Hiehie Kīlaulani

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku Mele:  Kīhei and Kahikina de Silva, October-November 2011 (words); Kapalai‘ula de Silva, December 2011 (music).

Keawewai is the name of a shallow arm of Hōnaunau Bay. It reaches deep into the pāhoehoe lava flats to the west of Hale of Keawe, and it feeds the tide pools that lie to the north of the older, multi-phased Ale‘ale‘a Heiau. Keawewai rises and falls; it fills and empties; it inhales and exhales; it breathes.

The breath of Keawewai is the central metaphor of  “Hiehie Kīlaulani.” It is the breath of generations that connects my mother to the succession of grandfathers who served as kahu of Hale o Keawe since its founding in the mid 1600s. It is the breath of generations that allows me and my first-born daughter Kahikina to compose this mele in back and forth, father-daughter-father-daughter paukū. And it is the breath of generations that allows my second-born daughter Kapalai‘ula  to give this mele a voice. 

Hiehie Kīlaulani

Hiehie Kīlaulani [1] hale kūkūohi [2]

I ka ‘ehu kai [3] kāhela o Keawewai [4]

Hia‘ai ka mana‘o ke ‘ike aku

I ka papa kaulana o Kekuai‘o [5]

Pūia i ke ‘ala o ka pua hala [6]

Hali ‘ia i ke ahe ‘olu o ka ‘Eka [7]

E ake ka mana‘o e ‘ike aku [8]

I ke au nene‘e o Keawewai

‘O ka wai lani kapu a‘e kēia

A ke ao lewa a‘e hi‘i mai nei? [9]

Hi‘ikua, hi‘ialo [10] i ka wai naoa [11]

I ka ualo mālie [12] a‘o kamali‘i

Kama ‘ia ke aloha i Pu‘uehu [13]

No ke kole maka onaona a‘o nā Kona [14]

Hea aku mākou e ō mai ‘oe

Ka wahine noho i ka ‘ehu o ke kai [15]

Distinguished is the steep-roofed house, Kīlaulani

In the sweeping sea-spray of Keawewai

The mind is delighted when viewing

The famed lava flats of Kekuai‘o

Suffused with the fragrance of pua hala

Carried on the gentle breath of the ‘Eka

The mind yearns to see

The rising and falling tides of Keawewai.

What cherished lani is this

Carried here by Keōlewa?

Carried on the back, carried in the arms of the rippling kēhau mist

Carried in the gentle call of children.

Bound in love are we at Pu‘uehu

For the sweet-eyed kole of the Konas

We call, do answer

O woman who resides in the spray of the sea.


1.  Kīlaulani: the third name in a six-generation list of my grandfathers who served as keepers of Hale o Keawe since its founding in about 1650:  Keawe-ai (actually, he was the last priest of Kaiki‘ale‘a, the previous heiau), Aue, Kilaulani, Kuahuia, Kaanana, and Makia (Russ Apple, “A Link to the Past Shattered,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, 2-16-94; John Stokes, Ms.a “Notes from Local Informants,” typescript in Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Library 86.2:184-5).  Kīlaulani seems to have been a family favorite, perhaps because he is still remembered for thwarting a young Kamehameha’s attempt to sneak off with the bones of Keawe: “Kamehameha came in the night, landed at Akahipapa, passed on the inland side of Hale o Keawe and entered it. He went to the place of Keawe’s bones and was about to carry them off, when Kilaulani, who had secreted himself therein, cried out “E Kalani” (Oh Chief). Kamehameha, being taken by surprise, left without moving the bones” (Stokes, 86.2: 185).

Many generations of Kīlaulani’s family – including my grandmother, mother’s sister, and several nieces and nephews – carry his full name or the variants “Kahalelaulani,” “Halelaulani,” and “Laulani.” A “kīlau” is a shredded ti-leaf stalk used to direct fishing canoes or sprinkle ceremonial water, but the family name is most likely a reference to the intricate, pe‘a style lā’ī thatching used on the steeply pitched roof of Hale o Keawe (Edwin Bryan Jr. and Kenneth Emory, The Natural History of Honaunau, Kona, Hawaii, 128).  We use the name here as an epithet for the house, its keepers, and their descendants.

2.  Kūkūohi: “steep, peaked.” John Papa Ii uses this word in reference to the “peaked appearance inside and outside of [Hale o Keawe]” (Bryan and Emory, 128).

  1. 3.  Ka ‘ehu kai: besides its literal meaning, this phrase alludes to the royal, double-hulled canoe Kehukai that was placed in the service of Alexander Liholiho and Emma whenever they were in Kona. The canoe was steered by Joseph Keaoa, the half-brother of Nahalau, my great-great grandfather. Nahalau was the first kahu of Mauna‘ala; Keao succeeded him. Both men are referred to in Emma’s letter to Peter Kaeo: 

  2. Mosoleum [sic]

  3. July 7, 1873

  4. 3 o‘clock in the morning

  5. Ever dear Coz,

  6. You will see from the top of this letter where I am writing from. Poor old Nahalau, one of dear Alex’s nurses, breathed his last at 1 o’clock this morning. Mother, Hanaoile, Kamai, Hiram, and I are here. This afternoon he’s to be buried by the side of his wife near Hinau’s grave…Joe Keaoa, his half brother, whom you may remember was coxswain of Kehukai, one of our boats, lives with him. (Alfons Korn, News from Molokai, 14, 16n.6; Keaoa’s succession as keeper of the Royal Mausoleum is referred to in a letter from Peter to Emma on July 23 of the same year; Korn 33, 34n.7.)

