E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Unknown.

Date: Probably 1874-1885, the decade during which Queen Kapi‘olani regularly toured the island kingdom in the cause of ho‘oulu lāhui (the propagation of the Hawaiian race) through the promotion of maternity homes and maternity education for her people.

Sources: 1) “Ni‘ihau,” as taught by Maiki Aiu Lake to her Papa ‘Ilima in 1973. A typescript of Maiki’s text, translation, and dance notes was shared with us by Kamāmalu Klein, Maiki’s kōkua, in 1976.

2) “E hoi ke aloha i Niihau,” Ms Grp 81, 5.37, Mader Collection, Bishop Museum Archives. Identified as mele inoa for Queen Kapi‘olani collected by Vivienne Mader from Helen Desha Beamer; translation by Mary Kawena Pukui. 3) “Hoi kealoha,” MS Grp 81, 3.39, Mader Collection, Bishop Museum Archives. Identified as hula kui, mele leo hoonani, mele inoa for Queen Kapi‘olani; collected by Mader from H.D. Beamer. 4) “E Ho‘i ke aloha i Ni‘ihau,” Ka‘upena Wong, liner notes to Maiki, Chants and Mele of Hawai‘i, Hula Records CDHS-588, 1991. Identified as hula pā ipu, mele inoa for Queen Kapi‘olani. Text and translation identified as belonging to M.K. Pukui – Pukui Chant Collection.

Discography: 1) “E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau,” Pua Ha‘aheo (chanter), Hawaiian Transcripts HT-193, (ca. 1935). 2) “Hoi Kealoha i Niihau,” Tom Hiona (chanter), Hawaiian Chants, Hula, and Love Dance Songs, Ethnic Folkways FE 4271, 1972. 3) ”Ni‘ihau,” Ka‘upena Wong (chanter), Mele Inoa, Poki Records SP9003, 1974.  4) “E Ho‘i ke aloha i Ni‘ihau,” Maiki Aiu Lake (chanter), Maiki, Chants and Mele of Hawai‘i, Hula Records CDHS-588, 1991.

Our text: As taught by Maiki Aiu Lake to her Papa ‘Ilima in 1973 and shared by Kamāmalu Klein in 1976. Translation by Kīhei de Silva – following closely that given in the Klein typescript which, in turn, follows closely the Pukui translation supplied by Ka‘upena Wong on the Maiki CD.

The liner notes of Tom Hiona’s Ethnic Folkways recording of “Hoi Kealoha i Niihau” claim that the mele:

tells the story of the high priest Paoa, who led his people to the island of Niihau in search of the sacred hidden waters and finally found the secret by following the flight of the kolea or red-breasted plover birds.[1]

Research and tradition, however, clearly identify “E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau” as a mele inoa for Kapi‘olani, Queen Consort of David Kalākaua. We know this from the writings of Pukui, Wong, Beamer, Mader, Tatar, and Kaeppler;[2] we know it from the teaching of Aunty Maiki, Lani Kalama, and Sally Wood Naluai.[3] We know the woman it honors; what we don’t know, not with certainty, are the context and kaona of that honoring. There is enough, however, in bits and pieces here and there, in the historical record, and in the text of the chant itself, to inspire the following analysis and interpretation. While we don’t pretend to hold the key to “E Ho‘i ke Aloha,” we prefer the search for understanding – and the venturing of a thought or two – to the complacent reprise of an unexamined mele.

“E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau,” on its most basic level, commemorates a visit made by Kapi‘olani to the island of Ni‘ihau, probably between 1874 and 1885,[4] the initial decade of her husband’s reign. As her biographers are quick to point out, one of Kapi‘olani’s first acts as queen was to tour the islands and encourage her people to make and raise healthy babies.[5] This tour inspired her to found the Ahahui Hooulu Lahui (Society for the Propagation of the Race), an organization dedicated to the establishment of a maternity home and maternity education for Hawaiians. Beginning in 1874, she devoted ten years to traveling the island chain, counseling her people, promoting her plans, and staging the fundraisers that ultimately led to the opening of the Kapi‘olani Home for Hawaiian Girls in 1885 and the Kapi‘olani Maternity Home (now Kapi‘olani Children’s Medical Center) in 1890.

