The Native Hawaiian Experience through Folksongs[1]



Jeffrey J. Kamakahi, Ph.D.[2]

Fulbright Lecturer

Tohoku University


Prepared as Lecture/Presentations for:


Tokyo University

Tokyo, Japan




Tohoku University

Sendai, Japan




This presentation is an attempt to create a ¡§performance sociology¡¨ that is informative of the Native Hawaiian experience.  In it I outline some of the themes and processes of social change that are signified through selected Native Hawaiian ¡§folksongs.¡¨[3]  In using folksongs, both as text and as musical compositions, I am placing this study within the realm of the sociology of music.  (see Adorno 1976; Schutz 1976; Silbermann 1977; Dasilva et al. 1984)


I do not purport to create a definitive, objective, or complete examination of either Native Hawaiian folksongs or Native Hawaiian experience. This presentation is simply a method for highlighting particular themes of the post-contact Native Hawaiian collective history.  In selecting these folksongs, I have attempted to encompass a broad timeline ¡V that of post-Western contact Hawai`i.  In addition, the folksongs reveal significant themes or events which were of import at the time of their composition.  Just as other texts, folksongs can be viewed as discourses which contain signifiers of social and cultural import.  (Kamakahi and Robillard 1994; Denzin 1989)


I have selected 10 folksongs as texts to be read.  They are: Hi`ilawe, Leahi, Kaulana Nā Pua, Waiomina, Pelekane, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Kāne`ohe, Maile Swing, Wāhine `Ilikea, and Ku`u Home O Kahalu`u.[4]  These titles, most probably, mean little or nothing to you now.  My goal in this forum is to imbue these folksongs with meaning and, at the same time, to provide you with a glimpse of two centuries of social change in Hawai`i.


Even though each of these songs is an historical text, each also reveals some theme that is important in understanding contemporary Native Hawaiian issues.


The songs will be presented in rough chronological order.  (The bolded lyrics are the verses that I will be singing, but other verses are provided for your information.)  The themes of Native Hawaiian experience, that is the collective conscience[5] of Native Hawaiians, or Kānaka Maoli, as a people, range from the imagery of nature to modernization and cultural adaptation.[6]



Hi`ilawe: Traditional Imagery and Composition


Hi`ilawe is a song that links Native Hawaiians to traditional modes of composition and musicality.  (Wong 1975; Tatar 1979)


It was written by Sam Li`a Kalainaina Sr. who lived in Waipi¡¦o Valley of the Big Island of Hawai`i[7] ¡V where the song is set.[8]  A love song, the composition follows a simple ¡§stream of consciousness¡¨ format with the duplication of syllables from the end of one verse being reproduced in kind at the beginning of the subsequent verse.  (This was a well used mnemonic device used in long chants within the oral tradition.)  (Emerson 1909)


The song employs a monotonic melody reminiscent of traditional chants in cadence and construction.  (Roberts 1926)


It is saturated with the imagery of nature and the interchangeability of people with elements of nature.  Gossipy neighbors, for example, are referred to as ¡§chattering birds.¡¨  The third verse has the protagonist sing ¡§A he uhiwai au no ke kuahiwi¡¨ ¡V ¡§For I am the mist of the mountain.¡¨  In the fifth verse, the woman is described as ¡§the fragrance¡¨ ¡K ¡§wafted from¡¨ the adjacent district of Puna. 


Hi`ilawe is the lovers¡¦ sanctuary and is the highest waterfall on the island.  The sound of the crashing water drowns out the ¡§chattering of birds,¡¨ before meandering gently through the lowlands of Maukele, and eventually flows out to the ocean.


The song is often accompanied by the simple guitar vamp which reminds one of the calm ocean waves lapping upon the shore or the content heartbeat of lovers. 


Hi`ilawe is one of the first songs that a slack-key guitar player will learn.  (Kamakahi n.d.)  It is probably the last that he or she will forget.  [Gabby Pahinui¡¦s performances (1978) of this song are classic.] 


It is the linkage to traditional compositional structure and imagery that makes Hi`ilawe an important selection.  Furthermore, it employs the ¡§sense of place¡¨ ¡V the inextricable bond between people and their homeland -- that is especially important to Native Hawaiians.  (Kamakahi forthcoming)


Hi`ilawe - Sam Li`a Kalainaina, Sr. [9]

Kūmaka ka `ikena iā Hi`ilawe

Ka papa lohi mai a`o Maukele


Pakele mau au i ka nui manu

Hau wala`au nei puni Waipi`o


`A`ole nō wau e loa`a mai

A he uhiwai au no ke kuahiwi


He hiwahiwa au na ka makua

A he lei `ā`i na ke kupuna

*(A he milimili ho`i na ka makua)


No Puna ke `ala i hali `ia mai

Noho i ka wailele a`o Hi`ilawe


I ka poli no au o Hai wahine

I ka poli aloha o Hainakolo


Ho`okolo ia aku i ka nui manu

I like ke kaina meka uahoa


He hoa `oe no ka la le`ale`a

Na ka nui manu iho haunaele


E `ole ko`u nui piha akamai

Hala a`e na `ale o ka moana


Hao mai ka moana kau e ka weli

Mea `ole na`e ia no ia ho`okele


Ho`okele o `uleu pili ika uapo

Honi malihini au me ku`u aloha


He aloha ia pua ua lei ia

Ku`u pua miulana poina `ole


Ha`ina `ia mai ana ka puana

Kumaka ka `ikena iā Hi`ilawe

All eyes are on Hi`ilawe

In the sparkling lowlands of Maukele


I escape all the birds

Chattering everywhere in Waipi`o


I am not caught

For I am the mist of the mountains


I am the darling of the parents

And a lei for the necks of grandparents

*Beloved of my parents


The fragrance is wafted from Puna

And lives at Hi`ilawe waterfall


I was at the bosom of Hai, the woman

At the beloved bosom of Hainakolo


Annoyed at the many birds

They were indifferent to the distress they caused


You are my companion in the day of joy

The many birds there caused a commotion


It is my great skill

The waves of the ocean overwhelm us


The ocean rages fearfully

But my steering is skillful


Hurry, let us go close to the wharf

I am your new love to be kissed


My flower, my lei, my love for you

Is unforgettable like the muilan flower


Tell the refrain

All eyes are on Hi'ilawe



Leahi: Sovereign Enjoyment


Like Hi`ilawe, Leahi is a song about a place.  Rather than describing a remote lovers¡¦ rendezvous, however, this is a song celebrating festive public gatherings.


Written by Mary Pula¡¦a Robins and Johnny Noble, it refers to a famous landmark on the island of O`ahu.  The landmark is perhaps the most recognized icon of Hawai`i ¡V it is more commonly referred to as ¡§Diamond Head.¡¨[10]


Leahi, an extinct volcanic crater, towers above Waikīkī.  Even today, one can climb onto the crater¡¦s rim and look out toward the island of Moloka`i, view the surfers riding waves, or watch migrating whales pass through Hawaiian waters.


This song refers to the various recreational activities that took place in the vicinity of Leahi.


In the waters of Waikīkī, outrigger canoe races and surfing competitions were held.  ¡§Watch out for the bell buoy coming to view by the reef,¡¨ the song exclaims.


Below is Kapi`olani Park[11], where horse racing around the now absent oval track was a popular pastime.  A verse comments ¡§Reckless the way you drive almost tilting as we go.¡¨


The song employs the chanting syllables ¡§`uhe`uhene¡¨ -- a link to tradition.  It is a post-Western contact song ¡V with references to horses and carriages. 


Before Leahi was an icon and Waikīkī was a haven for global tourism, it was a place in which Native Hawaiians reveled in the outdoors.  The song reminds Native Hawaiians that the land was once theirs (their nation) ¡V and that the modern world not only encroaches upon it, but appropriates it linguistically.  Remember, Leahi is known globally as ¡§Diamond Head.¡¨  Those that name the order of things, control them.  (Foucault 1975)


Leahi - by Mary Pula'a Robins & John Noble [12]

Aia Le`ahi, `uhe`uhene

Kaimana Hila, `uhe`uhene

Hoku kau `ale kai a`o Mamala



Malama pono `oe, uheuhene

I ka poe pele, `uhe`uhene

`O ili kaua la ilaila

**`O ili kaua i ka puko`a



`O ka po`e kaulana, `uhe`uhene

Kau i ka nuku, `uhe`uhene

Nana a`o ho`owale nei i ka moana



Ha`awi ke aloha, `uhe`uhene

Lulu lima, `uhe`uhene

Me na huapala maka onaona



Kau aku `oe, `uhe`uhene

I ke ka`api`o, `uhe`uhene

Pa ana ka uwepa kiani



Kupaianaha, `uhe`uhene

Kahi kalaiwa, `uhe`uhene

Ka lawe no a kiki`i pau



Ha'ina `ia, `uhe`uhene

Mai ka puana, `uhe`uhene

O ka poe kaulana kau i ka nuku



Ha'ina `ia, `uhe`uhene

Mai ka puana, `uhe`uhene

Goodbye kaua e ke aloha


There is Leahi

Diamond Head

Rising star of Mamala

(song exclamation)


Watch out

For the bell buoy

Coming to view by the reef

**alternate stanza

(song exclamation)


The festive crowd

Stands at the harbor mouth

Just looking at the ocean

(song exclamation)


Give love

Shake hands

Sweetheart with the gentle eyes

(song exclamation)


You ride

In the carriage

And use the whip

(song exclamation)



The way you drive

Almost tilting as we go

(song exclamation)


Told is

The story

The festive crowd at the mouth of the harbor

(song exclamation)


Told is

The story

Both of us say goodbye with love

(song exclamation)



Kaulana Nā Pua: Political Protest of Annexation


The overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai`i was an illegal act fostered by the United States.  (Blount 1893; Native Hawaiian Study Commission 1983)  Despite support of Representative Blount and President Grover Cleveland, Hawai`i¡¦s takeover by the U.S. was solidified by annexation seven years later -- in 1900.


If one wants to understand contemporary Native Hawaiian experience, one must recognize the ongoing sense of injustice at the loss of the Hawaiian nation.[13]


Kaulana Nā Pua was written near the time of the overthrow of Hawai`i¡¦s Queen Lili`uokalani.[14]  Ellen Prendergast wrote this song as an expression of protest.  In it, Prendergast refers back to the great chiefs of tradition: Keawe of the Big Island, Pi`ilani of Maui, Manokalanipō of Kaua`i, and Kakuhihewa of O`ahu.  (see Kamakau 1961)  It is a call to the mana, or power, of these chiefs and their descendants to prevent the appropriation of their ¡¥āina (the land).  For Native Hawaiians, the `āina and the wai (water) were the sources of sustenance of all things.  The taking of the `āina was akin to assaulting the foundation of their collective being.  The `āina and its people (kānaka maoli) were involved in a continual symbiotic relationship of renewal ¡V the great deeds of the past are absorbed by the land and recycled to the people.  The people in the song are referred to as ¡§flowers¡¨ of the land.  The call to ancient chiefs is a call for the people of Hawai`i to act against annexation.


This story has a parallel in the mid-1800s when a rogue British Warship Commander laid siege over the government offices.  This wrong was soon corrected.  (Kuykendall 1953)  Upon the restoration of the Islands to Hawaiian rule, Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III, proclaimed ¡§Ua mau ke `ea o ka `āina I ka pono.¡¨  It meant, that the `āina had been restored to its rightful harmony with the kānaka maoli people.  Ironically, the statement would later become appropriated as the Hawai`i State motto.


This song has little of the imagery of nature in it.  It is a ¡§modern¡¨ song of protest that speaks directly of the ¡§sin of annexation¡¨ and the rejection of ¡§money¡¨ for `āina.  It states defiantly that the people would rather ¡§eat stones¡¨ of the `āina than to submit.  For this reason, it is referred to as a ¡§mele `ai pohaku¡¨ or ¡§stone eating song.¡¨


The current Native Hawaiian Sovereignty movement is a rekindling of the link between `āina, Annexation, and Native Hawaiian identity.  (Kamakahi 1997)



Kaulana Nā Pua - by Ellen Keho`ohiwaokalani Wright Prendergast[15]

Kaulana nā pua a'o Hawai'i

Kūpa'a mahope o ka 'āina

Hiki mai ka 'elele o ka loko 'ino

Palapala 'anunu me ka pākaha



Pane mai Hawai'i moku o Keawe

Kōkua nā Hono a'o Pi'ilani

Kāko'o mai Kaua'i o Mano

Pau pū me ke one Kākuhihewa



'A'ole 'a'e kau i ka pūlima

Maluna o ka pepa o ka 'enemi

Ho'ohui 'āina kū 'ai hewa

I ka pono siwila a'o ke kanaka



'A'ole mākou a'e minamina

I ka pu'u kālā a ke aupuni

Ua lawa makou i ka pōhaku

I ka 'ai kamaha'o o ka 'āina



Mahope mākou o Lili'ulani

A loa'a 'ē ka pono a ka 'āina

*(A kau hou 'ia e ke kalaunu)

Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

Ka po'e i aloha i ka 'āina

*Alternate Stanza

Famous are the children of Hawai'i

Ever loyal to the land

When the evil-hearted messenger comes

With his greedy document of extortion



Hawai'i, land of Keawe answers

Pi'ilani's bays help

Mano's Kauai lends support

And so do the sands of Kakuhihewa



No one will fix a signature

To the paper of the enemy

With its sin of annexation

And sale of native civil rights



We do not value

The government's sums of money

We are satisfied with the stones

Astonishing food of the land



We back Lili'ulani

Who has won the rights of the land

*(She will be crowned again)

Tell the story

Of the people who love their land

*Alternate Stanza



Waiomina: National Pride and Triumph Over Racism


This song, Waiomina, was composed by Helen Parker of the Big Island of Hawai`i.  It is a song that links Native Hawaiian experience to accomplishments abroad.  But is also signifies racial pride and triumph over racism abroad.[16]


Many people are surprised by the fact that the largest privately owned ranch in the United States is located not in Texas or Oklahoma, but in Hawai`i.  The Parker Ranch on the Big Island is this behemoth of ranches.  (Brennan 1974)  Paniolo[17], Spanish cowboys, were brought to Hawai`i to live with and train Native Hawaiians to raise beef cattle.  The term paniolo remained with the island cowboys.


In 1908, three paniolo from the area called Waimea, where the Parker Ranch is partially located, traveled from the Big Island through California to the rural state of Wyoming.  Waiomina is the Native Hawaiian word for Wyoming. 


Waiomina was the site of the World Rodeo Championships.  The three paniolo: Ikuwa Purdy, Albert Ka`aua, and Eben Low were treated quite disrespectfully in the U.S. ¡V having trouble even securing horses and equipment for the competition.  ( 2003)


In the song, the three paniolo are likened to three mountains (¡§nā kuahiwi `ekolu¡¨).  Their links to Waimea is repeated throughout the verses ¡V ¡§Waimea e ka `eu¡¨ (Waimea full of gusts) and the rain called Kīpu`upu`u that falls in the area.[18]


On the Big Island, the news of the rodeo results is received over the telegraph (¡§kelekalapa¡¨).  Low did not compete due to illness; Ka`aua, who had only one good arm, came in 3rd place; and Ikuwa was crowned as the World Rodeo Champion (¡§Ikuwa e ka moho puni ke ao lā!¡¨)


This song commemorates the achievements of the ¡§three mountains of Waimea¡¨ and the pride of their compatriots.


Pride in oneself begins with pride in one¡¦s origins.  This event marked a high point in Native Hawaiian pride in the years immediately following Annexation.  But even decades after Annexation and the triumph of Ikuwa Purdy, Native Hawaiian pride has waxed and waned considerably. 


Waiomina - Helen Parker[19]

Kaulana Ikuwa me Ka`aua, lā

Na `eu kīpuka `ili

Na āiwaiwa `o uwepa, lā

Waimea e ka `eu

Ka ua Kīpu`upu`u

Kahua Waiomina


`Olua nā moho puna ke ao, lā

Na`eu kīpuka `ili

`A`ohe kupu`eu nanā e a`e, lā

Waimea e ka `eu

Ka ua Kīpu`upu`u

Meke anu a`o Kaleponi


Na ke kelekalapa i ha`i mai, lā

Na `eu kīpuka `ili

Ikuwa e ka moho puni ke ao, lā

Waimea e ka `eu

Ka ua Kīpu`upu`u

Nā kuahiwi `ekolu


Piha hau`oli ou mau kini, lā

Na `eu kīpuka `ili

Kaulana ka ua Kīpu`upu`u, lā

Waimea e ka `eu

Nā kuahiwi `ekolu

Kahua Waiomina


Ha`ina hou mai ka puana, lā

Na `eu kīpuka `ili

Ke kaula `ili a`o kani ka uwepa, lā

Waimea e ka `eu

Nā kuahiwi `ekolu

Waimea e ka `eu

Famous are Ikuwa and Ka`aua

Both mischievous with the lariat

Both experts in roping

Waimea full of gusto

The hard rain named Kipu`upu`u

To the stadium of Wyoming


Both are delegates to the world championship

Both mischievous with the lariat

No expert to excel you

Waimea full of gusto

The hard rain named Kipu`upu`u

To the cold of California


A telegraph brought us the word

Of your mischievous lariats

Ikuwa is the champion of the world

Waimea full of gusto

The hard rain named Kipu`upu`u

And the three mountains


Your people are full of happiness

Of your mischievous lariats

Famous is the Kipu`upu`u rain

Waimea full of gusto

The three mountains

The stadium of Wyoming


Tell the refrain

Of your mischievous lariats

The sound of the lariats

Waimea full of gusto

The three mountians

Waimea full of life



Pelekane: War and Militarism


Even the remoteness of the Hawaiian Archipelago could not stem the tide of globalization.  Since contact with the West in the late 1700s, globalization meant rapid adjustments to epidemics and pandemics of infectious diseases (see Schmitt 1977), Western jurisprudence (see Kamakahi and Chang 1992), the privatization of property (Chinen 1958), nationhood (see Kuykendall 1938), annexation (Fuchs 1984), and then statehood.  Global events became of local interest and vice versa.


Pelekane, written by Elizabeth Kuahaia, is a song about the innocence lost in globalization/modernization.  It is about the sinking of the ship, the Lusitania, in 1915.  It was an event that helped create the concept of a ¡§World War.¡¨


Pelekane means ¡§Britain¡¨[20] and reveals the long-standing affinity that the Native Hawaiian people felt for England.  It was the British that the Hawaiian Kingdom attempted to emulate and identify with ¡V so much so that the royal contingent traveled to England to attend Queen Victoria¡¦s Golden Jubilee in 1887 and adopted the ¡§Union Jack¡¨ symbol in the Kingdom of Hawai`i flag.


Unlike most other Native Hawaiian songs, it is written without the beautiful imagery of nature.  Instead, it describes the use of explosives and torpedoes ¡V the weapons of long-range ¡§anonymous¡¨ wars.  This is warfare without warriors in hand-to-hand combat, with the concept of ¡§civilians¡¨ redefined by wholesale destruction of places.


The song refers to distant Europe (¡§Europa¡¨), the reports of war by the mass media newspapers[21] (¡§nupepa¡¨), and the torpedo (¡§topeto¡¨).


In a way, this is a modern ¡§protest song¡¨ in the style of ¡§Kaulana Nā Pua.¡¨


The song foreshadows the militarization of Hawai`i as the Western outpost for United States military forces[22].  This militarization of the islands is an important aspect of Native Hawaiian experience.  Not only are many areas reserved by the military, but the island economy is dependant upon it.



Pelekane - Elizabeth Kuahaia[23]

Hakakā kaulana puni i ke ao lā

Ke kaua weliweli ma Europa

Ma ka nūpepa i ha`i maila lā

`O ka topeto kau i ka beli


Weliweli nā hana ke `ike aku lā

`O nei lima koko he aloha `ole


Ha`ina `ia mai `ana ka puana lā

Ke kaua weliweli ma Europa

Famous conflict throughout the world
The terrible war in

In the newspapers it said
The torpedo struck the belly (of the ship)

Dreadful deeds, horrible to look upon
Merciless bloody hands

Let the story be told
Of the terrible war in



Royal Hawaiian Hotel: Tourism and Commodification


This song was written in 1927 by Mary Robins and Johnny Noble[24] for the grand opening of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel ¡V the first Mecca of Waikiki tourism.[25]  This large, pink edifice along with the stately Moana Hotel once dominated the landscape of Waikīkī Beach.  Today they are dwarfed by the modern high-rises and densely built streets.


This song celebrates the luxuriousness of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel: its festive look, its velvet beds, its green marble walls, and its proximity to the waves that wash upon the sandy shores.


¡§Royal Hawaiian Hotel¡¨ uses the language and form of traditional Native Hawaiian composition ¡V but the imagery of nature, people, and place are de-emphasized.  It is a song of description and modern luxuries.


The song harkens back to a time when the global tourist trade in Hawai`i was in its infancy and islanders could sit upon Waikīkī Beach and have unobstructed views of Leahi (Diamond Head), the Ko`olau Mountains, and enjoy the unpopulated isolation of the area.  Travel at that time involved barges, trans-Pacific ocean liners, or land transportation (trains, cars, or carriages).


This song ushers in the use of Native Hawaiian songs as part of the coming commodified entertainment industry.  (Kanahele 1979)  Songs and performers have now become commodities themselves.  The bourgeoning tourist trade would usher in ¡§romantic visions¡¨ of a generic ¡§tropical paradise¡¨ ¡V where sun, sand, and sea were the highlights and Native Hawaiian people and their culture were relegated to mere ¡§background.¡¨[26]



Royal Hawaiian Hotel - by Mary Pula`a Robins[27]

Uluwehiwehi `oe i ka`u `ike la

E ka Royal Hawaiian Hotel

A he nani la ke hulali nei

A he nani maoli nō


Ka moena weleweka moe kāua la

He pakika he pahe`e maika`i nei

A he nani la ke hulali nei

A he nani maoli nō


Ka paia māpala `ōma`oma`o la

He pipi`o mau e ke ānuenue

A he nani la ke hulali nei

A he nani maoli nō


`O ka hone a ke kai i ka pu`u one la

Me ke `ala lïpoa e moani nei

A he nani la ke hulali nei

A he nani maoli nō


`O ka holunape a ka lau o ka niu la

I ke kulukulu aumoe

A he nani la ke hulali nei

A he nani maoli nō


Ka Hōkū-loa nō kou alaka`i la

`O ka mana Kāhikolu kou home la

A he nani la ke hulali nei

A he nani maoli nō


E ō e ka Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Kou inoa hanohano ia la

A he nani la ke hulali nei

A he nani maoli nō


You are festive to see

O Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Beauty gleaming

True beauty


Velvet beds we sleep upon

Smooth, soft and good

Beauty gleaming

True beauty


Green marble walls

Rainbow constantly at arch

Beauty gleaming

True beauty


Soft song of sea on sand dunes

Wafting in fragrance of seaweed

Beauty gleaming

True beauty


Leaves of coconut sway

In the late night

Beauty gleaming

True beauty


The morning star your guide

Power of the Trinity your home

Beauty gleaming

True beauty


Answer o Royal Hawaiian Hotel

This is for the glory of your name

Beauty gleaming

True beauty




Kāne`ohe: Electricity and Modernization


The arrival of electricity created a whole new world of mechanical power and altered everyday life tremendously.  Kerosene lanterns, candles, iceboxes, and so on would gradually be replaced by electric lights, refrigerators, and other mechanical conveniences.


Abbie Kong and Johnny Noble wrote this composition celebrating the coming of electricity to the Windward O`ahu town of Kāne`ohe[28].  In this song, ¡§electricity¡¨ not only describes the new power source but it also becomes a new metaphor for the excitement of romance.


The sense of place is still strong: the rain called Apuakea, the Ko`olau mountains (Ko`olaupoko ¡V ¡§the short Ko`olau¡¨ for one part of the mountain range), and the areas of Mokapu, Mololani, and He`eia are mentioned.


The ¡§sweet voiced telegraph wire¡¨ (¡§Ka uwea kelekalapa leo nahenahe¡¨) is also referenced.


This song reminds one of the development of areas on O`ahu beyond Honolulu and Waikīkī.  Many rural areas had already undergone transformations due to the sugar industry and the international importation of labor to work its plantations.[29]  Additional development would include the building of roads and tunnels to link these areas to Honolulu ¡V making them more accessible and simultaneously more exploitable for development.


Modernization is a two-edged sword.  This song celebrates the wonders and joys surrounding it.



Kāne`ohe- by Abbie Kong & Johnny Noble[30]

`Ōlapa ka uila i Kāne`ohe

Ka hui laulima o `i Laniwai

*(Ka hui lau lima Hi`ilaniwai)



Me ka ua Apuakea

Ka la`i a`o Malūlani (Mololani)

Me ka anu o ke Ko`ōlau


Kaulana mai nei Ko`olaupoko

Ua `ā ka uila a`i Kāne`ohe


Hanohano Mōkapu i ka `ehu kai

Te tua motumotu a`o He`eia


Ho`okahi meahou ma He`eia

Ka uwea kelekalepa leo nahenahe


Aia `ike lihi o ka `āina

Kahi a ke aloha i walea ai


Walea ana `oe me ke onaona

Ku`u lei hulu mamo pili i ke anu


Ua ana ho`i au a i kō leo

Kō pane `ana mai pehea au


Ha`ina `ia mai ana ka puana

Ua `ā ka uila a`i Kāne`ohe

Light flashes at the Kaneohe

Co-operative Society of Laniwai

*alternate stanza



The Apuakea rain

The peace of Malulani

The coolness of the Ko`olau


Famous is Ko`olaupoko

The lights go on at Kaneohe


The glory of Mokapu is the sea spray

And the jagged ridge of Heeia


The news at He`eia

Sweet-voiced telegraph wire


Glimpses of the land

Where love finds delight


Delight with the sweet one

My mamo feather lei in the coolness


Delighted by your voice

You ask, How am I?


Tell the refrain

The light goes on at Kaneohe



Maile Swing: Cultural Accommodation


John Almeida wrote this song entitled ¡§Maile Swing.¡¨  Maile is a fragrant vine that grows in the cool upland forests throughout the major islands of Hawaiian archipelago.  Although without flowers, maile is venerated for its sweet aroma and as adornment.


Almeida incorporated topics and different forms of musicality[31] into his compositions.  In ¡§Maile Swing,¡¨ we see the prominent and uncharacteristic use of minor chords in a Native Hawaiian folksong.  Beyond this, the song employs a ¡§swing¡¨ rhythm to it ¡V a cultural accommodation from the West.  (Kahananui 1965)


We also detect the use of some English language words in the verses.[32]  This became more common as English became the lingua franca of the islands.


The song, however, primarily employs the Native Hawaiian language as well as the interchangeability of the ¡§fragrance of the maile¡¨ and the concept of lingering memories of love.


