No Luna i ka Hale Kai
Kīhei de Silva
My wife, Māpu de Silva, learned "No Luna i ka Hale Kai no ka Ma‘alewa" from Maiki Aiu Lake in May 1974. As was her custom, Aunty Maiki wrote the Hawaiian text on the chalkboard, added an abbreviated English translation , and directed her class, the Papa ‘Ilima, to Nathaniel B. Emerson’s Unwritten Literature for background information. Maiki apparently recognized Emerson’s limited understanding of "No Luna" and advised her students to go beyond his UL gloss by studying the Hi‘iaka legend and researching, for themselves, the mele’s person- and place-names. Māpu does not know if anything came from her kumu’s suggestion; the class was probably too busy learning "No Luna" to learn more about "No Luna," and Māpu remembers no further, in-class discussions of the mele.
Aunty Nana (Maiki’s cousin and hula sister, Lani Kalama) was a keeper of the same version of "No Luna." According to Māpu, "Aunty Nana always picked it when she wanted me to dance; Aunty would chant and I would dance. Because ‘No Luna’ was a favorite of hers, I danced it regularly in the ’80s and ’90s—right up until her death in January 2000. As a result, I’m very sure of the dance. Aunty didn’t let me put it aside." We know that Maiki and Nana learned "No Luna" from Lōkālia Montgomery as part of their 1946 ‘ūniki repertoire, but we don’t know who taught it to Lōkālia. Its motions are too big for the Kaua‘i-style hula of Keahi Luahine and Kapua, so we have to rule out the Keahi-Kapua-Kawena connection . It might be from Hawai‘i Island, maybe from Kawena through Joseph ‘Īlālā‘ole, or perhaps Lōkālia learned it from Keaka Kanahele, another of her teachers. We don’t know.
In our 30 years of working with "No Luna," we’ve examined quite a few variant texts of the mele—seven, at last count. Most offer a kind of swooping, zoom-lens description of Puna, Hawai‘i, as we travel there, across the ocean, from the high sea cliffs of Kaua‘i’s north shore. We begin at Kahalekai and Kama‘alewa where we note the presence of Moananuikalehua (goddess of the channel between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu) on a distant, lehua-lined shore. We take a close-up look at Hōpoe, the lehua/woman who fears the predations of blossom-hungry men. And we listen to the rough surf of Puna as it rattles the beach pebbles and echoes in the hala groves of Hōpoe’s homeland. The Lōkālia and ‘Īlālā‘ole texts end with this description of "kai ko‘o Puna." Several other versions (Emerson and Helelā, for example) provide a more personal conclusion to the mele; they invite a reluctant companion to: "Move close to me, beloved / Don’t turn away / The cold is a bad thing / There should be no cold / We shouldn’t behave as if we were outside / With our skins soaking wet" .
Although we’re inclined to agree with Emerson’s suggestion that these longer versions are characterized by a shift in tone that "sound[s] like a love song [and] may possibly be a modern addition to the old poem," we can’t be sure of the relative age of the short and long versions . What we are sure of is this: all versions, both short and long, are old enough to be well outside our ‘ōlelo comfort zone. There are passages in each where we labor over possibilities, juggle interpretations, wrestle with ambiguities, and itch to make "little" corrections. Their diction, orthography, agrammatical structures, and textual discrepancies mark them all as pre-western, as transmitted orally over many generations, and as belonging to several discreet and valid hula traditions . "No Luna," unlike "Aia lā ‘o Pele" , is a tree with many branches whose trunk and taproot are, as Aunty Pat Namaka Bacon is fond of saying, "lost in antiquity."
Emerson’s backstory for "No Luna" is minimal. He attributes the mele to Hi‘iakaikapoliopele and her companion Hōpoe, but he correctly points out that the mele’s internal evidence contradicts his informant’s belief that it was "a mele taught to Hi‘iaka by [this] friend and preceptress in the hula" . It can’t have been taught to Hi‘iaka by Hōpoe because it is quite obviously Hi‘iaka who gives voice to the poem and Hōpoe who is its focus.
Because Emerson’s explanation of the related mele "Kua Loloa Kea‘au i ka Nahele" immediately precedes his presentation of "No Luna" it is easy to misread the "Kua Loloa" explanation as belonging to "No Luna": This poem is taken from the story of Hiʻiaka. On her return from the journey to fetch Lohiʻau she found that her sister Pele had treacherously ravaged with fire Puna, the district that contained her own dear woodlands. The description given in the poem is of the resulting desolation .
