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Kawaihae Hula

Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln.
Sources:1) John Kameaaloha Almeida, Na Mele Aloha, 1946. 2) Helen Desha Beamer in Mader, MS Grp 81, 4.28, Bishop Museum Archives.  3) Kimo Alama Collection, MS. Grp 329, 3.91, Bishop Museum Archives.
Discography: 1) Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln and His Hawaiians, "Kawaihae," Bell (78rpm) LKS-12. 2) Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln, Mahalo Nui, Tradewinds TS 119.
Text below: John Almeida, Na Mele Aloha. Translation:  Kīhei de Silva.


‘Ike ‘ia mākou ‘o Kawaihae
I ke kai nehe ‘ōlelo me ka ‘ili‘ili

Kau aku ka mana‘o no Puaka‘ilima
I ka nalu ha‘i mai la o Ka‘ewa.

Hō‘ike Poli‘ahu i ke kapa hau
Ho‘i ana i ka piko o Maunakea.*

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana
I ke kai nehe ‘ōlelo me ka ‘ili‘ili.

We see Kawaihae
Where ocean and ‘ili‘ili softly converse.

Our thoughts settle on Puaka‘ilima
And on the breaking surf of Ka‘ewa.

Poli‘ahu displays her cloak of snow
Spreading over the peak of Maunakea.

This is the end of my song
Of ocean and ‘ili‘ili in soft conversation.


William Lionel Kalaniali‘iloa Lincoln was born in Kohala, Hawai‘i in 1913. One of fifteen children of a cattle rancher, Lincoln grew up speaking Hawaiian, working as a paniolo, and singing in Kohala High School’s operettas and plays. After graduating in 1931, he formed his own band (he sang and played ‘ukulele), and by 1938 he had moved to O‘ahu and was already working the Waikīkī entertainment circuit. Lincoln sang straight tenor at the beginning of his career, but he was gradually influenced by Lena Machado and George Kainapau, his musical idols, into becoming a falsetto specialist. 

Lincoln credits Johnny Almeida with hiring him to play for five dollars a night and then with launching his career by inviting him to perform on Almeida’s KGU and KULA Hawaiian radio programs. Between 1938 and 1940, a recording company affiliated with KGU and bearing the unwieldy name of Hawaiian Transcriptions Productions released hundreds of 78 rpm singles featuring Bina Mossman’s group, Charles E. King’s Hawaiians, and the first recordings by Bill Lincoln and Johnny and Pua Almeida. In 1946 Lincoln and Almeida were among the first to be recorded by Bill Fredlund’s Bell Records. In that same year, Lincoln’s compositions "Pua Be Still" (his first), "Nani Lāwa‘i," "Pua ‘Iliahi," "Halema‘uma‘u," "Ku‘u Lei Lilia," and "Kawaihae Hula," were included in Almeida’s now-classic Hawaiian songbook Na Mele Aloha.

During the war years, Lincoln and his band entertained in USO shows; after the war, Lincoln served as an official greeter for Matson Lines, opened his own hula studio in Waikīkī, and shared HVB performance assignments with the studios of Kent Ghirard and Lena Guerrero. By 1947 Lincoln ran "the largest and most influential hula studio in Hawai‘i, employing such teachers as Ida Wong, Barbara Johnson, and Alice Keawekane Garner" (Nānā I Nā Loea Hula, 91). It was at this time that Lincoln became one of the first hula teachers to record music that was specifically meant for the hula market: "When record company owners saw tourists lining up at the hula studio doors, they saw prospective customers for recordings of hula songs. And naturally if Bill Lincoln . . . could offer his students his own records . . . why that might even make record sales a little easier" (Hopkins, The Hula, 109). Today, the 78s recorded by Bill Lincoln on the HTP, Bell, and Waikīkī labels are among the most prized in any collection. It is ironic that, for all his fame as a hula teacher and singer, much of Bill Lincoln’s work as a songwriter is relatively unknown and vastly under-appreciated (Harry B. Soria, Jr., personal communication, 1987).