Kapi‘olani’s visit to England for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee is the most written-about of her travels, but she is also the subject of a number of mele composed in response to these less-grand but considerably more significant missions to the diminishing communities of her own nation. “Ma Lāna‘i Anu ka Makani,”[6] the three “Hanohano” chants for Kaua‘i,[7] and the island-spanning “‘Auhea Wale e Hawai‘i”[8] belong to this period. So, in our analysis, does “E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau.”

The words of the mele describe the natural beauty and hidden resources of Lehua, Ni‘ihau, and Nihoa – the secret pao‘o water of the first, the legendary breadfruit tree and sugarcane of the second, and the idealized reefs and sunlit plain of the third. If we were to cast an impatient eye on the piece, we would soon dismiss it as a pleasant but far-from-profound expression of welcome to a visiting queen: its site selection seems imbalanced and scattershot, its focus is “typically” fragmented, and its apparent purpose is to offer up a sampling of the scenic treats that lie before her. After the opening line, we jump like pao‘o from Ni‘ihau to Lehua and subsequently spend more time on a less-detailed[9] Nihoa (all of verses three and four) than we do on Ni‘ihau itself (verse two); we view, without exposition, a parade of bright but disconnected images (spring, tree, cane, reef, plain); and we are left to conclude, somewhat lamely, that these descriptions are somehow meaningful flowers in the lei of aloha with which Kapi‘olani is greeted.

Patient analysis and familiarity with the deceptive simplicity of many late-monarchy compositions of this sort[10] lead us, however to an entirely different assessment of “E Ho‘i ke Aloha.” The mele, in fact, moves with subtle purpose through interconnected images of procreation, fruition, and rediscovered potency to arrive at a decidedly profound expression of ho‘oulu lāhui, the restoration of Hawai‘i’s people under the warm sun of Kapi‘olani’s enlightenment and Kalākaua’s rule. Its opening image, that of the pao‘o fish of Lehua, is explained by Rerioterai Tava and Moses Keale and as a reference to Waihunaakapao‘o, one of the island’s two highly treasured, freshwater springs:

In the old days fresh water would drip off the rocks and very slowly run out to the ocean. The people did not know that this was fresh water. The fish would climb up into the cracks and hide themselves, and when the men visited the area, the fish scampered off, jumping back into the ocean. The strange behavior of these little fish was noticed and when the men went to investigate, they found the fresh water. So they cleaned out the crevices in the rock and built a little punawai to catch the water for drinking. With water so precious and sparse, all punawai were kept clean and cared for. The reason for the name is because the little fish kept these waters for themselves and hid it – thus the name, the Hidden Waters of the Paoo. Paoo is believed to be the fish now known as panoo, very similar to oopu kai in the tide pools. This punawai is still in existence. However, since no one depends on this water for survival, people have stopped caring for it and the birds have taken over.[11]

The mele begins, then, with a cleft rock, hidden pool, and privileged visitors – with the entirely uncontrived metaphor of an act of procreation inspired by love and characterized by great appreciation and care. This act leads, in the second verse, to the breadfruit of Kawaihoa reef and the buried sugarcane of the Halali‘i sand dunes – to the uncomplicated delivery of a healthy child and to the rediscovery of a people’s virulence. Tava and Keale explain that Ni‘ihau was originally home to only five breadfruit trees:  Hikinaakala, Kulimoku, Hakalele-aponi, Kalama, and Nauluhuaikahapapa. The only tree to survive the years was the last of these, Nā-‘ulu-hua-i-ka-hāpapa, The ‘Ulu That Bears Fruit on the Reef.

