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Buke Mele Lāhui, Book of National Songs

Kīhei de Silva

Buke Mele Lahui was published in the last months of 1895 by Francisco Jose Testa, editor of the Hawaiian language newspaper Ka Makaainana. “Hoke” Testa’s pocket-sized volume contained 105 mele of decidedly nationalist sentiment; the majority had already been published in his and other Hawaiian language newspapers during the years bracketed by the Overthrow and Counterrevolution. One extraordinary feature of the Buke is the covert exchange of aloha between the imprisoned Queen Lili‘uokalani and her loyal subjects. As characterized by Dr. Noenoe Silva, the collection gives voice to a conversation between people who most needed to speak to each other at a time when they were most forbidden to converse. Hawaiians, she says, “were surveilled”; it was their good fortune – and ours – that these surveillers placed little importance on the mele that were being published in the newspapers of their day.

Only two copies of Testa’s publication are now in existence; consequently, the Hawaiian Historical Society’s facsimile reprint of Buke Mele Lahui makes available to the public a rare and significant collection: the largest number of Hawaiian political and patriotic poems ever printed in one place. Puakea Nogelmeier and Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman provide a thought-provoking introduction to the current edition.