He Inoa no nā Keiki o ka Bāna Lāhui

An Essay by Kīhei and Māpuana de Silva

Haku Mele:  Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast, Puahaulani Hale, Honolulu, Feb. 10, 1893. [1]

Sources1)  Kekoaohiwaikalani, “He Inoa no na Keiki o ka Bana Lahui,” Hawaii Holomua, February 25, 1893.  2)  Kekoahiwaikalani, “He Lei no ka Poe Aloha Aina,” Ka Leo o ka Lahui,” May 12, 1893.  3)  Kekoahiwaikalani, “Mele Aloha Aina (Ai-pohaku),” in F.J. Testa (ed.), Buke Mele Lahui, 1895:1-2.   4)  J.S. Libornio, “Aloha Aina Song,” sheet music, Library of Congress, c. 1895.  5)  Kaleiopu, Johnny Noble (arr.), “Na Pua o Hawaii,” handwritten arrangement, Library of Congress, c. 1934.  6)  Ellen Prendergast, “Kaulana Na Pua (Chant of the Islands),” sheet music, Library of Congress, c. 1955; Aloha State Music, c. 1961.  7)  Ellen Wright Prendergast “Kaulana nā Pua,” in Samuel Elbert and Noelani Mahoe, Nā Mele o Hawai‘i Nei, 1970: 62-64. [2]

Our Text: Elbert and Mahoe, 62-64.

This is the song that brought a pair of nearly lost, almost-haoles into head-on collision with the possibility that, in our classmate Haunani Trask’s words, we were not American, not American, not American. Not in our heart of hearts, not if our great-grandparents had anything to say about it.

We were not, in the late 1960s, the least bit aware of the history of a queen, her nation, a terrible wrong, a misplaced trust, the smoke of rifles, and 38,000 signatures of protest. We did not learn this in school, not in Hilo, Kailua, Kamehameha, or Punahou. No, we learned this for the first time from a song composed seventy-five years earlier in a rose garden for the keiki of the Bāna Lāhui Hawai‘i on the afternoon of their refusal to pledge allegiance to the ‘enemi. We learned it on KCCN 1420, from Hula, GK, and Tradewinds Records. From K-Lake, and Peter Ahia, and Noelani Mahoe.

We learned, back in the day, that “Kaulana nā Pua” was not to be danced – except maybe by the hula greats, dressed in black, standing, hands only, and only for audiences that understood. And then later we learned that Maiki had choreographed it, that her cousin Nana had danced it in white, and that Maiki’s best students also danced it, with feet, but only with the greatest reverence, for those who understood.

We have learned, in the half-century since listening to Kahauanu mā, that “Kaulana nā Pua” was not Ellen Wright Prendergast’s only song of loyalty, defiance, and carefully modulated outrage. This “Kekoaohiwaikalani of Puahaulani Hale, Honolulu” (her middle- and pen-name, and the name of her family home that was blessed by Kalākaua in 1884 [3]) had composed and published at least 10 mele aloha ‘āina in the first four months of the overthrow [4], that at least 40 other songs of protest had been published in those same months by her haku mele compatriots, that what we now call “Kaulana nā Pua” was the fifth of Kekoaohiwaikalani’s very moving compositions, and that by the end of 1895, it had been published at least 11 times under the following titles:

  1. He Inoa No Na Keiki O Ka Bana Lahui

  2. He Ohu No Ka Poe Aloha Aina

  3. He Lei No Ka Poe Aloha Aina

  4. Aloha Aina (Song)

  5. Mele Aloha Aina (Ai-Pohaku)

The title “Kaulana nā Pua” does not appear (in our still incomplete investigation of its history) until the 1950s when Kekoaohiwaikalani’s daughter Eleanor Prendergast approached Maddy Lam with what Eleanor thought were the words to a song whose melody had been lost and forgotten:

  1. The melody that Mrs. Prendergast composed in 1893 was never written for publication … and according to Lorna Prendergast-Dunne, granddaughter of Mrs. Prendergast, the original notation for the music was lost … [so] Eleanor Prendergast carried her mother’s lyrics to the Honolulu music studio of Hawaiian musicians Mrs. Maddy K.N. Lam and Mrs. Milla Leal Peterson Yap. “Maddy accepted the lyrics of ʻKaulana nā Pua,’ recited the words, and composed a gentle, rhythmic, cheerful mele [for which Maddy would take no credit], said Mrs. Yap in January 1993, recalling the visit of Ellen Prendergast’s daughter to their studio in the early 1950s. [5]

