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Ke Ala a ka Jeep

essay by Kīhei and Māpuana de Silva

We’ve known for some time that Mary Kawena Pukui and Eddie Kamae composed this mele in celebration of a visit they made to Kawena’s homeland in Ka‘ū, Hawai‘i. Eddie has explained as much—and not much more—for most of the thirty-five years that he has been singing this song. We’ve suspected, also for quite a while, that their composition has a much deeper meaning and purpose than its bouncy "Holoholo Ka‘a" persona would have us believe. Our own travels with Kupuna Elizabeth Kauahipaula and ‘Anakala Edward Ka‘anana have demonstrated time and again that our elders don’t look with favor on random excursions and gadabout behavior. Kupuna Kauahipaula’s admonition, "Mai hele wale i ‘ō i ‘ane‘i," still rings in our ears. Don’t just go here and there, all over the place, on a whim. Go with a purpose, or don’t go at all. 

"Ke Ala a ka Jeep" may have sounded to us like a high-energy joy ride to the South Point boonies, but we thought it highly unlikely that Kawena Pukui’s visit and poetry were inspired by an "i ‘ō i ‘ane‘i" urge. So we turned to Kawena’s own scholarly writing in Native Planters, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, Place Names, and Polynesian Family System for clues to the song’s deeper emotions and to the significance of its roll call of remote and mostly unknown places: Waikapuna, Pā‘ula, Puhi‘ula, Kaulana, Palahemo. We were staggered by what we found: each out-of-the-way site on the "trail of the Jeep" was once populated or frequented by Kawena’s people, each place had a family history, and many held specific memories of days spent with her maternal grandmother in the intense punahele [1] relationship that defined Kawena for the rest of her life.

Eddie Kamae has kept his own story of the song pretty much to himself for over three decades. We know him well enough to guess that his reticence comes from respect for his teacher and her words, and from his hard-earned sense of "i ka wā kūpono"—of everything in its proper time. Lucky for all of us, the proper time finally occurred last year with the publication of his biography Hawaiian Son: The Life and Music of Eddie Kamae. He tells the Jeep story there as an episode in the longer narrative of his journey to an older way of seeing and knowing. While he was getting his first look at Ka‘ū from the cab of their Jeep, he says he began to see the land "through Kawena’s eyes as a region layered with names and histories." With Kawena’s help, he began to appreciate "the living links" between kānaka and ‘āina. This wounded and inspired him; Hawai‘i "was his father’s island, and his grandfather’s, too, yet Eddie didn’t know it well at all, and now he wanted to know" [2].

When coupled with Kawena’s scholarly writings about her homeland, Eddie’s four-page story of the Jeep ride serves to validate our initial interpretation of "Ke Ala a ka Jeep." It is, superficially, a "Tūtū’s gone four-wheeling" song, but it is, in truth, a song of deep knowledge and profound love for the land of Kawena’s childhood and for the people who once lived there. Eddie’s story, when coupled with Kawena’s scholarship, also provides us with three otherwise inaccessible perspectives. First, it gives us an insider’s look at how one of our last tradition-steeped kūpuna went about converting a specific experience into a mele aloha ‘āina. Second, it helps us to recognize the didactic qualities of her mele—to see that "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" was composed, in part, to teach us Eddie Kamae’s lesson in seeing and connecting. Third, it allows us to understand that the mele’s joyful tone is grounded in hope: hope that younger eyes can still be opened and hope that important connections can still be restored.

He Loa Ke Ala E Hele Ai

Hawaiian Son tells us that Kawena broached the idea for the trip when they were at "Ho‘olaule‘a," the Hāna music festival of August 1970. Kawena was flying to Hawai‘i Island to meet with friends and maybe revisit some of the places of her childhood near Kalae, Ka‘ū. "When she suggested Eddie should come along, he jumped at the chance" [3]. They met in Nā‘ālehu later that month: Kawena, Eleanor Williamson, Willie Meinecke, Asa Yamamoto, and Eddie and Myrna Kamae. And they set out in two Jeeps, a new one that Eddie had picked up at the Hilo airport and an old, beat-up model driven by Yamamoto, the ranch manager with the keys to all the gates along the way.