A close reading of the two mele, however, clearly indicates that the fire-ravaged woodlands and emotional desolation of Emerson’s gloss refer to the former composition—to "Kua Loloa"—and not to the latter. There is no apparent devastation in "No Luna"; the lehua still bloom on Puna’s shore, and the beautiful Hōpoe has not yet been reduced to ash and transformed into a water-dancing stone.
The context of "No Luna" suggests that it occurs earlier in Hi‘iaka’s journey, probably in the initial stages of her return from Kaua‘i with Lohi‘au. The vantage point from which Hi‘iaka gives voice to the mele is "from above" (no luna) "at the sea house" (i ka hale kai), "from the aerial-root vine" (no ka ma‘alewa). Emerson tells us that Lōkālia’s "hale kai" is the place-name Halekai (or, perhaps, Kahalekai): a "wild mountain glen" at the back of Hanalei Valley . Other versions of "No Luna" (most importantly the Pukui-translated ‘Īlālā‘ole text) treat Lōkālia’s "ka ma‘alewa" as another high-elevation place-name: "Up on the house-like summit of Kama‘alewa" . The two names (as far as we know) are not remembered today; they don’t appear on old maps, in other chants, or in the usual place-name resources. In the absence of additional information, corroborative or otherwise, we’ve made the assumptions (as reflected in our translation of Lōkālia’s text) that "ka hale kai" and "ka ma‘alewa" are, indeed, Kahalekai and Kama‘alewa, and that both sites are, in fact, high on the cliffs of Kauaʻi’s north shore where Hi‘iaka brought Lohi‘au back to life.
Tradition tells us that Hi‘iaka was blessed with far-sight. She was able to look down the island chain to her Kīlauea home, and she sometimes monitored, from high places on Kauaʻi and O‘ahu, the activities of her jealous sister and the well-being of her friend Hōpoe . "No Luna," we think, is one of Hi‘iaka’s far-seeing, check-up chants. As Hi‘iaka gazes across the sea in the first section of our Lōkālia text, she first observes Moananuikalehua , guardian of the ‘Ie‘ie Channel that lies between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu. Moananui was a contemporary and traveling companion of Pele; the two came together from Kahiki, and Moananui (at least according to Emerson) is now unhappy over the prospect of Pele’s inappropriate union with Lohi‘au, a mere mortal . Moananui had earlier raised surf and storm to make it difficult for Hi‘iaka to cross from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i; Hi‘iaka seems to be checking on her here, in "No Luna," to gauge the difficulties of the journey home. In several other versions of "No Luna," Hi‘iaka addresses Moananui with a request to calm the seas: "Noi au i ke kai e maliu – I ask the sea to look kindly (on me)." In Lōkālia’s text, we have, instead, a "coast-is-clear-for-now" description of the demigoddess in repose on the lehua-lined sea-shore of Look-Kindly : "Noho i ke kai o Maliu / I kū a‘ela ka lehua i laila."
The sense of foreboding that plays faintly at the edges of the first section of Lōkālia’s "No Luna" takes a more prominent role in the mele’s second paukū. Hi‘iaka chose duty over friendship, Pele over Hōpoe, when she agreed to take up the quest for Lohi‘au. She knew from the outset that Hōpoe would be the initial victim of Pele’s wrath should the journey take too long or otherwise fall short of Pele’s expectations. For this reason, Hi‘iaka has made a deal with Pele: I will only go if you guarantee the safety of my friend and our lehua groves. It comes as no surprise, then, that Hiʻiaka’s vision now narrows from the generic "lehua i laila" to the specific "Hōpoe ka lehua ki‘eki‘e i luna," from the "lehua there" to "Hōpoe, the exalted lehua on high." Hōpoe is both the name of Hi‘iaka’s close companion and a word descriptive of a fully developed, perfectly shaped lehua blossom. What ought to be an image of unclouded beauty and affection, is undermined, however, by the fact that—deal or no—Hiʻiaka worries constantly about the well-being of her friend. Consequently, the next two lines of the mele devolve into trepidation and irony. Hōpoe, we learn, is "maka‘u i ke kanaka / Lilo a i lalo e hele ai"—fearful of men because they will overwhelm her and pull her down into the lower, less-godly realm of human interaction. She is afraid of being "plucked," of being lost to Hi‘iaka. The irony of this passage derives from Hi‘iaka’s unspoken but more accurate perspective: Hōpoe is very much in danger, but the most dire threat comes from Pele, not from kānaka.
