Hula Kahiko –
the rhythm drum IPU

Rhythm connects us to something bigger. It takes us to another world, beyond the everyday reality. Hawaiian chants connect us to entities, sacred places and the infinite beauty of the Hawaiian islands.

In hula, the rhythmic sounds are played, among other things, on the ipu drum (see picture, the lying gourds). There are two types of sounds that the drum produces, the U and the TeTe. The U, the bass tone is produced by bringing the big body in contact with the ground and the TeTe by hitting the big body with your fingers.

There are two types of ipus, the ipu heke, with head and the ipu heke ‘ole, without head. The Ipu with head is usually played by Kumus or also komitteten pupils and represents the responsibility degree of a person. Thus, those who pass on the dances and know the rhythms to the steps danced play an ipu heke. So the rhythm is the foundation of every danced Hula Kahiko (original dance). In hula auana (modern hula), the ukulele is played as the main instrument.
The Ipu represents our body. The head at the ipu heke symbolizes knowledge.

Ipu heke

Ipu heke ole

“The rhythm carries the message,
the sound and the meaning”

The picture shows the ipu heke. It is composed of two pumpkins. At the junction between the belly and the head you will see a caula. This is wrapped around the drum as well as the wrist. Thus, the Ipu lies firmly and close to the body in the left hand.

My first Kumu Hula was Uncle George Naope (enters the other dimension in 2009). Here you can see how he holds the ipu heke while playing.

In the picture below you can see my teacher, the highly esteemed Kumu Hula Puna Kalama Dawson. More about Puna elsewhere.

If you want to hear the Ipu sound combined with singing, my first choice is “Po`okela Chants”. Feel free to write me how you like it.

There are also dances where the dancer dances with the ipu heke ole in her hand, accompanying herself with song and rhythm.

Hula Ipu heke

Here you see the master instrument maker
Together with him I built my second Ipu Heke.
Uncle Nelson crossed over to the other dimension in 2021….

He was a master in processing pumpkins, coconuts and
feathers and made all the instruments used in hula dance
be used. Are you interested in building,
I recommend this book to you:


I am glad to meet you