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Hole Waimea

Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: The warriors of the Kīpuʻupuʻu.
Date: ca.1785.
Sources: 1) Mele Book of B. Namakeha, HI.M.63:29–37, 147, 205; Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Archives. 2) Kapiolani-Kalanianaole Collection, HI.M.42:41; BPBMA. 3) Mele Book, HI.M.61:34; BPBMA. 4) He Buke Inoa I.A. Liholiho, HI.M.60:152; BPBMA. 5) Kuluwaimaka Collection, HI.M.51:91 (Bk.1) and audio Haw 2.1.17, 2.2.14; BPBMA. 6) Mader Collection, MS Grp 81, 3.40; 81, 8.13; 81, 8.14; 81, 8.20; and 81, 9.38; BPBMA. 7) Roberts Collection, MS SC Roberts 5.2:33b–34 and 5.3:51; BPBMA. 8) Nathaniel Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawaiʻi, 68–9.
Discography: Nā Leo Hawaiʻi Kahiko, 1-A-9, Department of Anthropology, BPBMA.
Text Below: Mary Kawena Pukui, handwritten text and translation, in Mader, MS Grp 81, 8.13; BPBMA.

Hole Waimea i ka ihe a ka makani,
Hao mai na ale a ke Kipuupuu,
Laau kalaihi na ke anu,
Oo i ka nahele o Mahiki.
Ku aku la oe i ka malanai [1] a ke Kipuupuu,
Holu ka maka o ka ohawai [2] o Uli [3],
Niniau, eha ka pua o koaie [4],
Eha i ke anu ka nahele o Waika e,
Aloha Waika iaʻu me he ipo la,
Me he ipo la ka maka lena o ke koolau [5],

Ka pua i ka nahele ma Huleia [6],
E lei hele i ke alo o Moolau [7],
E lau ka huakai hele i ka pali loa,
Hele hihini, pili noho i ka nahele,
O kuu noho wale iho no i kahua e,
O kou aloha kai hiki mai i o’u nei,
Mahea la i nalo iho nei.

Waimea is tousled with shafts of the wind,
While the Kipuupuu puffs in gusts,
The trees are blighted by the cold
That drives through the forest of Mahiki.
You are pierced by the cold Kipuupuu wind
That sets the ohawai blossoms asway,
Wearied and bruised are the flowers of Koaie,
Stung by the frost is the herbage of Waika.
Waika loves me like a sweetheart,
Dear to me are the yellow centered koolau blossoms,
The blossoms of the forest of Huleia,
That are worn in wreaths at Moolau,
Travel-wreaths for travelers on a long climb
To our homes in the wilderness,
Still do I cherish our old home,
For your love still visits me here,
Where have you been hiding till now?


Mary Kawena Pukui’s definitive explanation of "Hole Waimea" appears in the liner notes that accompany Kuluwaimaka’s kepakepa rendition of the mele on the Bishop Museum LP Nā Leo Hawai‘i Kahiko. Pukui identifies the Kīpuʻupuʻu warriors of Waimea as the haku of this composition; in it, they honor their aliʻi Kamehameha and describe their spear-making activities in the forest of Mahiki:

Kamehameha needed more spear fighters and having heard of a company of twelve hundred young men of Waimea, Hawaii, who were trained runners, he went to see for himself. He was pleased with their swiftness and knew that they would make excellent spear fighters. He appointed Na-nuʻu-a-Kalani-‘ōpuʻu to train and lead them. They called themselves the Kipuʻupuʻu after the icy cold rain of their homeland. The first thing they did was to go to Mahiki forest to make spears. It was there that the young men thought of composing a chant in honor of their chief, Kamehameha I. The first composition was criticized by several expert poets and hula masters. It began with ‘Hole Waimea i ka ihe a ka makani, hala kika i ka puʻukolu.’ (Waimea is pierced by the spear-like blasts of the wind; slipping and sliding over the triple hills.) It was the slipping and sliding that was objected to. With the few changes, the chant was completed to the satisfaction of all and presented as a gift to the ruler by [his] newly trained warriors of Waimea. It was first chanted as an oli and later, as a hula. This was one of the most popular chants of Kamehameha’s day and was heard wherever his armies moved [8].