The final verse of Lōkālia’s "No Luna" is sound-dominated. We shift from far-seeing to far-listening, from "nānā ka maka" to "ho‘olono." What we listen to is "ke kai o Puna"—the sea of Puna as it rumbles over the pebble-beaches of Kea‘au and echoes in the famed hala groves of lower Puna. The nehe  of ‘iliʻili and the muted kuwā  of surf filtered through hala leaves are usually positive, kūlāiwi-defining sounds; they appear regularly in poetry, proverb, and epithet for the Puna district of Hawai‘i Island, and they are regularly associated with the rugged beauty of that coastline. "No Luna" ends, however, with the twice-repeated phrase "kai ko‘o Puna – the rough seas of Puna / surf-ravaged Puna." The phrase lends an ominous undercurrent to the normally pleasant associations of ‘ili‘ili and ulu hala. "Kai ko‘o," in Hawaiian proverb and poetry, warns of distant trouble: "‘Ano kaiko‘o lalo o Kealahula . . . There is a disturbance over there, and we are noticing signs of it here" . It triggers connotations of danger and doubt: "Kaiko‘o ke awa, popo‘i ka nalu . . . A stormy circumstance with uncertain results" . And it serves as a metaphor of volcanic eruption: "Popo‘i, haki kaiko‘o ka lua / Haki ku haki kakala, ka ino"; "Kai-ko‘o ka lua, kahuli ko‘o ka lani" . In the context of "kai ko‘o," the rustle of ‘iliʻili becomes the rumble of storm-tossed pebbles, and the sighing of the hala groves becomes a portent of hala—of transgression, loss and death.
We know Hi‘iaka’s story; we know that everything hinted at in "kai ko‘o Puna" will soon come to pass. Moananui will not look kindly on her; a difficult channel-crossing to O‘ahu lies immediately ahead; the difficult journey will be made more difficult by Pele’s impatience and Hi‘iaka’s own growing (but dutifully repressed) interest in Lohi‘au. Promises will be broken and kūleana transgressed; waves of lava will engulf both Hōpoe and Lohiʻau, and peace will return to Puna only after Hi‘iaka’s own kai ko‘o of rage and despair has brought her sister’s world to the brink of ruin. The Hi‘iaka who gives voice to "No Luna" may not know this yet; her far-sight may not reach forward in time, but her mele offers an extraordinarily accurate assessment of the path that lies ahead. Hi‘iaka, despite her youth and inexperience, is no innocent abroad, no one-dimensional wonder-girl. Despite the foreboding view from Kahalekai and Kama‘alewa, she makes hard, loyal, keep-her-word choices right through to the end of her journey. "No Luna" allows us to appreciate the depth of Hi‘iaka’s intelligence, compassion, and character; it allows us to understand what Hawaiians valued in their most beloved heroines. Small wonder that she is still, today, a guardian-goddess of the hard-choice world of traditional hula.
We know, from first-hand experience, that "No Luna" is one of the most frequently danced and consistently misinterpreted of our legacy of carefully transmitted, pre-contact hula. Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima’s first performance of "No Luna" occurred at the 1978 King Kamehameha Traditional Hula and Chant Competition at the Kapi‘olani Park Bandstand. We re-choreographed the dance with the idea of making it more powerful, more dramatic, and we submitted Emerson’s "fire ravaged" gloss of "Kua Loloa Kea‘au" as our explanation of "No Luna’s" hidden meaning.
We discovered our "Kua Loloa" blunder several months later when reviewing the "Hula Ala‘a-Papa" chapter of Unwritten Literature. Pi‘i ka ‘ula a hanini i kumu pepeiao! Our red-eared embarrassment over having presented, with such commitment and fervor, a kaona that didn’t even belong to "No Luna" has since made careful researchers of us—no more hasty readings of Nathaniel B., no more Mr. and Mrs. Ka‘aikiola . That embarrassment was also the first in a series of lessons that helped to nudge us, a little at a time, back to the long, less-traveled path of traditional hula. We stubbornly presented the same, re-choreographed "No Luna" at the 1979 Merrie Monarch Festival, but that was the last time we presumed to improve upon the hula of our teacher’s teachers. Tsa! By 1984 we had begun, instead, to express the following definition of a kūleana to which we still adhere:
I am learning to hold true to the spirit of what my teacher gave me. I think, now that this spirit comes in two parts. First, it is my duty to respect and preserve the traditional dances. If I inherit a holokū from my grandmother, I don’t chop it up into a mini-skirt just because fashions have changed. The same hold true for the chants and hula that have been given to me. They are priceless gifts; I shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to fiddle with them just to keep up with what is fashionable. Secondly, it is also my duty to create. I am a keeper of the record of my own time and of my own place . . . .