This tree was planted close to the beach in a limestone reef. In this reef are large holes up to ten feet deep. The tree was planted in the hole so that the roots could reach water, otherwise it could not get water – a brilliant bit of planting. As the tree grew up toward the sun, the leaves and fruit were at reef level, thus the name, Nauluhuaikahapapa.[12]

Since the tree bore fruit at, or only slightly above, ground level, it was a simple matter for Ni‘ihau’s people to tend to those fruit and pick them, without damage, at just the right time. The image of sinkhole, tree, and fruit – especially when it follows immediately after that of crevice, spring, and fish – is highly suggestive of the procreative act and its happy consequence: the bringing to full term of a healthy child and the safe delivery of this child to the people who have carefully planted and nurtured him. In the context of the mission that probably instigated Kapi‘olani’s visit to Ni‘ihau, the story of Nā‘uluhua-

ikahāpapa is very much a lesson in the value of maternal and prenatal care.

The next line of the mele introduces its third uncontrived but meaning-laden description:  that of the buried sugarcane of Halali‘i. According to Tava and Keale, sugarcane on Ni‘ihau was first grown at a place between Waihonu and Halali‘i on the island’s southwest coast:

The sugar cane at Halalii grew near a great number of sand dunes, which the winds frequently shifted from place to place. As the sugar cane would grow, the constant winds caused it to lay down. As the winds continued to blow the sand, it covered the cane stalks, leaving only the leaves exposed above the sand, while the cane itself continued to grow beneath the sand to almost twelve feet long. If one did not know that the cane was growing underground, one might pull only the front end out and cut off a short piece of cane. The people of Niihau, knowing that the cane was growing under the sand, would get down and dig with their hands, following the cane to the end of the stalk to get the whole cane. Thus the name for the cane, Ko eli lima o Halalii, or sugar cane dug by hand. The cane is no longer growing at Halalii.[13]

The procreative, male-in-female image of stalk in sand reinforces those of fish in crevice and tree in sinkhole; the gestatory image of healthy growth in earth’s womb reinforces that of fruiting ‘ulu in a carefully tended tree; and the undeniably virile image of a mostly hidden, twelve-foot length of sugarcane suggests the potential of the lāhui to reverse the horrible decimation of the previous century and to return to its former flourishing state. This potential, the kō ‘eli of Halali‘i tells us, needs to be reactivated by those who know where to look and how to dig. Again, in the context of Kapi‘olani’s mission, the bottom-line kaona of the buried sugarcane, in all its multi-faceted imagery, is that of healthy babies and prolific people.

The golden future that lies beyond this recovered kō[14] is symbolized by distant Nihoa – literally, “firmly-set” – of the mele’s third and fourth verses. The island is described as possessed of lau hāpapa, a multitude of reefs dotted with sinkholes, each (we readily envision) waiting for a figurative, firmly-set ‘ulu. Nihoa is then described as a kula (plain, field, fish-basket, school) into which the sun (male generative power, enlightenment, perhaps Kalakaua himself) – pours its life-giving warmth. Finally, the island-symbol is described as turning its face to Kaua‘i in figurative acknowledgement of the source of its happy state: it turns to Queen Kapi‘olani, descendant of Kaua‘i’s chiefs and bearer of inspiration and enlightenment.