“Kaulana nā Pua (Chant of the Islands)” was subsequently copyrighted in 1955 by Eleanor in her mother’s name, shared with Maddy and Milla’s circle of friends, and recorded over the next two decades by a legion of Hawaiian singers: Uncle K, Peter, Noelani, Vicki Ii, Genoa Keawe, Nina Keali‘iwahamana, Marlene Sai, Leina‘ala Haili, Cyrus Green…  Thus did the song become as much a national anthem for us as “Hawai‘i Pono‘ī.”  We were the children of those children’s children – those famous flowers of three generations past – and having finally learned it, we weren’t about to forget.

40 years after Maddy Lam sat at her piano with the text of “Kaulana nā Pua,” Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman sat at a table in the Performing Arts Division of the Library of Congress where she had coaxed a librarian into allowing her to page through a box of loose pieces of Hawaiian sheet music:

  1. About halfway through the box, in the fifth file folder, I came upon … an unassuming sheet titled simply “Aloha Aina (Song),” published by Armstrong and Bacon, and sold at Model Music Store, at 735 Market St. in San Francisco. I turned the page and read the opening lines: “Kaulana na pua o Hawaii, kupaa mahope o ka aina…” The notice at the bottom of the page read: “Copyrighted 1895 by J.S. Libornio.” What I had happened upon was original published sheet music for the nationalist mele lahui song known in the present as “Kaulana nā Pua.” [6]

Among the many thought-provoking observations that Stillman then advances are four that we find seminal to our own understanding of the song’s history: 1- the 1895 sheet music “contains the exact melody known and sung in the present,” 2- J.S. Libornio was the director of the break-away loyalist band, Bana Lāhui Hawai’i, that was formed on February 1, 1893, after all but two of the members of the Royal Hawaiian Military band had refused to sign oaths of loyalty to the new government, [7]  3- copyright practices of the day (that privileged composers and arrangers over lyricists) and the band’s presence in California in 1895 suggest that Libornio might have had a hand in composing or arranging Prendergast’s text, and 4- Maddy Lam, in her studio in the early 1950s, was probably “recalling a melody heard or learned earlier, rather than composing a melody anew…” [8]

Stillman also reminds us of something that Nordyke, Noyes, and Loomis had already pointed out. On the first anniversary of the resignation of the RMH band members, the song was sung and danced by the very “keiki” for whom it had been written:

  1. One who heard the band boys sing it on the anniversary of their defiance said it had on the Hawaiians the effect of the “Marseillaise” on the French – “exciting and exasperating.” The hula ku‘i business (stamping, heel-twisting, thigh-slapping, dipping of knees, doubling of fists) almost drowned out the words, but the fierce loyalty was written in every shining face. Over and over they beat out the rhythm, thumping their drums and miming their scorn of the “paper of the enemy,” of the “heap of government money.” [9]

The French national anthem “La Marseillaise” was composed in 1792 and quickly became the rallying cry of the French Revolution. It speaks of bloody battles, foreign invasion, tyranny and tyrants, and it calls the French citizenry to arms: “form your battalions, let’s march, let’s march…march on, march on, our hearts resolved, to victory or death.” The Hawaiians’ impassioned, Marseillaise-like response to Prendergast’s year-old mele is a far cry from the somber warnings, by Hawaiians a half-century later, that “Kaulana nā Pua” was “considered sacred and not for dancing.” [10]

This is not a criticism of our immediate kūpuna. When the counterrevolution failed and ho‘ohui‘āina kū‘ai hewa became reality, our defiance gave way to sorrow, our passion to solemnity. Each passing generation, as Stillman so convincingly demonstrates, has understood this song on the basis of what it knows and as a reflection of what it feels: such understandings “are put together with whatever resources are available, and the explanations are narratives that connect those available resources in comprehensible ways.” [11]

The perspective that we bring to “Kaulana nā Pua” benefits from our access to newly available old stuff (to digitally archived nūpepa, to the recently republished Buke Mele Lahui, to long-lost Library of Congress song sheets, to the notes of Nathaniel Emerson) and to the careful research of our contemporaries Stillman, Silva, Osorio, Charlot, Nogelmeier, Nordyke, and Noyes. But it also derives from having sung “Kaulana nā Pua” in passion, defiance, and renewed hope in the contexts of Kalama Valley, Kaho‘olawe, and the triumphant return of the Hōkūle’a. It is inspired, as well, by love for a teacher who refused to allow the song to be sung in a 1983 video docu-drama (“because its meaning would be lost on audiences who did not understand its significance” [12]) – but who choreographed and taught “Kaulana nā Pua” to those who would. Finally, our perspective is rooted in loyalty to the pūlima of our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents – for the signatures they attached, not to the palapala ‘anunu of the new government, but to the petitions against annexation.

