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Kīhei de Silva

After Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima’s double performance of "‘Alekoki" at the 2005 Merrie Monarch hula competition, a number of festival viewers expressed interest in the hālau’s "fact sheet" explanation of its 40-line, kahiko and ‘auana presentation of the normally short and snappy song. "Fact Sheets," for those unfamiliar with Merrie Monarch protocol, are required of all competing hālau and range in length and scope from "fill in the blanks" to book-length dissertations. We’ve reproduced below, with slight modifications in format (footnotes aren’t easy in html), the HMI treatise on "‘Alekoki." Don’t be alarmed—it’s more of a chapter than a book.

William Charles Lunalilo’s "‘Alekoki" is usually performed as an upbeat, four-verse, 16-line hula ‘auana of Kodak Hula Show vintage: big smiles, lots of spins, double pū‘ili, plumeria lei, grass skirts, and "he-hey" endings. When explained in this all-too-familiar context, the mele is regularly attributed to David Kalākaua and his persuasive conquest of an initially hesitant lover. Lunalilo’s actual composition is more than twice the length of the popular version. It has nothing to do with Kalākaua or with an ultimately successful lovers’ tryst. On the contrary, it describes the heartache suffered by Lunalilo as the result of his politically thwarted love affair with Victoria Kamāmalu.

This is old news to most of us—but news that most of us have chosen to disregard. Emerson’s Unwritten Literature contains "‘Alekoki’s" complete text and offers a careful explanation of the mele’s historical background and poetic language [1]. Pukui and Korn’s Echo of Our Song, corroborates and contributes to Emerson’s initial analysis [2]. Emerson’s publication has been around since the first decade of the 1900s—Pukui and Korn’s, since 1973—but the hula world has ignored both of these faithful renderings of the mele and chosen, for the most part, to perpetuate its flashy re-make. Because Emerson’s work is frequently off-target, the irony of "‘Alekoki’s" neglect is compounded by the uncritically high regard in which he has, for too long, been held. We accept the bulk of his work without caution, but we turn away from this rare instance of Emersonian accuracy.

We are no less guilty of willful neglect than is the next hālau. Our ‘auana repertoire includes an up-beat, four-verse version of "‘Alekoki" that we teach as a pū‘ili-coordination challenge and that we trot out, between more sedate songs, as an audience livener-upper. In truth, this "‘Alekoki" has as little to do with its original as the "Hawaiian War Chant" has to do with "Kāua i ka Huahua‘i." Our decision to present the complete Lunalilo composition in both the kahiko and ‘auana divisions of the Merrie Monarch Festival is the consequence of embarrassment and reconsideration. If we believe in text over eurythmics, substance over fluff, real over re-constructed, then it is time to act on our convictions.  There are several excellent examples, in our own hula legacy, of unaltered, monarchy-period texts that have been appropriately choreographed for both ipu and strings, pa‘i and strum—"Iā ‘Oe a ke Lā," and "Kalākaua He Inoa" come immediately to mind. We attempt here to do the same with Lunalilo’s much-abused but equally deserving "‘Alekoki."   

Historical Background

"Prince Bill" Lunalilo (1835–1874) was the only surviving child of Miriam Kekāuluohi (a daughter of Kamehameha I’s half-brother Kaleimamahū) and Charles Kana‘ina (a member of the Moana line of Hawai‘i Island chiefs). Lunalilo’s rank placed him high in the line of succession to Hawai‘i’s throne during the reign of Alexander Liholiho—third, in fact, behind the king’s own siblings, Lot Kapuāiwa and Victoria Kamāmalu. Lunalilo, we are told, was handsome, intelligent, eloquent, sensitive, well-versed in Hawaiian and western literature, extremely likeable, and given to bouts of intemperance. Lady Jane Franklin, who rubbed elbows with Hawaiian royalty during a two-month visit to the kingdom in 1861, committed to her diary the following gossip-flavored but generally accurate description of the prince:

He is a young man of about 24 yrs of age of remarkable talent, good-looking, well-read and of very gentlemanlike manners, understanding and speaking English better even than his own language, but with all this hopelessly given to drink and lost to all the promise of his earlier years. Mr. Pease thinks this is partly owing to the restraint under which he was held by the Missionaries who had charge of his education [3].

Princess Victoria Kīhe‘ahe‘alani Kamehamalu Kamāmalu (1838–1866) was the last child of Kīnaʻu (daughter of Kamehameha I and Kalakua) and Mataio Kekūanāo‘a (a descendant of the ‘Ī of Hawai‘i through his father Nāhi‘ōle‘a, and of O‘ahu’s chiefly line through his mother Inaina)[4]. Kamāmalu was regarded as Lunalilo’s equal in looks, intelligence, manners, and volatility. She was placed at age two in the Chief’s Children’s School and remained there until her sixteenth year, but she was also raised by her guardian John Papa ‘Ī‘ī (a member of the House of Nobles in the reign of Kamehameha III), her older half-sister Ruth Ke‘elikōlani, and Queen Dowager Kalama [5]. It is likely that she learned her deep culture from kahu, kaikua‘ana, and kuini—especially the arts of chanting and composition for which she was later held in high regard [6]. 