These verses differ from the first two in that their place descriptions are painted in broad, detail-poor strokes. The pao’o of Lehua’s rocky spring are actual fish, specific place, and intricate metaphor; the ‘ulu of Kawaihoa and the ko ‘eli lima of Halali‘i’s dunes are actual plants, specific places, and intricate metaphors. The lau hāpapa and kula of Nihoa, on the other hand, are neither attached to specific locations nor given definitive, supplemental detail. We have nothing more than expansive reef and sun-warmed plain; the two resonate with the kaona of fertility, but they are, in themselves, surprisingly generic images of an ideal island. Actual descriptions of Nihoa indicate a considerable disparity between the poetic and real, and they lead us to conclude that the Nihoa of “E Ho‘i ke Aloha” was generated by imagination not fact. The actual Nihoa is a tiny volcanic pinnacle that juts out of the sea without benefit of surrounding reefs. High sea cliffs on three of its sides descend quickly in five gulches to a rocky shelf on its fourth: Adam Bay. Its steep, gulley-worn surface, though terraced in ancient times for ‘uala and gourd farming, holds little that qualifies as kula.[15] Patrick Kirch, on whose contour map and description of the island the preceding sentences are based, also supplies us with the following information:

Aside from the limited land area, the constraints on human settlement are ponderous, though not impossible to overcome. Annual rainfall is estimated at between 500 and 750 mm, adequate for the cultivation of sweet potatoes or gourds, but insufficient for taro and many other Polynesian crops. Since the narrow watercourses flow only after heavy rains, drinking water must be obtained from three small seeps, all of which are heavily tinged with guano. There is no fringing reef to protect the island or to provide a source of reef fish and shellfish, nor is there a beach where canoes could be landed safely. Landing must be done onto the rocky shelf in Adam Bay, and even this can be accomplished only in fair weather… Despite these environmental constraints, the island is mantled with archaeological sites…Emory recorded sixty-six sites, and his survey – limited to what could be accomplished in five days of fieldwork – was not exhaustive…[He] observed that “the gentler slopes of Nihoa are entirely stepped with cultivation terraces” (1928:11), and he estimated that about 12 acres were terraced in this fashion.[16]

The real Nihoa, then, has neither reef nor surface large or level enough to constitute a plain. That “E Ho‘i ke Aloha” attributes both to the distant island is the consequence, perhaps, of the very population decline addressed by the mele. Hawaiians of Kapi‘olani’s time had not traveled regularly to Nihoa for several generations and the island’s existence, by the early nineteenth century, had become less a matter of memory than of story and legend. Kirch notes that Nihoa was “discovered” in 1789 by Captain Douglas of the British ship Iphigenia; the island was uninhabited “but later explorations revealed abundant archaeological manifestations of a…formerly dense population, which may have occupied Nihoa for several centuries.”[17] Tava and Keale remind us of the Hawaiian rediscovery of the island in 1822 by Ka’ahumanu and her royal party on an expedition instigated by Ni‘ihau’s people:

In 1822 Kaahumanu and her royal party – Liholiho, Kaumualii, Keopuokalani and Kahekili Keeaumoku – left Kauai for Niihau where they were royally entertained. Kaahumanu had only heard of Nihoa in mele and legends, since the island was unknown to her generation. The people of Niihau at that time told her stories and legends of Nihoa and its importance to them. So Kaahumanu asked that they join her party in proving that the island existed and that it had been occupied prior to the eighteenth century even though by the end of the eighteenth century it was all but forgotten. When Kaahumanu and her royal party visited Nihoa, Captain William Sumner took possession of the island for her.[18]

Keale and Tava also supply us with the following account of the early importance of Nihoa to the residents of Ni‘ihau:

The people of Niihau explained [to Ka’ahumanu] that their forefathers traveled frequently to Nihoa, as this was one of the stopovers during trips to and from Tahiti…Archeological notes on Nihoa substantiate that ancient peoples lived there, as Dr. Kenneth Emory of the Bishop Museum found. He noted in “Humans on Nihoa 553 Years Ago” (Honolulu Advertiser, 1956), that there were remains of houses and evidence of food crops. The population of Nihoa in 1779[19] was approximately 4,000 kanaka…The Niihauans were frequent visitors and knew the best landing. If on a particular day they wished to go fishing on Nihoa, they would climb up to Puu Kaeo on Niihau where there is a marker and look out towards Nihoa. If weather conditions permitted, they would leave by canoe from Kaununui…Other trips to Nihoa were to collect leaves and wood for spears from the loulu palm that grew only on Nihoa, and to bring back a fiber-like grass, makiukiu, that was used for cord and stuffing...The island was also used as a place for young lovers – a chance to be alone and get to know one another. The last couple to visit was named Kaaumoana.[20]

