Connecting to the Past and Present with Oli and Mele


Photo: Vaihiti Eckart

By Vaihiti Eckart, Grade 8 Mālama Honua Public Charter School

When I was in Pūnana Leo preschool, we had to oli into the classroom.

The teacher would say the words, and I would repeat them back until I could oli in by myself. Every day we would oli komo individually. We also would sing mele like Hawai‘i Ponoʻī at the beginning of class. At the time, I didn’t think about how important it was; it was just something I did on a daily basis. I thought that everyone did it. As I grew up I realized it was a privilege to learn oli and mele at such a young age.

I think it’s important because it’s something that is disappearing; I see in my community that the next generation isn’t as interested in continuing to carry that and move forward with it – not only oli and mele, but with other cultural practices too.

When I’m singing mele or reciting oli it always makes me feel refreshed and powerful and calm. I know where I am physically and mentally when I listen or participate in oli and mele. I understand who I am and who I need to be and how it connects to everything around me.

I feel it’s essential to learn more than one oli. In protocol, there are different oli and mele for different occasions. There’s a sequence, a list you have to mentally go through and check off all the boxes to ensure that you make all the necessary connections.

I want to continue to learn because my grandparents’ generation is the one that was not taught to ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi or sing mele, so they are trying to learn now. It’s necessary for me to take the opportunity to learn because if I have that ʻike then it will be easier for everyone that comes after me to learn oli and mele.

My generation can teach it to the next, whereas my family had to enroll me in special schools and classes because they couldn’t teach me themselves. I want to be able to teach my own children and grandchildren through my own knowledge.

If I can continue to educate myself through oli and mele, I can include my community and my generation in that knowledge. Oli and mele are also crucial to my relationship with my kūpuna because that’s the way they intended to connect with me. It’s a way of helping me receive more knowledge and the mana that comes with that knowledge. Even more than to the kūpuna who are still here, I feel that oli and mele connect me to the kūpuna who have passed.

I think that one of my biggest goals for oli and mele and life is to continue to learn and educate myself. Knowledge is vital to making connections, and oli and mele are by far my favorite ways of doing so.