home news index honorees membership gallery index forum
wedge wedge
2000 Hall of Fame Honorees

The Oldest Cherished Kahuna Nui and Prophets Honored

Hawaiian Prophets And Chanters

Chant was the basic form of musical expression prior to the arrival of Europeans to the Hawaiian Islands. The bards and poets of old Hawai`i, not having a written language, composed mele to be committed to memory, narrating the events and history of their time.

Chants of Prophecy

In the old days in Hawai`i, prophetic utterances (Mele Wanana) and hidden sayings ('Olelo Huna) were relied on and the words of the Kaula fully believed in. These chants of prophecy were declarations of the Kaula (prophet) made beforehand of what is to be, which was known by its fulfillment.

The chants foretold future events, declaring the will of the gods. No chief or ruler of a kingdom would disregard the words of the prophets and those possessed by an `aumakua or by the ancestors. Their direction was always right.

The kapu (sacredness) and mana (power) of the mele lie in the text of the chant: its `olelo (words). The importance of words is expressed the proverb

I ka `olelo no ke ola; I ka `olelo no ka make

(In the Word is Life; in the Word is Death)

Keaulumoku (1716-1784)

Keaulumoku, the first, and perhaps the oldest known chanter to be inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame, was born at Naohaku, Kohala, Hawai`i. From his youth he wandered among the hills and vast, desolate lava fields, communing there with the spirits.

Human society seemed very small to him after daily contemplation of the ocean and mountain majesties and the nightly vision of the stars. As the future opened to him, he was always willing to read it for comfort or warning to his people. He was known on all the Islands and it was safe for him to travel anywhere.

The only physical description of Keaulumoku is the occasion of his last prophecy, when he was the advanced age of 62. His eyes were bright, but his form was bent and his white hair and beard swept his shoulders. He began his chant with tremulous tones, gaining strength as his voice rose like the wind sweeping through the mountain gorges singing the chant of Haui ka Lani. He foretold the union of the islands under Kamehameha, the extinction of the monarchy, the domination of the white race, the destruction of the temples, the probably extinction of the Hawaiian people.

Ka`opulupulu (Circa 1773)

Around 1773, when Kahahana ruled O`ahu, Ka`opulupulu, a kahuna nui (chanter priest) and prophet advised against making a gift of the lands of Kualoa, O`ahu to the ruler's uncle, Kahekili, Chief of Maui. The prophet said "oh Chief, if you give away these things your authority will be lost, and you will cease to be ruler."

Ka`opulupule told the ruler that it would be wrong to cede to another the national emblems of sovereignty and independence. (Had Kahahana obtained the kingdom by conquest, he could do as he liked, but he had been chosen to rule by the O`ahu chiefs.)

The prophet argued "To Kualoa belong the sacred drums of Kapahu`ulu, and the spring of Ka`ahu`ula, the sacred hill of Kauakahi-A-Kaho`owaha. The surrender of the ivory that drifts ashore (Palaoa-pae) would be a disrespect to the gods, relinquishing power to Kahekili.

Kahekili was intent on destroying the prophet's influence, and so declared Ka`opulupulu a traitor. The ruler's argument was that if the prophet was willing to die, the gods would avenge him by bringing death to his murderers, and overthrowing the rule of the chief who had condemned him.

Both Ka`opulupulu and his son agreed to die. The kahuna nui was killed at the edge of the sea at Pu`uloa about 1782, his son at Wai`anae.

It is interesting to note that Ka`opulupulu also prophesied that white men would become rulers, the native population would live landless like fishes of the sea, the line of chiefs would come to an end, and a stubborn generation would succeed them who would cause the native race to dwindle.

History Of Hawaiian Chant

Before 1819, a chanter was a central figure in Hawaiian Society, chosen by birthright and by vocal quality, assessed by an intricate vocabulary of sound patterns unique to Hawaiian chant. Especially significant in pre-contact Hawai`i were chants that recounted the genealogy of an individual, and the Kumulipo, the Creation chant. These chants, passed down and sung from memory, were the only way in which history and mythology could be recorded and taught.

For traditional Hawaiians, chant continues to represent "deep physical and spiritual union in humankind and our relationship to nature." Its sacredness and power lie in the text of the chant, called `olelo.