Pukui’s explanation stands in marked contrast to Nathaniel Emerson’s typically disjointed preamble to "Hole Waimea," one that includes a criticism of the mele’s "comparative effeminacy and sentimentality of style" and a half-hearted defense of its intensive use of "euphemism and double entendre" [9]. Effeminacy and sentimentality are, in fact, rampant in Emerson’s translation of the text, but are entirely absent in the powerful, image-rich language of the original. Euphemism and double entendre, moreover, are Emerson’s comparatively effeminate expressions for the highly valued kaona of Hawaiian composition—the kaona, in this case, of lovemaking.

Ku aku la oe i ka Malanai a ke Kipuupuu

Emerson: Smitten art thou with the blows of love

(You are pierced by the Malanai and Kīpuʻupuʻu)

Nolu ka maka o ka ohawai o Uli

Emerson: Luscious the water-drip in the wilds 

(The ‘ōhāwai blossoms of Uli give way) [10]

Stephen L. Desha offers a prudent but considerably less squeamish account of the lovemaking undercurrents of "Hole Waimea." He explains that the Kīpuʻupuʻu took "chiefly women" with them on their Mahiki expedition, that the mele’s reference to spear stripping has a hidden meaning, and that this kaona is ours to figure out. Where Emerson protests, wrings his hands, and slips us—in his footnotes—the "sordid" details; Desha simply explains the situation and, in matter-of-fact fashion, leaves the rest to us.

There is a hidden meaning in this old mele, as that forest of Mahiki was a place for making spears for the warriors in ancient times. In times of peace, the aliʻi and the men would go there to prepare for the times of war to come.

When Kamehameha was staying at Kawaihae, he went with his many warriors to that forest for the making of spears. Some of his court accompanied them, in other words, the chiefly women. At this place of the story, the writer conceals the hidden meaning of the "Stripping of Waimea by the spear of the wind" and it is for the reader to guess the meaning. [11]

Desha’s Kekūhaupiʻo also provides several glimpses into the history of the Kīpuʻupuʻu. He explains that many of these men were the children of the warriors of the ‘Ālapa and Pipiʻi battalions of Kalaniʻōpuʻu, "men chosen from amongst the chiefs of . . . Hawaiʻi, half of them . . . from the famous land of Waimea" [12]. He explains that the Kīpuʻupuʻu were trained in war by Kekūhaupiʻo and Nanuekaleiōpū [13] and that this training placed considerable emphasis on running:

It was said that they continually practiced in preparation for warfare and in body strengthening. This army...was accustomed to running...Their alertness was known and they were well able to pursue enemy who fled from a battlefield. And they were alert in running to places where their assistance was desired. [14]

Desha identifies the battle of Laupahoehoe II—ca. 1875 [15]—as the first in which the Kīpuʻupuʻu were involved. They were led to Hāmākua by Nanue, where they joined with the Kamehameha-led Mālana and engaged the warriors of Keawemaʻuhili at Kupapaulau. Although they had no combat experience, the Kīpuʻupuʻu fought fearlessly, handled their weapons with "incomparable skill," and pursued the enemy with "great liveliness." After two day of fighting, they prevailed over the "yellow backed crabs [swift, strong warriors] of the straight cliffs of Hāmākua and Hilo Palikū" [16].