So we dance it here – as Maiki taught it to Kealoha Vangie Wong, and as Kealoha taught it to us – for an audience of those who might and might not understand, might and might not agree. We dance it because of our fear that the current generation – our kids, our dancers – have a diminished sense of its passion and power. They all know “Ua Ao Hawai‘i,” and “I Kū Maumau,” but not so much our beloved mele ‘ai pōhaku. Unless we change that, there will soon be no audience at all to understand the song on anything other than an intellectual level.

We dance it, too, because the best defense against loss of understanding is often a strong offense: we believe that “Kaulana nā Pua” has to be danced properly and publicly before it is taken, co-opted, and commodified – as so many of our precious hula have been violated – by those who have no right to touch it. So we are taking a chance and putting our hearts on the line – as has every Hawaiian who ever loved this song enough to sing and dance or not-dance it from the depths of his and her na‘au. 

Kaulana nā Pua

Kaulana nā pua a‘o Hawai‘i           

Kūpa‘a ma hope o ka ‘āina           

Hiki mai ka ‘elele o ka loko ‘ino       

Palapala ‘anunu [13] me ka pākaha.       


Pane mai Hawai‘i Moku o Keawe       

Kōkua Nā Hono a‘o Pi‘ilani.           

Kāko‘o mai Kaua‘i o Mano           

Pa‘a pū [14] me ke one o Kākuhihewa.       


‘A‘ole a‘e kau i ka pūlima [15]           

Ma luna o ka pepa o ka ‘enemi       

Ho‘ohui ‘āina kū‘ai hewa           

I ka pono sivila a‘o ke kanaka.       


‘A‘ole mākou a‘e minamina           

I ka pu‘u kālā o ke aupuni.           

Ua lawa mākou i ka pōhaku [16]           

I ka ‘ai kamaha‘o o ka ‘āina.           


Ma hope mākou o Lili‘ulani [17]           

A loa‘a e ka pono o ka ‘āina.           

(A kau hou ‘ia e ke kalaunu) [18]     

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana           

Ka po‘e i aloha i ka ‘āina.           

Famous are the children of Hawai‘i

Ever loyal to the land

When the evil-hearted messenger comes

With his greedy document of extortion.

Hawai‘i Island of Keawe answers

The Pi‘ilani Bays of Maui give their help.

Kaua‘i of Manokalanipō lends support

As do the sands of Kākuhihewa.

No one will add his signature

To the paper of the enemy

With its sin of annexation

And sale of native civil rights.

We do not value

The government’s hill of dollars.

We are satisfied with the stones,

Astonishing food of the land.

We support Lili‘ulani

So that the land will again be pono.

(She will be crowned once more)

Tell the story

Of the people who love their land.    


1. This is the date assigned to the mele in the Ka Leo o ka Lahui issues of February 24 and May 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, and 18: “Miss Kekoaohiwaikalani, Puahaulani Hale, Honolulu, Feb. 10, 1863.”

2. This is not a complete list. Ka Leo o ka Lahui, for example, published the song eight times between February 24, 1893, and May 18, 1893 (the first time as “He Ohu no ka Poe Aloha Aina,” and thereafter as “He Lei no ka Poe Aloha Aina”). The reprints were due, in large part, to the popularity of the song (“mamuli o ka nui o na noi ia makou e hoopuka hou ia aku ke mele o ka poe Aloha Aina”), but also because of the newspaper’s unsuccessful attempts at printing the mele in its entirety. It was not until the fourth try, on May 12, that all 20 lines were included, and the editor was able to assure his readers that this would be the definitive copy of the text as received from its author (“o keia ana ke kope pololei loa i loaa mai ka Lede nana i haku…”). Our investigation of the various nupepa of 1893 is still incomplete, but our current take on Prendergast’s composition is that it was first published correctly/completely in the March 25, 1893 edition of Hawaii Holomua under the title “He Inoa No Na Keiki O Ka Bana Lahui” (A Name Song for the Boys of the National Band). We use that title here and in the Merrie Monarch Program Booklet because it immediately casts the seemingly familiar song in an unfamiliar light; it encourages, we hope, an openness to possibilities.

