The Power of Chant

In a previous post, I said that I was going back to dance hula. Amazingly, I remembered steps from a few of the dances. Dancing again felt like being reborn. I also was invited by one of the teachers to chant with her; this too is part of many dances.

There is something ageless and ancient about chanting, and it gave me the kind of chills you feel when something in your life goes incredibly and beautifully right. I have become very interested in chanting, and looked into its history. I found the following pretty interesting:

“*When there is no written language, imagine selling property, traveling without any form of identification, or proving who your parents are, all without a paper trail. Imagine, as happened to a high chief in Hawaii long, long ago, that you flee from your island, end up in a shipwreck, and drift onto foreign shores: You would be considered an enemy and your death would be certain. Fortunately, this particular chief remembered his genealogy chant, and the islanders recognized the names of his ancestors. His lineage traced all the way back to the gods, and so his life was spared.”

“The ancient Hawaiian people kept no written records. Other than the petroglyphs, they knew no written language. Yet they lived with a sophisticated hierarchical system of land divisions, a complex classification in ranks from commoner to highest chief, and a detailed genealogy. To keep track of this vital knowledge, any transition that might be of importance, either to others or to future generations, had to be memorized and passed on.”

To aid with memorizing, a system of verses emerged which over the years developed into an ingenious art form. The verses were known as the “oli” chants. They recorded the history of the land and the lineage of the aristocracy….The chants were crucial for the continuation of the political, social, economic, and ecological system of the Hawaiian world.”

“After all, one’s position in Hawaii depended on ones rank, and ones rank was determined by blood descent. The genealogy was often the only evidence of ones ancestry. It linked a person to all the ancestors, and through this one could show how much sacredness and royal blood had accumulated.”

“It worked like this: In ancient Hawaii words and names held power. (They still do, but this knowledge is kept very private.) Each name in a genealogy chant carried the mana (power) of the ancestor. All names were linked by birth. The longer this link of names in the chant, the more mana [knowledge]. The accumulation of power, which was sacred, could lift a person to the ranks of the gods among mortals.”

Although I will not be dancing again soon (I recently found out that my knee replacement has degraded and needs to be “revised.” I will be having new surgery this month.), I will be learning chants for many of the dances. Not only does this make me feel connected to hula, but it’s good to learn other aspects of Hawaiian history.

(From “words of Power,”


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