The other battles in which Desha specifically refers to the Kīpuʻupuʻu are those of Kepaniwai [17], Mahiki, Pāʻauhau, and Koapapa. The last three of these were fought in a Waimea-to-Hāmākua sequence in the summer of 1790 in response to Keōuakūʻahuʻula’s plundering of Kamehameha’s lands in Waipiʻo, Waimea, and Kohala while Kamehameha and his warriors were in Maui and Molokaʻi. When Kamehameha received word of Keōua’s atrocities, he returned to Kawaihae, pursued Keōua to Waimea, fought through an ambush at Mahiki, and defeated the invaders in two bitterly fought battles along the seacliffs of northeast Hawaiʻi [18]. The Kīpuʻupuʻu—whose homeland bore the brunt of Keōua’s abuse—figured prominently in this pursuit and conflict. It is my contention, in fact, that the mele "Hana Waimea i ka ‘Upena a ka Makani" describes the Kīpuʻupuʻu as the "leading edge" of the net of wind that entangled and cast Keōua from this Waimea homeland. Together, the mele "Hole Waimea" and "Hana Waimea" constitute something of a poetic before-and-after. In the first, the Kīpuʻupuʻu gather at Mahiki to make spears and love. In the second, they pursue the enemy through Mahiki with those same spears and in defense of those same loved-ones.

Dorothy Barrere hypothesizes that "Hole Waimea" was composed during one of Kamehameha’s two extended stays at Kawaihae and Waimea: in 1791–92 "when the building of the heiau at Puʻukoholā necessitated the support of a large body of workers," or in 1794–95 "at the time of the preparation and staging of the peleleu fleet that carried [Kamehameha’s] wars across the sea to Maui and Oʻahu" [19]. In light of the Pukui and Desha accounts reviewed above, neither of Barrere’s dates makes much sense; they occur a decade too late in the history of the Kīpuʻupuʻu. Pukui clearly indicates that Kamehameha appointed Nānuʻuakalaniʻōpuʻu to train the Kīpuʻupuʻu in spear fighting and that the "first thing they did was to go to Mahiki forest." If Desha’s account is accurate, the Kīpuʻupuʻu fought their first battle for Kamehameha at Laupahoehoe II in about 1785, and by 1790 had become the battle-hardened "ʻalihi pīkoi" that cast Keōua from Waimea. This means, then, that "Hole Waimea" had to have been composed before Laupahoehoe II; the Kīpuʻupuʻu could not have made their first spears in Mahiki in the 1791 and 1794 time-slots proposed by Barrere.

Vivienne Mader’s notes to the five versions of the mele collected from Kuluwaimaka, Pukui, Beamer, Laʻanui, and Erdman identify the chant as belonging to an even earlier period: to the "time of Kalaniopuʻu ruler of Hawaii when Captain Cook came" [20]. I have found nothing that corroborates Mader’s pre-1773 date of composition (Kalaniʻōpuʻu died in 1772), but it suggests that my Desha-based estimate of 1785 might actually be middle-of-the-road.

Pukui explains that "Hole Waimea" enjoyed great popularity in its day. One consequence of its appeal can be found in the number of companion mele that it apparently inspired. Two of the older chant books in the mele manuscript collection of the Bishop Museum Archives present "Hole Waimea" as the first paukū of a 14-paukū composition [21]. Of the 13 additional paukū, the seventh, "Hoe Puna i ka Waʻa," is still performed today—often in a version that combines portions of "Hole Waimea" and "Hoe Puna" into a single text [22]. The others, however, are unfamiliar (to my eyes, at least). They range across the island chain in non-geographic succession [23], each is attributed to a different haku mele [24], and each is loosely patterned—in length, phrasing, and sentiment—after "Hole Waimea." All of these paukū are worthy of contemplation and research, as is the nature of their relationship to each other, their order in the larger piece, and the guidelines of the common "assignment" by which they seem to have been generated.

None of this, of course, lies in the scope of my present study; I advance these thoughts in an effort to demonstrate the depth, wealth, and unexplored nature of so much of the literature that we foolishly take for granted. The "Hole Waimea" that most of us think we know is merely the tip of an iceberg, a koʻa manō projecting above the reef below.




