‘ohe hano ihu

Also:       ‘ohe kani      ‘ohe      

Title: Hawaiian Chant, Hula and Music; Kaulaheaonamiku Kiona, ‘ohe hano ihu. Label: Folkways Records. Format: LP. Catalogue#: FW 8750. Track: B/7.

Contextual Associations

The 'ohe hano ihu (hereafter ‘ohe) is an end-blown nose flute aerophone of the Hawaiian people. Traditionally it was associated with the instrumental rendering of love poetry, this practice perhaps evolving out of one of the origin myths for this instrument in which a prince, who was taught how to make and play the 'ohe by a god, played it to attract the attention of a princess. This practice died away long ago with the arrival of missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century and the profound changes to traditional Hawaiian lifeways that ensued. The 'ohe was most often played as a solo instrument, the performer supposedly imitating the melodic contour of 2-, 3-, and 4-tone mele ho’oipipo (love chants). However, Tartar (1979: 272) reports that at least in the early 19th century it was used in combination with the pahu drum to accompany hula. Today the 'ohe is still made and easily procurable at hula supply stores, Hawaiian craft fairs, and tourist venues, sold as a symbol of ancient Hawaiian culture or as a novelty. It is occasionally heard on commercial recordings of contemporary Hawaiian popular music.


This 'ohe is a length of bamboo (11.5 in.) with a broad cylindrical bore (1.4 in.), cut in such a manner as to leave one end closed by a natural node, the other open. The blowhole is located on the sidewall near the closed end, and three finger holes are located further down the body of the flute with a gap of 1.2 inches between them.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player presses the closed end of the flute against his/her upper lip so that the blowhole is aligned with their right nostril. The index finger of the left hand presses against the left side of the nose, closing the left nostril and concentrating the airflow through the right. The thumb and other fingers of the left hand hold the instrument while the index, middle, and ring fingers of the right hand are used to cover the fingerholes. There is no standardization in the dimensions (length, bore diameter, fingerhole diameter and spacing) or in the number of fingerholes (many have only two fingerholes) of the 'ohe, therefore the resulting tuning pattern varies from instrument to instrument. This flute’s tuning is approximately A-flat4 - B-flat4 - C5 - D5, beginning with the note produced with all fingerholes covered. Transcriptions of 'ohe playing from the early 20th century found in Roberts and Emerson suggest that overblowing at the octave was part of the playing technique; this is not the case with recent recordings such as the one provided here.


The nose flute is found throughout Polynesia, so it most likely was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands during one of the migrations of southern Polynesians to the archipelago centuries ago. Extant 19th century and early 20th century 'ohe often have two fingerholes, one located very close to the blow hole, the other between the open end and the middle of the tube. The clustering of two or three fingerholes near the middle of the tube, as seen on the instrument pictured here, is more characteristic of recent 'ohe.

Bibliographic Citations

Emerson, Nathaniel B. 1909. Unwritten Literature of Hawaii: The Sacred Songs of the Hula. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Hiroa, Te Rangi (Peter H. Buck). 1964. Arts and Crafts of Hawaii--IX: Musical Instruments. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

McLean, Mervyn. 1999. Weavers of Song: Polynesian Music and Dance. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Roberts, Helen H. 1967. Ancient Hawaiian Music. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Tatar, Elizabeth. 1979. “’Ohe hano ihu,” in Kanahele, George S. Hawaiian Music and Musicians. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, pp. 270-272.


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Polynesia

Nation: U.S.A.--Hawaii

Formation: Hawaiian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.111.12 aerophone--single end-blown flute (a narrow stream of air is directed against an edge to excite a column of air in a tube or a body of air in a cavity); with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through nose into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, directly blown against

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


11.5 in. length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter