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Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Although John Pi‘ilani Watkins has been credited with composing this song, two considerably older and longer versions can be found in the Roberts Collection of the Bishop Museum Archives. According to Mary Kawena Pukui, whose notes are appended to Roberts’ text, "Piukeona" was composed in 1897 by the part-Mexican lover of Pōlani, a woman born in either Ka‘ū or Kona in the late 19th century.
Sources: MS SC Roberts, 2.6:62c–66c, Bishop Museum Archives. Roberts received this 26-line"mele hula pila" (hula with guitar accompaniment) from Mrs. Levy Ho‘pi‘i of Hanapai, Kaua‘i. Pukui’s notes, with a 30-line version, are penciled in the margins and backs of the Roberts’ manuscript.
Discography: John Pi‘ilani Watkins, 49th State HRC-297A; re-released on Vintage Hawaiian Treasures Vol. 2: Hula Hawaiian Style, Hana Ola HOC 1800. Myrtle K. Hilo, Will You Love Me When My Carburetor’s Busted? Lehua S1206. Tony Conjugacion, Pure Tony, Kahale KMI-14001.
Text below: Transcribed from the Watkins’ recording and edited by Kīhei de Silva.
Translation: Kīhei de Silva, based on Pukui.

Kaulana mai nei ‘o Piukeona lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Ka lima ku‘i o Maukealana
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

‘Akahi a lana ko‘u mana‘o lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
E hui ‘ōlelo pū kāua lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

‘O wau kai kapa ‘ia mai nei lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Mai‘a wīwī hapa Mekiko lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

Wīwī haokila makeneki lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Nanea na‘e kou puka linohao lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Kaulana mai nei ‘o Piukeona lā
[Ka lima ku‘i o Maukealana lā]
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

You’re becoming well-known, Piukeona
Now pay attention
For the artificial arm of Maukealana
Now pay attention.

This is the first time that I’ve thought
Now pay attention.
Of having a conversation with you
Now pay attention.

I am the one who has just been called
Now pay attention.
The part-Mexican with a thin banana
Now pay attention.

But this thin bit of magnetized steel
Now pay attention.
Has certainly been enjoyed by your iron ring
Now pay attention.

This is the end of my song
Now pay attention.
Piukeona is becoming well-known
[The artificial limb of Maukealana]
Now pay attention.

The story of Pōlani and her part-Mexican lover (he refers to himself in his song as Piukeona) illustrates, in juicy detail, the consequences of gossip and conclusion-jumping in a closely knit Hawaiian community. The story demonstrates, as well, the double-edged potential of words spoken (or, in this case, composed) in anger.

According to Kawena Pukui’s summary of the story, Pōlani’s relationship with her handsome hapa Mekiko was ruined by a jealous woman who went to him with lies about Pōlani’s dissatisfaction with his performance as a lover. When he heard that Pōlani had described him as a mai‘a wīwī (skinny banana), he lost his temper and composed a song that praised his own endowments and abilities ("Ko‘i‘i ku‘u pua inu i ka wai" – Ever fresh is my water-drinking flower) while insulting Pōlani’s body parts and fidelity ("Nānā iho ‘oe i ko kai kapu / Ua hehi kū ‘ia e ka nui manu" – Why don't you care for your own kapu sea / Where the birds have trampled at will). He sang this song at a party to which they were both invited, and the unsuspecting Pōlani fled in humiliation.

Pōlani composed a reply and delivered it at a subsequent gathering. Although her mele was neither as insulting nor as memorable as his (we have no record of it today), the young man was overcome by remorse when he discovered that she had been, in Pukui’s words, "the innocent victim of a jealous rival." He begged for—and received—Pōlani’s pardon, but she refused to resume their lovers’ relationship, having lost all desire for one who had proved to be suspicious, quick-tempered, and nasty.

Pukui says that the story of Pōlani was one that she heard many times in her childhood. We can imagine how it served as the bad example against which proper behavior was modeled: don’t listen to gossip, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t vent your spleen in public, don’t elevate yourself at another’s expense, and don’t forget that your ill-chosen words can come back to hurt you. Pukui also notes that the song "Piukeona" was once as well known as the story; it was especially popular with Pōlani’s family who would sing it whenever the young man was present—just "to see him squirm!" Hawaiian songs are usually songs of celebration; more often than not, they focus on joy and beauty, even in situations where these can only be found in the past. Here, however, the mean-spirited "Piukeona" was somewhat gleefully turned on its composer as an illustration of the consequences of his negative focus.