This song is not a part of the ¡§hapa-haole¡¨ song genre which was written primarily for tourists, in the English language, and employed few references to Native Hawaiian imagery and culture. (see Kanahele 1979)


¡§Maile Swing¡¨ is an example of the willingness of Native Hawaiians to adopt foreign ideas and practices into their culture.  Native Hawaiian history reveals avid curiosity and enthusiasm for foreigners and foreign practices. (Kuykendall 1938, 1953)



Maile Swing - by John K. Almeida[33]

Sweet and lovely

Ke onaona o ka maile

Ho`oipo ke `ala ho`oheno

Sure i ka pili poli


Nanea e walea

E luana i kāua i laila

Mikioi ke ki`ina hei kou

Pu`uwai kapalili



Nani ua ko ka i`ini

A i hoapili mau `oe no`u

Ko`i`i ke aloha e nowelo, e `uleu

He hene wai'olu a loko (hey hey)


Ha`ina ka puana

Ke onaona o ka maile

`Ano`ai ka pilina

E lei a`e au me ku`u lei


Sweet and lovely

Is the maile's fragrance

A delightful odor

That clings to the bosom


May we linger happily

You and I

With the sweetness that captivates

Your fluttering heart



Surely I have won

You for my own

Love endures with us, stirring, animating

A soothing sensation within, hey hey


This ends my song

Of the maile's fragrance

Which breathes from

The leis of my love and me




Wāhine `Ilikea: The Hawaiian Renaissance


In the 1960s and 1970s as the Civil Rights Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Feminist Movement, and the Anti-Vietnam War protests were occurring in the Continental U.S., a movement referred to as ¡§the Hawaiian Renaissance¡¨ was happening in Hawai`i.  It involved a renewed interest by young Native Hawaiians in reclaiming their traditional cultural identity ¡V their language, their history, and their cultural practices.  Much of the movement focused upon the revitalization of Native Hawaiian folksinging.[34]  With this came an interest as well in the composition of Native Hawaiian folksongs.


¡§Wāhine `Ilikea¡¨ (fair-skinned woman), written by Dennis Kamakahi, was a new composition modeled in the traditional style.


There is a celebration of nature.  Pua kalaunu ¡V the crown flower that it associated with the island of Moloka`i, -- is identified.  The song¡¦s title refers to the mist atop a particular mountain described as a ¡§fair-skinned woman.¡¨


There is a definite ¡§sense of place.¡¨  Hālawa Valley is on the extreme East end of Moloka`i.  Its three waterfalls ¡V Hina, Hāhā, and Mo`oloa ¡V are mentioned as is the valley¡¦s Ho`olua wind.


There is another ¡§reclaiming¡¨ associated with this song.  This is the area where the composer¡¦s paternal grandfather and many ancestors of that lineage were born and raised.  (see Kamakahi forthcoming; Kamakahi and Kamakahi 2004)  Relatively uninhabited since a tidal wave washed into the valley in the early-1900s, the area still holds the mana of its people.


There are also modern elements in the song.  The cascading melodic phrase at the beginning of the song is a novelty, but the general style is traditional.


This song represents a re-examination and re-appreciation of the Native Hawaiian cultural past.



Wāhine `Ilikea - by Dennis Kamakahi[35]


Pua kalaunu ma ke kai

`O Honouliwai

Wāhine `ilikea i ka poli `o Moloka`i

Nō ka heke



Nani wale nō nā wailele `uka

`O Hina `o Hāhā `o Mo`oloa

Nā wai `ekolu i ka uluwehiwehi

`O Kamalō i ka mālie



Nani wale nō ka `āina Hālawa

Home ho`okipa a ka malihini

`Āina uluwehi i ka noe ahiahi

Ua lawe mai ka makani Ho`olua



Crown flower by the shore

Of Honouliwai

Fair skinned woman in the bosom of Moloka`i

Is the best



Beautiful waterfalls of the upland

Hina, Haha and Mo'oloa

The three waters in the verdant overgrowth

Of Kamalo, in the calm



Beautiful is the land, Halawa

Hospitable home to the visitors

Land verdant, in the evening mist

Brought by the wind of Ho`olua




Ku`u Home o Kahalu`u: Contemporary Adaptation


The Hawaiian Renaissance mixed traditional and contemporary.  The actual world of Native Hawaiians included some undesirable realizations: (1) they no longer inhabited their own country; (2) their mother tongue was English; (3) their culture was largely Western; (4) they ranked very low in terms of education, health, and SES (socio-economic status) both locally and nationally; and (5) they lived in an anonymous global market economy. (Native Hawaiian Study Commission 1983; Pukui et al. 1972, 1979)


This song, ¡§Ku`u Home o Kahalu`u¡¨ (My Home of Kahalu`u), written by Jerry Santos and Robert Beaumont involves the use of traditional Native Hawaiian folksong musicality with predominantly English lyrics.  The slack-key accompaniment is a solemn, yearning one.


The few Native Hawaiian words in the song are easily understandable to a ¡§local,¡¨ but not necessarily a Native Hawaiian audience.[36]  ¡§Me ke aloha ku`u home o Kahalu`u¡¨ simply means ¡§with love of my home of Kahalu`u.¡¨  References are made to the ¡§`o`opu¡¨ (the fresh water shrimp) and the gift of a song (which was prized above all other gifts).


This song, for me, marks the furthest reaches of a Native Hawaiian folksong.  It is, in some sense, the adaptation of the fragile links that bind contemporary Native Hawaiians to traditional Native Hawaiian culture and experiences.


There is a longing for the old days as well as a yearning for the hopes and dreams of the past.  There is a definite tone of sadness and melancholy ¡V and a realization that both places and people have changed.  The composers are trying to ¡§go back home¡¨ to a place they know exists primarily in their memories.


