Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand

Click on the link to the virtual globe. When the glove appears, type “Hawaii” in the “Find a place…” box in the upper right hand corner.  Our first stop Hawaii is the most remote island group on earth. Note its relation to the rest of mainland United States. Then find Australia, our second stop and note its distance from Hawaii (You may have to refresh the site if it does not search right away or type India in the three dimensional map search bar). Lastly find New Zealand, note some of the many islands that encompass Oceania.



A Trip to Hawaii

© Bardocz Peter/


What are your first impressions of the area and the music?


© conejota/


Oceania includes over 10,000 islands and includes Australia, New Zealand, Melanesia (meaning dark islands), Micronesia (small islands) and Polynesia (many islands). We will only be able to visit three parts of Oceania, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. Travelling first to Hawaii, the flight from New York City to Honolulu is a little close to 11 hours and from Los Angeles is under 6 hours.  


As your order your ticket, do you know any fun facts about Hawaii? They are the only state in the United States that grows its own coffee and has tropical rainforests. In the 1960’s, astronauts trained by walking on Mauna Loa’s hardened lava fields because they are similar to the moon’s surface and with continuous volcanic eruptions, Hawaii is the only state in the nation to have an increasing land area and the highest sea cliffs in the world are on Moloka’i. One of the largest volcanic eruptions in Hawaii occurred as recently as 2018 on the Big Island, with enough lava to fill about 100,000 Olympic sized pools. Did you know that the island chain moves three inches west toward Japan each year?


© Alexander Demyanenko/




Background Information



The Hawaiian Islands is an archipelago situated some 2,000 mi. (3,200 km) southwest of the North American mainland. Hawaii is the southernmost state of the United States and the second westernmost state after Alaska. Only Hawaii and Alaska do not share a border with another US state.


Hawaii is not geographically located in North America, is completely surrounded by water, is entirely an archipelago, has royal palaces, and does not have a straight line in its state boundary.


© IndianSummer/

Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, stands at 13,796 ft.(4,205 m). It is taller than Mount Everest if followed to the base of the mountain, which, lying at the floor of the Pacific Ocean, rises about 33,500 ft.(10,200 m).


The eight main islands, Hawai’i, Maui, O’ahu, Kaho’olawe, Lana’i, Moloka’i, Kaua’i, and Ni’ihau are accompanied by many others. Ka’ala is a small island near Ni’ihau that is often overlooked. The Northwest Hawaiian islands are a series of nine small, older masses northwest of Kaua’i that extend from Nihoa to Kure that are remnants of once much larger volcanic mountains. There are also more than a hundred small rocks and islets, such as Molokini, that are either volcanic, marine sedimentary, or erosional in origin, totaling 130 or so across the archipelago.


Before European contact, there was no written language other than pictorial symbols. The vocal sounds used in the Hawaiian language consist of the vowels A, E, I, O, U and the consonants H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. From a singing standpoint, this can be very beautiful. When we sing, the sounds we sustain are vowels. And chorus directors often work with their choirs to avoid the musical harshness of many consonants. In other words, Hawaiian language is a very singer-friendly language!



Western Contact

On his third voyage of exploration, the famous British navigator, Captain James Cook made the first contact of Europeans with the people of Hawaii in 1778. Cook’s ship returned to the island chain in 1779 and, when disagreements and violence erupted, he was taken captive and killed by the Hawaiians.


This contact from the Western world would forever change Hawaii. Within five years, technology (firearms, etc.) gained from Cook’s contact enabled King Kamehameha I to conquer and unite the islands, becoming the first monarch of the archipelago.


© Everett Historical/

About fifty years later, after the death of Kamehameha I, ancient religious traditions began to break down. Protestant missionaries had begun arriving almost immediately after European contact. They were followed by American entrepreneur farmers wishing to establish plantations and grow sugar.