The Kawaihae that Bill Lincoln wrote about has not been seen since 1950 when Congress authorized the dredging of a deep-draft harbor in that once pristine, reef-encircled bay. By the end of construction in 1959, the harbor complex included inter-island and overseas wharves, a military cargo ramp, storage facilities, a small boat harbor with twin moorage areas, and a large harbor basin with a wide channel entrance. Most of the original shoreline is now buried under landfill; most of the landfill is bare and "serves only as a stockpile for the coral spoil material that was dredged out of the reef during the harbor’s construction" (John Clark, Beaches of the Big Island, 137). 

Prior to the massive harbor development of the ‘50s, the only intrusive element in the Kawaihae panorama was a single pier erected in 1937 as a tie-up point for inter-island steam ships. Prior to 1937, the long, narrow, pebble-strewn, black sand beach of old Kawaihae extended—without interruption—all the way from Pelekane (John Young’s house site fronting Mailekini Heiau at the south end of the bay) to Honokoa (at the northern tip of the present harbor).

Four years before the Kawaihae reef and shoreline fell victim to progress, a small island in the bay fell victim to an April Fool’s Day tidal wave. This island was named Puaka‘ilima. According to Kimo Alama, ‘ilima was once grown there for the purpose of making lei for royalty—hence the island’s name. "The tidal wave of 1946 collapsed this island and it is said that the surf of the Ka‘ewa (the name of the surf at Kawaihae) resembles that of ‘ilima leis once strung for royalty there" (MS Grp 329, 3.91, Bishop Museum Archives). Manu Boyd and Kawehi Lucas have told me that Puaka‘ilima is also remembered by their Kohala families as a favorite surfing spot of Kamehameha I.

We have no date of composition for "Kawaihae Hula;" since it appeared in Almeida’s Na Mele Aloha, Lincoln certainly had to have composed it before the 1946 release of the publication. That leaves us with two interesting questions: 1) was the song composed before the ‘37 construction of the inter-island steamer pier? 2) was it composed before the ‘46 tidal wave that permanently submerged Puaka‘ilima? Although the answers to these questions would boost considerably the clarity of our mental picture of Lincoln’s Kawaihae, the significance of the song to a 1990s audience remains equally poignant: like "Mokuhulu," "Makee ‘Ailana," "Puamana," and scores of other dearly loved mele, "Kawaihae Hula" celebrates a place that used to be. Were it not for songs like these, whole chunks of our past—of our cultural memory—would be lost or relegated to bookshelves. But as long as these songs are sung, danced, and transmitted, the places they celebrate will remain alive in us. It is because of "Kawaihae Hula" that the sound of ‘ili‘ili still echoes at Pelekane and the image of Puaka‘ilima still shimmers beyond the chain link, landfill, and oil storage tanks of Kawaihae Harbor. This is our justification for holding fast to a mele that is over 50 years out of date.


The essay above was written by Kīhei de Silva and published in his book He Aloha Moku o Keawe: A Collection of Songs for Hawai‘i, Island of Keawe, Honolulu, 1997, pps. 42–44. 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.


* According to Kimo Alama: "There is another verse to ‘Kawaihae’ by Uncle Bill Lincoln. This is the second to the last verse: Mā‘alo i ke kai hāwanawana / I ke one laulā o Kawaihae. Sometimes composers did not publish their lyrics entirely (Lena Machado was famous for this) or sang/recorded versions that were convenient at the time" (Personal correspondence, May 24, 1999).

1- billlincoln-lp216

photo credit: Tradewinds Records TSA-117

2- billlincoln-face216

photo credit: Kahala Hilton Hotel

Kawaihae bay in 1822 - lucy goodale thurston

photo credit: Lucy Goodale Thurston

A sketch of Kawaihae in the 1820s—long before the harbor development of the 1950s.

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