At fifteen, Kamāmalu was described by U.S. Commissioner David Gregg as well-educated, well-versed in English, and having "an appearance more engaging than most girls her age" [7]. Robert Wyllie, then foreign minister of the kingdom, told Gregg that Kamāmalu was a victim of Calvinist repression: "She liked amusement and knew that it was proper for her age and condition, yet...felt herself bound to act like a hypocrite and ʻjoin the Church’" [8]. Wyllie predicted, with unfortunate accuracy, that the consequence of this stifling of her Hawaiian spirit "was sure to be a reaction at some time of life or other, and the indulgence in excesses corresponding with the extent of unwise and unnecessary denial."[9] 

Lunalilo and Kamāmalu were betrothed to each other in their childhood at the behest of Kamāmalu’s mother Kīna‘u, kuhina nui of the kingdom under Kamehameha III [10]. We know, from several sources, that the two were deeply attracted to each other in their youth and that their subsequently passionate relationship and seemingly inevitable marriage were thwarted by Kamehameha IV—Kamāmalu’s brother Alexander Liholiho [11]. The king feared that his own line of succession would be jeopardized by the ardor of prince and princess. Because he would be outranked by the offspring of their union (as would any children of his own marriage to Emma Rooke), he forced his sister into breaking off her relationship with Lunalilo [12].

The short-term effects of the king’s meddling were successful—at least from Alexander’s perspective. No marriage, no children, no threat. The long-term consequences, however, were considerably less definitive and sanguine. Alexander’s line ended with the early death of his only son and with his own death shortly thereafter. Alexander’s brother, Lot, followed him to the throne but died unmarried and without issue. Lot was succeeded by the schemed-against Lunalilo who had never married and whose alcoholism and mercurial behavior are said to have been triggered, at least in part, by the bitter depression that followed his breakup with Kamāmalu [13].  

When Lunalilo died of pulmonary tuberculosis within a year of his accession, he left no heir, refused to name a successor, [14] and separated himself completely from the sovereigns of the Kamehameha Dynasty by eschewing their Mauna ‘Ala resting-place and instructing, instead, that he be interred outside Kawaiaha‘o Church in a mausoleum of his own.  

We don’t know too much about Kamāmalu’s life in the years following her breakup with Prince Bill. She had assumed the by-then titular office of kuhina nui in her brother’s government, and she is remembered as one of the preeminent ladies in the high social circles of his court. She founded the Ka‘ahumanu Society and served as its first, lifetime president. She led the Kawaiaha‘o Church choir. Upon the death of Kamehameha III in 1854, she became one of the largest landowners in the kingdom, but she soon had to lease many of her holdings to sugar and ranching interests in order to support the households that she maintained and the lifestyle that she enjoyed [15]. 

We suspect that she was profoundly torn between incompatible desires and expectations: Hawaiian and Christian, personal and political. Her last years—as much as we can tell from the fragments of fact, gossip, and mele that are left for us to assemble—were characterized by extremes of behavior, intemperance, indiscretion, and scandal. She was praised by her missionary teacher Juliette Cook for "doing very much with her people to counteract evil influences," but she was condemned by others for her "obvious alcoholic proclivities" and for harboring beliefs in the "old ways of kahunaism and sorcery" [16].

After hosting a dinner party on January 15, 1857, Prince Lot burst into Kamāmalu’s quarters and discovered her in compromising circumstances with his guest Marcus Monsarrat. Lot and the king summarily deported Monsarrat and attempted to undo the perceived damage by arranging a marriage between their sister and David Kalākaua [17]. Kalākaua was willing, but Kamāmalu refused; her fiery response to her brothers’ continual meddling is recorded in her two-part composition, "Pua Hau ‘o Maleka" and "Aita ‘Oe e Parau" [18]. The frustrated king is said to have subsequently revised his opinion of her marriage to Lunalilo and arrangements for that wedding, "the princess still desiring it," were only broken off when Lunalilo threatened to "get into such a state of drunkenness for the occasion as would make it impossible for the marriage ceremony to take place" [19]. Kamāmalu’s earlier misconduct with Monsarrat, according to a journal entry of Sophia Cracroft:

...may have been the cause of the prince’s objection to the lady on the occasion & of the King’s wish for the marriage. The prince it is said is irrecoverably ruined—he knows he is acting so as to lead him rapidly to the grave but professes to be perfectly indifferent...[20] 

Four years after the Monsarrat scandal, Sophia Cracroft described Kamāmalu as having once been "much with the Missionaries—but no more" [21]. Cracroft found the princess, in their first meeting, to be "tall and large and [she] will no doubt be very much bigger... in everything but colour she was like a European, and there is a good deal of stateliness about her" [22]. Cracroft’s second impression was equally mixed. The princess, although at home, was presumptuously dressed in "full-blown attire." She greeted her guests politely and with apparent good nature, "but has not a pleasant countenance, and a good deal might be written about her" [23]. 

In February 1866, Kamāmalu fell ill at a party hosted by Bernice Pauahi Bishop at Haleakalā, Pauahi’s home. The illness lingered through May when she was stricken with a paralysis that might easily be interpreted as the physical manifestation of her torn, tugged-at, and ultimately paralyzed spirit. She did not recover; her kahu, Papa ‘Ī‘ī, recorded the details as follows: 

Kamāmalu died at 10 a.m. on May 29, 1866, at Papakanene house at Mokuaikaua...She was in bed for three weeks before she was taken. On Sunday evenings the members of her two churches pleaded with the Lord, but the trouble was too grave for their petitions. The doctors, too, were unable to make her well. The length of her life was 27 years and seven months [24].

"‘Alekoki" – Literary Influences

Lunalilo was regarded as one of the most literate residents—native or otherwise—of mid–19th century Hawai‘i. He was well-versed in English poetry, had a powerful memory, and was given to spontaneous recitations of the classics [25]. When drunk, he was especially fond of Shakespeare [26] and enjoyed casting himself in the roll of an embattled Richard III: "Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,/And I will stand the hazard of the die/... /A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" [27].  Lady Franklin—whose somewhat infatuated descriptions of Prince Bill demonstrate the effect of his eloquent but "hopelessly lost" presence on even married British ladies—further embellishes the kingdom-for-a-horse story by putting it in an actual horseback context; she reports that:

The young Prince was a great admirer of Shakespeare, and used when in a state of undue excitement to go about the city on horseback, gathering the people about him at the corners of streets and reciting passages from his plays [28].