The Hawaiian people quickly adapted to the new Christian hymn-singing style of music. Rather than singing and reciting traditional chants, hymns were sung in the new Hawaiian churches. By the 1820s, hymns had been composed and distributed in Hawaiian language. Dance (hula) was considered, by the missionaries, to be tempting people to licentious behavior and was banned. Traditional culture was being dangerously threatened!  


Kamehameha I statue in front of Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii © Jeff Whyte/


From the time of European contact to 1850, it is estimated that the Hawaiian population had declined by more than 80% due to Western diseases to which the native people had no resistance. By the middle 1800s, King Kamehameha IV was influential in embracing European music and dance, putting on evening chamber music programs. often replacing traditional music and values.


King David Kalakaua, the last monarch of Hawaii, had the imperial Iolani palace constructed in 1874. 


King David Kalakaua © Everett Historical/

Putting this in perspective with US history, this was less than ten years after the US Civil War and the era of United States President Grant. Kalakaua embraced moving Hawaii into the world of the 1880s, but was concerned about the loss of native music and dance. At his coronation, he began a renaissance of Hawaiian traditional culture, language, and hula. It is difficult to kill a culture and this renaissance demonstrates that!


[Before we pack our music folder with information about some of the history and important styles of music, let’s watch a short video made up of short scenes showing Hawaiian culture. These range from authentic traditional to tourism events that focus on keeping the Hula Dance alive.



From this video, why would you like to visit? What musical sounds interested you?



Leaving Baggage Behind

© photoschmidt/


Are there any preconceived notions or stereotypes that you have about Hawaii? Any aspects of Hawaiian culture that you’d like to explore?  Before we board the plane for Hawaii, is there any baggage you might consider leaving behind?


I’ll tell you my own personal experience with ethnocentrism! When I moved from New York City to take a new college teaching position, I didn’t know anyone and someone suggested that I go to meet this well-known ethnomusicologist, Dr. Carolina Robertson. They thought I’d get along with her well because she was also really enthusiastic about world music and had lived all around the world studying music and culture! So, I met with her several times and she became my new hero. I signed up for a course with her as part of a PhD program at the University of Maryland. During about our third class, she was going to lecture on music of Hawaii and I was so excited because I knew this was one of her specialties. She started to sing, and what I heard was the sound of a cute old lady voice with wide vibrato and sliding, and I started thinking “My hero – a musician – can’t sing!” I didn’t want to start giggling, nor show how horrified I was. Sitting in a small room with only 6 other students (which is typical for a graduate level course), I respectfully tried to hide my face behind a book. Then, she taught us part of the chant and had us sing with her and thought, should I imitate the words, or the wobbly vocal sounds? Next, she plays a recording for us and it also has that sound, sometimes called portamento (word in italics). Apparently, the language has very strong sliding and somewhat wavy pronunciation and the wobbly sliding is a stylistic choice for traditional Hawaiian vocal chant! I was being ethnocentric – remember the definition from the second chapter?


Ah but there’s more… When I was in 5th grade, I went to Hawaii with my family and the 3 things that I remember most are swimming for hours in the clearest ocean water, drinking pineapple juice out of the water fountains at the Dole Pineapple factory, and that when I grew up I wanted to be a hula dancer! To my surprise, the hula dancers in the hotels for evening entertainment were usually not authentic. Traditional Hula performances only happen during the day with the whole family – children, parents, aunties and uncles, grandparents – every age participates. True Hawaiian hula would never be done at night (thus, leaving children at home with a sitter) or near a hotel bar because they are important family events. Authentic Hula is always done outside. Probably the most shocking thing that Dr. Robinson taught me was that in those days, the dancers you saw in performances for tourists were often Japanese or Filipino because those establishments often catered to American tourists and military who supposedly liked tiny women who did hula. Hawaiian people are traditionally very tall and large boned – men and women! You’ll see this in several of the videos below along with representation by men and women, young and old performing! Who knew? Only by going to college did I learn that.




“Aloha!” This word, as you will find in many traditional languages, has multiple meanings and is an important aspect of Hawaiian worldview. People use it to say hello and goodbye, but it is also an important concept of love and friendship that is used in many other contexts. Aloha!]1



Where Does the Music Come From?