From Nā‘ālehu they left the belt road and followed a rutted dirt track south across rugged country, sparsely settled, stopping every mile or so to pass through a cattle gate. Out that way you see no swaying palms, no turquoise pools beside the condo. "From the top of the hill down to the coast it’s a mean drop," Eddie remembers, "So I just took my time. It’s dry down there, lots of cactus. From time to time Asa . . . was pointing out waterholes and the different things they’re used for. One place we stopped, Kawena said, ‘Over there is another hole, with good water for drinking.’ And Asa, he looked at her amazed. She grew up out there, you see, maybe thirty-five years before Asa was born. ‘I been on this ranch all my life,’ he says, ‘first time I knew about that waterhole.’" [4]

The opening lines of "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" recount the excitement that the trip must have stirred in 75-year-old Kawena. She was, after all, traveling by Jeep across paths that she had last frequented, on foot and mule-back, as a five-year-old in the company of her grandmother Nali‘ipo‘aimoku [5].

Inā ‘oe e kau ana i ke ka‘a Jeep
He loa ke ala e hele ai, he kāhulihuli
Ma nā pi‘ina nā ihona piha pōhaku
‘Alo ana i nā pānini me nā ‘ēkoa.
Ho‘opū‘iwa i nā pīpī holo i kahi ‘ē

If you’re going by ka‘a Jeep, she says, it’ll be kāhulihuli—topsy-turvy, rock and roll—all the way. You’d best be prepared for the bumps, dips, and jolts, for the scrub-dodging and cattle-scattering of the long ride ahead. Her poetic description of the scene is consistent with Kamae’s prose account of the same rugged countryside. Pānini, ‘ēkoa, and pīpī are the main features of this leg of the visit; they move in and out the cactus and koa haole, and they startle the cattle into flight.

Kawena’s tone here is clearly upbeat and humorous, but her use of kāhulihuli followed by the twice-repeated ‘ē of ‘ēkoa and hele i kahi ‘ē sends up the faintest whisper of change and displacement. Kāhulihuli means "unsteady, rickety, tossed about," but it also echoes kāhuli: "to change, alter, overthrow." ‘Ē, for its part, can mean "different, strange, peculiar, unusual, other." The fearless people of Ka‘ū, its koa, [6] have been supplanted by invasive, foreign koa, and the native population has given way to cattle brought here from kahi ‘ē (foreign lands) by po‘e ‘ē (foreign people). We detect traces then, of hidden layers of emotion and meaning. Under the obvious excitement of the Jeep ride to beloved places, we hear a subtle, almost inaudible sense of sorrow arising from the realization that these have become almost-lost places. And under that, we find a stubborn lesson in how to reconnect: if you want to go on this journey to knowledge, it won’t be easy; you’ll have to get past all the foreign stuff, all the ‘ē, before you reach the maoli.

Waikapuna, Pā‘ula, Puhi‘ula

Kawena’s roll call of place-names follows immediately after her opening description of the bumpy ride. Her transition is quick and her description—in characteristic Hawaiian fashion—is so minimal, so understated, that its significance flies unobserved over the heads of those who don’t know and don’t care to know:

Pēlā mākou i hiki ai i kai o Waikapuna
A mai laila a Pā‘ula me kona hiehie
‘Ike aku i ke ana ‘o Puhi‘ula

"That," she says, "is how we got to the shore of Waikapuna and from there to delightful Pā‘ula where we saw Puhi‘ula cave." One, two, three, pau. She gives us her childhood in three lines, but we can’t possibly know how to make sense of it without first gaining access to the history of these places.

Fortunately, Kawena herself has left us the necessary information—if, of course, we’re willing to travel the long, bumpy, ‘ē-infested road of research. We have learned from her collaborative work with E. S. Craighill Handy that Waikapuna was once "a flourishing fishing community" where Kawena’s grandmother Nali‘ipo‘aimoku lived until it was destroyed by the 1868 quake and tsunami [7]. We know from Kawena’s ‘Ōlelo No‘eau that Po‘ai moved to Hāniumalu, Nā‘ālehu after the cataclysm and that Po‘ai raised Kawena as her hānai child in this second home [8]. We know from Native Planters that Po‘ai and Kawena made regular trips to Waikapuna; they went there every summer to salt and dry the fish—manini in particular—that were caught great numbers along the shore. We know that the two camped there in an old three-sided rock shelter over which they laid poles and a tarp after first covering its pāhoehoe floor with ‘ilima branches and sleeping mats [9]. We know from Polynesian Family System that Po‘ai’s home site at Waikapuna was also visited and loved by Kawena’s mother Pa‘ahana who, upon the death of her first child Mary Binning, composed a lament that includes the lines: "Ku‘u kaikamahine i ka wela o Waikapuna / Aloha ia wahi a kāua i hele ai" [10]. And we know that Waikapuna was a favorite haunt of Kua, their family’s guardian shark, and the birthplace of his grandson, the green shark Pakaiea. Pōhaku o Kua, the "great stone" on which the family left ‘awa and bananas for their ‘aumakua manō, rose out of the ocean at nearby Manaka‘a [11].

We also know from Kawena’s work with Dr. Handy that Pā‘ula is an area above the sea cliffs that lead from Waikapuna to Honu‘apo. We have learned, too, that this is where the famous cave and fresh water pool of Puhi‘ula is located. The cave was "formed where the seaward end of a large lava tube has fallen in . . . The arched ceiling is about 20 feet above the floor of the cave, and in a depression at the bottom is a sizeable pool of clear water that is only moderately brackish." Kawena and her grandmother lived at Puhi‘ula for ten days to two weeks at a time; they collected pa‘akai "from the drying sea water deposited in depressions in the rocks by the sea." An elder who lived there would bring fish that—as at Waikapuna—they salted, dried, and stored for later distribution to their ‘ohana in Nā‘ālehu. In the old days, Kawena explains, the people of Waikapuna and Pā‘ula were related to those of Nā‘ālehu "and exchanged sea foods for inland provender" [12]. Her grandmother, in the waning days of the 19th century, was one of the last of her family to maintain this practice. Kawena, who was selected and trained by Po‘ai as the keeper of their family history, would never forget.

Why Kawena would compress all of this history, all of these powerful memories, into the three-line, three-name list of "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" is a tough question for us broken-link Hawaiians to answer. The answer, we think, is in her old faith in the power of words. She must have felt that the three names—Waikapuna, Pā‘ula, Puhi‘ula—had more than enough power to evoke, in the correct ears, everything she felt and everything that needed to be conveyed. Eddie’s story of their stop at Waikapuna gives us an idea of the deep affection that Kawena held for what, to the ordinary eye, was a barren landscape. His story also gives a hint of what the right words, in the right mouth and context, can do:

They were near the coast, in a district called Waikapuna, when she ordered Eddie to stop. Pointing toward an open rise, Kawena said this had been the site of her [grandmother’s home]. She called it "Pu‘u Makani" which means "windy hill." And that’s about all that remained, the steady wind off the ocean and the treeless slopes . . . On [this] spot . . . Kawena now offered a chant of greeting to voice her respect for this place and for the generations that had lived there. While the others listened, while their necks and arms prickled with "chickenskin," her voice cut through the wind around the former homestead, with the bright sea surging behind them, and in the far distance the long hump of Mauna Loa, the great shield cone that built this half of her island. [13]

Ka Lae, Kaulana, Palahemo

Hawaiian Son tells us that after Kawena’s "salute to times gone by and to the lives lived at that place," they turned and climbed back up the slope to Nā‘ālehu town, followed the belt road to the South Point turnoff, and headed "all the way down to the final lookout, which Hawaiians call Ka Lae (The Point), the last edge of the broad descending plain . . ." [14]. "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" accomplishes the same journey in rapid-fire fashion, concentrating less on miles logged than on the sense of happiness and unity that took them down the cape to Kaulana Bay and then to the astonishing waters of Palahemo.

