‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua i ka La‘i
Kīhei de Silva
Haku mele: Uncertain. Although commonly identified as a name chant for Kamehameha II, this mele is also attributed to Kamehameha I as well as to Kalola, the wife of Kalani‘ōpu‘u.
Sources: There are at least 14 manuscript and published versions of the mele; an annotated list of these documents is provided in the essay below.
Discography: Ka‘upena Wong and Pele Suganuma, Mele Inoa, Poki Records, 1974.
Text below: Kawena Pukui and Pele Suganuma.
Translation: Kīhei de Silva.
"‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua," when presented today as traditional hula, is usually identified as a hula noho/hula kālā‘au that was composed as a name chant for Liholiho, Kamehameha II. As such, the ten-line mele is perhaps best explained as a nature poem descriptive of the quiet beauty of Kona, Hawai‘i—we admire its calm seas and billowing horizon clouds, its children chanting to the setting sun as the Kēhau mist falls around them, its comfortable lands, and its beloved people.
If we understand that Hawaiian poets infused their mele inoa with a wealth of natural images that, in turn, were frequently meant as metaphors of the character, rank, and circumstances of the person being honored, then we understand that the languid images of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" are also meant to honor Liholiho as one who embodies the life-bringing promise of rain-bearing horizon clouds, the peace of children at play, and the warmth of a land that loves and is loved by its ali‘i.
If we have a talent for detecting kaona—or if we simply examine the more readily available resource material in which the composition appears (Emerson and Beamer)—then we understand, too, that "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" is expressive of the deep emotions of love that were shared by Liholiho and an unnamed woman of chiefly rank: the masculine, rain-bearing hīnano clouds are symbolic of Liholiho himself; the warm, receptive land is the woman he loves; the sighing of the children, the restraining of the sun, and the sprinkling of the mist are all descriptive of their passion and its consummation.
This, indeed, is the manner in which we present and interpret the composition: as mele inoa, nature poem, chiefly metaphor, and love song. Following the example of Kawena Pukui—whose penciled notes on the lead card of the old the Bishop Museum Archives’ Mele Index classify "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" as a composition for "Liholiho . . . son of Kamehameha . . . Type – oli, also performed for hula"—we have instructed our students in the history of Liholiho; we have prepared a text and translation of the mele that relies heavily on Kawena’s daughter’s recorded version of the piece (Ka‘upena Wong and Pele Suganuma: Mele Inoa, Poki Records, 1974) and on Kawena’s own penciled translations of the chant as they appear on the facing sheets of several Bishop Museum Archives’ texts; and we have based our choreography of the dance entirely on the hula kālā‘au performed by Kawena’s student, ‘Iolani Luahine, as it was filmed and still-photographed in 1960 (ETV Catalog #0997-1 ‘Iolani Luahine; Francis Haar, 1985). When we have so clearly before us the thought and example of these masters—Kawena, ‘Iolani, and Pele—we would be foolish, indeed, to turn our backs on their wisdom.
We have come to recognize, however, that this apparently traditional "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua," is, in fact, an evolved form of an older, longer, somewhat steamier composition that can be traced at least as far back as the late 18th century when Kamehameha I is said to have chanted the mele while wooing an unnamed ali‘i wahine. Kuluwaimaka, whose two mo‘olelo explanations of the chant are by far the most thorough of anything we’ve yet to examine, provides the following synopsis of Kamehameha's amorous encounter in the waters of Keauhou:
Ala ae nei laua i kakahiaka, a ike o Kamehameha ua malie maikai ke kai i Keauhou. No laila olelo aku nei oia i ka wahine e hele laua e auaukai. Ae mai nei ka wahine . . . olelo aku nei i ka wahine e hele e kau i luna o ka waa. Mea aku nei ka wahine, "Kaino, i uka nei no hoi kaua e auau kai ai!" Pane aku o Kamehameha, "Aole, i luna kaua o ka waa." . . . Ia manawa kau aku nei o Kamehameha i luna o ka waa, hooomaka aku nei e hoe i ka waa o laua. O Kamehameha aia mahope o ka waa, a o ka wahine aia mamua. Huli aku nei o Kamehameha i kona alo imua, a o ka wahine huli mai la kona alo i hope. Aole lole a ka wahine, no ka hele ana i ka auaukai. No laila ike aku o Kamehameha i ka mai o ka wahine a pii ae kona laau. Hoomaka aku nei o Kamehameha e oli i keia mele, alaila lele aku nei oia e kii i ka wahine e moe.
