No ka leo oli: modes of delivery in Hawaiian chanting

2017 Merrie Monarch Festival Guide
Place Hilo
Text Ha‘alilio Solomon

For the observant listener, the style in which an oli, or a Hawaiian chant, is delivered can really impact the mana‘o (meaning) of the oli itself. The delivery style can depend on the type of oli it is. For example, here we explored different types of oli and below we explore what styles of delivery may convey the message of the oli most effectively.

An olioli style of delivery employs a pitch and melody that usually repeats throughout the mele. The melodic switch between various tones may be considered decorative, adding to the mele what Amy Stillman calls “sonic interest.” In an olioli style of delivery, listen for ‘i‘i (vibrato), when the chanter’s leo (voice) seems to tremble or trill in certain places. This style may be employed to deliver a mele inoa, or a name chant.

Another style of delivery is kepakepa. Kepakepa style is marked by concise, conversational vocalization of the ‘ōlelo. This style may be identified when the chanter appears to simply be reciting speech. Possibly because of its clarity, this style may be ideal for deliviering mele koihonua, or genealogical chants, in a way that may prioritize the names and other content within the words of the mele.

Ho‘ouēuē (or ho‘ouwēuwē) literally means to wail or to mourn. This style of delivery is probably most easily identified by the intensity of the emotion and grief of the deliverer. This style of chanting may be employed after the death of ali‘i or during funeral processions. This delivery style is appropriate for kanikau, or death chants and dirges, for its powerful and mournful impact.

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