Creativity Festival

Rocks in Hula and Hawaiian Cowboys – Program Supplement

Mahalo for joining us at the Creativity Festival!
Here are some more facts about Hawai’i’s geology, history, culture, and language. We’ve also included links to interesting videos and websites to help you continue your journey into Hawai’i’s past, present, and future.

Aloha to you! – Kim and David

Hawai’i’s Geology

The Hawaiian Islands were/are formed by the movement of the Pacific plate over a stationary flume in the earth’s mantle, beneath the ocean. Magma (which is called lava, or ‘ā in Hawaiian, when it reaches the surface of the earth) flows out of the flume and becomes hardened as it cools and interacts with water and the atmosphere. Over time, the layers of lava rise above the surface of the ocean, forming an island. New islands are formed as the Pacific plate moves slowly over the flume.

The eight largest islands (which are now the state of Hawai‘i) began to surface about 5 million years ago, starting with Ni‘ihau in the Northwest, followed by Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Lāna‘i, Moloka‘i, Maui, Kaho‘olawe, and Hawai‘i. The youngest (and still growing) island is Hawai‘i Island, also known as “the Big Island”. Hawai’i Island’s two active volcanoes are Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Another active volcano has formed a new seamount called Lō‘ihi, which will eventually rise above the ocean’s surface and become a new island.

More information and online resources about Hawai‘i’s volcanoes (including games and web tours) can be found on Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park’s website:

More information about Lō‘ihi can be found on the Hawai‘i Center for Volcanology website:

The Hawaiian Language

‘Olelo Hawai‘i (the Hawaiian language) is part of a family of Polynesian languages and has many similarities to Tahitian (spoken in Tahiti), Rarotongan (spoken in Rarotonga), Maori (spoken in New Zealand), and Tuamotuan (spoken in the Tuamotu Islands). ‘Olelo Hawai‘i was strictly an oral tradition until the sounds of the language were transcribed into English letters in the 1800s by US missionaries.

The pī‘āpā (Hawaiian alphabet) contains 5 vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and 7 consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W), plus a glottal stop, called an “okina.” The okina acts as its own consonant; its presence or absence can change the meaning of a word. It is represented by a single left quote mark (‘). If a vowel is elongated within a word, it is indicated by a macron (“mekona”) drawn horizontally above that vowel.

Here are some examples of okina and mekona changing the meanings of words:

Hoku = night of the full moon
Hōkū = star

Kou = your
Ko‘u = my

Hawaiian History – People and Music

The Hawaiian Islands are part of Polynesia, which is a group of Islands in the Pacific Ocean. In order to learn more about the origins of Hawai‘i’s first human inhabitants, scientists have been studying cultural artifacts, genealogies, and similarities and differences between the Hawaiian language and other Polynesian languages.

At this time, scientists believe that the first humans to live on the Hawaiian Islands came from the Marquesas Islands between 500 and 750 AD, and another wave of humans from Tahiti arrived between 1000 and 1250 AD.

Traditional Hawaiian Chant and Hula

Hawaiian chanting and singing use the leo (voice). Chants and mele (songs) had many different functions, including:
Making a formal request
Giving an answer
Preserving genealogies
Celebrating or honoring a person, event, or part of the natural world

There are two basic kinds of chants:
1. Oli are chants that are not accompanied by any body movement or instruments.
2. Mele Hula are chants that are accompanied by dance and rhythm implements. There are several types of mele hula and rhythm implements.

In our session, we learned about hula noho (seated hula), and we used ‘ili‘ili (water-washed pebbles), ipu heke (gourd drum), and pū‘ili (split bamboo rattle) implements.

Here are links to videos of Hula ‘ili‘ili:
Hula ‘ili‘ili (noho/seated)
Hula ‘ili‘ili (standing)

Videos of Hulas accompanied by ipu:
Hula Kahiko – Keiki Kane (Boys)
Hula Kahiko – Kaikamahine (Girls)

Other common hula implements:
Pahu (shark skin drum)
‘Ulī‘ulī (gourd rattle)
Pūniu (coconut knee drum)
‘Ūlili (triple gourd rattle)
Kāla‘au (wood sticks)

Creativity at Work: Musical Influences from the Outside World

The first documented visit by people from outside the Pacific Islands was over five hundred years later, when Captain James Cook and his crew arrived from England in 1778. Missionaries from the United States began living in Hawai‘i in 1820, and during the mid-1800s to the mid- 1900s people from parts of Asia, Europe, the western United States and Mexico migrated to Hawai‘i to work in the sugar industry.