The “genesis” or point of inspiration for traditional Hawaiian music is the story or words. Cultures with this focus are called logogenic (logos = word). In contrast with our culture, it is not likely in traditional Hawaiian culture to find a strictly instrumental piece of music. Music is secondary to the story being told. And HULA, the famous dance of these Pacific Islanders, is based on words and storytelling.


© Valdecasas/

Next comes a slightly longer talk about hula, music, and the value of the words. Please take notes on this video for future discussion.




Ancient versus Modern

Mele (meh-leh) is the Hawaiian term for music. Mele is also storytelling or poetry. Many stories or poems were given more “power” by adding music. Music can add power to a story in several ways, not the least of which is that music makes information easier to learn and remember.


As noted above, Hawaiian music is logogenic. This means that the inspiration, or genesis, of musical pieces and performance, is the meaning of the words. When a society is non-literate, accurate retention and transmission of the “word” across generations and distances was of extreme importance. Many of the ancient cultures that we are studying relied on oral transmission rather than the written word. Oral transmission is the passing on of cultural knowledge by word of mouth from generation to generation.  We have the luxury of being able to rely on written language, and digital media. They had to depend on their collective memory. And they found music and dance to be great memory aides for social norms like parenting, governance, and values, as well as important historical information.




Wahine (women):



Instruments common in kahiko include:

Ipu (ee’-pooh): single or double gourd

Pahu (pa’-hooh): log drum, single-headed, played by hand (no sticks)


Ipu: a gourd idiophone © BeeRu/

Numerous other idiophones and membranophones were also used. One of the few wind instruments was the ohe hano ihu or nose flute.


Common performance practices include

· Kahea (ka-hey’-ah): The chanted statement of what the hula is about. It translates as “to call out.”

· Ha’ina (ha-ee’-nah): The statement of the end of many hulas is ha’ina ia mai ana ka puana meaning “and so the story is told.”

· i’i (ee-ee): Quivering, shaking voice, meant to communicate sincerity and honor.


Content or subject matter of mele (music) covers many categories. Some are

· Genealogy (ko’ihonua)

· Praise to deity (pule)

· Name chant (inoa) (honoring famous leaders, etc.)

· Love and topical subjects (ho’oipoipo)

· To express aloha (love/friendship), mahalo (gratidude/thanks), to boast, to insult, etc.


One particular type of mele, mele ma’i, seems very odd to our modern US culture. It is the praise of genitals and fertility. This was far from an embarrassing or shameful topic for ali’i, the precontact ruling families of the islands. These chants of fertility were particularly important to the ali’i since it concerned the continuation of their bloodlines and power.


Some mele (songs) have been actively performed in the culture for hundreds of years. Just as some music travels from region to region with changes that reflect the culture, some songs travel from generation to generation in the same area—with changes that reflect the time period.


© Alberto Loyo/

The other type of mele hula is called Auana, meaning “modern style.” Auana shows the effects of blended cultures. Missionaries were among the first western influences on the islands. Characteristics of Christian hymns, like choral singing, western melodies and rhythms, and western instruments, almost immediately showed up in native music.


Here is an auana example performed by keiki (children). Listen for the more western modern sound of vocals and a band that typically includes guitar and/or ukulele and bass guitar. The dancing begins at 0:30.



A couple additional terms:

Ha’ole (how-lee) is the Hawaiian term for foreigners. It is somewhat pejorative, but, more likely, just a word describing someone not from the local culture and land…especially a Caucasian from the US mainland.

Hapa haole describes Hawaiian music that shows a good deal of Western influence (as with much modern Hawaiian music). If the music includes guitars, drums, keyboards, etc., it is hapa haole.


We will listen to several versions of a hula named “Kawika.” Kawika is a name song honoring the last monarch of Hawaii, King David Kalakaua. As mentioned above, missionaries came to Hawaii soon after western contact and their influence was felt in many ways. They carried diseases to which native Hawaiians had no resistance. And they tried to eliminate all traces of native religion and the traditions and practices associated with it. The last Hawaiian monarch, King David Kalakaua, did a great deal to restore the language, music, and hula that had been nearly lost in the previous seventy years.


