Also:       ka’eke’eke      ‘ohe kā’eke      ‘ohe kā’eke’eke      pahūpahū      

Title: Hawaiian Chant, Hula and Music--Pihanakalani; Kaulaheaonamiku Kiona, voice. Label: Folkways Records. Format: LP. Catalogue#: FW 8750. Track: A/4.

Contextual Associations

The kā’eke’eke is a stamped-tube idiophone used for the accompaniment of Hawaiian hula. Hula kā’eke’eke is a group of traditional chants (mele) meant to be performed with dance (hula) for which the dancers, typically while in a kneeling position, sound paired sets of kā’eke’eke. Hula kā’eke’eke date back to pre-European contact Hawaii are known to have been performed at least into the early 1800s, prior to the arrival of American missionaries and the dramatic changes to Hawaiian lifeways they initiated. Hula kā’eke’eke are today typically performed by hālau hula, traditional dance schools under the guidance of respected carriers of the Hawaiian chant and hula tradition. Such groups perform in competitions and festivals celebrating Hawaiian identity. The instrument has also been used in recent decades in elementary school music programs to accompany arrangements of popular songs.


This set of kā’eke’eke is made from a variety of bamboo (Schizo-stachyum) native to the Hawaiian Islands. It grows straight, has considerable distance between nodes, and has fairly thin walls. The tubes vary in length but are the same in diameter. Each tube is open at one end and closed at the other, a cut being made just below a naturally occurring node. Other than the two cuts that were necessary to set their lengths, no other manipulation of the natural material was needed.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The kneeling kā’eke’eke player holds vertically one tube in each hand with their open ends facing up. The closed bottom ends of the tubes are stamped against a hard surface (the floor or a rock) to produce a resonant, definite-pitched sound. The tubes pictured here produce, approximately, an F4 and A-flat4, although it is difficult to tell if these pitches are fundamentals or first overtones. The straightforward rhythms produced with the kā’eke’eke typically involve the lower pitched tube sounding on the metrically stronger beats with the higher pitched one on subdivisions of that beat. Together they provide a regular temporal framework within which the dancers’ movements and the chanters’ singing are coordinated.


The kā’eke’eke is almost certainly not an Hawaiian invention. Bamboo stamping tubes are found elsewhere in Oceania, and legend has it that the kā’eke’eke (and other musical instruments including the most sacred one, the pahu drum) was introduced to Hawaii from Tahiti by La’a-mai-kahiki between the 14th and 16th centuries.

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.

n.a.. 1984. “Kā’eke’eke.” NGDMI v.2: 343.

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

Tatar, Elizabeth. 1979. “Kā’eke’eke,” in Kanahele, George S. Hawaiian Music and Musicians. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, pp. 195-196.


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Polynesia

Nation: U.S.A.--Hawaii

Formation: Hawaiian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.232 idiophone--set of percussion tubes of different pitch are combined to form a single instrument, struck either with a non-sonorous object (hand, stick, striker) or against a non-sonorous object (human body, the ground)

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: stamping

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: tube - closed at one end

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: stamping/pounding

Sound exciting agent: collision with non-sonorous object

Energy input motion by performer: stamping

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


21.7 in. and 18.8 in. length 2 in. diameter

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter