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A ka Luna o Pu‘uonioni

Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Unknown. The mele has its origins in the Kamapua‘a and Pele literatures.
Sources: Nathaniel Emerson, Pele and Hi‘iaka, 20. Abraham Fornander, Selections from Hawaiian Antiquities and Folklore, 1961:216–217. Z. P. Kalokuokamaile, Roberts Collection, MS SC Roberts 4.2, Bishop Museum Archives. J. P. K. Kuluwaimaka, Kuluwaimaka Collection, HI.M.51.2 and Record 25:4, BMA. Peter Pakele, Roberts Collection, MS SC Roberts 3.7, BMA. Mary Kawena Pukui, Mader Collection, MS GRP 81, 9.48 and HI.M.78:15. BMA.
Discography: Ka‘upena Wong and Pele Suganuma, Mele Inoa, Poki Records, 1974. Maiki Aiu Lake, Maiki – Chants and Mele of Hawai‘i, Hula Records, 1992
Text below: Mary Kawena Pukui, Mader Collection, MS GRP 81, 9.48, BMA.
Translation: Pukui, as cited above. This, the second of two translations, is labeled "best one."


A ka luna o Pu‘uonioni
Ke anaina a ka wahine
Ki‘ei kaiāulu iā Wahinekapu
Noho ‘ana Papalauahi
Lauahi Pele i kai o Puna
One‘ā kai o Malama
Mālama i ke kanaka
A he pua laha ‘ole
Ha‘ina mai ka inoa
Kuakapu o Hi‘iaka

From the heights of Pu‘uonioni
(I saw) the company of women (sisters of Pele)
I peered with fear over Wahinekapu
At the lava bed of Papalauahi
Pele goes devouring down to Puna
Making black cinders at the sea of Malama
Take care of your people (O Pele)
For they are your choicest possessions
This ends my chant
For Hi‘iaka of the sacred back.

Versions of "A ka Luna o Pu‘uonioni" exist in both the Pele and Kamapua‘a literatures. Mary Kawena Pukui notes, in the old, card-catalog version of the Bishop Museum’s Mele Index, that the chant may have been "first uttered by Kamapua‘a, the hog god of Kaliuwa‘a (Sacred Falls) when he went to Hawai‘i to see Pele . . . [It was also] chanted by Hi‘iaka as she was leaving Kīlauea to go to Kaua‘i . . . A version of this chant is still used as a hula ‘ili‘ili or pebble dance to this day."

In its possibly original context, the chant is descriptive of Kamapua‘a’s arrival at Akanikōlea (a site on the cliffs above Kīlauea Crater), his recognition of the Hi‘iaka sisters gathered in lei-making on the lava flats below, and his acknowledgement of the goddess whose activity is evident in the spreading fires of Puna and the charred cinders in the sea of Malama.*

A ka luna i Puuonioni
Noho ke anaina a ka wahine
I ka luna o Wahinekapu
He oioina Kilauea
He noho ana o Papalauahi
Ke lauahi wale la no o Pele ia Puna
Ua one a kai o Malama
E malama ana e, aloha
(Fornander, Selections, 217)

Kamapua‘a’s mele ends with an apparent request for hospitality, but Pele takes offense at the hog god’s audacity—particularly his attempt to pass himself off as fully human ("That is not a man but a hog, the son of a hog, the grandson of a hog," she tells her infatuated sisters). There follows an exchange of insults, a battle in which each is nearly destroyed, a short-lived "marriage," and a division of the lands of Hawai‘i between them: "This is why lava flows always go to Puna, Ka‘ū, and Kona; while Hilo, Hāmākua, and Kohala have beautiful waterfalls, gulches, etc" (Pukui, MS GRP 81).