The recordings are all from recent years, but each represents a different time period. Note the changes from ancient style chant to a modern popular song.


Notice that in this an example of hula kahiko—ancient style. The recording begins with female dancers and the male kumu hula (leader or teacher) calling the kahea (what or who the story is about). Then, as the teacher chants, the dancers call out key words that may describe the dance motions. Also note that there are only two pitches in the chant—slightly higher and lower pitches—and it is accompanied by an ipu.



This video shows the end of the song, with dancers. It ends with the ha’ina.



One of the most famous versions is in auana, modern, style. It has a very long percussion introduction. Guitars begin at: 45 and the singers at 1:07.



Jake Shimabukuru is Hawaii’s most celebrated ukulele player. This version shows that instrumental music is now a part of the Hawaiian music tradition. [At first you hear a strummed groove, and then he goes into a great solo section. What instrument is accompanying the ukulele?]1



Israel Kamakawiwo’ole: “Living in a Sovereign Land” talks about the standing controversy over Hawaiian sovereignty.



Keali’i Reichel, a performer and kumu hula, is another extremely influential performer in Hawaii.



A relative newcomer to the world stage is ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukura. Here is a very famous Youtube video of him playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”



The islands have an annual native music award ceremony, the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. These represent the most successful musicians of the islands.


Hawaiian language version of “Hallelujah,” written by Leonard Cohen and covered in many movies.



© Boykov/


© Eric Broder Van Dyke/


© Kostakes/




What’s on the Menu? 

I suggest that we all attend a Luau – a Hawaiian feast and cultural event filled with great music, storytelling and dance. The word Luau is in reference to taro leaves which are part of many popular dishes. A few of the popular luau dishes that you will have to choose from are Poi (pounded taro plant root that is a starch that is eaten with everything), Kalua Pig (roasted pork prepared in an underground oven), Laulau (meat wrapped in leaves and steamed), and for dessert Haupia (coconut pudding). There will also be all kinds of fish, fruit, and drinks. Aloha!


Dinner Conversation

1. What influence does language have in Hawaiian music?  What influence does language have in music from your culture?

2. What are some of the negative effects that missionaries had on Hawaiian or any Oceanic cultures? How did this effect the music?

3. Do you think cultural traditions can be destroyed? How has this had an effect in Hawaiian culture and your own?

4. Look online for information about the life and career of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (IZ). What do you find interesting? How was his life reflected in his performance, music, videos?

5. What are some of the pros and cons of written language, digital media versus oral transmission as reliable source?




Go Through Customs Before Boarding for Australia


© Maxx-Studio/



[A Trip to Australia

Buying Our Ticket


© conejota/

Australia’s airport in Sydney is one of the longest trips we will take from the United States.  If we fly immediately from Hawaii to Sydney, it would take almost 11 hours, but from New York City it will take over 22 hours with at least one stop and from Los Angeles over 17 hours with at least one stop.  


As your order your ticket, what interesting things have you heard about Australia and its wildlife? You may have learned in your earlier school days about the adorable Koala bear that eats Eucalyptus leaves, or Kangaroos with their baby wallaby in their pouch, but did you know that Australia has over 836 species of spiders? Do you remember learning about the duck-billed platypus – a semiaquatic, egg-laying mammal?  Look it up and check out another unusual animal the emu. Bats called flying foxes have an important ecological role in pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds native to Australia. Some of the best surfing beaches and competitions are in Australia.  The Great Barrier Coral reef is the largest coral eco system in the world, studied and protected by marine biologists all over the world. All of Australia’s coral reefs have been threatened due to climate change which not threatens the worlds ecosystem but also the continent’s economy.  Lastly, there is extreme terrain in Australia, beautiful beaches, lush gardens, mountain ranges, and deserts called the bush. Based on the natural landscape, can you think of some topics that traditional singers might write about in their songs? 


