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Komo ka Wa‘a

Maluoka‘iwakiani Lelepali

Malu Lelepali explains that "Komo ka Wa‘a" is patterned after a mele published by Moses Nakuina in the story Kalapana: Ke Keiki Hoopapa o Puna: "In that story, the riddling child Kalapana travels to Kaua‘i to engage the ho‘opāpā masters who had earlier bested then executed the boy’s father. The Kaua‘i men are no match for Kalapana; with great wit and word play, the boy escapes each of the riddling traps set for him and manages, in turn, to spring these same traps on their own smug inventors. 

"The oli after which I have modeled ‘Komo ka Wa‘a’ occurs shortly after the kala episode and completes the seventh set of chanted exchanges between Kalapana and his enemī. At this point in the story, their repartee turns to the carrying capacities of various ipu.

"‘Komo Ka Wa‘a’ is modeled after Kalapana’s ipu chant in several ways. Like Kalapana’s, mine begins and ends with the traditional language of a riddling contest; like Kalapana’s, mine is built with canoe-derived word play and figurative language; like Kalapana’s, mine is composed in defiance of conventional measures of worth; and like Kalapana’s, mine is as much a riddle as it is an answer. Both oli describe small containers with large capacities: the boy chants of an ipu that holds a canoe; I chant of an ipu that holds a man. Like the boy, this man had an answer for everything; like the boy, his best answers were dressed in jokes and riddles; and like the boy, he was not one to confuse the apparent size of a container with the value of its contents. Although he was most definitely a man, he never gave up the boy in himself—not his boyish disdain for adult pretension, not his boyish love for letting the air out of those pretensions. 

"Komo Ka Wa‘a" was composed for my friend Louie Lopez. It is a little word-container that holds a little word-canoe that carries him with us—even today, years after his passing. Louie’s canoe is built of things large and small, important and silly: wife, daughter, dog, feather, recipe book, shave-ice straw. All help us to answer ʻWhat is in your ipu?’ with a riddle of the heart.

A hua a pane, a pane mai
He pane ko onei, he hoolohe ko ona
He pane, he pane ko onei,
Eia ka ukana o loko o ka ipu la:
He iako hulu, he iako lekapi—alua iako
I loko o ka ipu he ako hulu, o Hulu ka iama
He ama no
I loko o ka ipu he iiwi, he palila—alua manu—
A manuunuu ke aloha
O Kalalea ka moo, o Makana ka moo—alua moo—
A moolau ke ala
O Malu ka ipu holoholona
O ka hale pea omaomao ka pea la, e kau ka la
O ke omo hau momona ka hoe haukawewe
Ua komo ka waa, o ke kua laau waawaa no ia o Mauna Paki e—
O Kapuaiki ke kapuai e hoolana ai
O Kia ke kia, o Kia ke aho nui, nana e kiai
Pau loa, aohe koe, a koe keia:
Ua komo ka waa, ka ipu; o makou ka halau e.

The riddle has been asked, now for an answer
I here will answer, and you there will you listen
An answer, an answer have I
Here are the contents of the ipu:
A forty of feathers and a forty of recipes—two iako 
In the ipu is an iako of feathers, Kahulu Kaiama,
An ama indeed
In the ipu are the iiwi and palila—two manu—
And love without end
Kalalea is the ridge, Makana is the ridge—two moo—
And the path is filled with children
Malu is the fisherman’s gourd
The green tent is the sail, set the sail
The sweet-ice straw is the paddle that strikes the side
The canoe is full; it is the furrowed log of Splash Mountain
Kapuaiki is the way to refloat the canoe
Kia is the mast, Kia is the main lashing, it is she who keeps watch
That is everything, nothing remains but this:
The canoe, the ipu, is full; we are the halau.


© Malu Lelepali 1996


photo courtesy of: Lopez family

Louie Lopez and "Pailani," his shadow, at Limahuli Pond, Kaua‘i ca. 1988.

Moses nakuina, n-1729, mission houses museum archives - edited

photo credit: Hawaiʻi Mission Houses Archive

Moses Nakuina, author of the moʻolelo that inspired "Komo ka Waʻa".

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