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Pua Māmane

Excerpted from Lena Machado, Songbird of Hawai‘i, na Pi‘olani Motta me Kīhei de Silva, © 2006 Kamehameha Schools.

Aunty Lena was the youngest of the five children of Robert and Louise Poepoe Wai‘ale‘ale. The five, from hiapo to muli loa, were William, Gussie, Ivy, Robert Jr., and Lena. Aunty Lena was raised in Honolulu by her hānai parents and didn’t know too much about her siblings. But as she got older, she got more inquisitive. She said that she was in her teens when she finally met them. They invited her to go to Kaua‘i—that was where they lived and where their father was from. They accepted the fact that Aunty Lena had been adopted out and never heard from for years, and they accepted the fact that all of a sudden they had this sister who wanted to be part of the family. Because they were Hawaiian, they opened up their hearts and took her in. They encouraged her with her music and introduced her to a lifestyle that was different from the more rigid, Western ways of her adoptive family.

Shortly after he graduated from Kamehameha, Uncle Bob moved to the mainland to follow his own career in music. In time, Aunty Gussie and Aunty Ivy moved to Honolulu to marry and raise their families. But Uncle Bill—William Kauila Wai‘ale‘ale—didn’t leave Kaua‘i. He had a home in Kōloa—on the beach near Prince Kūhiō Park—and he was the one who really made Aunty Lena part of the family. Uncle Bill was a member of the Kaua‘i Police Department. His wife was Edith Momi Kamauoha from Nāpō‘opo‘o on the Big Island; she was a relative of ‘Iolani Luahine who would become another of Aunty Lena’s friends. Bill and Momi had four children: William Jr., Helen, Paule, and Pearl, and they all grew very close to Aunty Lena. When Aunty visited them, Uncle Bill would take her all over the island and introduce her to people like Hanohano Pā, Jacob Maka, and Alfred ‘Alohikea. These were some of the best chanters and singers of the day, and I think her long-lasting connections to these people and their families had a strong influence on her singing. They gave her a background, I think, to start off her life in music. Because her voice, her range, was like theirs: far above the ordinary.

When Aunty Lena visited Uncle Bill in her teens, she’d go hunting with him for pheasants—just the two of them with his dogs and guns. That was his hobby—not so much for the pheasants themselves, but more so for their feathers. This was because his wife was a feather-lei maker. When I visited them, I helped to box all of her supplies, but since I had hānō, I had to wear a mask and not breathe all these hulu flying around me. When I’d come by for the summers, Aunty Momi would say, "No, no, no; please don’t go into the feather room without your mask."

So Uncle Bill and Aunty Lena would hike up the slopes of Wai‘ale‘ale to hunt for pheasants. There was a kind of entrance, Aunty said, that took them all the way to the brim of the mountain. It was hot, she said, and the trek went on and on, but they would finally reach a point that overlooked a beautiful, bowl-shaped valley: a piko verdant with waterfalls, ferns, and trees in full bloom. She said the trees were māmane, and little green and yellow birds would flit around the yellow flowers, feeding. She said that she felt like an ant in a bowl and that she was overwhelmed by the beauty and serenity of God’s creation. She carried this scene with her for many years, and whenever she was traveling and busy, the memory brought her to a place of calmness and strong Hawaiian presence.

Aunty Lena didn’t compose "Pua Māmane" right away. It came to her later on, after she had been traveling all over, singing other people’s songs, listening to how they expressed themselves, and thinking about what she would do out there with her own music. The memory of Uncle Bill and the māmane blossoms of Wai‘ale‘ale brought her serenity and inspiration. It helped her to delve into her Hawaiian appreciation of where she came from—not only the mountains, flowers, winds, and ocean, but the whole sphere of the family. When she finally composed "Pua Māmane," she dedicated it to her oldest brother William. The song seems to describe the beauty of what she saw on their hikes—the scenery, mostly. But her description of the flower that stands in this bowl, in this big realm of God’s creation, is actually an expression of appreciation for her brother. He is the beautiful māmane blossom of Kaua‘i, and he is the center and head—the piko—of her Wai‘ale‘ale family.