No Luna i ka Hale Kai no ka Ma‘alewa
As taught by Maiki Aiu Lake to her Papa ‘Ūniki ‘Ilima, the class in which Māpuana de Silva graduated as kumu hula. Translation: Kīhei de Silva. Maiki’s "No luna" can be heard on Maiki, Hula Records, CDHS-588.
No luna i ka hale kai no ka ma‘alewa
Nānā ka maka iā Moananuikalehua
Noho i ke kai o Maliu ē
I kū a‘ela ka lehua i laila lae
‘Eā lā, ‘eā lā, ‘eā, i laila ho‘i
I laila ho‘i
Hōpoe ka lehua ki‘eki‘e i luna lā
Maka‘u ka lehua a i ke kanaka lae
Lilo a i lalo e hele ai
‘Eā lā, ‘eā lā, ‘eā, i lalo ho‘i
I lalo ho‘i
Kea‘au ‘ili‘ili nehe i ke kai lā
Ho‘olono i ke kai a‘o Puna lā ‘eā
A‘o Puna i ka ulu hala lā
‘Eā lā, ‘eā lā, ‘eā, kai ko‘o Puna
Kai ko‘o Puna
From above at Kahalekai, from Kama‘alewa
The eyes gaze at Moananuikalehua
Who resides on the shore of Maliu
With the lehua standing tall there
Hōpoe is the exalted lehua on high
The lehua is fearful of men
Leaving them to walk down below
Down below, indeed
Down below, indeed
The pebbles of Kea‘au clatter in the tide
Listen to the sea of Puna
Of Puna in the hala groves
The rough sea of Puna
The rough sea of Puna.
- "No luna e ka halekai no Kama‘alewa," in the repertoire of Joseph ‘Īlālā‘ole, MS GRP 81, 7.30, Mader Collection, Bishop Museum Archives; Na Leo Hawai‘i Kahiko, The Master Chanters of Hawai‘i, track 20, MACD 2043.
- "No Luna e ka hala kai o ka maka lewa," HI.M.77:67, Henriques-Peabody Collection, Bishop Museum Archives.
- "No Luna e ka hale kai o Kamakalewa," HI.M.77:7, Henriques-Peabody Collection, Bishop Museum Archives.
- "No luna ka hale kai no e kamaalewa," in repertoire of Mrs. Kamehaitu Helela, MS.SC.Roberts, 2.9:8–9, 11b–12, Roberts Collection, Bishop Museum Archives; Kawena Pukui, Nā Mele Welo, 112–113.
- "No luna o ka halekai noho ia e ka ma‘alewa," in repertoire of Mrs. Kaimu Kihe, MS SC Roberts 5.3:43,45a, Roberts Collection, Bishop Museum Archives.
- Helen Roberts, Ancient Hawaiian Music, 215–216.
- "No-luna ka Hale-kai, no ka ma‘a-lewa" and "Noluna ka hale kai, e ka ma‘alewa," Nathaniel Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawai‘i, 63–63, 155–156.
- "No luna i ka Halekai o ka Ma‘alewa," Keli‘i Tau‘a, The Pele Legends, Pumehana Records, PS 4903.
- Māpu took notes and later typed them up. We have since discovered that Aunty Maiki’s translation is Emerson-based and, in at least one line, does not fit her own Hawaiian text. This line, "noho i ke kai o Maliu" (literally, dwell in the sea of Maliu), is glossed as "I beg the sea be calm." This, in fact, is a translation of Emerson’s different rendering of the same line, "Noi au i ke kai e mali‘u." Our guess is that Lōkālia taught "No Luna" without any translation and that Maiki later went to Emerson’s book for help. Although she was reasonably fluent in Hawaiian, Maiki apparently didn’t notice the discrepancy.
- Mary Kawena Pukui recalls, in her Nā Mele Welo footnote to "No Luna," that two of her teachers, "the Kauaians Kapua and Keahi Luahine had the leading dancer reply [with these two lines to the chanter]: ‘Rough is the sea of Puna,’ and ‘There is no cold’" (113). The line "‘A‘ohe inu!" (There is no cold) is not in the Lōkālia text, thus corroborating our belief that Lōkālia did not learn her "No Luna" from the Kauaians through Kawena.
