Na Mea Kanu O Ka Hula
Plants of Hula
The use of plants and flowers in hula is to pay our respects to and honor those particular akua whose kinolau we use to adorn ourselves, or for that particular person or place we dance about. They are also used to invoke the gods to inspire while one dances.

was placed on the kuahu or hula altar. A piece of lama wood wrapped in yellow kapa symbolized Laka, goddess of hula, and enlightenment.
These are the basic plants used on the kuahu for the purpose of invoking the gods to be there with the haumana while training in the hula:

`Ohi`a lehua (Metrosideros marcopus)
The kinolau for Kuka`ohi`alaka. It represents both the male and female elements, the wood being the male element and the flower the female; therefore, a branch of it was placed on the kuahu with a flower on it. Ku was the akua that was the overseer of rituals.       

(Alyxia olivaeformis)

Maile was draped on the kuahu and was kapu to Laka. It represents the four maile sisters who are also closely associated with hula. The wearing of maile gave the `olapa skill and inspiration. Ie`ie (Freycinetia arborea) `Ie`ie is the plant that winds its way up the `ohi`a lehua. Could be a kinolau of Ku as well as Lono, the husband of Laka. It also represents Lauka`ie`ie, a demigoddess, and skill and striving knowledge for the haumana of hula.  Halapepe (Dracaena aurea)
The kinolau of Kapo`ulakina`u said by some to be the first goddess of hula, now most commonly known to be the goddess of sorcery. Halapepe is also a plant that is kapu to Laka. This is another essential plant on the kuahu.
Palapalai (Microlepia setosa)
This fern that is usually a lei haku is the kinolau of Hi`iakaikapolio Pele, who is known as the benefactor of the `olapa. She was the helper and the healer of the Pele clan.

Some other plants important to hula are:


Commonly known as ti-leaves or ki in Hawaiian. Used in the making of lei for backing, as a lei itself, and for pa`u. La`i is a kinolau of Ku, the symbol of protection against evil, and a sacred symbol of the gods in ceremonies and an emblem of their divine power.


`Ilima is known today as the flower of O`ahu. It was one of the few plants Hawaiians cultivated for its flowers for the making of lei `ilima and it was also used in medicine. It is a labor of love to make a lei `ilima, and the recipient is an honored person in the eyes of the maker/giver. It is also the flower kapu to Laka.

These plants and others represent gods, they are symbols of different desired behaviors and/or attitudes, and they are part of our `aina.

Take care of the land and the land will take care of us. It will continue to give us the na mea kanu needed to adorn ourselves when we dance.

by Mililani Allen, with help from many teachers over the years


Photos by Pete Bostwick, David Elliott, Bobby Rawlins & Associates
Keoni Hays, Joe Olivos

Website - Alika Jennings