Object: ‘Uli ‘Uli (Gourd Rattle)

E/1944/1/170
Hawaii, United States of America
Materials: Gourd, Feathers, Plant Material

An‘Uli ‘Uli is made from either a hollowed and dried gourd, or from a coconut shell and features colorful feathers on the handle.  Gourd rattles like these are made by people who used them for Hula ceremonies and performances.  The Hula is a highly regarded part of Hawai’ian culture and life; Hula creates continuity for history and tradition.  After American colonization of the Hawai’ian islands, leadership positions began to resemble kings’ courts of Europe, and Hulas were a way to showcase prestige.  Kings and Queens, such as King Kamehameha and Queen Liliuokalani, would hire groups from Halau Hulas, or Hula Schools, from surrounding communities to perform for the courts.

A mele, or chant, is a very important part of the Hula tradition, but an equally significant part is the movements of the body and hand gestures during the song.  Each hand gesture and hip sway contributes meaning to the song and helps in the process of transmitting a story.  Some mele’s are about the reign of kings and queens throughout time, some are about cultural history. Topics include how Hawai’ians came to occupy the islands and gods and goddess, such as Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes.

There are several other implements used to enhance the sound of a mele, including the Ili ‘Ili, the Puili, and the Kala’au. In the past, these implements were all found or made by hand by the person who would be performing with it. Today there is a market for these types of items as souvenirs for tourists, or for amateur and journeyman level performances.

A modern revival of the Hula tradition began in the 1960s.  This renaissance of Hawai’ian culture has helped tourism commerce.  A festival celebrating the Hula tradition called Merrie Monarch Festival is held each year in Hilo, Hawai’i.  The Merrie Monarch Festival was a way to bring Hawai’ians together, and also served as a way to promote tourism.  Today, Halau Hula groups travel from as far as Japan and California to compete and to share.  There have been many successful attempts at creating continuity of the Hawai’ian culture beyond the islands, as we hear in this NPR interview. Here is a link to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Ethnology Database, which is located in Honolulu, HI. It has a broad and expanding collection of all things Hawai’ian and Hula related.Check out this video which exemplifies the use of the ‘uli ‘uli in a ‘Wahine Kahiko’ or Womens’ Traditional Style Hula:

Work Cited

Architect of the Capital.
2014  Explore Capital Hill: Kamehameha i. http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/national-statuary-hall-collection/kamehameha-i

My Hero.
2010  Women Heros: Liliuokalani. http://www.myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=Liliuokalani_dnhs_US_2010

National Public Radio
2003  All Things Considered. http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=1386115&m=1386116

[Emily McKenzi]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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