Mele and education according to Andrew K. Poepoe, 1930.

Modern Teacher Tells How Old Hawaiians Were Taught


(This is the second article by Mr. Poepoe, a Normal school instructor, telling of Hawaiian tone production methods.)

A story obtained from Kona, Hawaii, and recorded by the late Dr. Emerson, mentioning one of the methods used for the training of the chanters conveys to me several fundamental principles vital to vocal art, that aid in verifying the distinct tone focus and timbre in the Hawaiian voice.

“It refers to a little pool of shallow water in the rocks by the sea at Kailua, Hawaii, where the sun was reflected late every afternoon for a considerable interval. This and similar pools were called ‘poho na’u,’ poho, meaning both a depression in the surface and to blow gently. These pools were great swimming centers in olden times.

“When the sun was setting and some part of it had disappeared below the horizon, the children would go to the “poho na’u” and lie down with the breast on the pahoehoe lava, and gaze into the pool facing the sun. In each “poho na’u” only two children could na’u at one time.

“A third, between them, acted as judge, and gave the signal to commence. Inhaling a deep breath, each child whispered to himself slowly, “Na’u-u-u-u-u,” and the one who endured longest was pronounced the winner. When this group had finished, another took its place and so the game continued until it was very dark. Some called “Na’u-u-u-u-u, Na’u-u-u-u-u ke kukuna o ka la,” meaning, “for me-me-me, for me the rays of the sun.”

The prolonging of the letter -u- sound indicates five important principles in the art of singing as follows:

(1) The development of the chest resonating cavities.

(2) The proper method of breathing very low by properly applying the abdominal and diaphramic muscular actions.

(3) The chanter’s breath was controlled by the chest. “The breath control was from the chest and there must be no strain visible.” Kamakau (p60).

(4) The distinct Hawaiian tone column was focused toward the soft palate. The tremolo used in wailing and in the prolong trill in ae-ae, caused by the vibratory movements of the soft palate, indicates that the column of sound was focused there. “The sound issues furfling.” Kamakau (82 Ch. 52).

(5) The -u- sound lowered the larynx (voice box) permitting greater resonant space in the laryngeal pharynx (throat) causing the column of sound to touch more acutely at the soft palate. The position of the larynx (voice box) in sounding -u- was used in the dynamic intoning of thee vowels in kanaenae. “The tone of the voice held very low in the throat.” Kamakau (82 Ch. 52).

(The End)

(Star-Bulletin, 12/13/1930, p. 45)


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Volume XXXVIII, Number 12121, Third Section Page 11. December 13, 1930.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s