Hawaiian poetry developed in the nurturing embrace of oral tradition for nearly two thousand years before American missionaries introduced writing in the 1820s. Once literacy was established, Native Hawaiians enthusiastically set out to use the new technology to record their oral traditions in writing. During this period they also experimented with and developed new forms of mele, such as hula ku'i. After the Hawaiian language was banned and the government overthrown in the late nineteenth century, there was a period where Hawaiian poetry was carried forward into the twentieth century by entertainers—singers, dancers, and musicians—who kept the performance aspect of Hawaiian poetry alive. The art of Hawaiian poetry was transformed in the latter half of the twentieth century, when haku mele (poets) began to write primarily in English and Hawai'i Creole English while still maintaining Hawaiian themes and utilizing traditional metaphors. Since then, contemporary Hawaiian poetry in these languages has thrived alongside Hawaiian-language compositions, which are still perpetuated, mostly through the practice of hula. Today, Hawaiian poetry can be best described by using the metaphor of a haku lei, where different strands of language and influence are woven together to create something beautiful and unique, an enduring and perpetual symbol of Hawaiian cultural tradition—a lei ho'oheno no nā kau a kau, a lei to be cherished for all seasons.


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pp. 29-81
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