They awoke in the morning and Kamehameha saw that the sea at Keauhou was beautifully calm. Therefore, he asked the woman to go swimming. She agreed . . . He told the woman to board the canoe. She said, "But I thought we’d swim here close to shore!" He answered, "No, we’ll get in the canoe." . . . Then Kamehameha boarded the canoe and he began to paddle their vessel. Kamehameha was at the stern of the canoe and the woman was at the bow. Kamehameha faced forward, and the woman faced backward. The woman wore no clothes because she had meant to go swimming. Consequently, Kamehameha could not resist the sight of her. He began to chant this mele, and then he moved to embrace her. [Translation mine; the last sentences are by no means literal.]
Unless Kamehameha himself is to be credited with the spontaneous, on-the-spot composition of his oli (which, given the sunset images of a chant he delivered in early morning, is somewhat unlikely), then we must assume that the original "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" predates Kamehameha's rendezvous at Keauhou. Emerson (Unwritten Literature, 117–118; echoed by Beamer, Nā Mele Hula, 57) identifies the composer as Kalola; if we disregard his identification of the poetess as a wife of Kamehameha I, we might conclude that she is, in fact, Kahekili’s sister, the high-born Maui line chiefess of the previous generation who married Kamehameha’s uncle, Kalani‘ōpu‘u, and had by him, Kiwala‘ō, Kamehameha’s initial rival to power.
Unfortunately, we have found little else to corroborate (or contradict) this conclusion, and much to further complicate the history of the chant’s composition and ownership. W. M. Kalaiwa‘a’s version, for example, is catalogued by Helen Roberts as "mele olioli from the time of Kamehameha I"; notes appended to the text explain it as a wooing song for Kamehameha I and the chiefess Manono when they sailed one night from Ho‘okena to Kailua. Waipulani, on the other hand, offers a 16-line version of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua," credits it to Weloula, and presents it as the second of a three-chant series entitled "Mele Mo‘i." This Waipulani text appears relatively intact in the Kapooloku and HMS M-61 versions, this time as the first paukū of a five-part, 96-line composition introduced as "for Kam. II"; the name of the reputed author of each of these parts is written in the margins of the text—part 1 ("Kona Kai ‘Ōpua") is attributed to "K. II" himself; part 2 ("Kolo Mapu Le‘a i ke Ahiahi") is attributed to Manono. Finally, the "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" section of the three previously mentioned texts seems to have been passed in ownership from Liholiho (Kamehameha II) to Alexander Liholiho (Kamehameha IV) since it appears again in the HMS M HEN collection under the label: "Name chant for Kamehameha IV. No Kamehameha IV."
Depending, then, on the version we consult, "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" can be identified as a composition for Kamehameha I, Kamehameha II, and Kamehameha IV; its authors, furthermore, can be identified as Kalola, Weloula, and Kamehameha II; and its principal subjects can be identified as Kamehameha I and an unnamed woman of rank, as Kamehameha I and Manono (who is also named as the author of the second paukū of a longer composition to which "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" belongs), and as Liholiho and an unnamed woman of rank.