- Nathaniel Emerson, Unwritten Literature, 64.
- Ibid. We might just as easily argue that the shorter mele are, in fact, the stripped-down, tightened-up, performance versions of the longer, older, and less-regular texts. We’ve seen this happen often enough with mele like "Pu‘u Onioni" and "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua i ka La‘i."
- Emerson identifies the mele as belonging to the wā pō, "the twilight of tradition" (UL, 64); Roberts assigns it to the time of Kamehameha I (Elizabeth Tatar, Nineteenth Century Hawaiian Chant, 133); Kihe and ‘Īlālā‘ole further identify it as a "hula kuahu"—as a hula that could only be transmitted with proper prayer and ritual (Amy Stillman, Sacred Hula, 21, 23).
- "Aia lā ‘o Pele" comes to us exclusively through Joseph ‘Īlālā‘ole, its sole keeper. To our knowledge there are no divergent lines of legitimate transmission for this mele.
- UL, 64. Emerson identifies the chanter and dancer of "No Luna" as the husband and wife team of Kualii and Abigaila (UL, 158–9), but he doesn’t name anyone as the source his "taught by Hōpoe" explanation.
- Ibid, 63.
- CD booklet for Nā Leo Hawai‘i Kahiko, The Master Chanters of Hawai‘i, track 20, MACD 2043.
- See, for example, "A Luna Au a Pohakea" (Pele and Hi‘iaka, 163) and "Aia no ke ’Kua i Uka" (P&H, 166).
- Also known as Moananuikalehua. She took the forms of a red goatfish (moano), an ‘ōhi‘a lehua tree in full blossom, and a beautiful woman.
- Emerson, Pele and Hi‘iaka, 160.
- Some versions of "No Luna" give this name as Mali‘o, a mythical Puna woman who was "renowned for entertaining with music and for her ability in love magic" ("kahua o Mali‘o," Hawaiian Dictionary, 113). Pukui tell us that Pele became irritated with her and turned her into a stone in the sea of Puna (‘Ōlelo No‘eau, 127). The variant "Noho i ke kai o Mali‘o" thus reverberates with foreboding; it foreshadows the same, stone-in-the-sea fate that awaits Hōpoe.
- Nehe can be soft or loud, as in the rustling of leaves or the rumbling of thunder; the word can also mean "groping with hands" (Hawaiian Dictionary, 264). The triple-edged nature of the word is quite appropriate to the turmoil beneath "No Luna’s" apparently calm surface, to the groping of kanaka, and to the more dangerous manipulations of Pele.
- "To make a din, talk loudly, resound" (HD, 187). The word is not used in "No Luna," but it appears so regularly in poetic descriptions of the hala groves of Puna that we can’t avoid "hearing" it here. See, for example, the second verse of "Ke Haʻa lā Puna i ka Makani"—"O Puna kai kuwa i ka hala / Pae ka leo o ke kai / Ke lu la i na pua lehua / Nana i kai o Hopoe – The voice of Puna’s sea resounds / Through the echoing hala groves / The lehua trees cast their [blossoms] / Look at the dancing girl Hopoe" (Emerson, Pele and Hi‘iaka, 2).
- Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #118.
- ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #1402.
- The lava lakes of Pele are described in Hawaiian prose and poetry as "haki kaiko‘o"—as stormy oceans of breaking waves. The first example cited here comprises the opening lines of a prayer uttered by Lohiʻau in the moments preceding his death by lava (Pele and Hi‘iaka, 202); the second occurs near the end of Paoa’s address to Hi‘iaka when he arrives at Kīlauea in search of his friend Lohi‘au (P & H, 222). "Kai ko‘o" was also used regularly in prose accounts of Pele’s activity. S. K. Low, for example, wrote the following description of an 1868 eruption in the Kīlauea caldera: "Ma ka Poakolu, la 14 o keia malama, a oia ia po iho, ua ikeia aku no ka enaena o ka lua o Pele. Ua hoopihaia hoi o lalo o ka lua i ka pele, e haki kaikoo ana, aohe i kana mai. Ua like me ka halulu ana o na nalu o kahakai i ka wa kaikoo..." (On Wednesday the 14th of this month, and on that night as well, there was seen the glowing heat of the crater of Pele. The bottom of the pit was filled with lava that was breaking and surging in unbelievable fashion. It resembled the roaring of waves on the coastline at the time of stormy seas.) "Enaena Kīlauea," Nupepa Kuokoa, 31 Okakopa, 1868.
