He Aloha Moku o Keawe

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva



Haku mele:  Emalia Kaihumua (original words), San Francisco, 1894.  Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln (revised and abridged text, music).

Sources: 1) Roberts' Collection, MS SC 5.4:136b-137a, Bishop Museum Archives.  2) Mary Kawena Pukui, Nā Mele Welo, 226-7.

Select Discography:  1) Bill Lincoln, Bell LKS-246B (78rpm); Hula in Falsetto, Tradewinds TS 1127.

2) Genoa Keawe, 49th State HRC-179A (78rpm); By Request, GK Records GK102.  3) Leina‘ala Haili, Leinaala, Lehua SL 2022.  4) Ho‘okena, Thirst Quencher, Ho‘omau 1001.  5) Nā Palapalai, Ke ‘Ala Beauty, Koops5 Entertainment KPSE 1003.

Text below: Transcribed from Ho‘okena's Thirst Quencher, Ho‘omau 1001. Translation: Kīhei de Silva.





Answer my call, Island of Keawe

Land of beauty and serenity


I compare you to California

Hawai‘i is, by far, the best of lands


See the snow that whitens the skin

Skin warmed at the fireplace


This, to me, is an astonishing land

Completely enveloped in fog


The biting of the cold is like a lover

Inviting me, "Turn and come back"


This ends my song

Land of beauty and serenity

E ō ē Moku o Keawe
‘Āina i ka nani me ka maluhia.

Ho‘okūkū wau me Kaleponi
Hawai‘i nō ka ‘oi no nā ‘ailana.

‘Ike i ka hau ho‘okuakea ‘ili
Ho‘opumehana i ke ahi kapuahi.

‘Āina kamaha‘o i ka‘u ‘ike
Ua uhi pa‘a ‘ia e ka ua noe.

Ka ‘iniki a ke anu me he ipo ala
E kono mai ana ia‘u e huli ho‘i mai.


Ha'ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana
'Āina i ka nani me ka maluhia



Emalia Kaihumua, a noted dancer in the court of David Kalākaua, is best remembered today as “Sweet Emalia,” the heartthrob of the three-way relationship described in the still-popular composition “Aia i Hilo One.” Her talents, moreover, seem to have reached beyond hula and huinakolu; while performing in California in 1894, she was inspired by cold and homesickness to write “He Aloha Moku O Keawe,”[1] a song of intense longing for the island of Hawaiʻi.[2]  Kaihumua’s music did not survive the 19th century, but her words found their way into the mele hula repertoire of Hilo resident J.P. Hale (kāne, b.1858) who, in 1923-24, recorded them for Helen Roberts as a hula ‘ulī‘ulī. Hale’s text, in turn, must have gained the admiration of Kawena Pukui over the course of her many years of work at the Bishop Museum. More than five decades after “He Aloha Moku O Keawe” was composed, Pukui suggested that Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln rescue the mele from Roberts' yellowing collection, and Lincoln agreed to create a new melody for the old piece.


Lincoln’s efforts resulted in a hauntingly beautiful marriage of words and music that gave a second life to the song whose title he had condensed to “Moku O Keawe.” Like his title, Lincoln’s text is somewhat shorter and less detailed than Hale’s. From Hale’s 18-line version, he excised six lines to produce a six verse song of two lines each. Missing from “Moku O Keawe” is an early verse that identifies the ‘Aukekulia (Australia) as the ship that “invited” Kaihumua to visit California. Also missing are two penultimate verses that dwell poignantly on homesickness ("My thoughts return / Although I am a thousand miles distant") and aloha ‘āina ("Love for my homeland wells up in me / And for the poi ‘uo‘uo that soothes the throat).” Missing, finally, from Lincoln’s version is Kaihumua’s concluding restatement of her song’s theme; where Lincoln’s ha‘ina ends with a predictable return to the second line of the opening verse (“Tell the summary of the song / Land of beauty and serenity”), the older version reemphasizes, instead, the aloha ‘āina sentiments of its now deleted eighth verse: “Tell the summary of the song / Love of homeland is my lei.”


We can picture the environment that probably dictated Lincoln’s editorial decisions. It is quite likely that a slow, nine verse song would have proven unpalatable to the four-to-five verse, two-and-a-half minute, usually upbeat tastes of his time: one does not attempt to revive a mele by exhausting the attention span of its new audience and by ignoring the marketing strategies of the recording and broadcasting industries. Today, these “short and sweet” limitations are being undermined by a revival of interest in Hawaiian language and poetry. Because more of us are able to revel in the words of a well-composed song, there is a greater demand for eight verse versions of “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua,” seven minute renditions of “Ka Ipo Lei Manu,” and 36-line marathons of “‘Alekoki.” We want to hear all of a good song’s verses – preferably two times each – and we want those songs to go on and on. In this respect, Ho‘okena’s long, slow, soaring rendition of “Moku o Keawe” both fulfills and disappoints. On the one hand, its elegance of arrangement and delivery serves to intensify Emalia’s poetry and Lincoln’s music to the point where the mere act of listening falls, for me, just short of rapture. It is almost criminal for words that mean so much to sound that good. On the other hand, Ho‘okena’s allegiance to Lincoln’s abridged text (for some reason they begin with “E ō ē moku o Keawe” and switch the order of Lincoln’s 3rd and 4th verses) leaves much to be desired. Three verses and a final line still languish in the J.P. Hale transcript. The ‘Aukekulia remains unnamed, the distance home unmeasured, the smooth, sticky poi untasted, and the lei of aloha ‘āina unworn. Ho‘okena’s is a landmark recording that defines “Moku o Keawe” as a modern classic; the very power of that recording, however, will make it difficult for the neglected sections of the original to ever work their way back into Hawai‘i’s ear. And that, i ka‘u ‘ike, is a shame.[3]


Provided below are the Lincoln and Hale versions of Sweet Emalia’s composition. I have used italics to indicate variations in the three texts I’ve discussed. Both the Lincoln and Hale translations are my own; they are based on that provided by Mary Kawena Pukui in Roberts’ manuscript at the Bishop Museum Archives. I have taken the liberty of adding diacritical marks to both texts and of making standard orthographic changes to the second.


