Types of Mele Used as Oli


Mele Kāhea
A mele kāhea is a particular kind of chant usually associated with hālau hula (hula schools) used by the haumana (student) to ask permission to enter the hālau. However, a mele kāhea could equally be applied to asking permission to enter a person’s home, or to entering a forest, the dwelling of the gods. A mele kāhea might also be used before joining a ceremony, or sometimes just to entice a learned person to share knowledge. Mele kāhea were sometimes chanted by the gods themselves whenever they went in search of higher understanding.

The Right ‘Ano Hawaiians consider respect and humility to be an essential quality in approaching any task. So in addition to knowing the words to a mele kāhea, the chant must be presented with the right ‘ano, the proper spirit and intention. It is possible for one’s request to be denied without the right ‘ano.

A Formal Request for Knowledge and Help To be a recipient of a mele kāhea is a high honor. Therefore it is important for the recipient of the mele kāhea to be mindful of one’s actions, both verbal and nonverbal, when presented with such a request.

One incident is recorded where the wife of a high chief ignored the kāhea (call) of Hi‘iaka, the youngest sister of the fire goddess Pele. In retaliation, Hi‘iaka sought out the high chief and killed him. Upon seeing the spirit of her husband, the woman became overwrought with sorrow and guilt for having been so rude to Hi‘iaka.

Because of stories like this, Hawaiians were always very mindful of their actions whenever presented with an oli. To act in an inappropriate manner would surely anger the gods and perhaps cause ill fortune and unnecessary strife. In Hawaiian thought, the ancestors are watching our every move. In a more modern analogy, it is wise not to "burn any bridges" in case you, yourself, might need help in the future from the person chanting to you.

Mele Aloha
Probably one of the more broader categories of mele and oli, a mele aloha is one that is composed to show an affection and a bond between the composer and the recipient of the mele. There are many different types of mele aloha which cover a range of levels of affection: love for a friend, love for the ‘āina (land), love for a hoa kipa (guest), etc. There are even types of mele aloha that are meant to woo a love interest or to mourn the passing of a loved one.

The various mele taught here at Kamehameha run the full spectrum of this broad category of mele aloha. On each individual page you will find a further explanation into each type of mele, providing a deeper understanding of the intent of the mele.

Mele Kū‘auhau & Mele Ko‘ihonua
Mele kū‘auhau and mele ko‘ihonua are two specific categories of chants that facilitate the telling of a person’s genealogy. These chants were often times the most difficult to perform because it required that each name presented in the chant be uttered clearly and without error. These chants were also sometimes very lengthy and could take hours to perform. As such, a successful chanter of these two types of mele was held in high regard for his or her prowess in the art and was often times a member of the royal court. It was not a task to be taken lightly, for a slight error could cost the chanter his or her life.

These mele are taught to the haumāna of Kamehameha so that they will know the names of their ancestors, allowing the students to know who they are and where they come from.

Mele ‘Āina
Hawaiian society and religion was largely based on an appreciation for the land on which Hawaiians lived. Hawaiians believe that the ‘āina (land) was an ancestor, constantly providing food and shelter resources for a healthy daily life.

Consequently, Hawaiians took the utmost care when tending to the land, ensuring that the ‘āina would be able to provide food and shelter for generations to come. Because of this special relationship, many mele ‘āina or chants dedicated to the land were composed.

These mele often speak of the true beauty of a place, painting an elaborate picture for the listener. Because these mele contained layers and layers of kaona, or hidden meaning, the true beauty of the poetry would continue to unfold itself to those who are closer to that particular ‘āina than it would to the general Hawaiian public. Often times images of people and events will fill the minds of those who are familiar with the area, bringing back fond memories of the place. Today, these mele ‘āina also serve as a teaching tool of sorts by recording the traditional names of places that haven’t been uttered in centuries. They also provide a glimpse into what the ancient landscape must have been like in areas that are now developed into housing areas and commerical properties.

Mele Inoa
Name chants, or mele inoa, were composed for mostly for the chiefly class in ancient Hawai‘i. These chants honor each individual chief or chiefess and their various attributes. Whether about the beauty of the ali‘i or about the great deeds of the ali‘i, the mele inoa is one of the highest forms of honor. By proclaiming the wondrous deeds of an ali‘i also would elevate the status of an ali‘i in the eyes of the public.

With the use of kaona, sometimes the true message of a mele inoa may be hidden from the general public, revealing itself only to the recipient of a mele inoa, thus sealing a bond between the honored individual and the composer.


Jonah La‘akapu Lenchanko
Hawaiian Language
Kamehameha Schools
KS Kapālama