  1. The Malanai is a gentle wind associated with Kōloa, Kauaʻi; Hāna, Maui; and Kailua, Oʻahu. I know of no such Waimea, Hawaiʻi, wind associations. Mālānai means "shallow, serene; loosely drawn" which, in the context of "Kū akula ‘oe" presents something of a lovemaker’s oxymoron: "You are pierced by the shallow/serene activity of the Kīpuʻupuʻu." Another possible interpretation is that Malanai is a corruption of Mālana—the name of the Kīpuʻupuʻu’s companion battle company in their 1790 expulsion of Keōukū‘ahuʻula from Waimea: "You are pierced by the Mālana and Kīpuʻupuʻu."   
  2. Emerson maintains that an ohawai is a water hole filled by dripping (UL, 68). Kawena Pukui’s translations, however, treat the ‘ōhāwai as flower blossoms swaying in the wind. The ‘ōhāwai (Clermontia) of Waikā forest is described by Sam Gon III as growing in that forest’s ‘ōhiʻa understory; it is a "tube-flowered native lobeliad from which native honey-creepers drink nectar" ("Hula and the Hawaiian View of the Natural World," Both interpretations, water hole and tube-flowered lobeliad, lend themselves to hidden meanings of the sort that Desha suggests should be left to the reader’s intelligence and imagination.
  3. Although Uli is immediately recognizable as a Hawaiian goddess of "sorcery," the name also belongs to an upland section of Waimea (probably in the Mahiki and Waikā vicinity) where the young Kamehameha was carried by his uncle Kānekoa (Desha, Kekūhaupiʻo, 170).
  4. Sam Gon III reports that: "Downslope of Waikā, there are only remnants now of the forests of koaiʻe trees . . . that once covered the leeward flanks of Kohala. Its cream-colored fragile puff-ball flowers, like those of the closely related and better known koa trees, would indeed be battered by hard rains such as the famed Kīpuʻupuʻu" ("Hula and the Hawaiian View of the Natural World," Emerson suggests that koaiʻe is a "euphemism for the delicate parts" (UL, 68).
  5. "Ka maka lena o ke koʻolau" is probably a reference to the plant more commonly known as koʻokoʻolau. Sam Gon III ends his description of a visit to Waikā forest with the following note: "Finally, like the beautiful face of a loved one that stands out in a crowd, you can easily spot in the koaiʻe forests below Waikā the delicate, bright yellow flowers of the koʻolau or koʻokoʻolau (Bidens, sp.), a native relative of the common garden weed called Spanish needle" ("Hula and the Hawaiian View of the Natural World," Gon’s final point is well-worth our consideration: even after 200 years, the "incredible accuracy" of "Hole Waimea" is apparent to the careful observer. The descriptions of nature provided in the mele, however figuratively we choose to interpret them, are as literal as can be. 
  6. Hulāʻia and Hulēʻia are names for the river that flows into Nāwiliwili Bay, Kauaʻi, along the base of Hāʻupu Ridge. The name means "pushed through, pierced, penetrated," and refers to Kamapuaʻa’s ravishing, there, of Pele (Pukui, Place Names, 53). I know of no Waimea location of the same name.
  7. In the moʻolelo of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, Moʻolau is sometimes given as the name for the place (in the vicinity of Mahiki and Waikā) at which Hiʻiaka does battle with the moʻo leader Mahiki and his evil horde, and it sometimes given as the name of the moʻo leader of the horde of creatures known collectively as Mahiki. In Emerson’s version, for example, Hiʻiaka twice refers to Moʻolau as a location ("A Moʻolau i ka pua o ka uhiuhi") and twice as a kupua being ("He akua Moʻolau, o Moʻolau akua e") (Pele and Hiʻiaka, 52–53). Emerson’s gloss of "Hole Waimea" provides an additional layer of possibility: moʻolau, he says, is used "figuratively to mean a woman, more especially her breasts" (68). Pukui corroborates the first half of Emerson’s explanation and gives it a generational perspective: "having many descendants; female, woman" (HD, 254).
