15 Traditional Hawaiian Songs for a Funeral or Memorial Service

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We all have different cultural traditions that impact the way we live our lives. Cultural traditions can also dictate our attitudes around death. Factors like our religion, our ethnic group, and even our geographic location can play a role in the way we treat death. 

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Where we live and where our family came from can really shape the way we react to death and the way we honor people who have passed away. A Hawaiian funeral, for example, may look quite different than a funeral on the mainland does. Hawaiian funerals might feature traditional dancing like the hula. It may showcase features to Hawaiian gods and ancestors. It may even feature a paddle out ceremony if the deceased was a surfer. 

And finally, you may hear traditional Hawaiian songs played. We reached out to several Hawaiian people to learn more about what songs you might expect to hear at a Hawaiian funeral. 

COVID-19 tip: If you're hosting a Zoom funeral using a service like GatheringUs, test your audio before the ceremony so you can anticipate any day-of-the-funeral issues.

Common Hawaiian Funeral Songs

If you’re planning a funeral, you’ve probably gone through lists of all the best funeral songs of all time. But if you want to pay homage to the deceased’s Hawaiian roots, there are some classic Hawaiian funeral songs you should include on a funeral program:  

1. “Kanaka WaiWai” by Mark Yamanaka

This song was written in 1915 by John Almeida. It was actually written for a Mormon church in Honolulu based on the parable from Matthew 19:16-24.

But the church thought it sounded too much like a traditional hula song. Even so, it quickly grew in popularity in Hawaii and remains one of the state’s most enduring funeral songs. 

2. “Hawai’i Aloha” by Doug and Sandy McMaster 

This anthem was originally written by Reverend Lorenzo Lyons in the late 1800s. It was actually in contention to become the official state song of Hawaii. Even though it isn’t the national anthem, it is still played at important events.

Many political meetings feature attendees gathering in a circle with joined and raised hands to sing this song. And of course, it is often a noted funeral song.  

3. “Majesty” by Valley Boys 

Looking at the lyrics of this song, you could absolutely think this is just a standard Christian hymn. But this version by the Valley Boys is quintessentially Hawaiian. The mellow tempo of this tune is carried in on the breeze from a guitar and ukelele. Meanwhile, the delicate twang of their voices has an almost country and western feel. Also, look for the cover by Moke Boy. 

4. “Na Kaona o Ke Aloha o Ka Haku” by Lili’uokalani 

Lili’uokalani was a beloved Hawaiian leader whose words are still revered to this day. This song (which literally translates to “The Queen’s Prayer”) was written for her niece about the importance of forgiveness. 

5. “Lei Hali’a” by Keali’i Reichel

This gentle ballad celebrates the natural beauty of Hawaii. The lyrics compare Lanihuli to an altar and talk about the fragrance of flowers wafting in on the Kona winds. That kind of specific imagery really grounds this traditional Hawaiian funeral song. 

» MORE: Honor your loved one's memory by taking the right next steps. Here is your free post-loss checklist.

 

Hawaiian Funeral Songs About Family

In the Hawaiian language, the word ohana translates to family. The Disney movie Lilo & Stitch was set in Hawaii and much of the movie is about taking care of your family, whether you were born into it or just happened to find it.

The quote, “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten,” adds a lot of poignancy to the film. These songs are a beautiful way to pay tribute to a beloved family member.

6. “‘Ekolu Mea Nui” by Dennis Pavao

This song dates back to approximately 1925. It was written by Robert J.K. Nawahine for a ho’ike (also known as a celebration or exhibition) for a Congregational church in Maui. It was based on 1 Corinthians 13:13 and talks about the importance of familial relationships. This is a popular song at Hawaiian funerals. 

7. “Aloha ‘Oe” by Lili’uokalani 

This song was actually written by Lili’uokalani who was then the Princess of the Hawaiian Kingdom. She would go on to be the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Lili’uokalani wrote the song in 1878. 

She wrote it after witnessing a tender farewell embrace between Colonel James Harbottle Boyd and a young woman in their party. Its tune was modeled after another song, “The Lone Rock by the Sea.” The wistful and nostalgic lyrics make it a perfect song for a family member’s funeral.       

8. “I’ll Remember You” by Mākaha Sons of Niʻihau

This Oahu-based musical group originally formed back in 1976. Many members have come in and left over the years, including Hawaiian music superstar Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

This poignant song features a gentle melody that helps you feel as though you’re being rocked on gentle waves. It’s a lovely song to play for people who have come together to celebrate the life of a family member.   

9. “Hawai’i Pono’i” by Tai Manu-Olevau 

This song served as Hawaii’s national anthem in the 19th century, back in the days when it was still a sovereign kingdom. King David Kalakaua wrote the words set to music done by his royal bandmaster, Captain Henri Berger. It is now the state song of Hawaii (chosen over the earlier-mentioned “Aloha ‘Oe”). 

You can hear it played during many important occasions like sporting events and even funerals. Its lyrics, which focus heavily on the children of a nation remaining loyal to it, make it ideal for a family funeral.

10. “Wanting Memories” by Keal’li Reichel 

This lovely song tells the story of someone remembering growing up in the arms of an older family member who valued them. Now they reminisce about seeing the world with that person once more. This song would be perfect at the funeral for a parent, grandparent, or another respected elder. 

Hawaiian Funeral Songs About Saying Goodbye

The word aloha can be used to say both hello and goodbye. But its meaning goes so much deeper than a simple greeting can convey. The literal translation of aloha is actually “the presence of divine breath.” This paints a bigger picture of how much meaning one simple word can hold.

These Hawaiian funeral songs also give us a new perspective on saying goodbye. 

11. “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole 

This song was originally from the soundtrack of The Wizard of Oz. But this cover by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole has become popular at Hawaiian funerals as well as mainstream ones. The sounds of his ukelele brought native flavor to an already well-loved tune, and his emotional voice is perfect in a funeral setting. 

12. “The Prayer (Hawaiian Version)” by Ho’okena and Maila Gibson 

This song was an international hit when performed by the likes of Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion.

But this understated cover is especially popular at funerals in Hawaii. The soothing harmonies in this cover have even been translated into the native Hawaiian language. This is a great example of a song that has been given new life and really infused with Hawaiian culture.  

13. “Hawaiian Funeral Song” by Bob Faber 

This instrumental easy listening song is clearly influenced by Hawaiian music. Because the song doesn’t have any lyrics, it’s possible for the listeners to attach their own meaning to the song. The title, tone, and lack of words make this the ideal funeral song.  

14. “Iesū No Ke Kahuhipa” by Kekapa Lee 

“Iesū No Ke Kahuhipa” translates to “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” This religious song would be perfect at a church funeral in Hawaii. It would be especially appropriate for saying goodbye to a church or community leader. 

15. “Is This Life?” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole  

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (also known as Bruddah Iz) was well-known outside of his native Hawaii. But his love for his state was unparalleled. His love for the state was relatable to other Hawaiian residents who continue to support his work long after his death. This is just one of many of Bruddah Iz’s songs that might be played at a funeral.  

These Traditional Hawaiian Songs Send a Loved One Off in Style

Almost 63 percent of Hawaiians are Christian. Some Native Hawaiians, however, worship many traditional gods. Some Hawaiian funerals will look just like a traditional church funeral anywhere else. But others might include older sacred elements, like washing the body in saltwater or burying bones.

Even with different belief systems, there are certain songs you can expect to hear at a Hawaiian funeral. Any of these songs would be at home during an island funeral.

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