Hawaiian Storytime

Hawai‘i Nei (Beloved Hawai‘i)


Ancient Hawaiians had a fully oral culture, passing down stories, songs, and traditions directly from generation to generation, and for a large part, maintain that oral tradition today. One drawback to maintaining a largely oral culture is all that is lost due to the changing of time and the evolution of culture and introduction of new influences. Since the arrival of Captain Cook in the Hawaiian Islands in the 1700s, much has changed. Hawaiians are no longer primarily an oral culture, and much of what was not preserved and documented after 1700 has been lost due to various factors such as the outlawing of religious practices and the practice of speaking English only prior to the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s.

Keeping this in mind, this storytime kit will mix the telling of traditional folk tales with contemporary songs, since many of the songs and chants left from Ancient Hawaiians are not appropriate for children to sing and must be chanted in the correct context. Although these songs are considered contemporary, they often reveal much of Ancient Hawaiian culture values and beliefs, such as the importance of the land and sea and family.

Welcome/Opening Activity:

Use your normal opening song or fingerplay and introduce the theme of the day to the children. Tell them a little about Hawai‘i, explain what an island is, and teach them the world “Aloha”, which means hello and goodbye in Hawaiian.


Title: Pele and the Rivers of Fire
Author/Illustrator: Michael Nordemstrom
Publisher/Date: Bess Press, 2002
Comments: Recommended for grades K-3.  Using paper cuttings as illustrations, Nordemstrom tells the story of how the islands were created through Pele’s volcanic eruptions as she is chased by her sister and follows her brother.

Title: How Maui Slowed the Sun
Author/Illustrator: Suelyn Ching Tune
Publisher/Date: University of Hawaii Press, 1988
Comments:  Recommended for grades K-3.

Title: Punia and the King of Sharks
Author/Illustrator: Lee Wardlaw
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997
Comments: Recommended for grades K-3.

Storytelling/Oral History:

“The Flying Spirits of Ni‘ihau” found in Vivian Thompson’s book, Hawaiian Legends of Tricksters and Riddlers (University of Hawaii Press, 1990), tells the story of how early Hawaiians preserved their fishing grounds by observing strict kapu, and only fishing at specific times of the year.  In this story, some fishermen go out in their canoe to fish and meet the spirits of Ni‘ihau head on.


Most of the songs included in this section are uniquely Hawaiian.  If a more traditional fingerplay or rhyme is desired, it is fairly simple to make your favorite fingerplays and rhymes bilingual by using easy Hawaiian vocabulary in lieu of English (for an example, please see Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes in this section).  Just be careful – some words in Hawaiian are MUCH longer and have many more syllables than their English counterparts so it can become a mouthful at times.

Eia Mākou
Words and music by Kamuela Ka‘ahanui
Eia mākou, nā pua o Hawai’i! / Here we are, the children of Hawai‘i!
Eia mākou, nā keiki ho‘okani! / Here we are, the merry music makers!
Eia mākou, nā alaka‘i nani! / Here we are, the leaders of tomorrow!
‘Oli ē, ‘oli ē, no mākou! / Come along and join in our song!

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes / Po‘o, Po‘ohiwi, Kuli, ame Manamana Wāwae
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes / Po‘o, Po‘ohiwi, Kuli, Manamana Wāwae
Knees and Toes / Kuli, Manamana Wāwae
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes / Po‘o, Po‘ohiwi, Kuli, Manamana Wāwae
Knees and Toes / Kuli, Manamana Wāwae
Eyes and Ears and Mouth and Nose / Maka, Pepeiao, Waha, ame Ihu
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes / Po’o, Po’ohiwi, Kuli, Manamana Wāwae
Knees and Toes / Kuli, Manamana Wāwae

Ke Ao Nani /  The Beautiful World (chant)
I luna lā i luna / Up, up above
Nā manu oka lewa / Birds fly in the sky

I lalo lua i lalo / Down, down
Nā pua o ka honua / Flowers of the earth

I uka lā i uka / Upland, up in the uplands
Nā ulu lā‘au / The grove of trees

I kai lā i kai / In the sea, the sea
Nā i‘a o ka moana / The fishes of the ocean

Ha‘ina mai ka puana / Tell the refrain
A he nani ka ao nei / Of this beautiful world

He inoa no nā kamali‘i. / In honor of the children

Pī‘āpā / Alphabet Song (Chant)
Written by Nona Beamer
This song can be performed as a noho (sitting) hula with hand motions representing each letter’s icon.

Ho‘omākaukau / Get Ready (Storyteller Calls Out to Children)
‘Ae, pī‘āpā / Yes, Alphabet Song (Children Respond)
Pā / Begin (Storyteller Calls Out to Children)

A – alapi‘i – a (ladder)
E – ‘elepani o ke kai – e (elephant of the sea, walrus)
I – ipu hao keleawe – i (iron kettle)
O – ‘ō‘ō mahi‘ai – o (farmer’s digging stick)
U – ‘ūpā makani – u (bellows)

A (recite in speech rhythm – 4 counts per vowel)
H (pronounced heh)
K (prounounced keh)
L (pronounced lah)
M (pronounced moo)
N (pronounced noo)
P (prounounced pi)
W (prounounced vway)
A pau / All done


Kids can make leis using flowers cut out of construction paper with a hole in the middle, 1” straws in between each flower, and a piece of yarn or string strung through the flowers and straws.

Games/Other Activities:

Teaching a hula can be very simple, such as the noho hula, Pī‘āpā, found in the music section.  Some simply hulas to teach are called Hapa-Haole hulas, which are songs popularized in the 1950s that integrate English and Hawaiian words, making it easier for the children to understand.  Often, you can simply make up your own hand motions to match the words, especially for “The Hukilau Song,” written by Jack Owens and popularized by Bing Crosby.

Oh, we’re going to a hukilau
A huki, huki, huki, huki, hukilau
Ev’rybody loves a hukilau
Where the laulau is the kau kau at the big luau

We’ll throw our nets out into the sea And all the ama ama come-a swimming to me
Oh, we’re going to a hukilau
A huki, huki, huki, huki, hukilau
Ev’rybody loves a hukilau
Where the laulau is the kau kau at the hukilau

What a beautiful day for fishing
In the old Hawaiian way
All the hukilau nets are swishing
Down in old Laie Bay
Oh, we’re going to a hukilau
A huki, huki, huki, huki, hukilau
Ev’rybody loves a hukilau
Where the laulau is the kau kau at the big luau

Basic hula steps, such as kaholo, ami, and hela, can also be taught quickly and can be found online by watching video clips.


For a taste of a food not easily found on the mainland but which can be located in some Asian specialty stores, Poi is always a fun experience to watch people eat. Children in Hawaii often eat poi with sugar to ease the bitterness. Poi is a Hawaiian staple and a near sacred food, since it is made from taro or kalo, which was the original ancestor of the Hawaiian people.

A modern day food popularized in Hawaii is Spam Musubi. Spam Musubi is square and made very similarly to sushi, using Rice, Nori, and Spam in the middle. Spam is a very popular food in modern day Hawaii.


Use your usual closing song or fingerplay. Tell them Aloha!

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