Ka`Imi Na`auao O Hawai`i Nei


Hula Instruments


The term instrument generally refers to sound-producing devices used by a ho`opa`a.  The following are some of the most important:





Tall drums, played by striking the drumhead with one or two hands.

Pahu Hula Drum

Puniu, a Hula instrument



Small drum, sometimes made from the shell of a large coconut. The kilu can either rest on the ground or be tied to the performer's thigh.


Beater, usually manufactured from sennit, banana bark, or ti leaf, and used to strike the head of the KILU.

Ka eke, a hula instrument


Bamboo pipes of varying lengths,
usually with one end open.  The player strikes the closed end on the ground or a mat to produce tones.  Pitch varies with the size of the tube. 


Ipu Heke, Hula instruments


Gourds, hollowed out and used as percussion instruments. Generally the large IPU HEKE are played by ho`opa`a, the smaller IPU by dancers.





Nose flute, a Hawaiian hula instrument


Bamboo flutes played by blowing from the nose.  Hawaiians considered their sound very seductive, so the `ohe hano ihu often figure in love stories.


Shell or other trumpets, usually blown to demand attention.

Whistle, traditionally made from a kamani seed or
coconut shell.  These would have one or more holes cut in them to
produce sound, and be attached to a long cord.  When a performer
twirled the cord, air rushing through the holes would produce sound.

Small gourd whistles, somewhat like ocarinas

Shells of the freshwater snail Nerita granosa used as


Dancers employ implements to create sounds.  Usually they will select implements in some way appropriate to the dance they are performing.  For example, because Pele creates stones, `ili`ili often accompany dances in her honor.  Dances about water may employ ipu, which Hawaiians once used as containers.  Some of the traditional hula implements are:


Gourds filled with small shells, seeds, or pebbles. `Uli`uli have a handle attached to one end, and this handle usually is attached to a counterweight which may be covered with kapa, feathers, or both.  Generally, but not always,  people performing hula in the ancient manner will use a single `uli`uli decorated with natural feathers and tapa, or with an unadorned handle.  Brightly dyed feathers usually cover the heads of `uli`uli used in modern style dances, and dancers will commonly perform with two of these implements.

Uli uli, a Hawaiian Hula Instrument

Pu ili, Hula instruments


Nodes of bamboo split lengthwise into many strips which run most of the node's length.  The dancer holds the uncut portion in one hand, striking it against either the free hand or another pu`ili.  In many, but not all cases, ancient dances use one pu`ili, and modern ones two.

Pebbles.  Dancers will usually hold two of these in each hand and strike them against each other like castanets.

Ili ili, stones used as Hawaiian hula instruments
Kala au, hula instruments

Hardwood sticks of various lengths, struck together to produce sounds.

Treadle; a flat board on which a dancer would place one foot. By moving her/his foot up and down, s/he would create a base beat.  Papa hehi were used to accompany certain hula kala`au.

Papahehi, hula instrument

Ka`Imi and Hula Instruments

An excellent source on how to make your own Hawaiian musical instrument is the book called "HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN HAWAIIAN MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS" by Jerry Hopkins, ISBN: 0-935848-66-5