- A reference to one who carelessly throws away food or misplaces something of value. See ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #35.
- Kalihi-Pālama Culture and Arts Society, Inc., Nānā I Nā Loea Hula, 45.
- Compare this to Emerson’s: "It is represented to be part of a mele taught to Hiiaka by her friend and preceptress in the hula, Hopoe" (UL, 64). Emerson, as we’ve already seen, goes on to discount this interpretation; the program blurb, however, offers no such disclaimer and therefore promotes an unfortunate misreading of "No Luna’s" context.
- Compare this to Emerson’s: "[Moananui] was put in charge of a portion of the channel that lies between Kauai and Oahu... Ordinarily she appeared as a powerful fish, but she was capable of assuming the form of a beautiful woman (mermaid?). The title lehua was given her on account of her womanly charms." (UL, 63.) I characterize the program blurb as "peripheral" because it is devoted exclusively to supplying the audience with a well-known Moananui footnote without making any larger connection to the meaning of "No Luna." The blurb, though accurate, is something of a dodge; it fails to advance our understanding of the mele.
- She politely refrained, however, from overt mention of our own earlier indiscretions with "No Luna." We think, in retrospect, that she made her opinion known by asking Māpu to dance "No Luna"—the real "No Luna"—whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Although we have undergone a complete "No Luna" turn-around, we find little evidence of similar re-thinking in the larger world of hula. Competition program blurbs and narrations of the last quarter-century regularly mistake the mele’s setting as that of Emerson’s "Kua Loloa." In the 1992 King Kamehameha Hula Competition, for example, a winning male hālau presented "No Luna" as "describ[ing] the destruction of the Puna area by Pele, and in particular the desolation of a woodland area favored by her sister Hi‘iaka." Three years later, in the combined kahiko division of the same competition, a popular Honolulu hālau described the mele as having been inspired by Hi‘iaka’s discovery that "her sister has ravaged with fire her favorite woodlands in the district of Puna. Pele’s jealous rage turns Hōpoe, Hi‘iaka’s companion, into a charred ‘Ōhi‘a tree."
Even when hālau manage to avoid the "Kua Loloa" trap, they still rely almost exclusively on Nathaniel B. Emerson. Program notes for the 1993 and 2005 Kamehameha competitions identify "No Luna" as a "traditional mele said to be taught to Hi‘iaka by her companion Hōpoe"  and share with us the correct-but-peripheral description of Moananuikalehua as living "in the ocean channel between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu as a red Goatfish. On land she would assume the form of a Lehua tree laden with blossoms . . ." . We have somehow granted Emerson complete control of the narrative. We have given him the power to short-circuit our capacity for critical thought and independent research. We have made him the one-stop guru of hula explanation and interpretation. What Emerson says, goes. Look it up, copy it down, maybe give it a tweak or two, and submit it with your competition entry form.
These canned explanations of "No Luna" and the "creative" hula with which they are almost always accompanied provide an ironic commentary on the topsy-turvy world of contemporary hula kahiko. On the one hand, we enshrine Emerson and transmit his explanation, unexamined and unchanged, from competition to competition, generation to generation. On the other hand, we fiddle relentlessly with the legacy of motion—of hula—that our elders worked so carefully to preserve. We make mini-skirts of holokū and affix Emerson’s label to the inside collar of each. We alter what we should canonize; we canonize what we should alter.
Our elders were not unaware of the kai ko‘o that their beloved dances would have to endure in our new day of misdirected talent and energy. Aunty Nana, for example, spoke strongly against both the rampant re-choreography of traditional hula and the mindless re-hashing of Emerson’s work . She was very clear, as well, about her role and ours. "In my day," she’d say, "we never dared to ask about the meaning of a mele. We had to keep our mouths shut and learn what was taught. So I don’t know very much about the kaona of some of these old dances. Only what little we were told. Our job was to learn the dances well—all their special mannerisms—and to pass them on, unchanged, to you. Your job is to keep these dances unchanged and to add to our understanding of them. We’ve done our job, now you do yours. Otherwise everything will be kāpulu; it will all be hula huikau."
"No Luna" speaks, then, to the turmoil of our day. Our teachers have given us the high ground of Kahalekai and Kama‘alewa. It is our duty to gaze far, listen well, and carry on.
© Kīhei de Silva, 2005