© rickyd/


Before we pack our suitcase, let’s watch a video of Ash Dargan playing the didgeridoo an Indigenous Australian instrument.  In this video, watch how the visuals and words not only give you a feeling for the continent, but also how the sounds contribute to the overall sentiment of Australia’s land.






As you pack your suitcase, listen to this song Hautoa – The Warrior performed by the group Oceania.  


Background Information


The population of Oceania is close to 32 million throughout the entire region, with small amounts of the population in somewhat remote areas keeping their traditions and languages alive. The Indigenous population of 6.5 million, is small for such a vast area, but is slowly growing again. Its original inhabitants include the Indigenous aborigines and the Torres Strait people. The Australian government offered an official apology for the abusive treatment of its Indigenous people, and offered some reparation, but prejudice and inequity still exist. For more about the Indigenous culture specific to Australia in the video below. 


The 2002 feature film “Rabbit Proof Fence” exemplifies the perseverance of young children to find their way back home from the residential school that they were forced to live in 1500 away from their families.   





The Sydney airport is one of the largest and is located on Botany Bay land to the Tharawal and Eora original peoples and their clans.  It was also the site of James Cook’s landing in 1770. He was a navigator, explorer and captain for the British Royal Navy. His landing marked the beginning of Britain’s colonial interest in Australia and neighboring islands.  Australia is a commonwealth, with a constitutional monarchy, governed by federal, state and territory governments, with Queen Elizabeth II of Britain as its head of state.  European influence, particularly through colonization by England and France, as well as missionary effects have changed the customs greatly, but commitment to language restoration and the remoteness of some island groups has allowed traditions to stay alive. Although English and French are the official languages, there are over 5000 languages, many of which are still spoken. Animism (the belief that all living things are animate or filled with spirit), totemism (an individual’s connection to animal and natural spirits, such as wind, mountains) and Christianity are the main religions practiced throughout Australia.  Most of the population lives in urban and suburban areas.



Leaving Baggage Behind 



Thanks to many movies, Australia is often depicted as all outback with uninhabited dusty roads going through deserts, but in fact, Australia thriving multi-cultural metropolitan cities.  Sydney is home to one of the most famous opera houses and is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. Although there are some poisonous creatures in Australia, they pose very little threat and it is said that one is more likely to be killed by falling off a horse than by one of its animals. No one rides kangaroos and actually they are not as cute as some might think as they can be extremely aggressive. Although over 150,000 British convicts were “condemned” to Australia between 1788 and 1868, this does not mean that the Australian population of 24 million are criminals. Seventy-one percent of Australians claim British or Australian heritage, but Australia is a multi-cultural society, home to over 6 million migrants. Due to genocide, there are approximately 30,000 Indigenous aborigines in Australia and the number is growing due to reacculturation. One of the most important things for non-Indigenous people to understand is that aboriginal knowledge is sacred and cannot be used without permission.  Cultural specialists and elders hold this knowledge and many are delighted to share their culture under the proper circumstances.


© Rudy Balasko/




Greetings in Australia are rather informal, a simple Hello, Hi, or Hey, how are you? With women often kissing on the cheek, and men a handshake. It is probably better not to say “G’day mate,” until you have been there awhile and are more familiar with some of the local people.  



The Dreaming

The dreaming consists of an ancient cosmology and worldview that is passed on through oral transmission (word of mouth) from generation to generation, for thousands of years.  Myths, values, history, rituals and customs have kept alive for tens of thousands of years in stories, songs and dances. These are usually connected to nature and the spiritual plane. At the center of all artistic works lies the dreamtime, way back at the beginning of time, when spirits created everything – people, rivers, hills, rocks, plants and animals. These spirit ancestors gave each tribe totems, tools and the dreaming.  Aboriginal or Indigenous art often reflects the spirit world and the dreaming cosmology. Note what may be spirits swirling to create in the dreamtime. These are also referred to by Indigenous scientists as our modern understanding of DNA and molecules at the beginning of creation. People express the dreaming through song, dance and visual art thus renewing the spirit ancestors.  In many Indigenous cultures, everyone is considered “artistic” and are creative in their daily lives.


