Now, hula changed after Europeans came to Hawaii. Beforehand, it was used not only to praise kings but as a religious observance--and the natives had all sorts of animistic gods to appease. In fact, it's said that hula was invented by the goddess Laka, to please the big Volcano guy Pele. Hawaiians had human sacrifice; at the Mo’okini Heiau on the Big Island, it's said thousands died to placate the god Ku. In some cases, performing a hula for a ruler flawlessly could be a matter of life and death.
For me, an eager tourist embracing all the local color in this vibrantly brilliant place, hula is exercise, it's culture, it's something to study and learn and admire.
The other day, a friend born here on Oahu ("the gathering place") brought together many visiting friends for a lovely picnic. Her 85-year-old mom played the ukulele and regaled us in a rich, melodious voice with traditional hula songs (she'd been a hula star in her younger years). And as she sang, my friend, who had taken hula lessons since her early childhood, told the stories with her hands, singing harmonies, her body undulating rhythmically and effortlessly.
And what is the content of most modern hula songs ("mele")? The inescapable beauty of the environment. Lush forests, several types of rain, each with its own term and motion, stark mountains that jut upward like a dimetrodon dinosaur's spine, waterfalls, sunsets and rainbows.