ʻUlīʻulī – the gourd rattles of hula


Simple ʻUlīʻulī

Simple ʻulīʻulī
Hand polished and drilled coconut shell with seeds or pebbles inside and a lau hala handle.

This rattle originally was made from ipu (Lagenaria siceraria) or coconut shells (Cocos nucifera). In modern times, la’amia, the Calabash Fruit or Spanish Tree Gourd (Crescentia cujete) is usually the gourd of choice. Three or four holes are made, evenly spaced around the gourd, about a quarter of the way down from the apex. A larger hole in the apex is used to clean out the gourd, and to

Feather and kapa ʻulīʻulī
Niu, kapa, and hulu moa ʻulīʻulī by Leilehua Yuen.

partially fill it with small shells, pebbles, or seeds. Today, the seed of the ali`ipoe (canna lily) is favored.

For ancient style `ulī`ulī, fiber such as lau hala (pandanus leaf) or lā`ī (Cordelyne fructosa) is run through the holes and tied and wrapped in place to form a handle. The “pouf” at the end of the handle is neatly trimmed and either decorated in a variety of ways or simply left alone. Modern style `ulī`ulī usually have a wooden dowel glued into the apex hole and a disc affixed to the end of the dowel which is then decorated with feathers.

Kapa top ʻUlīʻulī
`Ulī`ulī made by Leilehua Yuen and decorated with kapa (bark cloth) which she beat from wauke she grew in the Kona district of Hawai`i Island. It is painted with native dyes and made only of materials and techniques available prior to 1778.

It is rotated rapidly back and forth in the hand, as if the hand is turning a doorknob very quickly, as well as struck against the hand, shoulder, or thigh. The gourd parts are never hit together on each other. In ancient style, only one is used. In modern style hula, people often dance with two.