Art of the Chanter

Keali`i Reichel brings evening of Hawaiian chants to Molokai.

By Melissa Kelsey

While Hawaiian cultural practices are a part of daily life for many on Molokai, residents got a taste of Hawaii’s best last Thursday. Voices of chanters reverberated throughout the halau at Kulana `Oiwi, carrying the Hawaiian mele of the ancestors, as internationally known kumu hula Keali`i Reichel and his Halau Ke'alaokamaile delivered an educational performance of chants.

“We are the vessels of these mele for our kupuna to communicate to the next generation,” Reichel explained.

The goal of the performance was to bring a taste of Hawaiian chanting styles to the audience.

“If we inspire a few of you to become practitioners through the proper avenue of the halau, our job has been completed,” Reichel said to the audience.

In ancient times the Hawaiians chanted informally on a daily basis, but Reichel’s audience learned that certain forms of chants required specific training. The art of chanting became specialized after the Hawaiian language was banned from everyday use in the nineteenth century.

The most common form of chant is olioli, a verbrato style sometimes used to tell stories. Another chant form, called oli kepa, involves great breath control and garbling the words, as Reichel explained. Oli kepa was used for prayer communicated privately with gods. The words were mumbled to protect the oli from listeners known as “mele stealers” who sometimes took others’ oli and made them their own. This type of chant was learned in ancient times by chanting with a stone on the tongue.

Reichel’s cousin and a member of his halau, Miss Aloha Hula 2009 Cherissa Henoheanapuaikawaokele Kane, performed a lovemaking chant style called ho`aeae, a form done softly for the ears of one’s lover.  

Halau Ke'alaokamaile members performed rarely heard haku kole, which are chants of ridicule that portray how kupuna dealt with irritation. Reichel said haku kole were intended to rip another person to shreds, and were sometimes performed at public events like luau and pa`ina to intensify their psychological effect. Some haku kole were chants of protest, including the protest of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. For the last chant of the night, a chanter performed a haku kole by a young and beautiful woman chiding an older woman for seeing her lover.

The event was sponsored by the Maui Arts and Culture Center.

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