These accounts provide us with an understanding of Nihoa’s actual physical state, its early importance and subsequent demise, and its place in the minds of nineteenth century Hawaiians; they add, in turn, considerable depth to our interpretation of the island’s significance in “E Ho‘i ke Aloha.”  They help us to infer that the mele’s Nihoa was crafted in a nearly-barren present from a powerful but dimly remembered sense of past prosperity and from an equally powerful and vaguely detailed vision of a prosperous future. In itself, the mele’s Nihoa is a compelling symbol of a bountiful, repopulated, Kapi‘olani-inspired Hawaiian nation. But the symbol becomes even more powerful when considered from our present-day understanding of its factual “inaccuracies” – the inability of the haku mele to connect the symbol of Nihoa to the real Nihoa further symbolizes the desperate but determined circumstances that may have instigated Kapi‘olani’s visit and “E Ho‘i ke Aloha’s” composition. Our hearts overflow several times over:  for the power of the dream, for the antithetical past and present that propel it, and for the bits, pieces, and defiant imagination from which it is assembled.

Recently revised estimates of the Hawaiian population at the time of Cook’s arrival number us, conservatively, at 800,000. A century later, at the time of “E Ho‘i ke Aloha,” that figure had been reduced to 48,000 – a disease, despair, and displacement generated depopulation of almost 95%.[21] When considered in this context, Ho‘oulu Lāhui – the campaign motto of Kalākaua, the name of the society subsequently formed by Kalākaua and Kapi‘olani, and the impetus for Kapi‘olani’s visits to Hawaiian communities throughout the islands – was more than a catchy phrase and pet project. It addressed the very survival of the Hawaiian people. When understood in this context, “E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau,” as pretty a composition as it is, is considerably more than pretty. It asks that love – baby-producing, race-restoring love – return to Ni‘ihau and, by extension, to the entire nation. It acknowledges Kapi’olani as the bearer of the light by which that healthy state might again be realized. In the intervening century, much has changed and little has changed. Our nation is gone, but maybe not. Our survival as Hawai‘i piha (pure-blooded Hawaiians) is not likely, our survival as Hawaiians is. We have little difficulty making babies, but much trouble delivering them into healthy lives, families, and futures. In short, after more than a century, “E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau, its light, and its bearer have lost none of their original importance.

Māpu learned “E Ho‘i ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau” 37 years ago (in 1973) as one of the first hula taught by Aunty Maiki Aiu to her newly formed Papa ‘Ilima, the members of which Maiki would later graduate as ‘ōlapa and kumu hula. Māpu’s notes for the dance address only its first two verses; she remembers that Maiki:

eventually put the dance away, perhaps because Coline (Aiu, Maiki’s daughter) – who was working on it with both the kumu and ‘ōlapa candidates – wasn’t as happy with our progress as she was with the ‘ōlapa’s. That’s probably why my notes are incomplete; we never went back to review the dance, nor did we do it for ‘ūniki. Apparently the ‘ōlapa had better luck; they danced it at ‘ūniki while we were changing.[22]

A year after her ‘ūniki, Māpu asked Kamāmalu Klein, who had served as one of Maiki’s kōkua for the Papa ‘Ilima, to review “E Ho‘i ke Aloha” with her so that its memory wouldn’t fade. Kamāmalu responded by sharing her complete text, translation, and dance notes for the mele. Māpu has subsequently – and regularly – taught “E Ho‘i ke Aloha” to our advanced students. It was part of the ‘ūniki repertoire, for ōlapa and kumu hula, of the class Māpu graduated at Keahualaka, Kaua‘i, in 1997. Mino‘aka Demesillo is one of those ‘ōlapa graduates.  