It is said that Lunalilo, in these saddle-enthroned moments of "undue excitement," took bitter pleasure in having a horse but no kingdom [29]; he was all too familiar with the many ironies of his life and character. Lunalilo’s grounding in English literature and his predilection for casting himself in irony-tinged, heroic roles are subtly evident in his "‘Alekoki." In fact, we cannot fully appreciate the genius of this composition without recognizing its unique synthesis of traditional Hawaiian language and imagery with the "complaints" of Shakespeare and the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning [30]. 

Lover’s Complaint

A "complaint" is a lyric poem—usually delivered as monologue—in which the usually self-pitying poet 1) details the wrongs committed by his unfaithful or unresponsive lover, 2) laments his miserable lot in life, and/or 3) expresses his great weariness with the sorry state of the world.[31] The "lover’s complaint" of the Elizabethan Age (as evident in Shakespeare’s own poem of the same name) involves pastoral settings and the plaintive laments of forlorn shepherds and shepherdesses who have fallen victim to blind passion and the false promises of their ultimately hypocritical lovers.

Shakespeare’s "The Lover’s Complaint" is voiced by a woe-begotten maiden who recounts, at great length and detail, the deceptions her lover employed to win and break her all-too trusting heart. He can no longer mislead her; but when all is said and done, she admits to hoping that he will break it anew. Her sentiments underscore a pair of recurring Shakespearean themes that Lunalilo, in his time, was also to take up: the subversion of relationships by hypocrisy, and the all-consuming nature of love:

O, that infected moisture of his eye,
O, that false fire which in his cheek so glow’d,
O, that forced thunder from his heart did fly,
O, that sad breath his spongy lungs bestow’d,
O, all that borrow’d motion seeming owed,
Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d,
And new pervert a reconciled maid!

Dramatic Monologue

The dramatic monologue is a lyric poem that presents the conversation of one character in a dramatic situation; this character speaks to a silent listener at an important juncture in the speaker’s life. The circumstances surrounding the conversation—of which we hear only one side—are implicit in the details the speaker provides, and we are often able, in the process of listening and piecing the story together, to gain a deep insight into his personality [32]. 

The dramatic monologue is an old form, but most literary historians identify Robert Browning (1812–1889) as its modern master. Browning’s monologues are characterized by the case-making, argumentative tone of his speakers and by the gap that develops between what these speakers say and what they actually reveal about themselves. Browning’s characters almost invariably protest too much; their argumentative tone undermines our initial sympathy for first-person speakers and we, as silent listeners, are left to form our own, more ironic opinions of character and context. 

"My Last Duchess," one of Browning’s best-known dramatic monologues [33], is presented to us as if we were simply overhearing a bit of casual conversation between the Duke of Ferrar and an envoy of his fiancé’s family. The duke stands in front of a portrait of his late wife and enumerates—in urbane, apparently well-reasoned fashion—her faults and inadequacies:

She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favor at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift.

The Browningesque gap between what is said and what is revealed becomes evident with our gradual realization that the lady’s so-called shortcomings are generosity of spirit, delight in simple pleasures, and courtesy to those who serve her. Browning allows us to conclude that the duke came to despise his former wife because she cared little for rank and power. The duke’s final comment on their relationship, "I gave commands; /smiles stopped together," invites us to entertain the unpleasant suspicion that he put an end to her unpretentious behavior by ordering her death and that he will not tolerate the same flaws in his wife-to-be. In this dramatic monologue, Browning thus affords us the ironic double-perspective of Duke Urbane and Duke Savage—the duke as he sees himself and the duke as he involuntarily exposes himself.

"‘Alekoki" as Lover’s Complaint

"‘Alekoki" is clearly influenced by the Shakespearean complaint and its literary predecessors. Prince Bill opens his monologue with an expression of disdain for the intrigue-polluted midland pool of ‘Alekoki, and he proceeds to dramatize the heartbreak of his failed assignation with Princess Victoria in upper Nu‘uanu Valley, the idyllic setting for what should have been the consummation of their pure and passionate love. 

‘A‘ole i mana‘o ‘iaNot worthy of consideration
Kahi wai a‘o ‘AlekokiIs ‘Alekoki Pool
Ho‘okohu ka ua i uka More pleasing is the upland rain
Noho maila i Nu‘uanuThat resides at Nu‘uanu

He describes his condition after waiting in vain for the suddenly unresponsive princess as anuanu makehewa "forlorn; miserable; suffering the cold without reward." And he reproaches her for leading him to believe that their love was pa‘a "steadfast" when it was, in fact, pani a pa‘a ‘ia mai "blocked, closed off completely" by her brother’s meddling:

Kainō paha ua pa‘aI was wrong, perhaps, to assume
Kou mana‘o i ‘ane‘iThat your thoughts were fixed on me
Pani a pa‘a ‘ia maiClosed up, completely dammed
Nā mana wai o ukaAre the stream branches of the uplands.

These recriminations, of course, are not enough for the wounded Lunalilo. He goes on to emphasize Kamāmalu’s hypocritical lead-role in their relationship, he harps on his own uncompromised loyalty, and he drives home his sense of betrayal by punning constantly on her Hawaiian name. Kamāmalu means "the shelter, shade, protection." Parts of her inoa make five appearances in four of his lines—ho‘omalu, ho‘omalu, malu, malu, mamuli. They are like salt rubbed repeatedly into his wounds; even Kamāmalu’s name, he implies, has played a deceitful role in her nearly unbearable betrayal. 

Āu i ho‘omalu ai I am the one you captivated
Ho‘omalu ‘oe a maluYou cast you spell, I succumbed
Ua malu nēia kinoI reserved myself for you
Ma muli o kou leo At your request

Lunalilo then turns his attention from the princess to her manipulative brother-king, Alexander Liholiho. The mele expresses, at length, Lunalilo’s deep dissatisfaction with a world tossed by the storms of politics and schemed-over by ka luna i Pelekāne "the boss-man at the palace" [34]. The prince sees himself as soaked in sea-spray, battered by winds, and restricted to little rooms, but he makes a gallant attempt to remedy his miserable state by redefining himself as ho‘okahi nō koa nui "the one great warrior" who weathers the storm, looks down his nose at the luna, and finds other flowers to love. 

Ho‘okahi nō koa nui 

There is but on great warrior
Nāna e ‘alo ia ‘inoWho will brave this storm
I ‘ō i ‘ane‘i auI go here and there
Ka pi‘ina a‘o Ma‘ema‘eAlong the hill of Ma‘ema‘e
E kilohi au i ka naniWhere I gaze at the beauty
Nā pua i Mauna ‘AlaOf the flowers at Mauna ‘Ala

Although Lunalilo insists that he has learned his lesson and moved on to more rewarding, fragrant-flower relationships, his parting lines leave us with the Shakespearean impression that love defies all reason and that the discovery of hypocrisy and manipulation does little, in the end, to blunt the appeal of the incomparably fragrant Victoria, his red lehua of the uplands who has now become ‘ai ‘ono a nā manu "the delicious food of [other] birds." 

He ‘ala onaona kouYou have a sweet fragrance
Ke pili mai i ‘ane‘i  When I hold you close to me
‘O a‘u lehua ‘ula i lunaMy scarlet lehua on high
‘Ai ‘ono a nā manuDelicious food of the birds

"‘Alekoki" as Dramatic Monologue

Elements of the dramatic monologue are also evident in "‘Alekoki" and implicit in much of the preceding discussion. We eavesdrop, in Lunalilo’s mele, on one side of a conversation between "Bill and Victoria" at a highly dramatic juncture in their relationship—its termination. We are not privy to Victoria Kamāmalu’s answer, nor are we given a detailed explanation of the context of their conversation. We are required, instead, to piece the larger story together and to draw conclusions about its principal characters. In brief, we infer from the unnamed speaker’s words that 1) the principal characters are, in fact, Lunalilo, Kamāmalu, and Kamehameha IV, 2) the prince and princess were supposed to meet and consummate their love at an idyllic mountain pool, 3) she didn’t show up, 4) her brother the king prevented it, 5) she wasn’t strong enough to resist her brother’s meddling, and 6) although the prince and princess have found other lovers, he is still attracted to her.

"‘Alekoki," in dramatic monologue fashion, also supplies us with enough information—sometimes intended by the speaker, sometimes not—to gain insight into this speaker’s personality. The safest and most obvious of our "‘Alekoki" insights is that Lunalilo was indeed passionately in love with Kamāmalu and deeply wounded by her betrayal of what he thought was an inviolable bond. We cannot doubt the sincerity of anuanu makehewa, ua malu nēia kino, kau nui aku ka mana‘o, he ‘ala onaona kou, and ‘o a‘u lehua ‘ula i luna—these are highly poetic, poignant expressions of dejection, loyalty, trust, confidence, physical attraction, and sweet affection. The boy loved the girl, and she broke his heart—no doubt about it.

More interesting and somewhat less flattering is Prince Bill’s penchant for self-dramatization; he comes close to making too much of his response to the broken affair, the king’s meddling, and the ensuing gossip. He describes his circumstances as storm-beleaguered: the surf outside Honolulu Harbor has been whipped into a frenzy, the winds blow with bitter force, and storm clouds blacken the sky. But the pouli nui "big darkness" has little effect on the koa nui "big warrior." Lunalilo characterizes himself as standing in heroic solitude against king and controversy. The drenching sea spray merely slips off his skin; he alone endures the attack from above; the gossip-mongering, light-eclipsing Alexander is mea ‘ole i ku‘u mana‘o "nothing in my thoughts." 

Lunalilo’s self-described courage is revealed, however, to be little more than bluster when, in the mele’s penultimate verse, we learn that his actual "stand" consists of: I ‘ō i ‘ane‘i au / Ka pi‘ina a‘o Ma‘ema‘e / E kilohi au i ka nani / Nā pua i Mauna ‘Ala, "I go here, there, and everywhere / At Ma‘ema‘e Hill / Gazing at the beauty of Mauna ‘Ala’s flowers." In other words, he retaliates by chasing other women. 

There is, in our reading, too much character-deflation here for it to be unintended. It seems more likely that Lunalilo—even in the emotional dumps—is cognizant of irony and capable of self-mockery. He seems, in the manner of the dramatic monologist, to be putting a bit of distance here between Lunalilo the poet and Prince Bill of the big ego and gallant pose. The best argument for Lunalilo’s self-awareness and self-mockery occurs in the very important and sometimes overlooked final verse of "‘Alekoki" where he admits, in a much quieter voice, that his thoughts still return to the one flower of his heart. He gives part of himself over to adolescent venting and revenge, but undercuts his braggadocio with this subdued, bitter-sweet assessment of damage done.

The third and perhaps most interesting of our character insights has to do with Lunalilo’s deep-seated, hair-trigger animosity for Alexander Liholiho. Lunalilo opens his poem with an attack on "Alek," not with a description of his broken heart or Kamāmalu’s betrayal. ‘A‘ole i mana‘o ‘ia kahi wai a‘o ‘Alekoki is a complex pun on the king’s name and rank: "Alexander (‘Alekoki) is not to be thought of"—he is not worthy of consideration, is beneath contempt, is a mid-land pool of middling status. "Alek" is the first name out of Lunalilo’s mouth and the much returned-to object of the poem’s scorn.

The king, in fact, is behind all of the activity described in verses eight through sixteen of the twenty-verse composition: he has blocked the upland watercourses (Pani a pa‘a ‘ia mai, / Nā māno wai o uka) and thereby interfered with the natural "flow" of love’s emotions; his now-exposed, multi-level schemes (Ahuwale nā ki‘owai, / Nā papahele o luna) were meant to relegate Lunalilo to an insignificant room-corner (Ma luna a‘e nō wau, / Ma ke kū‘ono li‘ili‘i); he is the source of stormy attacks on Lunalilo’s character (Ma waho a‘o Māmala, / Hao mai ana ehuehu ... ‘Ino‘ino mai nei luna, / I ka hao a ka makani); he is the gossip-monger boss of a palace rife with British pretension (He makani ‘āha‘i lono, / Lohe ka luna i Pelekāne); and he is, again, a nothing—a big, dark cloud, unworthy of further thought (A ‘o ia pouli nui, / Mea ‘ole i ku‘u mana‘o). 

There is a heap of irony here. Lunalilo can’t stop railing at that which he insists is mea ‘ole. He obsesses on the king; he protests too much; he loses sight of Kamāmalu. We can attribute his first-verse attack on Alexander and his nine-verse diatribe on the king’s insignificance to the angry flailing of a wounded, adolescent ego: Prince Bill lashing out as best he can at his star-crossed fate. Or not. Or we can interpret Prince Bill’s seemingly obvious complaint as the more complex and complexly motivated work of Lunalilo the dramatic monologist. Perhaps Lunalilo the poet is in more control than Prince Bill the speaker; perhaps the former is using the excusable emotional excess of the latter to launch a calculated political attack on an old enemy. Perhaps "‘Alekoki’s" lover’s invective has a broader and less easily dismissed political application: it attacks Alexander’s reign as self-serving, manipulative, exclusive, and British-influenced. The old order, Lunalilo seems to argue, has been subverted by imported values. Perhaps he is telling us that there is more at stake here than the love of prince for princess; the undermining of their relationship may be symptomatic of a larger collapse [35].

We know that Lunalilo was completely snubbed by the governments of Kamehameha IV and V. "He was never given any public office by [either] king. He was never asked to travel abroad officially. He was kept on a small allowance of money. His cousins [the kings] ignored him"[36]. We know that during the constitutional convention of 1864, Lunalilo "strongly supported the cause of the people against unnecessary interference by any ruler" [37]. We know that when Lot died in 1872, Lunalilo declined to claim his birthright to the throne; he asked instead that the people choose their new king by plebiscite. And we know that when he took the throne as the "people’s King," he amended the constitution to curtail some of his own powers in order that "the constitution shall secure to my subjects all the rights which shall best promote their improvements and happiness" [38].

The "brave-warrior vs. manipulative luna" passages of Lunalilo’s "‘Alekoki"—composed almost twenty years before Lunalilo’s brief reign—seem to predict the politics that would follow. These passages suggest, again, that the mele is considerably more than a lover’s complaint penned by a broken-hearted, king-baiting, bravado-spewing Prince Bill. Lunalilo the poet is not disingenuous in his expression of misery and anger, but his poem, on close examination, displays more papahele o luna (upper floors, layers of intent, plans on plans) than can be contained in the simpler lover’s complaint. The mele wears the mask of complaint behind which we discover a dramatic monologue, behind which—perhaps—we find Lunalilo himself. Such is Lunalilo’s complex, irony-laced genius.

"‘Alekoki" as Mele Hawai‘i

Although we have made much of the influence of western poetry on the shape and voice of "‘Alekoki," Lunalilo was not, by any means, a victim of the disease so prevalent among today’s composers: ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, mana‘o haole "Hawaiian words, haole thinking." His poem is a synthesis of western and Hawaiian poetry that can only have resulted from a deep understanding of both traditions and from an ultimate allegiance to the Hawaiian form. The western elements of "‘Alekoki" can be traced to the Elizabethans and Victorians; to Shakespeare and Browning; they are evident, as well, in the poem’s introspective nature, confessional tone, strophic construction, short lines, and regular rhythms. Within this framework, however, the mele is unmistakably Hawaiian.

"‘Alekoki’s" maoli nature is evident in the following small but telling ways: 1) purity of language (Lunalilo’s text, for example, opens with ‘A‘ole i mana‘o ‘ia"; the now-familiar ‘A‘ole i piliwi ‘ia [the Hawaiianization of "believe"] is a later corruption), 2) proverbial expressions (Ho‘okahi nō koa nui / Nāna e ‘alo ia ‘ino, for example is a variation of the time-honored expression, He ‘alo‘alo kuāua no kuahiwi "one who faces the mountain showers, a brave person" [39]); 3) native symbolism (the flow of water symbolizes passion; storms symbolize turbulent affairs in the world of men; gusting winds symbolize scandal and gossip; fragrant flowers and nectar-sipping birds symbolize lovely women and their eager lovers), 4) intricate word-play (‘Alekoki is a masterful pun on "Alexander"; Kamāmalu’s betrayal is described in language that echoes her name with devastating irony; luna "boss, foreman," when applied to the king, is a staggering insult that is further compounded by the superiority of luna-lilo "higher than luna," the poet’s own name, and 5) linked terminals: sound-bridges that give the poem a sense of movement from verse to verse (verse two ends with Nu‘uanu, and verse three begins with anuanu; verse five with a malu, six with ua malu; verse nine with o luna, ten with ma luna, and so on).

"‘Alekoki’s" Hawaiian core is also evident in matters larger and less obvious. Its essence is apparent, for example, in Lunalilo’s love for ambiguous language—language that often contains contradictory (but not mutually exclusive) shades of meaning that the listener is invited to detect, weigh, and appreciate. Ambiguity of this sort makes an early appearance in "‘Alekoki" with Ho‘okohu ka ua i uka. This line is most often translated, "More suitable/pleasing is the upland rain," and it is usually interpreted as a statement of preference: Lunalilo has no interest in ‘Alekoki; the rain of upper Nu‘uanu is far more appropriate to his interests and temperament [40]. Ho‘okohu, however, also means "pretension, presumption, impersonation," and the line can therefore be read as an extension of—not an answer to—the ‘Alekoki criticism of the first verse: "I don’t care for ‘Alekoki because it pretends to be a Nu‘uanu rain, because it presumes to hold a higher station than it actually deserves." The two readings are contradictory, but they both contribute to the mele’s meaning in a typically double-edged Hawaiian way.

The multiple meanings of Lunalilo’s seemingly transparent anuanu makehewa au are also worthy of explanation: Anuanu means "cold, chilly"; makehewa means "in vain, a bad bargain, disappointing." The line, therefore, is commonly translated, "I suffered the cold in vain"—an expression of the misery that results from waiting in the rain for a lover who fails to appear. But anuanu can also refer to an entirely different and potentially desirable condition—to the tingling chill of sexual excitement. When considered in this light, anuanu makehewa conveys an additional sense of disappointed arousal, of Lunalilo having been stirred-up but not fulfilled. Poetic kaona of this sort—the presence of a sexual subtext in an apparently straightforward, non-sexual description—is highly characteristic of mele Hawai‘i, and the subtlety with which Lunalilo here conveys that kaona is a measure of his mastery.

The final item in our discussion of the Hawaiian core of "‘Alekoki" involves Lunalilo’s multi-layered use of place-names. Nu‘uanu, Kapena, Ma‘ema‘e, Mauna ‘Ala, ‘Alekoki, Pelekane, Māmala. These are all specific locations and define an equally specific, mountain-to-sea expanse of homeland: Nu‘uanu above, Māmala below, and the five sites between them strung like vertebrae on the spine of Nu‘uanu Stream. These sites once belonged to an interdependent whole—an ‘ahupua‘a—but Lunalilo characterizes them as clogged, dysfunctional, and storm-ravaged. He aspires to the cool, refreshing, mist-shrouded uplands, a place appropriate to the status and passion of prince and princess. But the once free-flowing waters of Nu‘uanu and the much-loved bathing pool of Kapena are now blocked by lowland interference. Kapena’s alternative, the compromised, downstream waters of ‘Alekoki, are not worthy of Lunalilo’s consideration; and the lowlands (the palace named Pelekane and the harbor mouth named Māmala) are a benighted, tempest-tossed ruin of foreign influence, rumor-mongering, and heavy-handed authority.  Lunalilo is barred from the uplands, and he repudiates the lowlands. What is left for him is the midland limbo of Ma‘ema‘e and Mauna ‘Ala where he resides in "little rooms" and pursues shallow relationships. 

Lunalilo’s place names, in typical mele Hawai‘i fashion, are more than place-holders; they have literal meanings that contribute to the depth and resonance of his composition. Nu‘uanu means "cool elevation" and Kapena means "the package." These are what Lunalilo aspires to: the completely exciting, uncompromised, upland tryst with Kamāmalu. Instead, he gets ‘Alekoki ("snubbed wave, foreshortened ripple," Alek Liholiho." The lowland mess of foreign values is named Pelekane (the Britain so dearly loved by Alex and his queen). The entry point for these disruptive, storm-generating values is Māmala Harbor ("fragment, splinter; stroke of a war club"). Lunalilo, who aspires to the high mountains, has to settle for the hills of mid-Nu‘uanu. He insists, with heavy irony, that he has made the ascent to Ma‘ema‘e ("clean, pure, purged, reformed") and now occupies himself with the lesser flowers of Mauna ‘Ala ("fragrant mountain"). But Ma‘ema‘e is just a hill and Mauna ‘Ala, despite its name, is no mountain.

The tradition-steeped Hawaiian poet and audience take considerable pleasure in the careful selection and arrangement of place-names.  These names are meaning- and emotion-bearers capable of stirring powerful memories and emotions. They often reaffirm our connection to ancestral lands that are no longer our own, no longer identified by their original names, or no longer in existence. Lunalilo’s place-names stir memories, reaffirm connections, and become powerful metaphors of both his inner, emotional landscape and the changing world around him.  Taken together, these place-names form the kuamo‘o "backbone" of his quintessentially Hawaiian mele.

Panina – Closing Thoughts

Lunalilo was no more than twenty years old when he composed "‘Alekoki." It is a poetic tour de force for a haku mele of any age but particularly staggering in Lunalilo’s case because of his ability, so early in life, to process and synthesize two disparate literary traditions without losing his Hawaiian center. The Kalākaua siblings—Nā Lani ‘Ehā—are usually identified as the outstanding royal poets of the Hawaiian Monarchy; this acclaim is well-deserved, especially because so many of their mele are still around to be appreciated. Lunalilo, on the other hand, left almost nothing behind for us to chant, sing, and dance. We wonder what his status might have been had he compiled and successfully passed on a larger body of work. "‘Alekoki," in the mele’s own words, is something of an ‘āha‘ilono—the only survivor left to tell the news. We have all the more reason, then, to cherish this composition and promote its full and proper expression. 

The American music teachers’ website Crash! Boom! Bang! suggests that students of native percussion will benefit from a "Hawaiian Puili Activity" during which they face their partners and use split bamboo rhythm sticks to tap the floor, tap their partners’ sticks, tap their shoulders and chests, and tap overhead—all to the music of "‘Alekoki." Pū‘ili, we are told, can be made by wrapping a masking-tape handle around one end of a bundle of five plastic straws. When students are comfortable with "‘Alekoki," they can then be asked to "create a puili stick dance to accompany [another] Hawaiian song such as 'Hawaiian Rainbows'" [41]. It’s easy enough to accuse Crash! Boom! Bang! of trivializing our poetry and dance—of reducing Lunalilo’s masterpiece of language to the rhythmic tapping of straw bundles and to the company of "Hawaiian Rainbows." But we had best direct our energies at self-criticism and self-correction. We, at least, should know better.