3. Amy Stillman, “Aloha ‘Āina: New Perspectives on ‘Kaulana nā Pua,’” The Hawaiian Journal of History, Vol. 33(1999):89.

4.  Prendergast’s other mele aloha ‘āina include: “He Inoa no Liliuokalani” (Hawaii Holomua, Feb. 4, and Ka Leo o ka Lahui, Feb. 7), “He Wehi no Liliulaniikekapu” (Hawaii Holomua, Feb. 4, and Ka Leo o ka Lahui, Feb. 7), “He Wehi no ka Lahui” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, Feb. 16), “He Pule no ke Ea o ka Aina” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, Feb. 21), “He Inoa no Kawananakoa” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, March 7), “He Inoa no Kalaninuiahilapa-lapa” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, March 14), “Hooheno no Paulo Numana” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, March 16), “He Aloha o Kawekiulani” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, April 12 and 13), and “Ka Lanakila o Hawaii” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, April 21). These are all “signed” by or easily attributable to “Kekoaohiwaikalani, Puahaulani Hale, Honolulu.” Two other mele are quite possibly hers: “Molia Ia” (Hawaii Holomua, Jan. 28, by “Wahinekapu,” the same name used by Prendergast in the Feb. 4 Hawaii Holomua publication of “He Inoa no Liliuokalani”), and “Kuu Pua Poni Moi” (Ka Lei Momi, Sept. 12, by “Ellen”). This is probably not a complete list since we have yet to thoroughly search any nūpepa other than Ka Leo o ka Lahui.

5. Eleanor Nordyke and Martha Noyes, “‘Kaulana nā Pua’: A Voice for Sovereignty,” The Hawaiian Journal of History, vol. 27 (1993):36-38, and 41n31.

6. Stillman, “Aloha ‘Āina: New Perspectives…,” 84.

7. The government band, presumably with an influx of new musicians, continued to be led by Henry Berger (Stillman, 90).

8. Stillman, 89.

9. Albertine Loomis, For Whom are the Stars? 1976:86. According to Stillman (95), the quote comes from the notes of Nathaniel Emerson who interviewed the imprisoned counterrevolutionaries of 1895, one of whom recalled the singing of the song on the first anniversary of its composition.

10. Samuel Elbert and Noelani Mahoe, Nā Mele o Hawai‘i Nei, 1970: 62-64.

11. Stillman, 87.

12. Reshela Dupuis, “Hawaiian Documentary Videos as Political Tools,” cited by Stillman, 96.

13. ‘Anunu: in the Buke Mele Lahui version of the song, this word is replaced by the variant “‘alunu.”

14. Pa‘a pū: the nūpepa and Buke Mele Lahui versions of this mele use the phrase “pau pu.”

15. ‘A‘ole a‘e kau i ka pūlima: this line has several variations including “Aole e kau kuu pulima” (Ka Leo o ka Lahui, May 12, 1893) and  “Aole e kau e ka pulima” (Buke Mele Lahui).

16. Ua lawa mākou i ka pōhaku: the line does not appear at all in the February 24 Ka Leo o ka Lahui publication of the mele. It appears in the same paper’s May 11 rendition, but the “finalized” May 12 version of the mele replaces “lawa” with “ola” (“Ua ola makou i ka pohaku” –We live through/by the stones).  Although this would seem to have settled the discrepancy in “ola’s” favor, “lawa” reappears in Buke Mele Lahui and has not relinquished its spot.

17. Ma hope mākou o Lili‘ulani: the 19th century versions of the mele use “o ka Moi” instead of “Lili‘ulani”: We stand behind the Mō‘ī, the monarch, the sovereign queen.

18. A kau hou ‘ia e ke kalaunu: a variant of this line (with ia i instead of ‘ia e) appears in all the 19th century texts and suggests that “A loa‘a e ka pono o ka ‘āina” came into use after the passing of Lili‘u. The ‘okina-less ia i (pronoun ia plus object marker i) of the older versions also makes for easier understanding and translation: “Until she (ia, Lili‘u) wears again the crown.” The orthography of Buke Mele Lahui (“A kau hoi Ia i ke Kalaunu”) renders this alternative especially easy to spot.

© Kīhei de Silva, 2012.  All rights reserved.

This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilimaʻs 2012 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.