Andrew K. Poepoe on retaining traditional mele styles, 1930.

Hawaiian Singers Urged to Preserve Native Characteristic Song Tones


With the advent of various mechanical music devices in the homes and public places, foreign tone qualities are being heard and are gradually replacing the distinct Hawaiian tones, so noticeable in Hawaiian songs. I feel it my duty to call the attention of the Hawaiian singers and lovers of Hawaiian vocal art to the fact that the peculiar Hawaiian tone quality that made Hawaii famous has a distinct focus in the vocal organs.

I feel that unless we distinguish the placement of our tones with its characteristics, and our phonetic system, in the vocal organs, from those we hear, the future generations will sing Hawaiian compositions, Hawaiian words, Hawaiian interpretation, with a foreign tone quality.

In written music we have artificial means of preserving the music by musical notations, whereas, in vocal singing we have to depend upon sensations felt in the vocal organs.

By carefully observing the sensations of a desired tone and by accustoming one’s hearing to the timbre produced, one is able to distinguish the timbre desired, and notice that greater intensity of the column of sound seem to touch more at a certain oint.

The Meles

The classification of the meles of the past will give you an idea of the different kinds of tone quality used by our forefathers. Assertions made by early Hawaiian historians aids in approving my classification.

Meles were divided into two parts—natural and super-natural.

Natural meles were meles composed for things pertaining to man and natural things.

Super-natural meles were meles composed for the divine beings (gods). To place man on an equal with the divine beings was against their mode of thinking.

Natural—Group 1. the genealogy or complementary (Kepakepa) meles, include Mele Inoa, Mele Lei, Mele Kaua, which are in the conversational or dramatic style. Group 2. topical meles (Olioli, Hoaeae), include Mele Hooipoipo, Mele Mahalo, Mele Hoonaikola, and are sung in the lilt style. Group 3. dirges (Hoouweuwe), consist of Mele Kanikau, Mele Manewanewa, Mele Uhane. Group 4. Mele Hula. Singing and dancing are in the hula—ordinary singing style.

Super-natural meles are religious and include Mele Kanaenae, Mele Aha, Mele Kahoahoa, and have the pleading and dynamic style.

Kepakepa—Conversational style, for genealogy and complimentary chants; dramatic style, for the chanting of the war meles.

Olioli or Lealea—”Songs on joyful subjects comprising a great variety.” Sung as a solo lilt style.

Hoaeae—Lilt style, used in love meles and the ae-ae sound of the voice as it lingers over the vowels prolonged the passage, similar to a trill.

Hoouweuwe—Wailing style, using protracted vowels required heavy tones.

Hula—Rhythmatic style, accompanied or unaccompanied with dynamic, resonating tones set very low in the throat. The Hawaiians believed that by applying dynamic and pleading intonation their requests would be granted more readily. Old men usually intoned the religious chants due to the fully developed chest tones observed among them.

Mele Kanaenae—A prayer asking special favors with sacrificial offerings.

Mele Aha—A very sacred prayer offered by the high  priest (kahuna nui). Any one causing disturbance during the ceremony was put to death.

Mele Kahoahoa—A prayer asking Kane for a little life, greater life and eternal life.

(To Be Continued)

(Star-Bulletin, 12/6/1930, p. 43)


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Volume XXXVIII, Number 12115, Third Section Page 11. December 6, 1930.

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