The Text

There is no single definitive text of "‘Alekoki." Five are worthy of consideration: Emerson, Helen Roberts, Noble and King, Elbert and Māhoe, and Pukui and Korn. These differ in length, in arrangement of verses, and in the smaller details of mana wai or māno wai, kai he‘ehe‘e or kai he‘ahe‘a, pouli or pō uli that are the result of the predominantly oral nature of the song’s transmission. The text below represents our best effort at compiling, from the five listed above, a complete and intelligently organized version of Lunalilo’s phantom original. Our text most closely resembles Elbert and Māhoe’s; the translation is our own.


1.‘A‘ole i mana‘o ‘iaNot worthy of consideration
 Kahi wai a‘o ‘Alekoki,Is ‘Alekoki pool
2.Ho‘okohu ka ua i uka More fitting is the upland rain
 Noho maila i Nu‘uanu That resides at Nu‘uanu
3.Anuanu makehewa auI suffered the cold in vain
 Ke kali ‘ana i laila Waiting there for you
4.Kainō paha ua pa‘aI was wrong, perhaps, to assume
 Kou mana‘o i ‘ane‘iThat your thoughts were fixed here on me
5.Āu i ho‘omalu aiBut I am the one you captivated
 Ho‘omalu ‘oe a maluYou cast your spell, I succumbed
6.Ua malu nēia kinoI reserved myself for you
 Ma muli o kou leoAt your request
7.Kau nui aku ka mana‘o My hopes were set
 Kahi wai a‘o Kapena On the waters of Kapena
8.Pani a pa‘a ‘ia mai      Closed-up, completely dammed
 Nā mana wai o ukaAre the stream branches of the uplands
9.Ahuwale nā ki‘owaiExposed are the pools of water
 Nā papahele o luna And the floors above
10.Ma luna a‘e nō auI am above
 Ma ke kū‘ono li‘ili‘iIn a little nook
11.Ma waho a‘o MāmalaOut there beyond Māmala
 Hao mai nei ehuehuThe waves rise in fury
12.Pulu au i ka huna kaiI am soaked in sea spray
 Kai he‘ehe‘e i ka ‘iliIn salt water slippery to the skin
13.Ho‘okahi nō koa nui There is but one great warrior
 Nāna e ‘alo ia ‘ino Who will brave the storm
14.‘Ino‘ino mai nei lunaThese heights are battered
 I ka hao a ka makaniBy the force of the wind
15.He makani ‘āha‘ilonoThe tale-bearing wind
 Lohe ka luna i PelekaneTo which the boss at Pelekane attends
16.A ‘o ia pouli nuiAnd this deep ignorance
 Mea ‘ole i ku‘u mana‘o Means nothing to me
17.I ‘ō i ‘ane‘i auI go here and there
 Ka pi‘ina a‘o Ma‘ema‘eAlong the hill of Ma‘ema‘e
18.E kilohi au i ka naniWhere I gaze at the beauty
 Nā pua i Mauna ‘AlaOf the flowers at Mauna ‘Ala
19.He ‘ala onaona kou   You had such a sweet fragrance
 Ke pili mai i ‘ane‘iWhen I held you close to me
20.‘O a‘u lehua ‘ula i lunaMy scarlet lehua on high
 ‘Ai ‘ono a nā manu.Delicious food of the birds.



 1. "‘A‘ole i Mana‘o ‘Ia," Nathaniel Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawai‘i, 108–110. "This mele is said to have been the production of Prince William Lunalilo—afterward king of the Hawaiian Islands—and to have been addressed to the Princess Victoria Kamamalu, whom he sought in marriage...Selfish and political considerations, therefore, forbade the match, and thereby hangs a tale, the shadow of which darkens this song" (109–110).

2. "The Prince’s Words to the Princess," Mary Kawena Pukui and Alfons Korn, The Echo of Our Song, 94–102; 215–217. "The chant...dramatizes a meeting between Lunalilo and Victoria Kamāmalu in upper Nu‘uanu which the prince bitterly reproaches the girl for her rejection of his love. The time of this possibly historic scene was perhaps 1855 or 1856" (94).

3. Alfons Korn, Our Victorian Visitors, 305. Franklin spoke no Hawaiian; her assessment of Lunalilo’s fluency in his own language is therefore entirely spurious. 

4. Abraham Fornander, An Account of the Polynesian Race, II:223.

5. Raised by ‘Ī‘ī: Edward Joesting in Notable Women of Hawai‘i, 102. Raised by Ke‘elikōlani and Kalama: Helena G. Allen, The Betrayal of Lili‘uokalani, 77.

6. "[Kamāmalu was] an accomplished chanter and composer of Hawaiian chants" (Joesting, 193).

7. Pauline King (ed), The Diaries of David Lawrence Gregg, 1853–1858, 61.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., 73.

10. Joesting, 194; Lady Franklin in Alfons Korn, Our Victorian Visitors, 305. Kīna‘u died when Kamāmalu was five months old. The kuhina nui’s deathbed wishes for her daughter were two: that Kamāmalu receive an education and that she marry Lunalilo. The first of her requests served as an impetus for the founding of the Chiefs’ Children’s School at which both Lunalilo and Kamāmalu were students. Joesting, 194; Lady Franklin in Korn, 305. 

11. Deeply attracted to each other: John Charlot, "Hawaiian Poetry," KNDI Radio Series for Hawai‘i Pacific University, 6-13-1979. Thwarted by Alexander Liholiho: Franklin in Korn, 305; Charlot (cited above); Emerson 110; Pukui and Korn, 95.

12. Fear of Lunalilo’s high rank: Charlot, KNDI; Emerson, 110. Lady Franklin, on the other hand, attributes the king’s interference to fear of Lunalilo’s "talents, large estates and influence in [the potentially rebellious island of] Hawai‘i (Korn, 305). Peter Galuteria suggests that the king was most concerned about the lands that Lunalilo and his heirs would control as a result of his marriage to the already land-rich Kamāmalu (Lunalilo, 30). 

13. Sophia Cracroft in Korn, 305.

14. Lot had refused to name Lunalilo as his successor. Lunalilo’s refusal to name Emma Kaleleonālani—wife of Alexander Liholiho—as his own successor can be seen as Lunalilo’s final living act of retaliation against his Kamehameha cousins. It can be argued, however, that Lunalilo declined to name any successor at all because he wanted the new monarch to be chosen as he had been: by the people through the electoral process. 

15. Joesting, 103–4.

16. Allen, 89. 

17. Gregg, Diaries, 384–5. Monsarrat—an Englishman with a wife and three children—was "a handsome gentleman-rake and beau cavalier, whose friendship with the king...allowed him ready access to the palace" (Charles de Varigny, Fourteen Years in the Sandwich Islands, 64). There are several versions of the dinner party scandal; Gregg’s is probably the most accurate since he recorded (and corrected) the details in his diary within two weeks of the incident and later advised the king in matters related to Monsarrat’s exile. There is reason to suspect that Lot burst in on an on-going relationship; Helena Allen, for example, reports that Kamāmalu had fallen "madly and completely in love with...Monsarrat" with whom she had already begun a "flagrant affair" (Betrayal of Lili‘uokalani, 77). 

18. Mary Kawena Pukui, Nā Mele Welo, 90–95. Kamāmalu refers to herself in these mele as a soldier of Scotland who has no fear of either the great size of Asia (Lot Kapuāiwa) or the fury of England (Alexander Liholiho). She loves her haole snow-blossom (Monsarrat), and the king can have no say in the matter (aita ‘oe e parau) without overstepping the limits of his royal authority (pau mai kou palena). 

19. Korn, 305–6. Galuteria offers a different explanation: "Victoria’s brothers...insisted that as part of the marriage agreement Prince Bill would renounce...all claim to their sister’s property. So offended was Prince Bill by the interference that he called off the engagement" (30).

20. Korn, 305–6.

21. Ibid., 111.

22. Ibid., 111. 

23. Ibid., 115. We assume that Cracroft’s "good deal might be written" refers to gossip of the ruinous sort.

24. John Papa ‘Ī‘ī, Fragments of Hawaiian History, 175.

25. Charlot, KNDI. Galuteria notes that "in later years Lunalilo was highly praised for his keen memory. He could repeat poetry, prose, songs, and formal speeches which he must have memorized twenty years earlier" (13).

26. Galuteria notes that Lunalilo was "especially fond of Shakespeare" (13). Charlot does the same (KNDI). Helena Allen reports that Lunalilo, while living with his father Kana‘ina in about 1848, "came under the influence of [the Reverend] Lorenzo Lyons who not only worked with him in translations of Hawaiian songs, but also introduced him to his lifelong love—Shakespeare" (69). Unfortunately, Allen fails to cite the source of this information—as is often the case in her biography of the queen. 

27. Allen, 76. Again Allen fails to cite her source; the description, however, is substantiated by Lady Franklin in the excerpt that follows above.

28. Korn, 306.

29. Allen, 76.

30. I am not the first to see these similarities. Alfons Korn points them out in his introductory notes to "The Prince’s Words to the Princess" (his title for "‘Alekoki") in The Echo of Our Song, 95–97. John Charlot makes the same observation in his KNDI series and further associates Lunalilo’s groundbreaking efforts in literary synthesis with those of Moses Manu and S. N. Hale‘ole who would soon write the first Hawaiian language novels, He Moolelo Kaao no Keaomelemele and The Hawaiian Romance of Laieikawai.

31. Thrall, Hibbard, and Holdman, A Handbook to Literature, 102–3. 

32. Thrall, Hibbard, and Holdman, 155.

33. "My Last Duchess" was published in 1842 and was one of Browning’s widely anthologized poems in the monologue form. Korn suggests that the works of Bryon, Tennyson, and Browning "may well have been familiar to Lunalilo" (Pukui and Korn, 97). 

34. The epithet "ka luna i Pelekane" is doubly insulting. Luna means "foreman, manager, boss"—hardly an appropriate synonym for "king." Pelekane "Britain" is a disparaging nickname for the old palace; Lunalilo uses it here as a criticism of Alexander Liholiho’s pro-British sentiments and pretensions.

35. Lunalilo’s objections to the reign of Kamehameha IV are evident in the circumstances of Lunalilo’s own ascent to the throne. Although he was in a position to declare himself the hereditary successor, he called, instead, for a plebiscite. When it was announced at the courthouse that he had been elected by popular and legislative vote, he waved away the royal horse and carriage, and walked bareheaded to the palace. (Galuteria, 39).

36. Galuteria, 31.

37. Ibid., 30.

38. Ibid.

39. Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #541.

40. The line can also be read as Ho‘okohu kāua i uka—"We two are best suited for the uplands." This reading further amplifies the contrast between ‘Alekoki and what lies above, between Alexander’s manipulative world and the higher love that Lunalilo and Kamāmalu might have enjoyed.


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photo courtesy of: Hawaiʻi State Archives

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photo credit: Candace Borges

‘Alekoki Pool in the late 19th century (top) and in March 2005 (above). Although Place Names of Hawai‘i identifies the pool as “no longer in existence,” a number of kūpuna believe that it can still be found along Nu‘uanu Stream between Judd St. and Mauna ‘Ala. For additional photos and discussion, please visit the Pacific World’s Nu‘uanu website at

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