Also:       pu’ili      

Title: Mele Inoa: Authentic Hawaiian Chants--Maluaki’iwai; Kaupena Wong and Pele Pukui. Label: Poki Records. Format: LP. Catalogue#: SP 9003. Track: B/6.

Contextual Associations

The pū’ili is slit-tube rattle idiophone used for the accompaniment of Hawaiian hula. Hula pū’ili is a group of traditional chants (mele) meant to be performed with dance (hula) for which the dancers, who also chant, each sound a single hand-held pū’ili. Hula pū’ili date back to pre-European contact Hawaii and are known to have been particularly popular in the early 1800s, prior to the arrival of American missionaries and the dramatic changes to Hawaiian lifeways they initiated. Today hula pū’ili are 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.


This pair of pū’ili is made from a variety of bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris) native to the Hawaiian Islands. Each tube is open at one end and closed at the other, a cut being made just below a naturally occurring node. Several longitudinal cuts are made from the open-end rim down approximately two-thirds the length of the tube. This articulates on these particular instruments fourteen separate .25-inch wide and 14-inch long strips of the tube’s wall.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

For traditional hula pū’ili two rows of kneeling or seated dancers face one another, each dancer/chanter with a single pū’ili held near its closed end. Each dancer strikes the side or the open end of the rattle against the palm of their other hand, their shoulder, the ground or another dancer’s shoulder or arm to produce a characteristic rustling sound of indefinite pitch. The sound is produced by the numerous strips of bamboo concussing against one another. All the dancers’ strikes are timed so that the sound of the pū’ili provides a regular temporal framework for the performers’ movements and singing. In a modern form of hula pū’ili the dancers stand and hold a pū’ili in each hand. In this style the dancers sometimes strike the two pū’ili together, turning it into a concussion rattle.


Slit-tube rattles are not found elsewhere in Oceania. This would suggest that the pū’ili is of Hawaiian invention rather than being an object or idea brought to Hawaii by ancient Polynesian settlers.

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. “Pū’ili.” NGDMI v.3: 156.

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

Tatar, Elizabeth. 1979. “Pū’ili,” in Kanahele, George S. Hawaiian Music and Musicians. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, pp. 311-312.


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Polynesia

Nation: U.S.A.--Hawaii

Formation: Hawaiian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

112.41 idiophone--slit-tube rattle: the wall of a tube is turned into several long and narrow parallel tongues by longitudinal cuts along much of its length; the end of the tube with the tongues is struck against a non-sonorous object, causing the tongues to randomly strike against one another

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: tongue - idioglot

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded collectively

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: concussing - indirect

Sound exciting agent: colliding sonorous objects

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


20 in. length 1.2 in. diameter

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter