Hula is not all about bobble-heads and swizzle sticks. To Hawaiians, the dances that tell stories with chants have been the way to memorialize and perpetuate a way of life for centuries. Here, at the edge of the Big Island's Halemaumau Crater, a halau (group) led by Kumu (leader) Emery Aceret, pays tribute to the volcano goddess Pele. (This area has since been blow to bits by an eruption, in the middle of Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.) An ancient hula platform near the park's visitors center remains intact and is an excellent spot to see the authentic Hawaiian dance (pictured). So is the Merrie Monarch Festival, held yearly down the volcano in Hilo on the Big Island. (This year's festival just concluded; if you want tickets for next year, get them soon, for real.)
The Merrie Monarch is named for David Kalakaua, Hawaii's last king who did much in the mid-1800s to renew the ancient cultural arts in the Islands, after they had been driven underground for generations during the missionary period. For another not-to-miss chance to see a mesmerizing performance in a stunning natural setting, check out the Queen Emma Polynesian Festival, held on Kauai in October. The event takes place in the meadow at Koke'e State Park, near Waimea Canyon. Many dances and chants tell of historical events, but more are about the Hawaiians' intimate relationship with nature in its myriad forms. Teaching is still done the old way: the keikis (children) learn from older girls, and there is no such thing as a retirement age.