It is our opinion, at least at this point in our research, that the Pukui-Luahine-Suganuma tradition on which we base our hula kālā‘au, represents a four-point resolution to the complexities listed above. First, the initial eight lines of the older chant have been selected to form the body of the newer piece. Second, the sometimes uneven meter of these lines have been pared and edited to fit the more regular rhythmical requirements of dance. Third, the more obvious sexual references of the older version have been softened ("nā wai na‘o a ke Kēhau," the viscous, slimy, male liquid of the Kēhau, has become "nā wai a ke Kēhau"; "ku‘u lā koili i ke kai," my sun that penetrates the ocean, has become "ku‘u lā kolili . . .," my sun floating/shining on the surface of the sea; and the concluding "‘O ku‘u puni ‘o ke aloha," love is my obsession, has been eliminated entirely). And fourth, to these eight lines has been appended the standard concluding verse of relatively recent Hawaiian poetry: "Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana" (or the slightly older "Ha‘ina ka inoa o ku‘u lani") / "No Liholiho nō lā he inoa." This verse firmly assigns ownership of the chant to Kamehameha II, and it redefines the older mele oli as mele hula. Because the "ha‘ina" ending is a trademark of mele composed in the late 19th century, we can also surmise that this particular text is, in fact, a product of that period.
We have found evidence of this process of simplification and redirection in a number of a mele hula whose present-day forms are often commonly thought to have been handed down, unchanged, from centuries past ("A ka Luna o Pu‘uonioni" comes immediately to mind; Kawena Pukui says that it was originally uttered by Kamapua‘a as the first and most polite installment of a lengthy and increasingly acrimonious exchange between Pele and the pig god; it was later assimilated into the Pele literature as a kānaenae, a prayer of supplication complete with the offering of a dog, in which Hi‘iakaikapoliopele bargains for her sister's protection prior to leaving for Kaua‘i; it ultimately evolved into a sweetly phrased, ha‘ina-ending mele inoa / mele hula in which the dancer asks, in Hi‘iaka’s name, that Pele care for all her people).
There is no question that our "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" is an evolved version of an early chant. It can be argued that this version represents a dilution of the earlier texts and a concession to Western influences on Hawaian poetry. We contend, however, that the very existence of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" in today's repertoire of "traditional" hula, is due to the careful crafting of certain late 19th century keepers of our culture who succeeded in reshaping the mele into something that would retain its essence and yet enjoy continued life in a world that might otherwise have rubbed it out of existence.
The chant was shortened, evened-out, "cleaned up," and disguised as a simple nature poem for Kona and Liholiho. It was made palatable for audiences that took offense at all mention of sex, for audiences that spoke little or no Hawaiian, and for audiences with western ears and three-minute attention spans—but its deeper meanings were left open to those who study, contemplate, and compare. Thus, "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" continues to live beyond the yellowed pages of archival manuscripts and serves as a model of erudition for those of us who would study the response of our late 19th–early 20th century hula masters to the forces that threatened to extinguish their legace of mele. In performing "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua i ka La‘i" in a manner consistent with the Pukui-Luahine-Suganuma text and choreography, we are able to hold fast to a thread of hula tradition that runs, frayed but unbroken, through these turn-of-the-century masters to the haku mele of almost 200 years ago.
There are at least 14 manuscript and published versions of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua"—five in the Roberts Collection, three in the Bishop Museum’s HMS Papers, and one each in the Pukui Collection, the Kuluwaimaka Collection, Emerson's Unwritten Literature, Beamer’s Nā Mele Hula, Haar’s ‘Iolani Luahine, and the DOE’s Nā Mele Ho‘ona‘auao. An annotated list of these sources is provided below:
- Roberts Collection. Bk.4:23–24, 39. Transcription of oli by Kameha‘itu Helela of Hanapēpē, Kaua‘i. With Pukui translation and note explaining "nā‘ū" as a chanting game played over sea pools in Kailua and Ka‘ū. The first eight lines of this ten-line version are "standard"—are shared, with occasional variations in text, by all versions of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua." The closing lines, which are also found in several other versions, read: "Aohe no hoi he lua ia oe e ke aloha / Ua pono no hoi, o kuu puni o ke aloha" ("There is none else like you. O beloved, / All is well, for I am fond of love").