4.  Keawewai: see the Bishop Museum’s online collection of the maps of Henry Kekahuna (Map of the City of Refuge-Puuhonua and Vicinity; Honaunau, South Kona, Hawaii, Map: 50-Ha-C20:4 Ms Group 312, http://kekahuna.bishopmuseum.org/kekahuna.php?b=closeup&ID=53) for a detailed view of Keawewai inlet as drawn in 1954.

5.  Kekuai‘o: mapped by Edmund Ladd as “Ke-Kua-I‘o, a large tide pool at the far southwest corner of the pu‘uhonua grounds (“Hale o Keawe Temple Site,” p. 164).  Identified by Bryan and Emory as “one of the pools useful for practicing the art of narcotizing fish with the plant auhuhu” (The Natural and Cultural History of Honaunau, Kona, Hawai‘i, 197).  Further described by Diane Lee Rhodes as: “used to catch fish by drugging them. The nearby surface of the lava shows evidence of heavy battering of quantities of the ‘auhuhu plant, which was used to stun fish. In tidal pools such as this, the pulverized plant was put in cracks in the rock, its narcotic effects forcing the fish out in a dazed condition. Another method of capturing the fish involved stretching a net across an indentation in the reef and thrusting the poison into holes or cracks in the reef face. As the sap dissolved, the fish broke for the open water and were caught in the net” (A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island, http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/kona/history0.htm).

John F.G. Stokes visited Hōnaunau in about 1920 and documented the ‘auhuhu gathering, pounding, and fishing techniques of four malo-clad Hawaiian men at Kekuai‘o pool. He included five photographs of these men (my great-grandfather Henry Kalā Kekuewa and three of his sons) and a detailed account of their “hana hola i‘a” in his monograph “Fish Poisoning in the Hawaiian Islands” (Occasional Papers of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Vol. VII, No. 10, Bishop Museum Press, 1921).

6.  Ka pua hala: according to my mother, her Tūtū-man Henry Kalā Kekuewa (b. 1873) would string lei hala for himself every morning that the family’s pūhala was in fruit. Theirs, she said, was the only pūhala in the Hōnaunau neighborhood, and the lei hala was regarded as her grandfather’s “trademark” and – by extension – the Kekuewa family lei. Although the lei’s specific significance was never explained to my mother, we believe that it ties into the meaning of the family name (Keli‘ikuewa, “the homeless, wandering, exiled ali‘i”) and the family’s ancestral duties at Hale o Keawe. The name was first given in 1823 to Keli‘ikuewa Ke‘ōlewa Ko‘olau Moanauli (the grandfather of Henry Kalā Kekuewa) and refers, we think, to the overthrow of the kapu and the subsequent loss of our traditional role as keepers of the iwi of our Keawe ancestors. We became “homeless” when that hale and its bones were removed from our care. The lei hala’s traditional, double-edged kaona of loss and renewal, of putting behind and starting anew, is particularly meaningful in light of the Kekuewa history.

7.  ‘Eka: the name of a famous Kona breeze associated with successful canoe fishing in such proverbial expressions as “He ‘Eka, ka makani ho‘olale wa‘a no nā Kona” (An ‘Eka is the wind that calls forth the canoes of the Kona districts) and “Ka makani kūkulu pe‘a nui, he ‘Eka” (The ‘Eka is a wind that sets up big sails).  The canoe fishermen of Hōnaunau were famous in the 1930s for wresting the canoe-racing championships from the larger, well-financed O‘ahu clubs. In the 1936 races at Honolulu Harbor, Hōnanau won seven out of nine races and featured an “unbeatable crew” consisting almost entirely of the extended family of Henry Kalā Kekuewa and his wife Annie Pā‘ū Pahukula: Abe Kahili (son-in-law), Benedict Kekuewa (son), Eli Carter (nephew), George Keli‘i (nephew), Eugene Gaspar (nephew), and Charlie Hua (“History of Keoua Honaunau Canoe Club,” http://holoholo.org/molokai_hoe/honau1.html.)

8.  E ake ka mana‘o e ‘ike aku: this echoes the third and eighth lines of the song “Eia Hōnaunau,” composed by my great-grandaunt Lydia Nawahine Kawewehi Kekuewa: “Ho‘ohie ka mana‘o ke ‘ike aku,” (The mind is entranced whenever it views) and “No ke ake nō e ‘ike i ka nani o ia wahi” (Because of the yearning to see the beauty of this place).