The song ends with the lines:

To please accept me as you find me

Me ke aloha ku`u home of Kahalu`u.


Perhaps the singer is asking the `āina and his ancestors (ka po`e kahiko) to be accepting of his return despite the changes he has undergone ¡V as he tries to do the same.  This is a shared sentiment of contemporary Native Hawaiians as they look back at the changes that have transpired since Western contact. 



Ku`u Home o Kahalu`u  by Jerry Santos and Robert Beaumont[37]



I remember days when we were younger
We used to catch 'o'opu in the mountain stream
'Round the Ko'olau hills we'd ride on horseback
So long ago it seems it was a dream

Last night I dreamt I was returning
and my heart called out to you
But I fear you won't be like I left you
Me kealoha ku'u home o Kahaluu

I remember days when we were wiser
When our world was small enough for dreams
And you have lingered there my sister
And I no longer can it seems

Last night I dreamt I was returning
and my heart called out to you
But I fear you won't be like I left you
Me kealoha ku'u home o Kahaluu

Change is a strange thing
it cannot be denied
It can help you find yourself
or make you lose your pride
Move with it slowly
as on the road we go
Please do not hold on to me
we all must go alone

I remember days when we were smiling
When we laughed and sang the whole night long
And I will greet you as I find you
With the sharing of a brand new song

Last night I dreamt I was returning
and my heart called out to you
To please accept me as you'll find me
Me kealoha ku'u home o Kahaluu



Closing Comments


I have chosen ten Native Hawaiian folksongs to highlight themes of the Native Hawaiian experience.  I list them now with the themes that they exemplify.


Chronology Folksong and Theme

1790s:  Arrival of Capt. Cook

1810s:  Kamehameha creates Kingdom

1840s:  ¡§Ua mau ke `ea o ka `āina i ka pono¡¨

1850s:  The ¡§Great Mahele¡¨

1860s:  Sugar Industry

Hi`ilawe:  Traditional Imagery and Composition


1870s:  Lot Kamehameha dies

1880s:  Weakening of the Monarchy

Leahi:  Sovereign Enjoyment

1890s:  Overthrow of Lili`uokalani

1900s:  Annexation by the U.S.

Kaulana Nā Pua:  Political Protest of Annexation

1910s:  Asians denied rights

Waiomina:  National Pride and Triumph Over Racism

1920s:  World War I; Hawaiian Homes Act

Pelekane:  War and Militarism

1920s:  Aloha Tower built; tourism

Royal Hawaiian Hotel:  Tourism and Commodification

1940s:  World War II

Kāne`ohe:  Electricity and Modernization

1950s:  Korean War

1960s:  Statehood (1959)

Maile Swing:  Cultural Accommodation

1970s:  ¡§Hawaiian Renaissance¡¨; Hokule`a

Wāhine `Ilikea:  The Hawaiian Renaissance

Post 1970s: Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement; scholarship in Hawaiiana

Ku`u Home O Kahalu`u:  Contemporary Adaptation



The Native Hawaiian experience is unique in some ways ¡V embodying the specific trajectories of a particular place, people, and culture located in the Pacific Ocean.  So these songs and themes speak directly to the Native Hawaiian experience.


In other ways, the Native Hawaiian experience is common to many groups that have been subject to imperialism and colonialism, market globalization, and the loss of traditional culture.




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[1]  Copyright © 2003 by Jeffrey J. Kamakahi

[2]  Email: or  Mailing address after February 2004: Department of Sociology, 116 Simons Hall, St. John¡¦s University, Collegeville, MN 56321.

[3]  I have previously looked at social change through Native Hawaiian folksong texts (Kamakahi and Robillard 1994) and have done a study of slack-key guitar¡¦s relation to Native Hawaiian folksongs (Kamakahi n.d.).

[4]  With the exception of ¡§Ku¡¦u Home O Kahalu`u,¡¨ I have copied the lyrics and translations from the ¡§¡¨ (2003) website.  I have altered some lyrics and text.  For the latter, lyrics were found in the original album jacket.  (Olomana 1976)

[5]  Emile Durkheim (1982) used the term ¡§collective conscience¡¨ to refer to the shared meanings and structures of a community.  For him, this phenomenon was a ¡§social fact¡¨ that existed sui generis (independent of the individuals that populated the community).  The collective conscious was also associated with a ¡§moral order¡¨which defined the values of the community.

[6]  In its oral tradition, the Kānaka Maoli chants demonstrate an extensive temporality and spatiality into the past.  Most theorists associate long-range future-orientation as existing only with the advent of writing.  (Couch 1984; Giddens 1981; Foucault 1980)  Native Hawaiian folksongs tend to be present-centered and written from a ¡§storytelling¡¨ viewpoint.

[7]  Pukui et al.¡¦s (1974) Place Names in Hawai`i is an invaluable resource for anyone engaging in research involving Hawai`i.

[8]  I learned much about this song and the compositions of both Sam Li`a Kalainaina Sr. and his son, Sam Li`a Kalainaina Jr., from discussions with Eddie Kamae in the 1970s.  Kamae and the Sons of Hawai`i musical group were involved in creating a documentary about Sam Li`a Jr.  Dennis Kamakahi later wrote a song about the latter entitled ¡§Kanaka Waiolina¡¨ ¡V the violin (fiddle) man.

[9] Source: (2003), Sonny Cunha's Music Book - Copyright 1902 William Coney. 

