William Ellis, A Hura, or Native Dance, performed in presence of the Governor at Kairua, c 1822.
Preparations in Honolulu to welcome the arrival of Liholiho included extended practice for a large hula performance with 270 dancers accompanied by musicians. The missionaries, who had frowned on the dancing from the beginning, were frustrated that students were required to miss school to practice. They also believed that hula included remnants of idol worship. In 1821, Kaumuali‘i agreed to stop hula on the Sabbath, but the conflict concerning hula extended beyond the early years, with the cultural practice continuing while the missionaries protested. At the same time, missionaries recorded their fascination with the coordination of movement and grace of performance.
“A public dance … drew the attention of all, and probably nearly 2000 people were soon collected to witness this childish amusement. … While the eyes and ears of this great multitude were engrossed with idle, time-killing employment we longed to interest their soul; with the news of the great salvation and to lead them from these vanities to the more dignified and delightful worship and service of their unknown Creator and Redeemer.” — Journal of the Sandwich Island Mission, p. 32, dated April 10, 1820 on board the Thaddeus in Kailua-Kona
“Those who danced were arranged in seven long rows, and though the company is large, each individual is perfectly independent of the rest, and where one moves all move in the same way, and though they advance and retreat, turn round, incline to the right or left, and employ great variety of extended motions of the arms, legs or body, there is no interchange of station, nor material change of relative situation among them.” — Journal of the Sandwich Island Mission, p. 96, dated December 20, 1820 in Honolulu
“The girls danced slowly and gracefully and were “free from indelicacy of action.” Keopuolani, however, ordered the performance to close … [for] evening prayer. … Thus the ailing Keopuolani, together with her small daughter, lived in a pattern which cultivated western ways, but did not wholly relinquish Hawaiian traditions.” — Esther T. Mookini, “Keopuolani: Sacred Wife, Queen Mother, 1778-1823,” p. 18, relating a story from the journal of missionary Charles Stewart