Ho‘i hou aku i Nā‘ālehu me ka ka‘a Jeep 
Hau‘oli ka helena me nā makamaka
Alu aku i Ka Lae a me Kaulana
A ‘ike iā Palahemo wai kamaha‘o

The South Point road comes to an official end at the wind-swept cliffs on the southwest side of the promontory. No-longer-famous Kaulana [15] lies just to the east along an unimproved but still accessible branch of the main road. The land here slopes gently down to the sandy, usually sheltered bay whose name suggests its significance for both voyagers and fishermen of bygone days [16]. Today the main features of Kaulana are a cement boat ramp, snorkeling tourists, and the remains of a missile tracking station, [17] but Kawena’s work in Native Planters and Polynesian Family System gives us a better sense of the old connections that her Jeep ride must have stirred.

Kawena tells us, in Native Planters, that Ka‘ū people buried their dead in the Pu‘uali‘i sand dunes between the point and bay, that a small fisherman’s shrine for Kua can be found nearby, and that a handful of Hawaiian fishermen and sweet potato farmers still lived here in her youth [18]. She shares with us, in Polynesian Family System, a name chant for her ancestor Kūpāke‘e, the beloved rebel-chief of Ka‘ū who avoided capture by Kamehameha at Kalae [19] and whose intense love for this seemingly desolate land is expressed in terms of the pride that comes from having been raised to find, collect, and cherish the water on its arid breast:

‘A‘ole au i makemake iā Kona
‘O Ka‘ū ko‘u
‘O ka wai o Ka Lae e kahe ana i ka pō a ao
I ke kapa, i ka ‘ūpī kekahi wai
Kūlia i lohe ai he ‘āina wai ‘ole
I Mānā, i Unulau ka wai kali
I ka pona maka o ka i‘a ka wai aloha ē
Aloha i ka wai mālama a kāne

I do not care for Kona
For Ka‘ū is mine
The moisture of Ka Lae is collected all night long
It is wrung from kapa and from sponges
This land is heard of as having no water
Except for the water that is waited for at Mānā and Unulau
But no, our much-prized water is found in the eye-sockets of fish
In water prized and cared for by man [20]

The still-famous pool of Palahemo can be found about a quarter mile inland of Kaulana Bay. Although its waters rise and fall with the tide, a layer of fresh water floats on its salt-water bed, thus providing a constant source of refreshment for "dwellers at Ka Lae and points northeast, and for fishermen who frequented these shores" [21]. Kawena tells us, in Native Planters and Place Names, that the dual nature of the waterhole’s contents (salt and fresh water), its apparent connection to the ocean by underground tunnel, [22] its sometimes startling reddish tint (the result of seasonal increases in the pond’s ‘ōpae ‘ula population), its reputation for never running dry, [23] and the storied presence of a mo‘o guardian of the same name [24] contribute to the wondrous, kamaha‘o nature of Palahemo-wai-kamaha‘o. Ka‘ū people, she concludes, were fond of saying: "‘A‘ole ‘oe ‘ike iā Ka‘ū, ‘a‘ole i ‘ike iā Kawaiakapalahemo – You haven’t seen Ka‘ū until you’ve seen Kawaiakapalahemo" [25]. These words make it easy for us to draw our own conclusion about her choice of Palahemo as the last stop in their tour of Kalae. As Eddie’s mentor, friend, and hostess, Kawena would not have overlooked the importance of taking him there. She would not have contravened the power or wisdom of those old words: No Palahemo, no Ka‘ū.

Again, Hawaiian Son validates our thinking and anchors it in Eddie’s account of the actual trip. He tells us that Palahemo was, indeed, the goal of their trip down the cape and that Kawena actually gave voice to a longer version of the old proverb when they finally stood above the wondrous pool:

For Kawena, on this trip to the point, the most important stop was a famous waterhole called Palahemo, a deep rock pool fed by underground streams, a source of fresh water in terrain where no rivers flow and rainfall is sparse. The old waterhole is named in songs and chants and local sayings, one of which Kawena spoke aloud: "I ‘ike ‘oe iā Ka‘ū a puni, a ‘ike ‘ole ‘oe iā Palahemo, ‘a‘ole ‘oe i ‘ike iā Ka‘ū." . . . She let the words hang in the air as they took in the view, not only the look of the rocky pool but all that surrounds and contains it. To left and right, miles of black-edged shoreline angles off toward Kona, toward Puna, while behind you there is nothing but open ocean, from South Point to Tahiti, a thousand miles below the equator. In the history and mythology of Hawai‘i, this is the place of profound arrivals and departures . . . Whatever forces shaped this land had surely shaped Kawena and her ancestors for untold generations [26].

