Native in Hawaiian Language

It is said that there are about 20,000 Hawaiian speakers throughout Hawai’i, most of whom have learned Hawaiian at school.

  • Kumu Keliʻi was raised by native Hawaiian speakers growing up, and is the last native speaker of his hometown. Due to this rearing by elders who were first-language speakers, Kumu Keliʻi can converse in various dialects that are nearly lost, as well as speaking with native intonation, archaic pronunciation, as well as having the ability to weave poetry into his speaking.
  • Due to his fluency, He is also an orator that has officiated events for Indigenous language conferences held in Hawaiʻi; Kamehameha Lei Draping Parades in Kohala, and in Hilo; as well as conduct ancient heiau ceremonies as a kahuna. He is regularly called upon in Hawaii to give speeches at official events, including weddings.
  • Another responsibility of Kumu Keliʻi is to name the children of the generations under him. In the past 10 years alone, He has named over 17 members of his family, and 4 children of his friends. To give a name is a big responsibility, and it is important to know the most minute nuances that can alter the meaning. With this skill, He also consults with any hula student or business who wishes to use a Hawaiian name for their company, studio, etc.

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Multicultural DNA

Kumu Kelli grew up in a family of relatives who are of Māori, Tahitian, Sāmoan, and Tonga descent.

He has inherited knowledge of each culture and their history, as well as the cultural knowledge and history of his own DNA. This is not only limited to his Hawaiian ancestry, but it extends to his Māori, German, and Japanese ancestry as well.

Since he grew up in the Hawaiian language around native speakers, he is well-developed to be able to communicate in other languages such as Māori, Tahitian, and other Polynesian islands that have a lot of linguistic and cultural similarities common. As a result, Kumu Keliʻi was able to build relationships with the local people of various regions, and has a very high level of knowledge about the Polynesian Islands by directly listening to the valuable experiences and lives of the local people. Knowledge that cannot be found in a book. Due to this, he has a great wealth of linguistical and cultural knowledge, including Hawaiian.

Kumu Keliʻi has also trained in traditional Māori performing arts called KAPA HAKA, and has developed skills in Māori Waiata (song), Mōteatea (chanting) and haka (dance). The training in Kapa Haka was transmitted directly from the Māori people of New Zealand.

He also has a wide range of friendships in New Zealand, and he is close to the members of many Kapa Haka Groups. These groups occasionally travel the world to officially promote and represent the New Zealand, such as the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

These diverse multicultural knowledge and experiences are shared in our cultural and academic courses, and allow students to learn deeply about ancient traditions, cultures of Hawai’i, and the rest of the world.

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Hula Family

  • The family of Kumu Keliʻi is one of the last hula lineages that predate the Kalākaua era. Choreography of ancient mele (songs) that were performed has been handed down directly; therefore, the choreography that is taught to the students is the same as the way his elders have danced it.
  • Kumu Keliʻiʻs family as a whole unit has never participated in competitions as they are still fairly secretive of their knowledge. Some students of their family currently compete in the Merrie Monarch Hula Competition, and regularly place in the top positions.
  • Being raised in a traditional family allowed him to cultivate many skills. One such skill is his eidetic memory in retaining choreography. Even now, his family does not write down the choreography to any mele kahiko. It is his mission to memorize, and constantly practice this choreography. Due to this high responsibility, he was trained to master and memorize the choreography, chanting styling, words, and implement beats to over 150 traditional songs. Of these, 40 are mele oli (traditional chants) that are stored in his memory.

Kahuna Clan

  • Two traditional professions of his family are kahuna (priests) who healed, and kahuna who poisoned. The goddess of the forest and of hula is Laka; but, Lakaʻs counterpart is the goddess of poison and hula, Kapōʻulakīnaʻu. Due to this dualistic nature, members of the family were either trained to heal a patient, or to destroy a victim. Due to the decreasing numbers of native Hawaiian speakers and the influence of the Christian church, members of his family have decided to teach Kumu Keliʻi both arts in order to preserve the practice. The poison arts will only be taught to worthy family members, but will occasionally teach students about the healing arts. Being trained in hula and in various kahuna professions helped him develop a profound and esoteric appreciation for the environment.

Performing Arts

  • My love for performing arts extends to musical theatre. I have been a cast member in various productions such as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Miss Saigon. 
  • I was also part of the performing arts department at Kamehameha Schools that traveled with students to Edinburgh, Scotland in 2016 to perform in the Festival Fringe. This production was an opera based on an ancient legend of Molokaʻi, and was performed in only the Hawaiian language. I was one of the main composers as well as the translator for this production. Some of the students that I have mentored in this show have gone on to study musical theatre at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, as well as The Juilliard School.

Songwriting Activities

  • As a teacher of hula, Kumu Keliʻi enjoys putting his language skills to use. He regularly composes new songs and poetry in the traditional styles, as well as modern Hawaiian style songs as well. He has composed songs for shows performed in Japan, as well as songs performed at the Kamehameha Schools Hōʻike on Hawaiʻi Island. Currently, Kumu Keliʻi is planning on releasing a debut album alongside his family members who are skilled musicians.

Hawaiian Ethnobotanist

  • One aspect of his hula training and kahuna training is to learn the cultural usages of various Hawaiian plants. He is able to tell the name of a Hawaiian plant, its different parts, its uses, and the god that represents it by looking at it. Kumu Keliʻi was also taught the various protocols when harvesting a particular plant, as well as any legends surrounding it. 

Hawaiian Ethnozoologist

  • Like ethnobotany, he was trained to identify a Hawaiian animal, its uses, as well as the gods and legends surrounding it. His family consists of many hunters, cowboys, and fishermen. As a traditional Hawaiian ethnozoologists, he enjoys teaching the next generation about Hawaiian animals and their uses as way to respect the animals that we use and consume.


  • Alongside the hula, Kumu Keliʻi was trained in the genealogical lines of his family as well as the lines of ancient Hawaiian chiefs. He will be the next head of his family and with that comes the responsibility of knowing the family lineage of all branches, as well as other royal lines. Kumu Keliʻi also bears the responsibility of updating any births or deaths within his family. The Kalaukoa family traces back to the gods as well as the ancestors of the gods, and these names are passed down through mele.
  • As a Hawaiian speaker and scholar, he does various scholarly research, transcriptions, and translation of old Hawaiian language newspapers, books, recordings of old native speaking elders, etc. One of his mentors was Eddie Kāmae; a famed Hawaiian musician, music scholar, and director of Hawaiian documentaries. He would sometimes accompany Eddie to interviews as sometimes it was my family elders that he would be interviewing. This type of work has inspired him to write down the stories of elders from the various districts of every Hawaiian Island. Kumu Keliʻi plans to publish this book in the future someday.