“Ke Akua Mana E,” Week 8: Music and Dance in Sufi Tradition

“Ke Akua Mana E” – a hula by Paoa Montgomery


As a Native Hawaiian born and raised on the island of Oahu, I grew up dancing hula (the traditional Hawaiian dance/art form)  since the age of 5. Monarch of Hawaii, King Kalakaua, once said that “hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.” King Kalakaua led a resurgence of hula in the 1870s after hula was banned in 1820 by Christian missionaries who came over to Hawaii and denounced hula as a heathen dance. Hula is now performed as both a perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture and our traditions as well as an appeal to Hawaii’s tourism industry. So in a sense, hula dancing today somehow reflects both traditional adherence and modern adaptations. For the individual dancer, hula is meant to take one into a trance while experiencing and telling the stories of our ancient Hawaiian ancestors, gods, and land through our body and facial expressions.

In this video recording, I aim to make a connection between the purpose of hula and the purpose of Sufi dance. I choreographed a hula dance to the popular worship song, “Ke Akua Mana E”, also known as “How Great Thou Art” (lyrics posted below). When dancing hula to Hawaiian music, the feeling that I have is something indescribable — the combination of this type of music and dance takes me into a trance where I can feel the spirit of my Hawaiian ancestors and the great love they had for our beautiful land and its wonderful creators. So through this mele, or song, I am able to connect with the spirit of a higher power and let that spirit share its message through my motions. This is also the point in Sufi dance rituals, whereby the combination of music and dance offers performers and observers a unique mystical experience that enables all to feel a Divine spirit. Sufi music and dance was also criticized (similarly to hula) for being distracting, intoxicating and erotic. However, the true intention of this artistic expression (once again similarly to hula) was and is to evoke remembrance of one’s true identity and awaken one’s soul through a moving spiritual experience.

E Ke Akua Mana E (How Great Thou Art) – lyrics

E mele au I ka Ho`ola e, He nani no, He nani no; E mele au I ka Ho`ola e, He nani no, He nani no

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art, How great thou art; Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art, How great thou art

Ua ana Oe i ka waonahele, A me na manu o ka lewa pu; Na kahawai, na mauna ki’eki’e, Hoike ana i Kou nani e

When through the woods and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze 



Published in:Uncategorized |on May 6th, 2014 |No Comments »

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