Saturday, November 22, 2008


I wasn't sure how this Fun Fact went over with my hula class this week. I talked about the different type of mele (pron. MEH-lay), which means music, song or chant. I think I lingered too long over a particular type of chant known as the mele ma'i, or genital chant.

Back in the old days, before the missionaries introduced that interesting concept of shame, Hawaiians were pretty darn comfortable and friendly with their bodies and, for that matter, with other people's bodies. The birds and the bees were something they told their kids about early on. In fact, the kids' dolls probably had genitals, unlike poor Ken and Barbie. (Aw, Hawaiian dolls have all the fun!)

When a Hawaiian child was born, family members might compose a mele ma'i to celebrate the kid's genitals and to look forward to the day that the celebrated genitals would play their part in furthering the family line.

As I told my class, my grown son and daughter (who are both still single and childless) would swear off children for good if they knew their goofy, Hawaii-obsessed mother was learning about a certain type of ditty customarily composed by a doting grandparent. I think they'd prefer I knit booties instead.

The reason I chose to talk about mele was because our class is learning a hula that accompanies a mele inoa (IN-o-wa), a name chant. It's called Käwika (David) and it was composed to honor the name and achievements of King David Kaläkaua.

There are many different types of mele, which are usually recited in a sing-song voice and accompanied by the beating of a gourd or drum. Those that I mentioned were mele koihonua, geneology chants, by which the Hawaiians learned their history in the era before written language; mele kanikau, chants to grieve someone who has recently died; and mele kähea, chants to request admittance, for example, to a hula class. Oh yeah, and mele ma'i, the genital chant. How could I forget? Guess I was distracted by my bootie knitting.


kab said...

I found a sample of a mele ma'i at, of course,, and also found out that those instruments in the picture are gourd drums called ipu heke. So fun!

Anonymous said...

Learned of the mele ma'i from Keali'i
Reichel's dvd....Lots of good info on Hawaiian tradition.....This dance was comical when performed, but as I understand it, it was written with all seriousness.....The old Hawaiian's so AKAMAI! (wise)