Aunty Lena copyrighted her first songs in the 1930s, but most of these songs were written about feelings and experiences that she had held inside her for a long time. She usually didn’t compose anything right away. All the things that she held in her—her music and words—came out later. But when her first songs were beginning to pile up, a friend mentioned that she had better start copyrighting them before someone else did. She followed through on this advice because she had worked with Sol Bright, the Mansfields, and the Kealohas, and she had seen a lot of their music taken by others. She chose "Pua Māmane" as the first of her copyrighted songs. This wasn’t an accident; it was something she thought carefully about. She wanted to put her brother’s song first in order to honor her family connection. So "Pua Māmane" became her foundation and starting point. Once she paid tribute to Uncle Bill, she could begin to introduce her other compositions.

Pua Māmane

Aia ka nani i luna
Ka liko pua māmane
Hiehie launa ‘ole
He u‘i mai ho‘i kau

‘O ka u‘i hea kēia 
Kaulana nei a puni
Kaua‘i Manookalani
Ku‘u one hānau ia.

‘O ka piko Wai‘ale‘ale 
Kilohi au i ka nani
I ka wai ‘ula ‘iliahi**
Kaulana o ka ‘āina

Me ke one a‘o Nohili
Pahapaha o Polihale+
Me ka nani a‘o Hā‘upu
Kaulana a‘o Kōloa++

Ku‘u lei ua ka puana
Ka nani o ia pua
Me a‘u mai ‘oe
A mau loa.

There is beauty above
In the budding māmane blossom
Incomparably appealing
So very attractive

Which youthful beauty is this?
One who is known throughout
Kaua‘i of Manookalanipō
Sands of my birth

From the summit of Wai‘ale‘ale
I gaze at the beauty
At the red sandalwood water of Waimea
Celebrated throughout the land

At the sands of Nohili
The limu pahapaha of Polihale
And the splendor of Hā‘upu
Famed mountain ridge at Kōloa

For my dear one is the refrain
The beauty of this flower
May you be with me
Forever more.

Source: Hawaiian text from the collection of Pi‘olani Motta, © June 26, 1933. Orthographic editing and translation by Kīhei de Silva.

* The māmane tree, a native member of the pea family, thrives at high altitudes and produces a delicate, inch-long, bright yellow flower. These flowers develop in clusters at the tips of the tree’s branches, so a māmane in full bloom is a spectacular sight. Pua māmane often appears in Hawaiian poetry as a metaphor of high rank, youthful beauty, or intense physical appeal. The last of these—sexual appeal—has mislead a number of Lena Machado enthusiasts into interpreting her "Pua Māmane" as a song of romantic love. The mele is, in fact, an expression of admiration for her brother William and their Wai‘ale‘ale family of Kaua‘i.

** "Wai ‘ula ‘iliahi" is an old poetic expression for the Waimea River which, after heavy rains, sometimes runs red along its western bank.

+ The pahapaha sea-lettuce of Polihale was said to have a special quality; it "could be revived by immersion in sea water after it had partially dried" (Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #2568). The time-honored expressions "Kaua‘i o Manookalanipō," "wai ‘ula ‘iliahi," "ke one a‘o Nohili," and "pahapaha o Polihale" appear frequently in mele for Kaua‘i, and their use here clearly demonstrates Lena Machado’s knowledge of the island’s poetic legacy.

++ William Wai‘ale‘ale’s house was located in the district of Kōloa on the Po‘ipū shoreline near Prince Kūhiō Park. It is probably no accident that his sister’s homecoming song comes to a happy end at this family home.


photo courtesy of: Pi‘olani Motta

William Kauila Wai‘ale‘ale, eldest brother of Lena Machado. "He is the beautiful māmane blossom of Kauaʻi, and he is the center and head—the piko—of her Wai‘ale‘ale family."

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