- Roberts Collection. Bk.17:29, 32. Oli contributed by Theodore Kelsey of Hilo, Hawai‘i. The fourth line of the text is either problematic—"O ku-pa ko ili ke kai" (as opposed to the standard, "‘O ku‘u lā koili i ke kai")—or simply the most serious of several transcription errors (others include "hiola" in 3 and "ka ohi ila" in 5). The eight-line chant ends with "Aloha ke kini o hooluhi" (perhaps another typo).
- Roberts Collection. Bk.23:93. From Waipulani’s book (John Kekaula of Wai‘ōhinu, Ka‘ū; he was a cousin of Pa‘ahana Wiggin). This is the second of three chants listed under the title "Mele Mo‘i"; the first is credited to Kaiama, the second to Weloula, and the third to Moluhi; all end with a line found in the Helela transcription: "O ku‘u puni o ke aloha e la," which may have been the theme or common assignment around which the Waipulani poets worked. Weloula’s chant is 16 lines long; lines 9–15 are similar to those in HMS M-60, M-61, and HEN III Bk.2:288 (see below).
- Roberts Collection. Bk.25:36–38. Transcription of oli by W. M. Kalaiwa‘a of Kamuela, South Kohala, and catalogued by Roberts as "mele olioli from the time of Kamehameha I." This error-free, nine-line version concludes with "Aohe ka he lua ia oe e ke aloha." A note—perhaps by Roberts’ Hawaiian translator, T. K. Maunupau—explains "nā‘ū" as a chanting game in which children call out to the sun’s reflection in shallow water at Kailua, Kona. A second note explains that the oli was "sung" when Kamehameha sailed at night from Ho‘okena to Kailua. The beautiful chiefess Manono was with him; in Ka‘ahumanu’s absence, he promised (as related in the third line) "that they were free to do anything if only Manono would not betray them." A third note resumes the earlier explanation of "nā‘ū"—poho nā‘ū (pools over which "nā‘ū" is chanted) are described and procedures are given for competition between pairs of children.
- Roberts Collection. Bk.7:29. From a "book found by Miss Elsie Wilcox in an old house at Hanalei, Kaua‘i." Introductory and marginal comments to this book by Lahilahi Webb and Kawena Pukui point out the frequently garbled, misspelled, and fragmentary nature of many of the enclosed mele. The ten-line Wilcox version of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua," however, is relatively free of error and follows closely the Helela version of Book 4. The last three lines read: "Aloha wale ka pini o Ho‘oli‘ili‘i / Aohe no he lua ia oi e ke aloha / Ua pono no ho‘i e."
- Kuluwaimaka Collection. Bk.1:31; Bk.2:89–90. Transcriptions of chants recorded by James Palea Kapihenui Kuluwaimaka (1845–1937; b. Nā‘ālehu) at Lalani village, 1933. There is no text for "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" under the Bk.1 listing; instead, Kuluwaimaka provides a mo‘olelo as background to the chant. Text, notes, and a slightly more detailed version of the mo‘olelo are provided in Bk. 2. The ten-line Kuluwaimaka text is titled, "He mele ali‘i no ka mo‘i Kamehameha I (leo oli ‘i‘i)," and follows closely the Helela and Kalaiwa‘a versions. Kuluwaimaka’s notes explain the ‘ōpua clouds as harbingers of calm; he also points out the kaona of "wai na‘o" ("ka wai o Kamehameha"), "nā‘ū" ("na‘u ka wahine"), "kūkuna" ("ma‘i o Kamehameha"), and "ia ‘āina" ("ma‘i o ka wahine"). His mo‘olelo describes an early morning rendezvous involving Kamehameha I and an unnamed ali‘i wahine on his canoe as it lies offshore at Keauhou, Kona. As indicated earlier in this report, Kamehameha woos this woman/wife by chanting "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" to her; he then proceeds to "hana i kana makemake."
- Pukui Collection. HMS M35:172. Unfortunately, the greater part of Kawena’s collection—from page 80 on—is missing from the Bishop Museum Archives.
