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Ipū heke hula

human history
  • Other Name

    ipu hula (Hawaiian)

    gourd drum

    Hula gourd drum (English)

  • Description

    Ipū heke hula. Gourd percussion instrument. This ipu heke is made from a hollowed gourd. This is one half of a two-part gourd drum; this is the heke or the head part. It is round in shape with a ‘neck‘ that is naturally occurring. This ‘neck‘ feature of the gourd is visible torn rather than cut evenly and is decoratively etched. The ipu heke has a small circular opening cut towards the top area. The ipu is orange-brown in colour and has a matte surface treatment.

    It is light in weight. Etched on the side of the form is the word M A L U A K A, which is etched in capital letters formed out of small dots in a font similar to Times New Roman. The hollowed interior is empty and is of a darkened pitted surface. Visible on the base of the ipu heke is an area where previous pāhonohono (repair work) has been performed to minimise damage from large cracks. These cracks have been ‘sewn‘ together with thread. The base of the ipu heke is a darker colour than the upper area.

  • Place
  • Accession Date
  • Other Id

    11397 (ethnology)

  • Department
bowl, 11397, Photographed by Denise Baynham, digital, 22 Mar… … Read more

Images and documents



  • Credit Line
    Collection of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, 11397
  • Public Access Text

    The Hula ipū heke, is a combination of two gourds. One being the heke (head) and the other on a larger scale called the ki (body). Both the heke and the ki would be lashed internally with ‘aha (coconut sennit) cord and ulu (breadfruit) sap to hold them together. Used like a drum, the kani (sound) produced from rhythmic beating assists in the mele (song) and movement of hula (dance). This particular ipū heke features pāhonohono (repairs) and pāwehe (motifs).

    When the gourd is still green, pāwehe can be applied by cutting away the surface of the skin to create a design. Once the flesh from inside has been removed, dye can be poured into the gourd seeping through the exposed areas creating pāwehe.

    Ipū is a term commonly associated with the gourd. It has been intentionally cultivated and hollowed. Ipū have a hollistic role within Hawaiian history and culture. Physically, the ipū can be used to carry mea’ai (food) and ka wai (water) or to store personal items. They can also be used to produce kani for mele and hula. Spiritually the ipū also have a significant metaphoric presence in procreation stories.

    There are two kinds of ipū: Ipū nui are a large variety of gourd and are associated with carrying food or water in contrast to Ipū awa awa which are the bitter variety of gourd. These are more suitable for holding goods or made for use as instruments in Hula. As one knowledge holder explained, “The Hawaiian people – we had 42 different uses for the ipū” – the most described across Polynesia.

    There are other qualities that extend the physical use of ipū into the realm of the cosmological and the spiritual. The late Indigenous Hawaiian scholar and historian, Samuel Kamakau (1815-1876) portrays the cosmological role ipū played in the creation story through an exert published in ‘Ka Au Okoa’,

    “It was thus that Papa gave birth: she gave birth to a gourd, a calabash with its cover, ‘he ‘umeke a he po‘i; Wākea threw the cover up, and it became the sky; then Wākea threw out the inner core, ‘ka haku oloko’, and it became the sun; as he threw it up, the seeds became stars. Wākea saw the whiteness of the soft core, the ‘pala haku’, of the gourd and threw that up, and it became the moon; the white layer, ‘papa ke‘oke‘o’, of the gourd Wākea scraped and threw up into space and it became clouds; the juice of the gourd he poured into the clouds, and it became rain. The calabash from the seperation of the gourd by Wākea became land and ocean.” (Oct. 14, 21, 1869)

    Papa is the earth mother, and Wākea is the sky father. The story of them birthing a gourd and using its contents to create the heavens and the earth illustrates the abundance that ipū have continued to offer today. Whether this is through domestic use, cultural performance or cosmological stories, the ipū has continued to carry Hawai’i’s rich history and culture.

    We would like to give thanks to the Hawaiian knowledge holders who generously shared their mana`o and sources surrounding the significance of the ipū.


    • M.Beckwith, ‘Hawaiian Mythology’. U H Press. 1970.

    • Jenkins, ‘The Hawaiian Calabash’.Editions limited. 1989.

    • T.R.Hiroa, ‘Arts and Crafts of Hawaii’. Bishop Museum Press. 1957.

    • S.M.Kamakau, ‘Tails and Traditions of the People of Old|Nā Mo‘olelo a ka Po‘e Kahiko’. Bishop Museum Press. 1991.

    • Personal comms. Kumu Auli`i Mitchell. 14.03.2018


    • Hula Ipū heke (Gourd implement)

    • Heke (head)

    • Ki (body)

    • ‘Aha (coconut sennit)

    • Ulu (breadfruit)

    • Kani (sound)

    • Mele (song)

    • Hula (dance)

    • Pāhonohono (repairs)

    • Pāwehe (motifs/designs)

    • Mea‘ai (food)

    • Ka wai (water)

  • Cultural Origin
  • Primary Maker

     Unknown (Maker)

  • Place
  • Date
    Pre 1894
  • Technique
  • Signature/marks

    11397 E HAWAII EX.

    HAWAII Bishop Museum

  • Media
  • Measurement Reading





  • Subject Category
  • Classification
  • Last Update
    30 Jul 2018
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