Ka‘upena Wong’s liner notes to the CD Maiki, Chants and Mele of Hawai‘i correctly identify Maiki’s version of “E Hoi ke Aloha i Ni‘ihau” as “a departure from the traditional with the mixing of ipu and pahu rhythms.”[23] Although her ipu work for each of the mele’s verses is consistent with beat-patterns traditionally associated with the instrument, her intervening ki’ipā pattern is obviously pahu influenced. Māpu’s incomplete, 1973 notes for the mele indicate that Maiki had a name for this 1-2-3-4, 1-2 sequence: “Ni‘ihau beat.”  Unfortunately, Māpu has neither notes nor memory to explain the origin or antiquity of the beat. It’s our guess that Maiki made it up herself; it is possible that she was influenced in this by Tom Hiona whose pahu rendition of the mele on his Ethnic Folkways album has been politely described by Betty Tatar as “not typical”[24] and by Adrienne Kaeppler as having no precedent “before 1950.”[25]

In the years since Māpu’s graduation, we have learned from observation, experience, research, and the reminders of several much-admired hula elders, that ipu beats belong with the ipu, and that pahu beats belong with pahu. We believe in this stricture and teach it repeatedly to our own students. We also believe in honoring Māpu’s teachers – particularly the kumu hula who took her in and graduated her – and in passing on their hula in exactly the manner in which it was taught. The point is: for all our love of the traditional, we cannot alter Maiki’s “E Ho‘i ke Aloha.” We are of the opinion that tradition holds us, in fact, to a higher requirement: that we honor – not tinker with or “correct” – the work of the teacher. In teaching and performing Aunty Maiki’s version of this hula, we make it very clear that the ki’ipā is non-standard and probably Maiki’s invention. And then we teach and perform it in as close to Maiki’s manner as memory, dance notes, and ability allow. Aia lā.

E ho‘i ke aloha i Ni‘ihau e

I ka wai huna a ka pao‘o e

Ka ‘ulu hua i ka hāpapa e

Me ke kō ‘eli o Halali‘i e

Eia ‘o Nihoa ma hope e

I ka lau hāpapa i ke kai e

‘O ka lā welawela o ke kula e

Huli aku ke alo i Kaua‘i e

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ka wahine e

No Kapi‘olani no he inoa e

May love return to Ni‘ihau

To the hidden water of the pao‘o fish

To the ‘ulu that bears fruit on the upraised reef

And to the sugarcane of Halali‘i that is dug out by hand

Here lies Nihoa behind Ni‘ihau

With its many reefs in the sea

There the sun shines warm on the plain

Where the island turns its face to Kaua‘i

This is the end of my praise

In honor of Kapi‘olani.


1. Hawaiian Chants, Hula, and Love-Dance Songs, Ethnic Folkways FE 4271. This liner-note explanation apparently confuses the priest Pa’ao with both the pao‘o fish and the Lehua Island place-name Waihunaakapao‘o, a rocky spring inhabited by those fish. The note also misidentifies the kōlea (golden plover) as red-breasted. Hiona’s misinformation is outlandish enough to seem deliberate – was he playing a joke on his Folkway ethnographers?

2. The pertinent writings of Pukui, Wong, Beamer, and Mader are cited in the initial, “Sources,” section of this paper. Adrienne Kaeppler and Elizabeth Tatar discuss “E Ho‘i Ke Aloha” in the two-volume publication Hula Pahu, Hawaiian Drum Dances: Kaeppler in v.1:225 and Tatar in v.2:282.


3. The circumstances of Māpu’s learning the mele from Aunty Maiki are cited in “Sources” above and detailed in the closing paragraphs of this paper. Māpu has also had many opportunities, over the twenty-year period following her graduation, to discuss “E Ho‘i ke Aloha” and the mele of her ‘ūniki repertoire with Maiki’s hula sisters Lani Kalama and Sally Wood Naluai – usually at Aunty Sally’s Kahalu‘u home in the late 1980s and early 90s. Although the two were always quick to note that Maiki had jazzed up the beat of the “E Ho‘i ke Aloha” with which they were familiar; they never entertained any doubts over the mele’s honoree: Queen Kapi‘olani.

