15+ Traditional Poems for a Hawaiian Funeral Ceremony

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Planning a memorial service, including mapping out the details, may have you feeling overwhelmed. Even so, planning a ceremony that’s special and culturally significant to your late loved one can be easily achieved with readings and music. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

If your loved one was of Hawaiian heritage, there are some unique considerations to make it a Hawaiian funeral. On the other hand, sharing Hawaiian funeral poems or ones related to Hawaii can be a nice addition to any ceremony.

COVID-19 tip: If you're planning a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still share your poems with your online guests. Coordinate with your planning team, make sure you have the right mics and speakers, and send online guests digital funeral programs with the full poems.

Some Background About Hawaiian Culture

As you may know, Hawaiians are a spiritual group and many subscribe to Christianity. However, other Hawaiian customs throughout history incorporated deep beliefs in many gods, even household gods. Many Hawaiians believe in the interconnectivity between the earth, the ocean, the sun, and the moon.

Native Hawaiians are descendants of people from nearby Asian and Pacific islands, referred to as Polynesians. They are also known as powerful orators and chanters. This aspect of their heritage still exists today. With some determination and further research, you can even read many of the following poems in Hawaiian. You or a loved one may already speak the language already.  

Poems are a fitting way to express grief and begin the healing process at any funeral, especially Hawaiian funerals. However, Hawaiians traditionally do so through song and dance, particularly the hula. 

The hula can be performed anywhere the service is held, such as at a church, the beach, or a private family home. You may consider organizing a hula to be performed during or after your poetry reading.

So where did the hula come from? Hula was an ancient way that Hawaiians worshipped their gods, typically in a temple. The different movements in hula represent a special story of war, friendship, or grief, among others.

It used to be the custom that kahunas, or priests, danced the hula, and it was only reserved for special rituals in front of kings. Now, of course, the hula is performed by family and friends during funerals. It’s also possible to experience variations of the hula in more casual, celebratory settings. 

Since many Hawaiians also have Christian, even Catholic beliefs, however, the hula is no longer limited to just native Hawaiians. You may see close family dance as a sign of respect at Catholic funerals as well. In fact, the Vatican (headquarters of the Catholic Church) legalized hula and other art expressions for Mass. 

» MORE: We're so sorry for your loss. This checklist is here to help you through your next steps.

 

Uplifting Poems for a Hawaiian Funeral

Funeral poems are a meaningful way to connect the past and present customs of any group and feel more unified with your guests and loved ones. You’re all there to not only pay respects and honor someone who has passed but also begin the healing journey together. 

The right words may be difficult to find during this time. Here are some uplifting poems for a Hawaiian funeral. You can also use these poems to fuel inspiration for other writings, such as commemorative speeches or eulogies

1. "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou

Even in the darkest times of one’s life, the ability to rise against adversity is even more powerful and transformative. This is a classic uplifting poem that should resonate with all ages. 

2. "For Keeps" by Joy Harjo

This poem incorporates elements of nature as well as romantic undertones. It would be appropriate for a wife or husband to share about their late spouse. 

3. "Aloha" by Char Kia‘i Mansfield

This poem explores the Hawaiian word and concept of “aloha” which has endless meanings, according to the author.

4. "Do Not Stand By My Grave and Weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Though this poem is incredibly emotional, it asserts that a deceased loved one is everywhere — in the wind and in the stars. Hawaii is known for having a stunning natural landscape, so you can experience a loved one’s presence in this way. 

5. "Prayer for Serenity" by Reinhold Niebuhr

This poem-like prayer highlights the power of accepting hard truths and trusting God.

6. "Aloha Oe" by Don Blanding

“Aloha Oe” also explores the different meanings of “aloha” and how polarizing they can be. It can be interpreted as uplifting or more somber.

7. "Hawaiian Love Song" by Kleber Wing

This is an uplifting poem that celebrates Hawaii as well as the love you may feel for another person.

8. "There Is Nothing Purer Than That" by Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur describes the power of taking all the pain the world inflicts upon us and turning it into gold. 

9. "Have You Earned Your Tomorrow" by Edgar Guest

It’s common and expected to examine your own life and choices after experiencing loss. This poem causes readers to do exactly this.  

10. "A Hui Hou Kākou (Until We Meet Again)" by J. Lohr

The author of this poem is writing this to the islands of Hawaii. However, the message of “until we meet again” can also apply to the passing of loved ones.

11. "Holding" by Washington Gladden

The author describes holding onto things that “cannot fail,” despite being beaten around by waves and emotions. This is a beautiful poem to share if the setting of your service takes place overlooking the ocean. 

12. "My Journey’s Just Begun" by Ellen Brenneman

Depending on your beliefs, it may seem difficult to not see death as the end. However, the author views it as though the earth is just part one.

Sad Poems for a Hawaiian Funeral

Would you like to incorporate a mix of uplifting and sad poems? These poems may also be appropriate to read at another Hawaiian funeral event, such as a traditional paddle out ceremony

You may also be interested in researching traditional Hawaiian chants, often delivered at paddle out ceremonies and other significant events. These chants are called olis (orations) or meles (songs). In fact, a particular one, called mele oli, is performed at both funerals and at birth as it can take on many meanings. 

The intent of these chants also comes down to their tone and delivery. This is much like a poetry reading. Many of the poem examples we’ve provided may elicit opposite emotions — for example, they make you feel grateful, even if the subject revolves around loss. 

On that note, delivering a sad poem at the ceremony may be particularly emotional. It may be wise to rehearse your delivery or have another loved one share the poem if you’re unable. You may also be interested in this post about how to scatter ashes in Hawaii in a meaningful way.  

13. "Surf Upon My Tears" by John Jordan

Though not directly about death or loss, this is a sad poem because the writer talks about the Hawaiian landscape as well as the experience of surfing upon his tears.

14. "Acquainted with the Night" by Robert Frost

Robert Frost’s poem discusses night and nothingness in this poem. It also evokes feelings of isolation. 

15. "’Tis a Fearful Thing" by Yehuda HaLevi

This emotional poem discusses the power and the sorrow associated with being human as well as the holiness of loving, dreaming, and believing.

16. "God Saw You Getting Tired" by Frances and Kathleen Coelho

The process of losing a loved one may be sudden or drawn out. This poem describes how the authors saw a loved one slipping away. The ending provides a feeling of some peace, as it states, “God only takes the best.”

17. "Song [When I am dead, my dearest]" by Christina Rossetti

This poem discusses sensations a deceased person will never have again. It also explores the intense emotions associated with the experience of not only forgetting, but also being forgotten.

18. "Crossing the Water" by Sylvia Plath

Though not Hawaiian, the theme of this poem and the message are applicable to Hawaiian beliefs as they relate to nature. Sylvia Plath has many poems and works that evoke sadness. However, you may find bits of hope in her work, too.  

Honoring Hawaiian Culture

Choosing funeral poems that are Hawaiian in origin or in another respect is a great way to make any funeral — Hawaiian or otherwise — culturally significant. Your late loved one may be of Hawaiian descent or have a deep respect for the islands.

Keeping in mind the meaning and the origin of any poem you share can honor both your loved one as well as Hawaiian culture at the same time. 

If you're looking for more funeral planning help, read our guides on planning a Zoom funeral or how to plan a cremation ceremony.

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