He aloha moku o Keawe

Loved is the land of Keawe,
A land of beauty and serenity.
I compare you to California
Hawai‘i is
by far the best of lands.
See the snow that whitens the skin
Skin warmed at the fireplace.
This, in my opinion, is an astonishing land
Completely enveloped by fog.
The biting of the cold is like a lover
Insisting that I turn and come back.
This ends my song
Land of beauty and serenity.


Loved is the land of Keawe,
A land of beauty and serenity.
I compare you to California
Hawai‘i is by far the best of lands.
It was the Australia that invited me
To journey to this foreign land.

It is, for me, an astonishing place
Completely enveloped by fog.
I see the snow that whitens the skin
Skin warmed at the fireplace.
The biting of the cold is like a lover
Insisting that I return.
It is there that my thoughts return
Although I am a thousand miles distant.
Loves wells up within me for my homeland
For the smooth poi that soothes the throat.
This ends my song
Love for my homeland is my lei.


‘Āina i ka nani me ka maluhia.
Ho‘okūkū wau me Kaleponi
Hawai‘i
ka ‘oi o nā ‘ailana.
‘Ike i ka hau ho‘okuakea ‘ili
Ho‘opumehana i
ke ahi kapuahi.
‘Āina kamaha‘o i ka‘u ‘ike
Ua uhi pa‘a
‘ia e ka ua noe.
Ka ‘iniki a ke anu me he ipo ala
E
koi mai ana ia‘u e huli ho‘i mai.
Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana
‘Āina i ka nani me ka maluhia.


He aloha moku o Keawe
‘Āina
a ka nani me ka maluhia.
Ho‘okūkū wau me Kaleponi
Hawai‘i ka ‘oi o nā ‘ailana.
Na ka ‘Aukekulia i kono mai ia‘u
E naue i ka ‘āina malihini.

‘Āina kamaha‘o i ka‘u ‘ike,
Ua uhi pa‘a
pū ‘ia e ka noe.
‘Ike i ka hau ho‘okuakea ‘ili
Ho‘opumehana i
kahi kapuahi.
Ka ‘iniki a ke anu me he ipo ala
E
koi mai ana ia‘u e ho‘i.
I laila huli hope ko‘u mana‘o
A he kaukani mile ko‘u mamao.

Hū mai ke aloha no ka ‘āina
No ka poi ‘uo‘uo kaohi pu‘u.

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana,
Ke aloha ‘āina ku‘u lei ia.



Notes


1. The epithet Moku o Keawe – Island of Keawe – by which the Big Island is traditionally known, refers to Keaweʻīkekahiali‘iokamoku, the 17th century chief whose wise, prosperous, and peaceful reign caused his people to use his name as a poetic substitute for the name of the island he ruled.

2. Emalia did not compose her song in a vacuum. The January 8, 1894, edition of the Hawaiian language newspaper Makaainana contains a 16 line mele "Ka Uouo a ka Hawaii" whose author – an unnamed male – entreats the steamship Australia to bring his lover home to him. She has lingered too long in California; the fourth week of their separation brings great pain; she requires the wai ‘uo‘uo (sticky liquid) of Hawai‘i; she is his beloved Emalia Kaihumua.

  1. KA UOUO A KA HAWAII
    No Auseteralia kahi aloha,
    Mokuahi lawe laina o ka hema,
    E ka mokuahi aukai o ka hema,
    Hoihoi mai oe i kuu aloha,
    Ke lohia ia ma la e Kaleponi,
    O ka lohe ka Hawaii e ike,
    O oe kaʻu i ike aku ai,
    I ke ku kilakila i ka oneki,
    Ekolu ou pule i ka moana,
    I ka ha o ka pule eha oe iaʻu,
    Aole no oe e pakele aku,
    I ka wai uouo a ka Hawaii,
    Auhea wale oe e kuu aloha,
    Malama pono oe i kaʻu wahi
    Haina ia mai ka puana,
    Aia Puuhale kuu Emalia.

The two mele, then, should be viewed as companion pieces written from opposite ends of a trip that divided their authors. I find it likely, moreover, that "He Aloha Moku o Keawe" was inspired by more than homesickness and cold; it may well have been composed as an answer to "Ka Uouo's" now nearly-forgotten plea for return and reunion. Kaha‘i Topolinski and Manu Boyd have reminded me of “He Aloha Moku o Keawe’s” larger, historical context: the mele was composed within a year of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation by one who had left Hawai‘i when Lili‘u was still queen. Kaihumua’s sense of personal displacement could only have been heightened by the realization that she longed for a home to which she could not ever completely return. Topolinski and Boyd have also mentioned their understanding that Kaihumua later fell victim to mental illness; Sweet Emalia died, impoverished and forgotten, in a Hawai‘i asylum.

3.  Manu Boyd of Ho‘okena has been extremely receptive to and forgiving of my critique. Since the initial publication of this piece in 1997, he has choreographed and presented with his hālau a complete, uncut version of “He Aloha Moku o Keawe” in the J.P. Hale format of hula noho, hula ‘ūli‘ulī.






© Kīhei de Silva, 1997.  All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in
He Aloha Moku o Keawe: A Collection of Songs for Hawai‘i, Island of Keawe, (Honolulu: Lelepali Productions, 1997) 1-3. It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.