Hawaiian Mele

Mele are chants, songs, or poems. The term comes from the Hawaiian language. In ancient Hawai’i, mele was the word for poetic language but, in today’s world, it means song. In ancient Hawai’i, there was no melodic singing such as Westerners were accustomed to. Special bards, or haku mele, spent years learning to compose, recite and teach others to perform the ancient chants which were passed down to the children.

Mele Hula is a metered chant. The word can either be a noun (he mele keia), or used as a verb to mean “to chant” or “to sing” (e mele mai…). The 1,255 recordings of Hawaiian chants and songs made by ethnomusicologist Helen Heffron Roberts (1923–1924) are cataloged at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu as individual meles.