Traditional Hawaiian Dance Clothes for Men

by Judy Greenlees
Samoan dancer wearing a malo on Oahu.

Samoan dancer wearing a malo on Oahu.

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Men's traditional Hawaiian dance clothes are worn to honor the ancient gods of Hawaii. Each item of clothing is an adornment for the dancer, and is chosen to attract attention to the feet, hands, head, arms and legs as the dancer tells a story through movement. The materials and fabrics display unique symbolism identifying the deity praised. Through the wearing of traditional hula clothes, Hawaiian male hula dancers seek to preserve their cultural heritage.

The Malo

Men often wear a loincloth, or malo. Typical adornments include leis for their heads and necks. Wrists and ankles showcase kupe'e. Leis and kupe'e are made of flowers, plants, shells, whale bones and dog's teeth. In addition to their religious symbolism, these items enhance the dances with sounds and fragrance.

The Pa'u

Since ancient times, both men and women have worn hula skirts, called pa'u, made of bark cloth called kapa. The kapa is stamped with intricate painted designs, honoring specific Hawaiian gods. Dancers make hula skirts from kapa cloth, and also use other materials such as ti leaves, lauhala (dried leaves of the hala tree) or ilihau (processed bark of the hibiscus tree). Creating natural costumes is part of the hula ritual.

The Kupe 'e

The kupe 'e are bracelets, anklets and headbands worn by both male and female hula dancers. They are often woven with plants, shells, fibers, feathers or flowers. Their varied fragrances or sounds enhance the sensory experience of those watching the dancing and serve as additional adornments for dancers of either sex.

The Lei

The lei is the garland worn by male or female hula dancers around their heads and necks. Leis may be made of many different kinds of flowers and plants, including ti leaves, kukui nuts, he'e berries, orchids, maile leaves and kukuna-o-ka-la. Lei materials honor ancient Hawaiian deities, and the leis often used as an offering to the gods after the hula is over.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Judy Greenlees has been writing since 2009. Some of her experience includes writing for "The Piano Encyclopedia" and "Artistic Journeys." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from California State University, Fullerton and a Master of Business Administration with distinction from New York Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

  • Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images