4. Kawena Pukui refers specifically to one such visit to Kaua‘i made in about 1885 “to interest the people there in the welfare of their babies.” The visit was of importance to Pukui because it led Kapi‘olani to ask Pukui’s first hula teacher, the then eight-year-old Keahi Luahine (b.1877), to move from Wahiawa, Kaua‘i, to Honolulu, O‘ahu (Barrere, Pukui, and Kelley, Hula, Historical Perspectives, 76). Perhaps the Queen continued on to Ni‘ihau at the conclusion of her tour of the larger island.

5. Maili Yardley and Miriam Rogers, Queen Kapi‘olani, 5, 7, 15. Gwenfread Allen, “Kapiolani,” in Barbara Bennett Peterson (ed), Notable Women of Hawai‘i, 204-5.

6. Yardley, Queen Kapiolani, 51. “[Kapi‘olani’s] trip to England…was her most famous trip as the representative of the Crown, but she is also remembered for her many visits to the small Hawaiian communities on the outer islands. This chant is said to have been written after such a visit…” Yardley does not cite her source for “Ma Lāna‘i.”  It neither appears in the BPBM Mele Manuscript database nor in the more accessible chant publications of today.

7. “Hanohano Hanalei i ka Ua Nui,” “Hanohano Waimea i ka Wai Kea,” and “Hanohano ka Uka i Pihana-kalani.”  Betty Tatar’s liners notes for the chant album Nā Leo Hawai‘i Kahiko (MACD 2043, track 33) include the following explanation by Kawena Pukui: “According to my informant, Kapua, son of Kapua-nui of Hanapepe, a kumu hula, [“‘Hanohano Hanalei”] is part one of three Kaua‘i mele composed for Queen Kap‘iolani. The three give all the noted places on Kaua‘i.” Pukui’s exegesis of “Hanohano Waimea” (Nā Mele Welo, 161) further identifies the set as a “mele ho‘oulu lāhui (song to encourage the increase of the Hawaiian race).” Other Kapi‘olani chants that may have been inspired by her ho‘oulu lāhui visits to Kaua‘i include “Aia i Kamaile Ko Lei Ahi” and “‘Auhea Wale ana ‘Oe / E ka Ua Loku o Wai‘oli.” This proliferation of Kaua‘i chants for the Queen can be attributed to her descent from Kaumūali‘i, Kaua‘i’s last hereditary chief: “Kapi‘olani was dearly loved [by people of all the islands], but more so by those of the island of her illustrious ancestors” (Pukui, Hula, Historical Perspectives, 87).

8. The mele was given by Pua and Nālani Kanaka‘ole to Dot Thompson for use as the women’s competition hula of the 1992 Merrie Monarch Festival; its Hawai‘i-to-Ni‘ihau tour of the Hawaiian archipelago pays tribute to the love, enlightenment, and unity that Kapi‘olani inspired on her island-by-island ministry of ho‘oulu lāhui.

9. The mele’s Nihoa references – reef and plain – are very non-specific; no place-names are attached, no details are provided. A later section of this paper addresses the possible cause and meaning of this shift from the highly specific descriptions of Lehua and Ni‘ihau to the broader strokes with which Nihoa is painted.

10. “No ke Ano Ahiahi,” a mele inoa for William Charles Lunalilo, comes immediately to mind. Although its subject is regularly glossed as an imaginary voyage to America, careful examination of the complete text suggests that its ingenuous nautical language actually describes a lovers’ tryst between Lunalilo and his “Pua Rose.” Equally quick to mind is “A i Waimea ‘o Kalani,” the mele inoa for Queen Emma that we present in the group kahiko division of this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival. Its apparently simple account of a trip to the Kilohana Lookout of Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale becomes, on thoughtful examination, a powerful testament to Emma’s resilient spirit and renewed capacity to lead her people and rule the nation.