Wai‘ōhinu, Hā‘ao

"Ke Ala a ka Jeep" ends at the house of a friend in the cool comfort of Wai‘ōhinu. It is here that Kawena expresses, in summary, her deep love for the "land of the Hā‘ao rain."

A hiki mai i ka hale o ka makamaka
Luana i ka la‘i ‘olu o Wai‘ōhinu
Ha‘ina ka puana me ke aloha
No ka ‘āina ka ua o Hā‘ao.

The lush district of Wai‘ōhinu lies above Ka Lae between Kamā‘oa on the west and Nā‘ālehu on the east. It was described by Ellis in 1823 as "a most enchanting valley, clothed with verdure . . . and on both sides adorned with gardens and interspersed with cottages, even to the summits of the hills" [27]. Kawena tells us in ‘Ōlelo No‘eau and Native Planters that she attended a one-room Catholic school here, [28] and that the verdure of Wai‘ōhinu had changed very little in the eighty years since Ellis had passed through: "Every Waiohinu family [still] had a garden of two or three acres up there above the town. Inside the cleared space grew taro; around the borders were planted banana and sugar cane and various flowers" [29]. Members of Kawena’s family were among those who lived and farmed here; while on her 1935 visit with Dr. Handy, she stopped off at a Wai‘ōhinu food patch whose owner she and Handy were anxious to interview. That old man’s response to Kawena, once he established their ‘ohana relationship, sounds remarkably like an older expression of the place-linked sentiments of Kawena’s Jeep song:

We found him there, old, stooped, and leaning upon a heavy cane. He was like all old timers, friendly and kind and most willing to have us walk in and question him . . . After we were through questioning him he began questioning me as to my birthplace, my parents, etc. His interest grew when I told him that I was born in that very district, Ka-‘u. At the mention of my grandmother’s name, he asked if she was the Nali‘ipo‘aimoku who lived at Waikapuna beach and when he was told that she was the same, he began immediately to wail aloud. He was her cousin . . . I wish there had been some way of recording that particular wail. Hills, beaches, legendary spots, rocks, ancient warriors, etc., all were mentioned in poetical terms [30].

Kawena and Handy also tell us that the multiple springs above Wai‘ōhinu known as the Pūnāwai o Hā‘ao were "perhaps the most distinctive and prized possession of Ka‘u." The five springs, the stream they create, and the Hā‘ao rain that follows their path, "are intimately associated with the sacred lore relating to the cultivation of taro," and they "seem to be an embodiment of Kane whose life-giving waters were referred to in chants as ‘Wai-ola-a-Kane’" [31]. Kawena’s own intimate relationship with the springs and rain of Hā‘ao is expressed in two of her treasured family chants. The first is a heahea, a song of welcome, by which a visiting relative is called into the home:

He mai e ku‘u pua lehua o ka wao
I pōhai ‘ia e nā manu o uka,
Ku‘u lehua i mōhala i ka ua o Hā‘ao
Ua ao ka hale nei, ua hiki mai lā ‘oe

You are welcome, O lehua blossom of mine from the upland forest
A blossom around which the birds gather
My lehua that bloomed in the Hā‘ao rain
Light comes to our house for you are here [32]

The second of these mele is the already-cited lament composed by Kawena’s mother Pa‘ahana Kanaka‘ole Wiggin on the death of Miss Mary Binning, Pa‘ahana’s first-born daughter:

Ku‘u kaikamahine i ka wai hu‘i o Kapuna
Aloha ia wahi a kāua i hele ai
Ku‘u kaikamahine i ka ua o Hā‘ao
Aloha ia wahi a kāua i pili ai

O my daughter at the cold spring of Kapuna
A beloved place to which we went
O my daughter in the rain that passes the hill of Hā‘ao
A place we were fond of going together [33]

We can be certain, then, that the Wai‘ōhinu-Hā‘ao conclusion of "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" is no accident. The two names are metaphors of the regeneration and continuity of family. Wai ‘ōhinu refers to the shiny surface of the flooded lo‘i kalo on Wai‘ōhinu’s terraced slopes, [34] and hā‘ao refers to the divisions of kānaka that follow, one after another, in the processions of its high chiefs [35].