© irmairma/ 

For more about the dreamtime and aboriginal art, you may read .




Traditionally music was primarily vocal and was a means of transmitting portable knowledge from generation to generation. This was especially important when aborigines were a nomadic culture, moving from place to place to hunt, gather and find water sources.  Songs tell stories related to the dreamtime, historical events, nature, hunting, myths, ancestors, funerals, births and gossip. History songs contain the social and moral codes for aboriginal culture, teaching spiritual beliefs, social relationships, economic subsistence, etc. The expression of the dreamtime through music, song, dance and art is an important way to connect with ancestral spirits. In addition to vocal music, instruments include an aerophone called Didgeridoo by English speaking people, and idiophones that are percussive by striking them – clapsticks and boomerangs.  


© ChameleonsEye/



© Kendall Hunt Publishing Company

DESTINATION 1: Didgeridoo

The traditional didgeridoo has many aboriginal names depending on the tribal group. It is often made out of a eucalyptus tree branch hollowed out by termites or red ants. It can be 3-10 feet long, with a diameter of 1-2 inches where one opening is covered with beeswax to protect the person’s mouth from the ragged edge and to shape the opening for the player. It has many timbres, including that of a foghorn and buzzing sounds.  It produces a fundamental drone, with many overtones in which one may manipulate by humming, vocalizing or even growling, as well as creating rhythmic grooves. Circular breathing is a technique that allows a person to maintain a steady sound without stopping, by storing air in their cheeks.  Jazz musicians in the U.S. were fascinated by the fact that someone playing an aerophone could play for hours without stopping. You can try this out with a straw and a glass of water. The Digeridoo is often accompanied by clapsticks and vocal chant.


Each territory has its own cultural designs painted on their didgeridoo, such as a cross hatching style know in the Northern Territory of Arnhem. 


© Fernan Archilla/


Djalu Gurruwiwi is a Yolngu, Indigenous elder and lawman from the north-east Arnhem Land who is known as the spiritual keeper of the yidaki or mandapul (didgeridoo).  Here is a short documentary about how he shares the instrument and its teachings with the world.  



In 2008, the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd publicly apologized to Australia’s Indigenous peoples for the abuses incurred by government policies, including what is called the Stolen Generations who lives were forcibly changed by removing children from their homes to residential missionary and government schools that enforced assimilation to English education and behavior. Children were no longer permitted to see their families, speak their language, nor practice their culture. Imagine how a young child felt being taken away from everything they knew and put into an entirely new world with different clothes, a language they did not understand, and a world view that made no sense to them.  Imagine how the parents felt not knowing where their children were taken. This strategy of English assimilation and removal broke down tribal societies and cultural practices.  Today the Indigenous people all over Oceania have fought for their rights, created programs to bring back culture and language, and brought back pride in their traditions. A lot of the political activism and renewal is reflected in various contemporary art forms such as this video by the band Yothu Yindi.


The Greatest Haka Performed before Rugby games to intimidate the opposing team. 



DESTINATION 4: Popular Music and Film

Winda Film Festival, Birrarangga Film Festival, Indigenous Film Festival, ImagineNATIVE, Documentary Australia, First Nations Sydney Film Festival, Gimli Film Festival, Indigenous Film Festival Melbourne are just a few of the festivals that celebrate and support Indigenous filmmakers.  New award-winning film artists have created many different genres of films and styles that focus on important contemporary issues for Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand. Referring to their Indigenous worldview by incorporating movement, dance, metaphor, music, landscape or ritual in subtle or not so subtle ways.


Here is an example of a contemporary film that follows an aboriginal man through is community as he grapples with understanding what it means to have ancient traditions in a modern world.  It is filmed in the back streets of Sydney and the outback of Australian desert. The story is told through movement and dance.


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