11. Tava and Keale, Niihau,ī, 99-100. Pukui’s ‘Ōlelo No‘eau #1652 identifies the pool as guarded by a supernatural pao‘o whose back “resembled the surrounding rocks, which makes the pool difficult to see.”

12. Tava and Keale, 26. The trees were originally kupua women from Tahiti who were turned into ‘ulu when they remained too long at Kawaihoa, the southwest point of Ni‘ihau (71). Pukui’s ‘Ōlelo No‘eau #2297 does not mention these kupua but provides the following corroboration of Ni‘ihau’s unique method of ‘ulu farming: “Breadfruit trees of Ni‘ihau were grown in sinkholes. The trunks were not visible, and the branches seemed to spread along the ground. These trees are famed in chants of Ni‘ihau.”

13. Tava and Keale, 59.


14. also means “fulfillment, success; to become pregnant.”

15. Patrick Kirch, Feathered Gods and Fishhooks, 89-91.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Tava and Keale, 102-103. A brief account of the expedition can also be found in John Papa Ii, Fragments of Hawaiian History, 166. Ii also explains that Ka‘ahumanu gave the name Nihoa to a portion of the waterfront area of downtown Honolulu in commemoration of this visit (64).

19. Because Tava and Keale provide no documentation for this tally, their account must be viewed with a cautious but not incredulous eye. Although we find it unlikely that Nihoa’s population fell from 4,000 to zero in the ten years prior to the Iphigenia’s arrival, David Stannard’s post-haole depopulation statistics (as detailed in his Before the Horror and reviewed on the next page of this report) give some credence to that tragic possibility.

20. Tava and Keale, 102.

21. David Stannard’s impeccably researched and written Before the Horror advances the argument that Hawai‘i’s pre-haole population, by the most conservative of his calculations, numbered in the 800-thousands and may well have approached  two million (37,49,54,59,78-79). He further computes the 1778 to 1878 depopulation rate (based on his 800,000 estimate and the 1878 census of slightly less than 48,000) as 17 to 1 (50-52) – more than twice that of such commonly recognized catastrophes as “that experienced by the English during the Black Death, by Jews during the Holocaust, or by the Japanese residents of atomic-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki”(82). Stannard also provides us with an eye-opening review of Ni‘ihau’s status at the time of Cook’s arrival when the island was regarded as “thick inhabited” and extremely productive: “[it] ‘produced such an enormous quantity of yams and sugarcane’ that Cook’s crew loaded at that stop enough provisions to feed almost 200 sailors for two to three months at sea… as Portlock [later] notes, Kaumuhonu Bay at the southern tip of Ni‘ihau became known as ‘Yam Bay’ to eighteenth century explorers, virtually all of whom made a point of stopping there because of the incredible amounts of yams produced and available for trade”(9). Stannard estimates the 1778 population of Ni‘ihau as 7,774 (56). He gives its 1823, Ka‘ahumanu-era census count as 1,944 (56). By my calculations, a 17 to 1 death rate would leave Ni‘ihau with an 1878, Kapi‘olani-era population of no more than 470. The 100-year decline, in round numbers, is staggering:  8,000…2,000…500.

22. Personal communication, 1-5-2002.

23. Maiki…, Hula Records CDHS-588, 12. Ka‘upena’s observation here is firmly grounded:  “E Ho‘i ke Aloha” was the first mele he learned from Mary Kawena Pukui (Kanahele, Hawaiian Music and Musicians, 413.)

24. Hula Pahu, v.2:282.

25. Hula Pahu, v.1:225.

© Kīhei de Silva 2002.  All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilimaʻs 2002 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.