  8. Nā Leo Hawaiʻi Kahiko, 1-A-9, Department of Anthropology, BPBMA.
  9. Nathaniel Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawaii, 69.
  10. Emerson, 68. Parenthetical translations my own.
  11. Stephen L. Desha, Kamehameha and His Warrior Kekūhaupiʻo, (translated from nūpepa Ka Hoku o Hawaii, 1920–24, by Frances N. Frazier), 192.
  12. Desha, 44.
  13. Nanuekaleiōpū is apparently another form of the name given to us by Pukui as Nānuʻuakalaniʻōpuʻu. Desha identifies Nanue as a son of Kalaniʻōpuʻu and a faithful follower of Kamehameha.
  14. Desha, 191.
  15. Ross Cordy gives the date of this battle as "c. 1875" in Exalted is the Chief, 328.
  16. Desha, 196–197.
  17. Desha, 259. Fought against Kalanikūpule at ‘Īao, Maui, in April 1790. Desha writes that Kaionuiokalani and four of his Kīpuʻupuʻu warriors are remembered for their bravery in ascending the cliffs of ‘Īao and vanquishing the Maui warriors who sought to escape by that route.
  18. 18. Desha, 269–290. Desha and Kamakau differ in their assessments of the outcome of the battles of Pāʻauhau and Koapapa. Desha assigns definite victory to Kamehameha. Kamakau calls them indecisive (Ruling Chiefs, 152).
  19. Dorothy Barrere, "Notes on the Lands of Waimea and Kawaihae," in BPBM Report 83-1, Archaeological Investigations of the Mudlane-Kawaihae-Waimea Road Corridor, February 1983, p. 27.
  20. The note appears in all of Mader’s typescripts of the mele. A curious, unreferenced note on the Rose Laʻanui typescript (MS Grp 81, 8.20) reads: "Waimea chilled by blasty winds—satyre on King Kalaniopuu for a fat hula dancer."
  21. He Buke Inoa I. A. Liholiho, King Kamehameha IV, HI.M.60; Buke Mele HI.M.60.
  22. See, for example, Kamehameha Sings/Golden Commemoration, Panini Productions PS (2)-1001.
  23. Kaʻala, Oʻahu; Hilo, Hawaiʻi; Puna, Kauaʻi; Mānā, Kauaʻi; Puna, Hawaiʻi; Puna, Hawaiʻi; Lahaina, Maui; Hāmākua, Maui; Waipiʻo, Hawaiʻi; Nā Pali, Kauaʻi; Alakaʻi, Kauaʻi; Niʻihau and West Kauaʻi. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that there are no other organizing principles at work here. 
  24. Or perhaps the current owner or keeper of the mele. Their names, many almost illegible, are written in the margins of the two buke mele. Kuakini (son of Keʻeaumoku and Namahana, brother of Kaʻahumanu, Governor of Hawaiʻi during the reign of Kamehameha II) is listed next to "Hole Waimea," although he is obviously not its haku mele. 

© Kīhei de Silva 2006

Ohawai-thumbnail  large

Oha wai - g k linney - uh botany  large

photo credit: G. K. Linney

The native ʻōhāwai (Clermontia kohalae) of Waikā forest grows as a tree or shrub, with flowers curved like the beaks of the honeycreepers that feed from them.

02 1-kuluwaimaka216  large

photo courtesy of: Baker-Van Dyke Collection

James Palea Kapihenui Kuluwaimaka, perhaps the greatest chanter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Theodore Kelsey, Kuluwaimaka’s great-grandfather was very close to Kamehameha I and fought with the warrior chief in battles at Hāmākua and Hilo Palikū. Kelsey calls Kuluwaimaka "a singing man... [He] chanted for Queen Emma. She retained him and after her death he became chanter to King Kalakaua, and after Kalakaua’s death he retired to his home and married three times to professional hula women" (Elizabeth Tatar, Nineteenth Century Hawaiian Chant, iii).

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