Kawena embodied these metaphors. She was trained as punahele, as the "continuing spring or source" [36] of all that defined her family and held it together across the generations. In "Ke Ala a ka Jeep," she makes a remarkable gesture of inclusion. She invites us, almost as if we were displaced Ka‘ū Mākaha, to join her on a journey to our own people’s beloved waters of life. She leads us, verse by verse, from her grandmother’s pool at Puhi‘ula to the wondrous waters of Palahemo to the five springs and serial rains of Hā‘ao.

There is memory in the first of these waters, knowledge in the second, and continuity in the third. Memory, knowledge, continuity: together they constitute Ka Wai Ola a Kāne. Kawena, in the role of teacher and family elder, suggests that these waters will define, bind, and sustain us as members of the Hawaiian family. The waters can be found, but only if we brave the trail and pay attention.

There is much joy in Kawena’s last verse. It is the joy of reconnection: of Kawena taking her own rightful place in the march of Ka‘ū’s generations. But it also strikes us as the joy of a kumu who has taught well, who has shared her most important lesson with her most valued haumāna. It is, we think, the joy of accomplishment and hope.

Hawaiian Son offers quiet confirmation of our reading of the song’s joyful conclusion. The trip left Kawena in high spirits over what she’d seen and shared. In the face of loss and change, ‘ēkoa and cattle, she was buoyed by faith that the rains of Hā‘ao would continue and that the continuity of generations did not have to be broken. Eddie must have shown her, in some tacit exchange of aloha between student and teacher, that the lesson of their journey could still be learned and that it could therefore be disseminated to the rest of us—carefully—in song. Their huaka‘i had not been a joy ride, but joy and hope were the result:

Kawena was in a festive mood, glad she’d seen all the places they came to see. She wanted to mark the occasion by writing a song about the day and the trip. She and Eddie would write it together, she said. At Willie Meinecke’s house, in the town of Wai‘ōhinu, where they all relaxed and shared a meal, she began to make notes. "It was no problem for her," Eddie says now. "By that time she had written over a hundred and fifty songs . . . That afternoon she recorded her thoughts. Later on I composed a melody. When we were back in Honolulu, she and Myrna worked out the final version of the verses. Then Kawena fit the words to my melody, and that’s how we got ‘Ke Ala a ka Jeep’" [37]. 

Mana‘o Panina  Closing Thoughts

Eddie Kamae’s rendition of "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" is magical—and has been for more than thirty years. We saw the old magic happen again at the Hawai‘i Theatre’s premier of his documentary Keepers of the Flame. Five notes into the song and all the audience members—the suits and the t-shirts, the stodgy and the uninhibited, the namu haole and ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i alike—were rockin’ with Kawena down that bumpy road.

There is deception in Eddie’s incredibly catchy tune. His musical sleight of hand keeps our ears on the beat and our minds off the meaning. We get excited without quite knowing why, and we keep coming back for more. We don’t know if Kawena approved of Eddie’s magic. Our guess is yes. The kaona of her words is too special for easy access; if you want to know it, he loa ke ala e hele ai, a kāhulihuli. It’s a long, hard way, and the journey itself will change you. Eddie’s music honors that difficulty. It helps to keep the kaona where it should be, hidden away, but it also keeps us ever-entranced by the mystery that somehow fuels the song and powers it through the years.

The Pukui-Kamae collaboration, we think, is a wonderful conspiracy. Eddie’s music has held us in thrall for more than half our lives. Kawena’s lesson is the wai kamaha‘o that lies beneath; the hidden source and sustenance of this enchantment. Why, then, would we want to analyze so much of her kaona here, in this account of our journey into the mele? The answer is this: we haven’t shared anything more than a road map. The map says:

  • look for the underlying order; what seems casual is not
  • words—names, in particular—have power; they hold volumes of meaning and
  • sentiment; learn them or you’ll be lost
  • there is always a lesson; the lesson is always reconnection and continuity
  • the lesson will have no value if it isn’t earned.