- HMS M60:113–115. From a book of mele compiled by Kapooloku and dated June 17, 1856. The note "For Kam. II" is penciled-in above the text of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua." In Kapooloku’s collection, that familiar title is simply the initial line of the first of five separate compositions assembled under Kapooloku’s heading: "Mokuna XXVI." Each of the five mele ends with "O kuu puni o ke aloha—e," and was presumably composed by the person whose name is written in the margin next to each paukū: part 1 is attributed to "K. II.," part 2 to Manono, part 3 to Naakaakai, and part 4 to "Hamathya" [?]. Part 5’s author is not named. The complete "26th Chapter" totals 96 lines; the "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" section is 19 lines long; with the exception of lines 9–12, it closely resembles the Weloula version in Waipulani’s book.
- HMS M61:123–126. The index to the Bishop Museum Archives’ Storage Case 4, of which this listing is a part, catalogs "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua" as "a love chant." Except for a title change (from "Mokuna XXVI" to "Kona Kai Opua") and minor textual variations, this is essentially a cleaner, more legible version of the five chants that appear in Kapooloku’s buke mele. Both of these collections are written in the beautifully elaborate, but sometimes illegible, penmanship of 19th century Hawai‘i.
- HMS M HEN, Vol.III, Bk.2:288. The chant is labeled: "Name chant for Kamehameha IV. No Kamehameha IV." The 24-line text appears to be a slightly less accurate (and perhaps a more phonetically transcribed: "O kuu puni o - kealo - ha - la") version of the Weloula, Kapooloku, and HMS M61 texts. The extra lines of this text are simply the result of dividing in two some of the longer lines of the "earlier" versions.
- Nathaniel Emerson, Unwritten Literature, 117–118. This ten-line version follows closely after the Helela text; Emerson’s, however, is dotted with extra words ("Kona kai opua i kala i ka la‘i / Opua hinano ua i ka malie"), significant word changes ("naoa" for "na‘o"), and obscure language (‘O ku‘u puni, o ka me‘ owā"). He attributes his "mele ipo" to Kalola, "a widow of Kamehameha I, at a time when she was an old woman; the place was Lahaina, and the occasion an amour between Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and a woman of rank." He admits to omitting the "last two verses" of the composition, which he suggests were "not pertinent" to his viewpoint and "added as an afterthought." I have been unable to determine for myself the length or nature of this omission. As might be expected, Emerson’s English translation is too flowery to be accurate: "The boys drone out the na‘ū to the West, / Eager for Sol to take his rest."
- Nona Beamer, Nā Mele Hula, 54. Beamer’s ten-line text eliminates much of the awkwardness of Emerson’s version while keeping his "wai naoa" and "‘o ka mea ‘owā," which she translates respectively as "chilly dew" and "of all time." Beamer’s notes seem to be based, in part, on Emerson’s—she refers to Kalola and catalogs the chant as mele inoa/mele ipo. Although Beamer’s does not end with: "Ha‘ina . . . / No Liholiho no la he inoa"—the verse that concludes many later versions of the chant—she does offer the closing kāhea: "He inoa no Liholiho."
- Francis Haar and Cobey Black, ‘Iolani Luahine, 61. Text and translation of a "standard" ten-line version of the chant are provided. Certain problems are perhaps the result of inaccurate transcription: "O pua hinano" ("hīnano flower") is quite different from "‘Ōpua hīnano" ("hīnano-like cloud billows"); "holo na wai" ("the waters run") is quite different from "hiolo nā wai" ("the waters fall"); and "ku‘u la kolili" ("my sun fluttering") is not "ku‘u lā koili" ("my sun resting/penetrating"). The same holds true for such obvious typographical errors as "ke na‘u wai," "aloha no kini," and "No Liholiho no la [he?] inoa." The final two-line verse, "Ha‘ina ka inoa no ku‘u lani / No Liholiho . . ." gives evidence of the transferal, in this century perhaps, of the chant’s purpose and ownership from what was a wooing oli for/of Kamehameha I to what is now a mele hula/mele inoa for his son and successor, Liholiho. We should note that the Haar/Black text is not as ‘Iolani herself delivered the chant in televised performances in 1960 and 1974; with the exception of "kolili," her oral version is very close to what we have called the "standard" text of the opening lines of the early transcriptions of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua."