[10]  Charles E. King¡¦s composition ¡§Kaimana Hila¡¨ (Diamond Head) is another song about the area.  In it, King takes a more ¡§traditional¡¨ approach by describing different areas in separate verses (e.g., Kapi`olani Park, Makee Island, the Seaside Inn, Waikīkī).

[11]  Named after Queen Kapi`olani who was the wife of King Kalakaua (the ¡§Merry Monarch¡¨).  She also helped found the Kapi`olani Maternity Home which became the Kapi`olani Medical Center.  (Kamakahi 1991)

[12] Source: (2003). Johnny Noble's Hawaiian Hulas Copyright 1963 Miller Music Corp.

[13]  Much ongoing work by Kānaka Maoli scholars discusses the overthrow as a defining event.  Scholars such as Lilikalā Kame`eleihiwa (1992), Haunani Trask (1985), John Osorio (2001), Kēhaulani Kauanui (2000), Ty Kawika Tengan (2001), myself (1997), and others have pointed to this event as pivotal.

[14]  Lili`uokalani¡¦s (1964) Hawai`i¡¦s Story By Hawai`i¡¦s Queen provides a tremendous account of the story of the overthrow.

[15] Source: (2003), Na Mele o Hawai'i Nei by Elbert & Mahoe.

[16]  There is much evidence to indicate that Kānaka Maoli were not racist.  (Kamakahi and Kamakahi 2003; Kamakahi 1995; Adams 1969).

[17]  The Paniolo are often credited with introducing the guitar to Hawai`i.  Kī ho`alu, slack-key guitar, was created from adapting the foreign instrument to traditional and emerging Kānaka Maoli musicality.  (Kamakahi n.d.)

[18]  A compendium of place specific winds and rains have been complied by Rose (1980a, 1980b).

[19] Source: (2003), Edited by Dr. Barbara Price

[20]  Britain is referred to in various ways in the Hawaiian language: Pelekane, Beretania, and Enelani (for England).  In various dialects, l and r, k and t, as well as p and b were interchangeable.

[21]  In the past couple of decades, various people have been translating Hawaiian language newspapers into English.  This is providing valuable resource material to researchers.  Prof. Noenoe Silva, for example, has uncovered much exciting material.

[22]  Interestingly very early in the Kingdom period, Kamehameha is purported to have offered Pearl Harbor as a military outpost to foreign powers. (Kuykendall 1938)

[23] Source: (2003), Hawaiian Historical Society Translated by Leialoha Kamai and Lalepa Koga.

[24]  Johnny Noble and Charles E. King each produced important compendiums of Native Hawaiian songs.  In addition, both composed songs.  Other composers were also integral in placing folksongs into written form.  (Kamakahi and Robillard 1994)

[25]  Lawrence Fuchs (1984) provides the most comprehensive discussion of Hawai`i¡¦s Territorial period.

[26]  One only need quickly examine the tourist weeklies and fliers in Hawai`i to confirm this. 

[27] Source: (2003), Na Mele o Hawai'i Nei by Elbert & Mahoe.  

[28]  Locally, Kāne`ohe has been historically associated with the O`ahu Insane Asylum.  (Talmadge 1989)

[29]  Both Beechert (1985) and Takaki (1983) provide insightful glimpses of life and labor on Hawai`i¡¦s sugar plantations.  Lind (1980) and Nordyke (1977) outline the patterns of immigration into Hawai`i from around the world.

[30] Source: (2003); Na Mele o Hawaii Nei by Elbert & Mahoe.

[31]  I am using the term musicality to refer to stylistic genre.  (see Copeland 1957; Yasser 1975)  While radio programs such as ¡§Hawai`i Calls¡¨ were broadcasting Native Hawaiian and Hapa-haole songs, other radio programs were influencing music in the islands.  Of course, government sponsorship of Western musicality existed since Henri Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band¡¦s emergence during the Kingdom period.

[32]  Kamakahi and Robillard (1994) used criteria such as the presence of English words in songbook collections as indicators of audience and context.  Other indicators included the presence of translations, musical notation, specific authorship (and copyright), and place of publication.

[33] Source: (2003), Na Mele Aloha - Translated by Mary Puku'i, Edited by Dr. Barbara Price.

[34]  Many of this younger group graduated from Kamehameha High School during this period.  Some of these musicians are Dennis Kamakahi (see D. Kamakahi 1996), Robert Cazimero and Roland Cazimero (see Moon and the Sunday Mānoa 1972), Keola Beamer and Kapono Beamer (1998), and George Kahumoku (1997).  They were mentored by musicians such as Gabby Pahinui (1978, 1991, 1992), Eddie Kamae (see Sons of Hawai`i 1971), Raymond Kane (1994), and others.  There were also other talented musicians around that shared their interests: Peter Moon (Moon 1993), Cyril Pahinui (1994), Bla Pahinui (see Sunday Mānoa 1970), George Kuo (1996), etc. 

[35] Source: (2003), Copyright Naukilo Productions

[36]  There is definite distinction to be made between traditional Native Hawaiian (Kānaka Maoli) culture and ¡§local¡¨ Hawai`i culture.  The former refers to the pre-Western contact peoples, beliefs, and practices ¡V its focus is the indigenous culture of the archipelago.  Local Hawai`i culture, on the other hand, has as its focus the post-contact, mixed-race, and mixed-culture adaptations produced during and after the plantation economy ¡V with pidgin English, inter-racial marriage (Adams 1969), and a pluralistic attitude.  Comedian Frank DeLima has insightful ¡§stereotypical¡¨ views of Hawai`i¡¦s ethnic pluralism. (see DeLima and Hopkins 1991)

[37]  Source: Olomana (1976).