The last point is the whole point. A map is not a journey; a map is like seeing Ka‘ū without seeing Palahemo. Eddie makes the same point in his alternate explanation of the song’s title. It’s not just "Ke Ala a ka Jeep"—the trail of the Jeep. It is "Ke Ala a ka Jeep"—the awakening and renewal that comes from riding the Jeep [38]. If you want your eyes opened, you’ll have to get in and make the journey yourself. Happy trails.


Ke Ala a ka Jeep

Inā ‘oe e kau ana i ke ka‘a Jeep
He loa ke ala e hele ai, he kāhulihuli
Ma nā pi‘ina nā ihona piha pōhaku
‘Alo ana i nā pānini me nā ‘ēkoa

Ho‘opū‘iwa i nā pīpī a holo i kahi ‘ē 
Pēlā mākou i hiki ai i kai o Waikapuna
A mai laila a Pā‘ula me kona hiehie
‘Ike aku i ke ana ‘o Puhi‘ula

Ho‘i hou aku i Nā‘ālehu me ka ka‘a Jeep
Hau‘oli ka helena me nā makamaka
Alu aku i Kalae a me Kaulana
A ‘ike iā Palahemo wai kamaha‘o

A hiki mai i ka hale o ka makamaka
Luana i ka la‘i ‘olu o Wai‘ōhinu
Ha‘ina ka puana me ke aloha
No ka ‘āina ka ua o Hā‘ao

If you’re getting in the Jeep
The road we travel will be long, and you’ll be tossed about
On all the bumps and rocky dips
And by our dodging of cactus and koa haole

We startled the cattle, and they ran away
Thus did we reach the shore of Waikapuna
And on from there to delightful Pā‘ula
Where we saw Puhi‘ula cave

Then we returned by Jeep to Nā‘ālehu
It’s such a joy to travel with friends
Together we pushed on to Kalae and Kaulana
And saw the wondrous water of Palahemo

Now we’ve reached the home of a dear friend
And relax in the cool serenity of Wai‘ōhinu
Thus ends our song, its message is given with love
It honors the land of the Hā‘ao rain.




Sons of Hawai‘i, Eddie Kamae Presents The Sons Of Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i Sons HS 1001.
Da Blahlas, Da Blahlas, Poki SP 9015.
Mango, Romancin’ The Islands, Kahanu KHR 1006.
Brother Noland and Tony Conjugacion, , Tiki Talk, 31167.


