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He Lei Poina ‘Ole Ke Keiki: A Beloved Child is a Lei Never Forgotten

Aloha pumehana e nā pua a Pauahi! “Warm welcome, children of Pauahi!” is a familiar greeting to Kamehameha haumāna. It affirms who they are as young, bright and industrious Hawaiians, who share a rich and proud tradition made possible through the love and generosity of Ke Ali‘i Pauahi. This year’s Song Contest theme focuses on our pua, our lei – our Hawaiian youth. The words lei (garland) and pua (flower) can poetically refer to children. There are many ‘ōlelo no‘eau, poetical wise sayings, that reflect traditional Hawaiian perspectives of keiki. He keiki mea kupuna refers to a child who is coddled and the center of attention of his or her grandparents. He keiki aloha nā mea kanu draws a parallel between children and plants both of which need care, nourishment and a healthy environment in which to thrive. When considering the influence of parents on their children, old timers recall the saying – Ka ‘ike a ka makua, he hei na ke keiki – which describes the youth as internalizing the words and behaviors of their parents. Regarding behavior and reputation, a favorite reference is – I maika‘i ke kalo i ka ‘ohā – the quality of the kalo is shown in its young shoots, suggesting that the behavior of children is a reflection of the family in which they were raised. Children who were favorites (often firstborns) were punahele, and if they were spoiled and fussed over they might be labeled as pailani. The quick learner whose insights and behaviors were mature beyond his or her years could be described as kanaka makua, a source of pride for parents and grandparents. In traditional poetry, it is common for a special child to be described as he hiwahiwa na ka makua a he lei ‘ā‘ī na ke kupuna – chosen and highly regarded by the parents and a lei worn proudly around the neck of the grandparents.

Although Pauahi did not have keiki of her own, her aloha and concern for her people moved her to create the Kamehameha Schools for the children of the Lāhui Hawai‘i, her Native Hawaiian people. It was Pauahi’s vision that her living legacy would value and touch her childrens’ spirit, mind and especially their na‘au, their heart. Intuitively, she knew that the power of this holistic education — an approach affirmed in traditional Hawaiian society — would be a vital and essential means for her people to not only survive, but to excel and flourish in the future.

Today, that education includes a reverence for Ke Akua, knowledge and practice of the Hawaiian culture and language, and global learning and engagement that will enable her people to determine their own future, compete on a world stage, and thrive.

Tonight, as we look to the future, as Pauahi did over 125 years ago, we focus on the youth. The songs that will be heard this evening reflect the deep aloha that mākua and kūpuna — parent and grandparent generations — have for their pua. Just as a child clings to its mother, so too does a beloved lei adorn the wearer. Each of this year’s song contest mele was composed as a loving makana for a child. Some are well-known while others are making their debut. Like Pauahi’s never-ending aloha for her people, these beautiful mele continue to express the composers’ love, hopes and dreams for a precious child.

Please enjoy, He Lei Poina ‘Ole Ke Keiki, A Beloved Child is a Lei Never Forgotten.