Unfortunately, the details of the story and the full impact of the 26 and 30 line versions of the song have been confused and diluted in the 100 years since Piukeona’s insult originally backfired. When we first learned the song for presentation in the 1989 Merrie Monarch Festival, for example, we took the "side" of Pōlani’s lover in the mistaken belief that she had insulted his virility in a fit of jealousy over his attraction to another woman. As for textual dilution, it is not only evident in the shortened Watkins’ version but even in the much older Roberts’ text. Pukui indicates that the latter text is, in fact, comprised of three different songs—"‘Ano‘ai Ke Aloha No Piukeona," an unnamed mele, and another song for Pōlani that begins with "‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe / E ka u‘i Pōlani hana kupanaha."

A comparison of Pukui, Roberts, and Watkins reveals that Watkins’ recorded version is constructed of the first four lines of Pukui and Roberts, and lines 9–12 of Roberts. Watkins’ version, moreover, changes the initial "‘Ano‘ai ke aloha no Piukeona" of the two earlier versions to "Kaulana mai nei ‘o Piukeona" and the "Kani pono na‘e kou puka linohao" of Roberts’ 12th line to "Nanea na‘e kou puka linohao." Watkins’ version also employs the opening line of Pukui’s "third" song—"‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe"—as the refrain that follows each line of his otherwise Pukui- and Roberts-derived text.

The text provided above is transcribed from the re-released Watkins’ recording—with occasional changes made in deference to Pukui’s notes and Roberts’ manuscript. Watkins pronounces Piukeona as Piukeone, and Maukealana as Maukelana. According to Pukui, both Piukeona and Maukealana are the Hawaiianized names of "characters in a foreign tale." I know nothing else of this story, and tracking it down would make for a valuable research project.* Whether or not the names can be traced to a foreign story, their possible Hawaiian meanings are themselves appropriate to someone intent on defending his physical attributes and virility: Piuke-[ ]ona easily translates to "fragrant/intoxicating beauty" and is probably the man’s poetic name for himself. Mau-ke-[ ]alana—"continuously rising up"—might well be the nickname of his famous magnetic appendage. My Pukui-based translation of Roberts’ un-edited text is provided below: the serious reader, however, would do well to examine Pukui’s version and notes in the Bishop Museum Archives.

Ano ai ke aloha no Piukeona
Ka lima ku‘i o Maukealana
Akahi i lana ko‘u mana‘o
E hui olelo pu kaua
Malia o loa‘a lihi aku oe
I ka lihilihi o pua ka lehua
He pua mamo mai Keawe
O kaʻu hana ite ia o ka me‘o
O wau ke kapa ia mai
He maia wiwi hapa Mekiko
Wiwi haokila makeneki
Kani pono na‘e i ka puka linohao
Nana e hao mai pau na ino
Puka pu me ka lepo wai akika
Ke kumu uha iho ia malalo
Ka huina ka uea olelo
Olelo ana oe i ko‘u ke‘e
Pehea oe e ka ui Polani
Ua moku o lehua au i ke kai
Kuu ana puu nui puu wa‘awa‘a
He awawa hohonu o Kauhao
O ka lepe a moa ko mua
Na‘u hele mua nei aiana
E ka ui Polani hana kupanaha
Ha‘ina‘ia mai ana ka puana la
Ka ui Polani hana kupanaha.

This is the love song of Piukeona
He of the artificial limb Maukealana
I have just now hoped
That we might talk together
Or that I might meet briefly with you
In the lehua blossom fringes
I am a descendant of Keawe
Whose work is the gaining of favors
It was I who was called
The part Mexican skinny banana
But mine is really a thin bit of magnetized steel
That will strike home to your iron ring
It will draw out all your vile traits
Extracting the dirt and acids
Down there at the junction of your thighs
Is the meeting place of telephone wires
Where you speak of my shortcomings
What about yours, pretty Polani?
Your "lehua" is as big as an island jutting into the sea
On it stands a huge furrowed hill
Kauhao is a deep valley
With a cock’s comb at its entrance
I am the one who first ironed it
O strange-behaving Polani
This ends my song
For pretty, strange-behaving Polani.

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. 26–28. 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.

* Kimo Alama Keaulana has indicated that "Piukeona stems from a Hawaiian language newspaper serial that ran for a real long time. The tale is about someone for Maudelana (Maukelana). This story ran in the 1860s and must have been well enjoyed for it ran so long." (Personal Communication, May 24, 1999.)


photo credit: Rick McCauley, HMI Collection

Hula master John Piʻilani Watkins (1928–1983), pictured here when he served as a judge in the 1980 Merrie Monarch Festival. Watkins is remembered today as the creative force behind the original Germaine’s Lūʻau at Sea Life Park and as the composer of many still-popular mele hula, among the: "Green Lantern Hula", "Hāna Chant", "Kaloaloa", "Me Ka Nani aʻo Kaupō", and "Ulupalakua". His 49th State Records version of "Piukeona" is perhaps the oldest release of a song that Tony Conjugacion, Kealiʻi Reichel, and Weldon Kekauoha have done much to repopularize.

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