- Department of Education, Nā Mele Ho‘ona‘auao: Hawaiian Studies Resource Book, 20. This ten-line, five-verse text offers the definitive "modern" version of "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua." Although no credit is given to the source of the text, it is exactly that which was chanted by ‘Iolani Luahine in the TV performances listed above, and exactly that used by George Nā‘ope when he taught the dance as hula papa hehi in a 1970s workshop at Kamehameha Schools. With the exception of the ninth line, it is also the same version chanted by Pele Suganuma on the 1974 record album, Mele Inoa; Pele’s version—"Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana" as opposed to "Ha‘ina ka inoa o ku‘u lani"—seems more a matter of preference than a significant departure of meaning. We should point out that this basic, contemporary version also departs, in several instances, from the diction of the early texts. Most notably: 1- "‘Ōpua hīnano ua malie" ("The hīnano-like horizon clouds are calm/peaceful") has become: "‘Ōpua hīnano i ka mālie" ("The hīnano-like horizon clouds [gather/rest] in the calm"). 2- "Hiolo nā wai na‘o a ke Kēhau" (the viscous/slimy [male] waters of the Kēhau mist fall") has become: "Hiolo nā wai a ke Kēhau" ("The waters of the Kēhau mist fall"). 3- "‘O ku‘u lā koili i ke kai" ("My sun resting on / penetrating the sea") has become: "‘O ku‘u lā kolili i ka ‘ili kai" ("My sun fluttering/shining on the surface of the sea"). 4- The lover’s expressions of satisfaction and affection: "‘A‘ohe nō ho‘i he lua iā ‘oe e ke aloha / Ua pono nō ho‘i, ‘o ku‘u puni ‘o ke aloha" ("There is none that compares to you, o beloved / All is very well, for love is my favorite thing") has been replaced with the "Ha‘ina . . . he inoa" we’ve already discussed.
‘O Kona kai ‘ōpua i ka la‘i
‘Ōpua hīnano i ka malie
Hiolo nā wai a ke Kēhau
Ke nā‘ū lā nā kamali‘i
Ke kāohi lā i ke kūkuna lā
Ku‘u lā koili i ka ‘ili kai
Pumehana wale ho‘i ia ‘āina
Aloha nā kini a‘o Ho‘olulu
Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana
No Liholiho nō lā he inoa.
Kona, sea and ‘ōpua clouds in the calm
Hīnano-like clouds in the stillness
The waters of the Kēhau mist fall
The children are chanting "nā‘ū"
Holding back the sun's rays
My sun resting on the surface of the sea
So comfortable is this land
Loved are the people of Ho‘olulu
The summary is told
For Liholiho, indeed, a name song.
- ‘Ōpua: puffy cumulus clouds banked up over the sea near the horizon. In a letter written to the Bishop Museum on Jan. 1, 1924, Theodore Kelsey notes: "[There is] a Kona saying, ʻAia i ka maka o ka opua ka wai.’ When water is seen in the opua clouds of Kona (the opua clouds are the beautiful clouds of morning and evening that hang low in the sky and forecast coming events), it signifies approaching rain."
- Hīnano: the male "efflorescence" of the hala; the long white flower was thought to have aphrodisiac powers; its "powder" was a highly regarded perfume; its bracts were made into extremely fine mats. When used in Hawaiian poetry the word hīnano frequently signifies a male lover.
- Hiolo: literally, "to tumble down, collapse." The word has a somewhat ironic flavor to it; Liholiho was, in part, responsible for "ka hiolo ‘ana o nā kapu "—for the collapse of the ancient kapu. Several early versions of the chant employ, instead, the word hā‘ule ("to fall, drop, tumble down"), but this word’s connotations of death seem to have led to its own demise.
