing an imagined intimacy, a powerful fantasy that enabled Americans to possess their colony physically and symbolically.
At vaudeville theaters, international expositions, commercial nightclubs, and military bases, Hawaiian women acted as ambassadors of aloha, enabling Americans to imagine Hawai’i as feminine and benign, and the relation between colonizer and colonized as mutually desired. Meanwhile, in the early years of American imperialism in the Pacific, touring hula performers incorporated veiled critiques of U.S. expansionism into their productions.
By the 1930s Hawaiian culture, particularly its music and hula, had enormous promotional value. In the 1940s thousands of U.S. soldiers and military personnel in Hawai’i were entertained by hula performances, many of which were filmed by military photographers. Yet Hawaiians also used hula as a means of cultural survival and countercolonial political praxis.
This according to Aloha America: Hula circuits through the U.S. empire by Adria L. Imada (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).
The site is organized around eleven short videos—all under six minutes—that explore topics such as instruments, lyrics, and transmission; links to further information about the specific topics in the videos are provided, and study guides, maps, a hyperlinked index of persons, and other supporting materials are included.
While this resource is clearly intended for use in secondary schools, and is so used throughout Australia, it is available to anyone interested in video interviews, performances, and mp3 audio by traditional, neotraditional, and popular musicians such as Billy Bragg, Värttinä, and Yothu Yindi.
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