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Ancient Hula Type Name
Click to hear the pronunciation
Hula `Ili`ili (Dance with water-worn pebbles)

Further Detail
Hula `Ili`ili, or dance with water-worn pebbles, can be done sitting or standing. In either case, the dancer holds two pebbles in each hand and clicks them together to make a sound. The dancer gestures with the `ili`ili in time with the words of the chant.

Finding the right `ili`ili for an individual dancer's hands and ears can take some time, as each of our hands are unique in shape and size, just as the `ili`ili are. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick `ili`ili in a natural environment, take your time and find the pair which suits your hands and appeals to your ears. If you must buy them at a store, be sure to try out whatever is available to hear and feel the differences between the pebbles. If you don't have access to Hawai`i's water-worn pebbles, try to find an appropriate substitute. For example, Peter Buck notes that Bishop Museum's Collection contains three sets of `ili`ili made out of hematite and manganese. These were heavier stones and provided a louder sound. His research can be found in "Arts and Crafts of Hawai`i" Volume IX on "Musical Instruments", section "Stone Castanets", published by Bishop Museum Press.

The particular mawaena (interlude) used with the `ili`ili and the specific manner in which the `ili`ili are held may differ from one hula tradition to another. Very young children can use just one `ili`ili in each hand. Dancers should consult their Kumu Hula for guidelines in sizing the `ili`ili in accordance with their hula tradition.

General Body Position: Kü or Noho (Standing or Sitting)
Can be for Game, Pastime, or Sport: No
Implement or Instrument: Yes

Published Research Sources

Hawaiian Dictionary (Puku`i/Elbert)
- Definition of "`ili`ili" reads "pebble, small stone, as used in dances or könane." "Hula `Ili`ili" is described as a "hula in which smooth water-worn stones are used as clappers or castanets; the pebble hula."

Hula: Historical Perspectives (Barrere/Puku`i/Kelly)
- Page 74 lists Hula `Ili`ili as a "sitting hula timed to the clapping of two smooth pebbles held adroitly in each hand." On page 93, Hula `Ili`ili is among those listed as hula from ancient times.

Nä Mele Hula volume 2 (Beamer)
- Page 3 offers Beamer's `ili`ili` ki`ipä (vamp) and explains how `ili`ili were chosen to fit their hands. It contains two Hula `Ili`ili: Pu`u`oni`oni, and `Ike I Ke One Kani A`o Nöhili. Words, translation, and comments are provided with each.

Unwritten Literature of Hawai`i (Emerson)
- Chapter XVI "The Hula Ili-Ili" refers to this type of hula as a "performance of the classical times." He does not specifically mention whether the dancers are sitting or standing, only that the chant style typically used was a quiet natural tone.

Nä Mele Hula volume 1 (Beamer)
- Volume 1 lists two chants as Hula `Ili`ili: Ka Liko Pua Kukui for Moloka`i, and `Auhea `O Kalani for Lunalilo. Ke Ao Nani uses the `ili`ili and four other implements. Words, translation, personal comments, and Beamer's chant melodies are provided.

Additional Notes
In 1997, the Bishop Museum released a CD entitled "Nä Leo Hawai`i Kahiko: The Master Chanters of Hawai`i; Songs of Old Hawai`i." It contains 48 historic recordings of chants. "Mele Inoa no Mrs. Nawahi" is Track 34 and references the `ili`ili in its hula type. The CD is distributed by The Mountain Apple Company, P.O. Box 22373, Honolulu, Hawai`i 96823. 1-(800)-882-7088, (808) 597-1888, or

Please see "Published Sources" section above for greater detail on where to find documented research on this chant.

Another resource is Peter Buck's "Arts and Crafts of Hawai`i" Volume IX on "Musical Instruments." The section "Stone Castanets" discusses the manner in which dancers use `ili`ili and the three sets of stones in Bishop Museum's Collection. This series is published by Bishop Museum Press.

Please also consult the "Kupuna" section at bottom to read and hear what our elders have to share.

Nona Beamer's students doing seated Hula `Ili`ili, 1950's

Related Chants
Ke Ao Nani (The beautiful world)

Related Implements/Instruments
`Ili`ili (Water-worn pebbles)

Related Küpuna
Beamer, Nona Kapuailohiamanonokalani Desha
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