Hawaiian Music

Adrienne Lois Kaeppler, an American anthropologist, whose focused areas are about social structure and the arts, categorized Hawaiian music into four groups:
●    traditional music, performed during the pre-European period;
●    evolved traditional music, combining traditional and Western melodic pitches and contour including Western harmony;
●    Hawaiian music, which differs from other world folk music, “often incorporating aspects of Protestant hymns”
●    and lastly, airport and entertainment music geared to tourists.

I am debating whether we need to include the above information. 

Very short clips of these two videos

When classifying ancient Hawaiian music, there are conflicting opinions regarding the categories. Dorothy Kahananui, the late music education faculty member at the University of Hawai`i, was also a choral director. As a Hawaiian music educator, she included Hawaiian music in the public school curriculum. “This is not surprising because informants came from different islands and from different sections of the same island. Besides, they were not all from the same generation. By the time some were interviewed, age had dimmed their memory.”

It is also difficult to define Hawaiian music in western terms. The word mele, for example, is closely related to poetry. Hawaiian poetry is a kind of expression, a story relayed through music, but there is no Hawaiian word for music. Typically, people relate mele to songs, but this is not totally accurate. As a result, language plays an important role in Hawaiian music.


JPEG: https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/news/20160719_pr_100.htm




Mele is divided into mele oli, mele hula, and mele koihonua, which is based on individual genealogy. All these mele emanate from the Hawaiian language. “The kapu (sacredness) and mana (power) of the mele lie in its text; its `olelo.

Hawaiian language contains many hidden meanings, or kaona. The text is rich with layers of symbolic representations and meanings. “The kaona of ‘rain,’ for example, may be readily recognized as a symbol for love or it may be a symbol for something or someone known only to the author of the mele.”.

According to Kahananui, the first Hawaiian female music educator, choral director, composer, at the Music Department of Manoa, she said mele “consists of numerous prayers, every phase of daily living both individual and communal.” The mele can convey songs featuring names, love, war, nature, as well as lullabies. Chants are divided into formal and informal categories. The informal chants are short and geared for entertainment, whereas formal chants tend to be longer and are composed by the chanters as a group.

Themes are based on various subjects. To be a music expert or specialist, or to comprehend the meaning of the chants, we must understand the symbolism and innuendo of the language.

Mele Oli
Mele Oli is defined as “chant that was not danced to”. Oli is chanted or recited, instead of being sung. There are different oli, such as kepakepa, ho`aeae (love poems), koihonua (Hawaiian genealogical poems), ho`ouwē uwē (lamentation), and plain oli. Oli is typically sung in different tone colors and styles, sometimes accompanied by Hawaiian traditional instruments. Small body movements are involved when oli is chanted.

The melodies of oli surround the tonal center of the piece, and consist of two or three notes. The common intervals that can be found are the major or minor 2nd, minor 3rd, and perfect 4th. The perfect 4th and minor 3rd are more often found at the beginning and the end of the chants. There are many variations when chanting oli.

The oli is more dependent on the rhythm of the chants than the melodic contour. Chanting with correct accents, clear enunciation, and correct rhythmic patterns is critically important when performing oli. The performer takes a breath only at the end of the phrases, thus, each phrase is like a sentence. Oli length depends upon the text, resulting in an irregular form.

For Lehua flower, you can find nice ones from google.

0'00': Fragrant with pandanus and lehua
0'11": A lehua dweilling surrounded by mist
0'15": My fond memories are these
0'22": And my hope is to see you again
0'25": And then you appear
0'28': Arriving together with love
0'30": Greetings, welcome, love


Mele Hula
Mele hula was not created for entertainment in ancient Hawaiian culture, and “the hula was a matter to be guarded against profanation.” The hula teacher (kumu), usually a priest, and enjoyed high social status. Hula dancers were part of the royal household, and the hula kumu interacted with the chiefs. Everyone—from young children to the elderly, chiefs and commoners alike—practiced hula.

Dancers learned and trained at the halau, a term still used to refer to hula schools. In ancient times, hula dancers followed strict registration and kapu at the halau. Halau was also the temple where the god and goddess of hula (Laka) were worshipped. The kumu not only taught the dancers, but also composed the mele or chant.


  • Kawika
  • E Liliu`e
  • E Pele Pele

Hula is performed either moving or sitting (hula noho), usually accompanied with body movement, and can be performed with or without singing. According to Mary Kawena Puku`i who published Hawaiian-English Dictionary and was named as the "Living Treasure of Hawai'i," said that there 36 different kinds of hula can be found on different parts of the islands in the state of Hawai`i. “Though a great many types of mele performed 200, 100, or even 50 years ago are no longer performed today .

Insert Behold - hula noho

Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds

Hula was originally performed by men. It was not until it was associated with Pele, the goddess of the volcano, and men were occupied in war, that women started to perform the dance. Hula performances were “to honor the gods; to remind Hawaiians of the greatness of their nobility (ali`i), their race, and their epics; and to enforce perfectionism in the art of the dance”.



Hula chants are more melodic than oli chants. The notes commonly heard are mi-so-la, and so,-do-re-do. The common intervals are minor 3rd and perfect 4th, with the range being no more than a minor 7th. The range of hula composed during the post-European period is wider due to the influence of himeni (church hymns).

Hula performers swing and dance evident beats and rhythms. Duple meter is commonly used, although sometimes a triple bar is inserted into a piece to accommodate the dancers’ steps. The phrases are regular and, for western-influenced hula, kaholo, an introduction that consists of a V/V – V – I – V pattern, is always included at the beginning.

After the missionaries came to the state of Hawai`i, hula began to disappear from mainstream society. It was Hawaiians living in the remote areas that preserved the hula and mele. According to Puku`i , it was mainly the women who learned the hula and passed it down from one generation to another.


Hawaiian traditional music is generally accompanied by instruments created from natural materials such as pahu (membrane), pu`ili (bamboo), ipu (gourd), `ili`ili (stones), and `uli `uli (gourds that are filled with shells and seeds, and decorated with feathers).

Traditional or ancient sacred music (kahiko) existed before Europeans came to Hawai`i, and contemporary Western-influenced music (`auana) began during the post-European period.