Music and rhythm have played central roles within the Native Hawaiian culture. From the beginning, mele or chant, was important for Native Hawaiians as it allowed them to remember myths of gods. Early Hawaiians told their stories through chants in two general categories, mele oli and mele hula. Mele oli is a chant usually performed by one person and generally recounts historical events and tells stories of legends. Mele hula is accompanied by dance movements that help translate ancient legends and stories. Native Hawaiians used different objects for instruments like the ʻuliʻuli (rattle instrument), ipu (gourde rattles), pu’ili (a pair of hollowed bamboo sticks).
In the nineteenth century, Hawaiian music evolved to a more western style as string instruments were introduced and that music is known as himeni (hymns). The ukulele and slack-key guitar were introduced by the Portuguese, modeling their traditional “braguinha.” The music of Hawai‘i is mixed with vibrant rhythms and poetic lyrics that tell stories of the Hawaiian culture and lifestyle. The popularization of Hawaiian music around the world began in the last quarter of the 19th century, mainly through the publishing of many of the songs of Queen Liliʻuokalani in the United States – Aloha ʻOe (Farewell to Thee) was her most famous song. The stories and legends of the Native Hawaiians come to life through the sounds of the islands. Some popular Hawaiian musicians include: Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole (Brother IZ), Kui Lee, Kealiʻi Reichel, Keola Beamer, and Ledward Kaapana. To this day, the Native Hawaiian culture is perpetuated through Hawaiian chants and himeni that embrace the depth and significance of the people of Hawai‘i and their history.