  1. Although the word punahele today connotes a spoiled, favorite child, Kawena explains that it was once defined by great responsibility: "The punahele, as the ‘spring or source that continues,’ was destined to learn the family traditions, genealogy and general lore-of-living so he could in turn pass them on to future generations. He would hold in trust and strengthen the ‘sense of family’ that binds Hawaiian relatives so closely. As an adult he would be the senior member who would guide, counsel and make decisions that would affect family welfare. It was a responsible role. To prepare for it, the punahele memorized the family chants, listened to and absorbed the advice of elders, and spent most of his time in a sort of ‘apprentice for seniority’ training course." Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nānā i ke Kumu, 1:90.
  2. James Houston with Eddie Kamae, Hawaiian Son, 92–93.
  3. Ibid, 87.
  4. Ibid, 88.
  5. Because the Pukui family is sensitive to the orthography of its names, Nali‘ipo‘aimoku is marked throughout this work as it is given in Kawena’s ‘Ōlelo No‘eau—without kahakō. The same holds true for the name Pukui itself—as per Aunty Maka’s request, we give it neither kahakō nor ‘okina.
  6. Koa can mean "brave, bold, fearless, valiant." The word is well-suited to the ancient residents of Ka‘ū who called themselves "Ka‘ū Mākaha," (Fierce Ka‘ū) in reference to the uncompromising independence with which they conducted their lives and resisted outside influence. Polynesian Family System, 232.
  7. Handy, Handy, and Pukui, Native Planters in Old Hawaii, 598. 
  8. Pukui, ‘Ōlelo Noʻeau, xi–xii. "This close association between grandmother and granddaughter embedded in Kawena a firm knowledge of Hawaiian language, customs, beliefs, religion, and family history."
  9. Native Planters, 598.
  10. "My daughter in the warm sun of Waikapuna / Beloved is that place where we used to go." From the mele "He kanikau, he aloha keia / Nou no e Miss Mary Binning," in Handy and Pukui, The Polynesian Family System in Ka‘ū, 155–156.
  11. Ibid, 509.
  12. Native Planters, 601–602.
  13. Hawaiian Son, 90.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Kawena could not have overlooked the irony of this name. The most obvious meaning of kaulana is "famous," but Kaulana’s fame was long gone in 1970. Kaulana thus speaks to us of the double-vision with which kūpuna like Kawena were blessed and burdened: an eye for what was, and an eye for what is. Fame and obscurity all in one glance.
  16. Another meaning of kaulana is "canoe-landing." Pukui, Elbert, and Mo‘okini, Place Names of Hawai‘i, 93.
  17. John Clark, Beaches of the Big Island, 73.
  18. Native Planters, 572.
  19. Kamakau tells us that Kamehameha went to Kalae for two reasons: "e ‘eli iho i wai . . . a ‘o kekahi, ua hopohopo ‘o Kamehameha i kekahi ali‘i kamaʻāina o kipi auane‘i"—to dig for water and because Kamehameha was worried that a certain Ka‘ū chief would rebel against him. "‘O Kūpāke‘e ka inoa o ke ali‘i pe‘e" "Kūpāke‘e was the name of this chief who therefore went into hiding. Ke Kumu Aupuni, 186. Kupake‘e’s name is given elsewhere as Kupakei/Kupake‘i.
  20. Polynesian Family System, 85.
  21. Native Planters, 574.
  22. Ibid, 572. Place Names, 176.
  23. Native Planters, 574.
  24. Place Names, 176.
  25. Native Planters offers the most simple of several versions of the saying, the more complete form of which is given by Pukui in Place Names, 176: "I ‘ike ‘oe iā Ka‘ū a puni, a ‘ike ‘ole ‘oe iā Palahemo, ‘a‘ole ‘oe i ‘ike iā Ka‘ū. If you have seen all Ka‘ū but have not seen Palahemo, you haven’t seen Ka‘ū." Pukui explains, in ‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1257, that the saying was originally applied to Ka‘ūloa and Wai‘ōhinu, guardian stones that "stood in a kukui grove on the upper side of the road between Nā‘ālehu and Wai‘ōhinu." When the stones "gradually sank until they vanished completely into the earth...Palahemo was substituted as the chief point of interest [in the saying]." Another of Kawena’s little jokes in "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" can be found in the appropriateness of the next and last stop in their tour: they go to Wai‘ōhinu to make sure, in a sense, that all the "ʻike ‘oe iā Ka‘ū" bases are covered.
  26. Hawaiian Son, 90–91.
  27. Cited in Native Planters, 584.
  28. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, xii. Eleanor Williamson is actually the author of the biography that introduces Kawena’s book of proverbs, but we can be sure that Eleanor, Kawena’s friend and secretary of many years, was faithfully recording Kawena’s own words.
  29. Ibid, 585.
  30. Polynesian Family System, 104–105.
  31. Native Planters, 589–590.
  32. Polynesian Family System, 172.
  33. Ibid, 155–156. Kapuna is the name of one of the five Hā‘ao springs.
  34. Native Planters, 580. There are, of course, several other interpretations of the name.
  35. Dictionary, 45.
  36. Nānā i ke Kumu, 1:90.
  37. Hawaiian Son, 92.
  38. "The word ala means ‘road, path, or trail.’ But it can also mean ‘awaken,’ as well as ‘to renew, restore, revive.’ ʻKe Ala a ka Jeep’ can refer to the actual route they followed . . . [but] it can also refer to how this trip awakened something, perhaps revived them, helped them all to see anew." Hawaiian Son, 92.

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photo courtesy of: Hawaiian Legacy Foundation

Eddie Kamae, pictured here, composed "Ke Ala a ka Jeep" with Mary Kawena Pukui to commemorate a visit to Kaʻū, Kawena’s homeland.

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