- Kēhau: in its uncapitalized form, the word means "dew, mist, dewdrops." As a proper noun, it is the name of a "gentle land breeze" of West Hawai‘i, as well as of Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i; Kula, Maui; and the Hālawa areas of Moloka‘i and O‘ahu (Dictionary 142). The refreshing quality of the Kēhau of West Hawai‘i is evident in one of Kuapaka‘a’s wind chants for that island; he says:
A Kohala Iki a ka makani Moa‘e
He moa‘e la, a ala mai Kona i ke Kehau
Ku‘u aku la ka luhi o Kona i ke Kehau
E Keawenui—e, e pae, he ino.
(Moses Nakuina, Mo‘olelo Hawai‘i O Paka‘a . . ., 54)
The Moa‘e wind is at Kohala Iki
The Moa‘e blows and Kona wakes because of the Kehau
The weariness of Kona is relieved by the Kehau
Keawenui(a‘umi), come ashore, there will be a storm.
- Nā‘ū: a chanting game played by the children of Kona (and, according to Pukui, of Ka‘ū as well) as the sun sets into the sea. Of the many descriptions of the game, the note attached by T. K. Maunupau to the Kalaiwa‘a text is by far the most detailed; it also comes closest to that version of the game taught to me by my mother on the pāhoehoe shoreline near her family home in Hōnaunau:
Poho na‘u. This is just in front of Palaiki Akamu’s place in Kailua, North Kona, Hi. There are several poho na‘u around Kailua and Kahalu‘u. They were great swimming centres in the olden times and this is one reason why the old time Hawaiians had poho na‘u here. There are three poho na‘us makai of Waikapua (famous water). When the sun is setting (that is, some part of the sun is in the sea) then the children come to the poho na‘u and lie down with the breast on the pahoehoe. In the poho na‘u’s only two persons can na‘u at one time. The third one in the middle is the judge. When the 2 persons are ready, the signal is given to commence. Inhaling a deep breath, then each whispers to himself slowly, "na‘u-u-u-u-u." The one who holds out the longest is the winner. When this party is through, the others take their place and so it continues . . . This is not the only place where the children na‘u, but on nice flat smooth pahoehoe. Sometimes as many as 20 or more boys and girls can be seen doing the na‘u. Some call this "Na‘u-u-u-u, na‘u-u-u ke kukuna o ka la," meaning "For me-me-me for me the rays of the sun."
To this account, two points should be added: 1) it was felt that the sun would not set, that its progress could actually be delayed, as long as the chanter sustained, with a single breath, his "nā‘ū-ū-ū"; 2) the purpose of the poho nā‘ū, the chanting "tide pool," was to encourage the chanter’s slow release of breath; in my mother’s version of the game, we chanted right over the still water of the poho; if our voices disturbed the water’s surface, we were corrected (or disqualified) for poor breath control.
- Kāohi: "to hold back, detain." The synonym kohi ("to hold back, check, restrain") is used in some versions of the chant.
- Koili: "to rest on, as the moon on the surface of the water." The word kolili ("flutter . . . wave . . . flow swiftly") is used in some versions of the chant. Koili, however, seems more appropriate for "‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua’s" descriptions of sunset and the game of nā‘ū. The additional meanings of the word—"to sink into, penetrate"—also add to our appreciation of the chant’s kaona in a way that kolili cannot.
- Pumehana: my first inclination is to give this word its most obvious English translation: "warm." Pukui’s translations, however, stress the hospitable connotations of the word as it appears in the chant: "Comfortable, indeed, is the land" [Helela and Kelsey texts].
- Ho‘olulu: a land division in Kona, the name of a small cove just south of Hulihe‘e Palace, and also the name of a chief who is thought, by some, to have hidden the bones of Kamehameha I near Kaloko, Hawai‘i (Place Names, 52). The literal meaning of the name is "to lie in sheltered waters"—an image that adds much to the chant’s peaceful conclusion.
The essay above was written by Kīhei de Silva and excerpted from his 1996 Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 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.