9.  ‘O ka wai lani kapu a‘e kēia / A ke ao lewa a‘e hi‘i mai nei:  this echoes the first two lines of a mele that welcomes Queen Emma to Ka‘ū after her arrival on the ship ‘Iwalani: “‘O ka wai lani kapu ae keia / A ka Iwalani ae hii mai nei” – What sacred lani is this / That the Iwalani is carrying to us here? (HI.M.71:26-29, Bishop Museum Archives). Our mele asks a similar question: “What sacred lani is this / That ke ao lewa (the light of the atmosphere, a star name) is carrying here? Keaolewa/Keōlewa is the name of Henry Kalā Kekuewa’s grandfather, Keli‘ikuewa Keōlewa Ko’olau Moanauli, whose own father Moanauli was born in Waiohinu, Ka‘ū in 1805. The Emma chant answers its own question with: “O Kekelaokalani Kuiapoiwa,” a reference to Emma through her mother. Our own mele waits another verse before suggesting an answer: ”It is the sweet-eyed kole…It is the woman who resides in the spray of the sea.”

10.  Hi‘ikua, hi‘ialo: borne on the back, borne in the arms. A traditional poetic expression for the manner in which we cherish those who are far from us and those who are near: “When one has gone to a far place where he cannot be seen by loved ones, he is said to be in Hi‘ikua; and when one is where he can be seen daily, he is said to be in Hi‘ialo. Also said of a favorite child who is carried in the arms or on the back. Also said of the ‘aumakua.” (Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #36).

11.  Ka wai naoa: this echoes the second verse of a less familiar version of the Kamehameha II mele “‘O Kona Kai ‘Ōpua i ka La‘i”: “Hā‘ule naoa ka wai [instead of “hiolo nā wai...”] a ke kēhau / Ke nā‘ū lā nā kamali‘i – The water of the kēhau mist falls rippling as the children play nā‘ū” (Pukui and Elbert, Dictionary, “nā‘ū,” 263).

12.  I ka ualo mālie a kamali‘i: literally, “in the gentle cry/call of children,” the phrase is meant to echo the “nā‘ū” line referred to in note 11 above.  Nā‘ū is a children’s chanting game of Kona and Ka‘ū, Hawai‘i. At sunset, just as the sun touches the surface of the sea, each participant takes a single deep breath and releases a prolonged nā-ūūūūūūūū sound. The winner is the child whose nā‘ū lasts longest. Children are also told that the sound of nā‘ū will hold the sun in the sky; it will not set until the breath is completely spent. I learned this game from my mother who insisted that my brother and I play it while lying with our heads over still tide pools at Hōnaunau. “Don’t ripple the water,” she would scold, “that means you’re letting out too much air.” The “ke nā‘ū lā nā kamali‘i”of the older mele is thus the “ualo mālie a kamali‘i” of our newer song.  Kaualomālie is also the name of the eastern section of Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau that was designated as the site of the royal residence, hale kilu, and coconut grove (Stokes in Bryan and Emory, 221). It is bordered on the north by Kapuwai cove and on the west by Keone‘ele cove; it is just inside the stone wall that now separates the current National Park from the old Kekuewa family residence at a place the old maps called Ko‘olau.

13.  Pu‘uehu: the name of a tide pool and section of pāhoehoe shoreline along the northern bank of Kapuwai cove. Pu‘uehu overlooks the narrow neck of the cove and is where my daughter Kahikina remembers my mother watching the grandkids at play in the water at Saddle Rock in the last year before hi‘ikua became hi‘ialo.

14.  Kole maka onaona a‘o nā Kona: this echoes lines 2 and 4 of the Rose Peters composition “Hōnaunau Pāka”:

  1. Ua nani Hōnauau Paka e kū nei       

  2. O ka heke nō ia a‘o nā Kona       

  3. Uluwehiwehi i ka lau o ka niu       

  4. Me ke kole maka onaona o nā Kona   

  5. Beautiful is Hōnaunau Park, standing here

  6. It is the pride of the Kona districts

  7. It is adorned in fronds of niu

  8. And with the bright-eyed kole of the Konas

A transcript of the song in Kawena Pukui’s handwriting (shared with us by Aunty Leila Kiaha in the mid- 1980s) includes the following explanation: “the kole is a dark-colored fish with reddish-brown eyes, both bright and beautiful. The word is, however, used figuratively here, reffering [sic] to the young people of Kona.”

The identity of the bright-eyed kole in our “Hiehie Kīlaulani,” is more specific. Although we do not name her, she is Lorna Pi‘ilani de Silva; the mother/grandmother for whom this song is written and to whom its composers are bound in love.

15.  Ka wahine noho i ka ‘ehu o ke kai: the woman who resides in the spray of the sea is, again, the grandmother who Kahikina remembers at Pu‘uehu and who is, in turn, in the foreground of a line of ancestors that I see in the breath of sea spray at Keawewai, in the steeply pitched, lā‘ī-thatched roof of Kīlaulani, and in the ‘auhuhu strewn banks of Kekuai‘o. So we answer, one last time, the question posed in verse three. What cherished lani is this?  It is Pi‘ilani.

© 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.