Hawaii’s musical landscape was greatly influenced by these new instruments, vocal styles, and languages. The ‘ukulele is one example of an instrument that developed through contact with the outside world. Migrant workers brought instruments and styles that were later customized to fit the design and musical preferences of Hawaii’s residents; the ‘ukulele is based on the Portuguese 4-string braguinha.

Here is a link to a video of “Guava Jam” performed on the ‘ukulele by Aldrine Guerrero (filmed in Koloa town with crowing roosters in the background):

The music of the Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) is another example of the music, language, and instruments of another culture melding with the Hawaiian language. The vaqueros (cowboys from California and Mexico) were hired to teach Hawaiians how to care for horses and cattle, but they also shared the music of their homelands, singing songs in Spanish while playing kīkā (guitar). The Hawaiians began composing songs in vaquero style, and often included Spanish words in their lyrics. Cowboys in Hawai’i came to be called Paniolo. Their music and other elements of their culture are alive and well in Hawai’i today.

Here is a link to a video of “Na Vaqueros,” a Paniolo song performed by Kuana Torres:

The kīkā was used creatively in Hawai‘i; people eventually began playing it on their laps with a steel bar on the strings up on the fretboard. This technique and type of guitar is called kīkā kila (also known as “lap steel” or “steel guitar”) and is now used in many parts of the world.

Here is a link to a video of “Sleepwalk” performed by Bobby Ingano on kīkā kila:

Royal Composers

Several members of the Hawaiian monarchy were poets and composers of music. King Kalākaua returned the hula to its place of importance in Hawaiian culture during his reign (1874-1891) Queen Kapi‘olani (wife of King Kalākaua) wrote poetry and songs about love and nature. Prince Leleiōhoku wrote songs in Paniolo style. Princess Miriam Likelike used her Waikīkī residence for composing songs and for hosting Sunday afternoon music gatherings. Queen Lili‘uokalani was formally trained in music from childhood and wrote over dozens of songs during her lifetime. Her most famous composition, “Aloha ‘Oe” remains famous to this day (it was even featured in the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch)!

Here are links to photos of the royal composers:
King Kalākaua
Queen Kapi‘olani
Prince Leleiōhoku
Princess Miriam Likelike
Queen Lili‘uokalani

Government and Lands

A Brief Timeline of Hawaii’s Government
In ancient Hawai‘i, the islands are governed by chiefs
1810 Hawai‘i becomes a monarchy under King Kamehameha I
1893 Queen Lili‘uokalani surrenders the the Hawaiian Kingdom
1894 Hawaii becomes a republic 1898 Hawai‘i is annexed to the US
1900 Hawai‘i becomes a US territory
1959 Hawai‘i becomes a state

In ancient Hawai‘i, the islands were divided into tracts of land called ahupua‘a that extended from the top of a mountain to the sea and reef. Each ahupua‘a contained varied climates and vegetation, and provided the resources needed for survival: fresh water streams for drinking and irrigation, lowlands for growing food (taro, bananas, yams), ocean access for fishing, medicinal plants, pili grass for making thatched roofs, and forest trees for making canoes.

Every ahupua‘a was assigned a konohiki (chief’s agent) who managed the ahupua‘a’s natural resources. Wai (fresh water) management was a vital part of a konohiki’s job; streams from the mountains needed to be skillfully rerouted to irrigate taro patches and supply the people with water for drinking and cleaning.

Fun fact: The word “waiwai” means “rich”- it is a doubling of the word “wai,” which means “fresh water.”

Videos online about ahupua‘a and wai:


Aloha = hello, goodbye, love
Mahalo = thank you
Maika‘i = good
‘Ae = yes
‘A‘ole = no
Names of the Hawaiian Islands: Ni‘ihau, Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Lāna‘i, Moloka‘i, Maui, Kaho‘olawe, and Hawai‘i
Paniolo = Hawaiian cowboy
‘Ukulele = 4-string instrument
Kīkā = guitar
Kīkā kila = steel guitar
‘Olelo Hawai‘i = Hawaiian language
Pī‘āpā = Hawaiian alphabet
Leo = voice
Mele = song
Hula = dance to accompany mele
Noho = sit, dwell
‘ili‘ili = water washed pebbles used in mele hula
Ipu heke = double gourd drum used in mele hula
Hui = chorus
Ahupua‘a = tract of land running from mountain top to sea
Wai = fresh water
Ua = rain
Kai = sea water
Manu = bird
Pua = flower
Mālama = to care for

Other Resources

Facts about Hawaii and Educational Activities:
Hawaiian-English and English-Hawaiian dictionary online:
Bishop Museum’s online access to cultural collections:

© Kim Sueoka & Lau Hawaiian Collective, 2015