Traditional Hula and the Pa’u skirt
The pa’u is the skirt worn by hula dancers. Traditions may vary between different Halau (hula schools), but generally, the pa’u is not to be worn for any purpose other than dancing hula. It is considered disrespectful to put the pa’u on feet first, or to fold it, or to lay it on the ground. No one else may ever wear your pa’u; you make your pa’u yourself, you dye it by hand yourself, and only you may wear it.
Traditionally, only dancers who have undergone the 'olapa rites (somewhat comparable to graduating from university) wear a pa’u with a design on it; dancers that have not ascended to the rank of ‘olapa wear an undecorated pa’u.
Historically, the design itself was intricate, and represented the geneology of the kumu hula (put simply, hula teacher). However, as with all cultures, tradition changes with time and circumstance, and not all halau hold fast to these approaches.
The pa’u can be made of a single long length of fabric (approximately five yards) and left open on one side, or it can be cut into several pieces and sewn shut. There are those who believe that to cut the skirt is to cut off ones progress, and prefer to abide by the first-mentioned method of leaving it open. In this case, the entirety of the fabric is used, and it is not hemmed at the bottom (to hem the skirt is to seal off the learning process).
Traditionally, the skirt is dyed using the dried core of the hala fruit, hand-squeezed oil from the kuku’i nut, and burned ash for ink.