Many versions of "A ka Luna o Pu‘uonioni" appear in the Pele literature; Emerson, for example, attributes the chant to Hi‘iakaikapoliopele as she leaves for Kaua‘i. The context in which he places the chant, however, seems both peripheral and contrived (it becomes, in Emerson’s hands, an "answering song"—a complaint from Hi‘iaka to her sisters about the difficulties ahead of her rather than a direct supplication of Pele for assistance on that journey). Other versions of "Pu‘uonioni" are identified by their keepers as prayer chants of Hi‘iaka offered in just the direct supplicatory context that Emerson skirts. William Kalaiwa‘a shared the mele with Helen Roberts as a "pule kau," a term Betty Tatar defines as "a sacred prayer used as a personal (and often humble) offering" (19th Century Hawaiian Chant, 34, 123); the Kuluwaimaka Collection presents the mele as a "kau" addressed to Pele by Hi‘iaka; and Theodore Kelsey has collected kānaenae (chanted prayer of supplication) versions of "Pu‘uonioni" from Peter Pakele Sr. and Z. P. Kalokuokamaile.

Pukui explains that these Pele versions are adaptations of the Kamapua‘a mele (MS GRP 81); they follow the descriptive framework provided in Fornander’s account, and they diverge most noticeably from that model in their additions of concluding lines addressed to Pele in supplication of her favor.

Differences between the Kamapua‘a-modeled verses of these "Pule Kau no Pele" can be defined in terms of length, diction, and intensity of focus. For example, the relatively detailed Kalokuokamaile text takes four lines to describe the gathering of Hi‘iaka sisters on the floor of Kīlauea Crater:

Kilohi aku kuu maka ia lalo o Wahine kapu
He kaulu o Wahine kapu
He o-io-ina o Kilauea
He hale noho ana o Papalauahi

(I) cast my eyes below, into Wahinekapu
Wahinekapu is a ledge, a gathering-place
Kīlauea is a resting place
A dwelling place is Papalauahi
(unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own)

The Pukui text, on the other hand, compresses the same scene into half its descriptive length by removing all traces of Kalokuokamaile’s subject ("kilohi aku ku‘u maka") and by expunging, as well, most of the other's function words, directionals, articles, and modifiers:

Ki‘ei kaiāulu ia Wahine kapu
Noho‘ana Papalauahi

(I) peer (into the) gathering (of women) at Wahinekapu,
Residing (at) Papalauahi.

Where the former text displays the repetitive, incremental, free-form style of the chanted prayer, the Pukui version is characterized by the tighter phrasing and more regular rhythms of mele hula.

Similar variations in focus and function are evident in the final, appended lines of the different Pele versions of "Pu‘uonioni." The Kalokuokamaile and Kalaiwa‘a texts share a concluding admonition:

E malama i ke kanaka,
O kipa hewa ke aloha i ka ilio
He ilio ia
He kanaka wau.

Take care of the people
Lest love be wasted on a dog
This is a dog
I am a person.

Where these and the Kuluwaimaka versions dwell on a contrast between love misspent on a dog and love well-spent on a human devotee, the ambiguous concluding language of the Pakele text may be seen as descriptive of a difficulty ("ha‘akua – struggle to right oneself") which can be overcome by Pele’s favor, Pele’s gift of a godlike ("hoakua") companion, or Pele’s gift of "(a)kua"-like powers. If, on the other hand, "ha‘akua" is to be interpreted as Lohi‘au himself ("the male kahili-bearer of a chiefess"), then the same lines might be taken as a reference to the burden ("kua") of care that the man will soon become.

Malama i ke kanaka i ka mea aloha
O kakou haakua no ia
He kua ke hoa e

Care for the persons, the loved one
He is our "haakua"
The loved one is a "kua"

The Kalokuokamaile, Kalaiwa‘a, and Kuluwaimaka texts are all voiced by an individual, first-person supplicant: "He ilio ia, he kanaka au – That is a dog, I am a person." The Pakele text is somewhat less pointed, asking that Pele take care of "ke kanaka / ka mea aloha – the person(s) / the loved one(s),** a third-person, possibly plural supplicant for whom the speaker is perhaps interceding. The Pukui text—particularly because Pukui has herself translated "kanaka" and "pua" as plural possessions of Pele ("your people / your choicest possessions")—is the most general and inclusive of the "Pu‘uonioni" collection. Additional and highly distinctive features of the closing lines of the Pukui text include: 1) the formulaic late 19th century "Ha‘ina mai ka inoa", 2) the subtle shifting of purpose—implicit in that same "ha‘ina" line—from prayer to name-chant, and 3) the redirection of focus from Pele to her more approachable favorite sister:

