Take 5: Hawaiian War Chant

Not your grandmaʻs Hawaiian War Chant. Not mine, either. But theyʻre out there.

A search on YouTube on “Hawaiian War Chant” will yield entire playlists of the song in various historical and contemporary performances. The vast majority are mainland-produced recordings and/or performances; in other words, these tracks are full of what other people imagine Hawaiʻi and the “Hawaiian War Chant” to be.

The Stereotypes

Here is Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra. This is the opening production of the 1940 film Ship Ahoy, starring Eleanor Powell. Interestingly she makes her entrance near the end of the.

Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Two takes of the song were released in 1945 and 1946. The entire troupe was the headlining act at the 49th State Fair in 1951 (named such at a time when optimism ran high that Hawaiʻi would be admitted to the United States as the 49th State). appeared aiian War Chant.” Their arrival at the Honolulu Airport was covered by the Honolulu Advertiser in a front-page story on May 2, 1951.  There is no mention of whether “Hawaiian War Chant” was performed to Hawaiʻi audiences.

The Muppets!!

Disneylandʻs Enchanted Tiki Room attraction anchored the parkʻs Adventureland area. Opened in 1963, it was the first attraction to feature the newly developed Audio-Animatronics technology. From Wikipedia:  “The presentation features a “cast” of over 150 talking, singing and dancing birds, flowers, the aforementioned magic fountain, tiki drummers and tiki totem poles that perform the attraction’s signature tunes, “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” by the Sherman Brothers and “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing“. The finale has every Audio-Animatronics figure performing a rousing version of “Hawaiian War Chant“.” The closing of the attraction raised an outcry from fans, and it has since reappeared. This clip is from the 50th anniversary celebration in 2013. 

The Lion King (Walt Disney Productions, 1994). A 16-second clip that uses plot-related lyrics. This clip was posted by YouTube user “Cornbugles,” and is a compilation of the one-verse-and-chorus song in 16 languages:  1) Arabic, 2) Brazilian Portugese, 3) Czech, 4) Danish, 5) Dutch, 6) English, 7) Finnish, 8) French, 9) German, 10) Hebrew, 11) Italian, 12) Mexican Spanish, 13) Norwegian, 14) Polish, 15) Portugese, 16) Swedish.

Talking back to stereotypes

What goes around, comes around: after decades of living down the stereotypes, Hawaiians are confronting them head-on. Here is the San Francisco-based professional hula company, Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, in a rehearsal for their 2013 show.

After poking around YouTube for awhile tracking “Hawaiian War Chant,” and passing dozens of posts of Tommy Dorsey, Spike Jones, the Muppets, Disneylandʻs Enchanted Tiki Room, and the Michigan Marching Band (!), I found this on page 9 of my search results. Somebody finally did something interesting with a recording of the song that is not insensitively “yuk-yuk.” Teresa Bright sings the actual lyrics.

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3 Responses to Take 5: Hawaiian War Chant

  1. Liko Puha says:

    My apologies if you have already covered this. A friend sent me an audio recording of this version titled “Oua Oua.” The title through me off, but after listening intently figured out it was “The Hawaiian War Chant”. The singer sounds like a native speaker and is taking the vowel glides for a roller coaster ride!

    Doing a search on “Oua Oua,” I found a YouTube version attributing it to Lula & Kanui recorded in the 1930s.

    Mahalo for your posts!

  2. drewdsnider says:

    First question: is there a translation of these lyrics? Second, I was reading a while ago that this song was originally written by an Hawai’an prince back in the 19th Century and that it was actually a love song. Do you know anything about that?

    • amykstillman says:

      Hi there! The song known in the present as “Hawaiian War Chant” was composed by Prince William Leleiohoku in the late 1800s as a love song under the title “Kaua i ka Huahuaʻi” — we two in the spray, referring to frolicking in a light rain shower in the uplands forest. You can find the original Hawaiian lyrics and a translation at Huapala Hawaiian Music and Hula Archives

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