Today, many chants are more secular in nature; a chanter may be called upon to prepare and sing a mele inoa in praise of an individual bearing a certain name, rather than chanting a genealogy which covers a person's ancestry from the beginning of time. Celebrations of special events and historic meetings are often opened with chanted prayers and greetings.

With the resurgent interest in preserving Hawai`i's culture, the art and skill of Hawaiian chants are once more being learned by Hawaiian schoolchildren; many new mele oli and mele hula are being composed and performed.

Forms of Chant

Chanting was a common form of communication among ka po`e kahiko (the people of old). The chants expressed their thoughts, desires and emotions.

Chant may be performed in one of two different styles: as oli or as hula.

Oli is chant not danced to, with prolonged phrases uttered in a single breath often with a trill (i`i) ending each phrase. Ke oli is the chant and mea oli is the chanter.

O: to call for a thing desired; to answer to a call

LI: spirit; that which is spiritual, pertaining to the spirit; the inherent spirit within the soul.

Mele is poem, chant of any kind, or song.


When Kamehameha the Great could not wrest the rule of the Island of Hawai`i from his cousin, Keoua Ku`ahu`ula, he sent Ha`alo`u, the grandmother of his wife, Ka`ahumanu, to consult Kapoukahi. The priest was living at Kamoku, Waikiki.

Kapoukahi was skilled in reading signs and omens. Ha`alo`u offered the genealogy of her grandmother in exchange for a blessing for Kamehemeha; she asked for the prophet to tell her how Kamehameha could gain rule over all the Islands of Hawai`i.

Kapoukahi told her to have her son-in-law build a great house for his god at Pu`ukohola, and mark out its boundaries. "If he makes this house, he can gain the kingdom without a scratch to his own skin."

The prophecy he is said to have uttered was "war shall cease on Hawai`i when one shall come and shall be laid above on the altar (lele) of Pu`ukohol'a, the House of God." The death of Kamehameha's cousin came in 1791. Keoua Ku`ahu`ula was placed on the altar in the Heiau of Pu`ukohola, and the whole of Hawai`i became Kamehameha's, as predicted by Kapoukahi.


In 1813, shortly after Kamehameha's second son was stillborn, Chief Kaikio`ewa arrived with his prophet, Kapihe (also called Kamaloihi). Kapihe said "the child will not die, he will live."

The baby, Kauikeaouli, was cleaned and laid on a consecrated place. Kapihe took a fan (pe`ahi), fanned the child, prayed and sprinkled Kauikeaouli with water. At the same time, he recited a prayer addressed to Ka`ohohiokala (similar to the Child of God). The baby began to move and make sounds, and soon came to life.

Most interesting of all was Kapihe's prophecy, spoken about three years before Christian missionaries arrived in the Hawaiian Islands with bibles and scriptures:

"The ancient kapu will be overthrown, the heiau and lele altars will be overthrown, and the images will fall down. God will be in the heavens; the Islands will unite, the chiefs will fall, and those of the earth (the lesser people) will rise." Like the prophecy of Ka`opulupulu, it seemed to foretell the coming of foreigners.

Strangest of all was the saying about the downfall of the kapu (taboo), for there was no suggestion of this in earlier Hawaiian history.


The last High Priest under the old religion, Hewahea served as kahuna for both Kamehameha I (The Great), and Liholiho (Kamehameha II). Upon the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, Hewahewa. along with Queen Regent Ka`ahumanu and Keopuolani succeeding in breaking the ancient kapu system.

In 1820, the American missionaries arrived at Kailua (Kona) Hawai`i. Hewahewa expressed "much satisfaction in meeting with a brother priest from America", the Reverend Hiram Bingham. Hewahewa became a devout Christian and composed a prayer which antedated the use of The Lord's Prayer in Hawai`i. In part, it spoke of "Jehovah, a visitor from the skies" thus putting a name to the god whom Kapihe, before him, had predicted as "god will be in the heavens".


Hawaiian Music and Musicians, George S. Kanahele, Editor

An Account of the Polynesian Race, Abraham Fornander

Ruling Chiefs of Hawai`i and Ka Po`e Kahiko, Samuel M. Kamakau

The Echo of our Song, Mary Kawena Pukui & Alfons L. Korn

Kahunas, Master of Black Art, J.S. Emerson (read before the Social Science Ass'n, 1916)

Back To Top
Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame
P.O. Box 4717, Honolulu, HI 96812-4717
Phone: (808) 372-8921
Fax: (808) 596-8680
Email: HMHoF