Mālama i ke kanaka
A he pua laha ‘ole
Ha‘ina mai ka inoa
Kuakapu o Hi‘iaka

Take care of your people (O Pele)
For they are your choicest possessions
This ends my chant
For Hi‘iaka of the sacred back.
(Pukui translation)

Although it is not within the scope of this discussion to examine in detail the relationships between the Kamapua‘a and Pele traditions of "Pu‘uonioni" and the relationships, as well, between the different Pele versions, I will offer the following observations:

1. The earliest versions of "Pu‘uonioni" are closely connected to the story of Kamapua‘a’s initial encounter with Pele at her Kīlauea home. Kamapua‘a arrives at Akanikōlea, describes the scene that unfolds before him, hints at hospitality, and extends his aloha.

2. The Pele literature removes the chant completely from its Kamapua‘a context. While the basic Kamapua‘a mele remains intact, it is placed in the mouth of a Pele supplicant who asks, in lines appended to the original text, for Pele’s care, protection, and favor. For the most part, this supplicant is identified as Hi‘iaka; the mele itself is characterized as prayer—as either kānaenae or pule kau.

3. Emerson somewhat awkwardly inserts a Pele version of "Pu‘uonioni" into the story of Hi‘iaka's departure for Kaua‘i. That less-than-perfect fit is, in itself, a compelling argument that the Kamapua‘a text is a precursor of the Pele versions.

4. The most interesting differences in the Pele versions of the mele are those of focus and function. Several texts are quite specific and restrictive in their requests and may even be interpreted as having been accompanied by the offering of a dog ("He ilio ia / He kanaka wau)." Others seem to occupy a middle ground where the sense of ceremony is less evident and the supplicant is less specific about his identity.

5. A final version, the Pukui text, seems to have been specifically adapted for performance as mele hula: phrasing and line length have been regularized to meet the requirements of hula ‘ōlapa; the composition has redefined itself as mele inoa and rededicated itself, as well, to Hi‘iaka, a patron goddess of hula. It is the dancer who now asks Pele to care for her people, and it is in Hi‘iaka’s name that this request is now offered.

6. The paired lines, compressed language, regular phrasing, and ha‘ina-ending of the Pukui text give it a distinctly late-19th century flavor. As such, it may represent the most recent in a series of adaptations of the original Kamapua‘a text. It may be argued that this version represents a dilution of the earlier pule form and is, therefore, a concession to Western influences on Hawaiian poetry. I contend, however, that this most recent "Pu‘uonioni" represents an effort by the keepers of our traditions to disguise the mele in a form that would retain its spiritual content and yet give it continued life in an increasingly disapproving western world.



The essay above was written by Kīhei de Silva and excerpted from his Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet of 1992. It is offered here, in slightly revised and updated form, with his express consent. He retains all rights to this essay; no part of it may be used or reproduced without his written permission.

* For versions of Kamapua‘a’s encounter with Pele see: Fornander, Selections, 1961:216–217; Westervelt, Legends of Volcanoes, 47–48; Charlot, The Kamapua‘a Literature, 41–47

** Although ke and ka here are singular forms of "the," the Hawaiian language allows for more number-leeway than does English, and we cannot rule out the possibility that "ke kanaka" and "ka mea aloha" are plural references. Pukui’s translation of "malama i ke kanaka – take care of your people" clearly demonstrates this point.

4-puuonioni1-216 1

photo credit: Kīhei de Silva

The original context of "Pu‘uonioni" as dramatized by Hālau Hanakeaka in its Hawaiian language production "Kamapua‘a."

4-puuonioni2-216 2

photo credit: Kīhei de Silva

Pele’s sisters (Nā u‘i o Kīlauea: Kauanoe Takemoto, Kalua Cavaco, and Kahi Brooks) are enthralled by the handsome pig-god (Kekaulike Mar) when he approaches Kīlauea, observes them at rest on the lava flats of Papalauahi, and addresses Pele with the chant that begins "A ka luna i Pu‘uonioni / Noho ke anaina a ka wahine."

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