Tag Archives: sleep-away camp

Secret Summer Camp Chant


The informant’s mother used to say this phrase as a playful thing to her children. While my informant generally liked this chant for its nostalgiac purposes, her mother used it in a variety of ways at her childhood summer camp. Though I lacked the mind to gather where her mother was from, my informant is originally from California.


In summer camp, my informant says her mom learned to use the chant as a sort of password in order to get into other campers’ cabins, sit with people during meals, and participate in activities. That being said, I was able to record it during an interview for folklore collection.

Main piece:



I’m sure that my informant has remembered this piece her whole life because it has been reminiscent of her childhood (and because it sounds good rolling off the tongue), but the purpose it served at her mother’s summer camp allows us, as folklorists, to take a deeper look into the social lives of children. In acting as a password as a sort of key to participating in different social settings, the phrase likely created an ingroup and an outgroup which would have contributed to the children’s social hierarchy. It’s important to note, though, that my informant told me kids at this summer camp would all eventually learn the chant–after a few days of confusion followed by some practice. Thus, it must not have simply been a tool for exclusion, but a right of passage into becoming a recognized camp member.


A Jewish summer sleep-away camp in Malibu, CA by the name of Camp Hess Kramer holds hundreds of Jewish kids ranging from eight to seventeen for most of the summer.  The camp, being near the beach, has a beach day once a week where the entire camp goes to Zuma beach to enjoy the day.  The camp typically leaves after eating breakfast in the main dining hall, but there is an essential step the campers must go through before ensuring they will have a great, sun-filled, fun day at the beach.  They must call out to Kahuna — the symbolic guarantor of a great day at the beach.

The counselors at the camp typically create a skit to detail the kids the necessity of getting Kahuna to show up at dining hall and talk to the kids.  In order for Kahuna to come to the dining hall all of the kids must yell out “Kahuuunnnnnnaaaaa” at the top of their lungs in order for him to hear their calls.  Typically after three or four loud calls out to Kahuna he shows up to the dining hall.  Kahuna is dressed in beach attire with red swim trunks, visible sun block on his nose, sunglasses, and shirtless with a big red “K” on his chest.

After Kahuna’s arrival he begins to explain his role for the kids.  Kahuna details all of the necessary things campers must do to ensure they have a great time at the beach — essentials such as putting on sunscreen, drinking a lot of water, and of course reapplying more sunscreen.  Kahuna also organizes the campers in the dining hall into four different groups and gets them to chant individually in four parts — “Beach, Sand, Sun, Fun.”  The campers must chant this multiple times loudly in order to ensure a sunny, fun day at the beach.  After the chanting it fulfilled to Kahuna’s expectations he is free to dismiss the campers and he leaves as all the campers board the buses.

Kahuna has been a figure of Camp Hess Kramer beach days for over a decade and will continue to represent beach days for the camp in future years.

I think Kahuna serves a strong role at Camp Hess Kramer because he encourages campers to make sure that they have a safe, fun time at the beach.  Kahuna’s emphasis on wearing sunscreen and drinking a lot of water is obviously a result of the counselors and staff members wanting children to remain hydrated and avoid sun burns.  Also Kahuna’s emphasis on having a fun, good time at the beach is a result of counselors and staff members wanted the campers to get in a good mindset for the day and for the campers to have fun at the beach.  It is also interesting to note that the word “kahuna” means in Hawaiian wise man or shaman.  This relates to Kahuna as a figure at Camp Hess Kramer as a wise man of the beach.

The Legend of Chief Wa-ta-hote-a-hoe and his Indian tribe

The informant describes the legend of Chief Wa-ta-hote-a-hoe; a legend from his Jewish summer camp that he went to in the valley of Colorado.  The Jewish camp is for campers ranging from ages eight to sixteen.  This tradition has value for him because he has partaken in it for many years and holds it as a fond memory of camp.  The story is also meant to promote cooperation between campers and unity.

There is a big rock formation out of nowhere that appears to have been placed there near his camp.  The story goes that there was an Indian tribe that lived there and the chief had three sons.  Wa-ta-hote-a-hoe was the chief and he left the kingdom to his three sons who each was skilled in a different thing.  After the chief left the sons argued and battled for power over the kingdom.  In the end the three sons ended up cooperating.  It is believed that the spirit of Chief Wa-ta-hote-a-hoe will always bring the camp together. 

After the legend of Chief Wa-ta-hote-a-hoe is told the entire camp yells together: “Waaaaaaa-taaaaaa-hoteeeee-a-hoeeeee.”  Then a counselor goes way behind a cave and ten seconds later gives a response of: “Waaaa-taaa-hoteee-a-hoeee.”

The story of Chief Wa-ta-hote-a-hoe demonstrates the purposes of legends to sometimes promote positive ideas for a group of people.  It is evident that the summer camp uses the story of the chief to instill the idea of cooperation and unity into the campers.  It is interesting to note that the camp uses a physical piece of its landscape to develop stories around it.  It is interesting to note that the legend is effective with younger children.