An Essay by Kīhei de Silva                                                                    << HMI MM preview 2014                                                

Haku Mele:  Lot Kaluaokalani Kauwe, b. 9-5-1877 (Ho‘okena, Hawai‘i), d. 7-16-1922 (Kalihi,             O‘ahu).1

Date:  Between 1910 and 1920.

Sources:  1) Kuokoa, “Haina Nane,” 12-17-1920 (first verse only).  2) “Ho‘okena,” Kimo Alama Keaulana Collection, MS GRP 329, 2.67.  3) “Ho‘okena,” liner notes from Ho‘okena, Thirst Quencher, Ho‘omau Inc. 1990, HICD 1001.

Discography:  1) “Ho‘okena,” Elaine Ako Spencer, Mele Halia Aloha, Poki Records 9011.  2) “Ho‘okena,” Ho‘okena, Thirst Quencher, Ho‘omau Inc. 1990, HICD 1001.

Our Text: “Ho‘okena,” Thirst Quencher liner notes. Translation: Kīhei de Silva.

Lot Kauwe’s “Ho‘okena” made its first and only Hawaiian language newspaper appearance in the December 17, 1920, edition of Kuokoa.2  Or, to be more accurate, the first verse of Kauwe’s song was first published on this date as the introduction to “Haina Nane,” a series of riddles asked and answered by Pohakuopele of Kealia, S. Kona, Hawai‘i:

Kaulana mai nei o Hookena       

I ka hau kaomi mu‘o launiu           

He niniu mai hoi kau            

I ka pewa o ka manini.


Ka mua: He keiki au ua kupa a ua papa ma ka aina a ma ke kai a i ole au e loaa ia oe ilaila, e kakali malie iho oe, aia a hiki mai o Mahealani, e manao ae oe owau se hoa. O wai au ia oe?

Haina: Hau. O ka hau makani no keia o ka po e pa mai nei mai ka aina a ke kai. O keia no kiai pali no Panau, a pela no na aina pali e ae pili i kahakai, he makani hea ia e ka poe hookele waa. Hau-a, haua! ko kikala i ka nuku o ka wa‘a.

The riddle: I am a child who sprouts and spreads on the land and sea, and if I am not found by you there, wait patiently until the night of Māhealani and you will know that I am your friend. Who am I to you? The answer: Hau. This is the hau breeze of the night that blows from land to sea. It belongs to the guardian cliffs of Pānau and to other lands whose cliffs are close to the shore; it is a breeze called upon by ‘canoe steersman’ [who were fond of saying]: “offer your hips to the prow of the canoe.”3

Pohakuopele’s riddle helps us to bracket “Ho‘okena’s” date of composition. We know that the ka‘a otomobile of the song’s second verse was not introduced to South Kona until about 19104, and we know that “Ho‘okena” had to have been written before the riddle’s 1920 publication. We can safely say, then, that Kauwe’s mele belongs to the second decade of the 20th century: 1910-or-so to 1920.

Pohakuopele’s riddle also helps us to understand the otherwise enigmatic nature of Kauwe’s opening reference to “hau kaomi mu‘o lau niu.” “What,” we have asked ourselves for years, “does Kauwe mean by a hau branch pressing down on a budding coconut leaf; that doesn’t sound very pleasant; isn’t it more oppressive than romantic?” But when the Kuokoa riddler explains “hau” as the love-making breeze of the full-moon night and offers his explanation in almost the same breath as Kauwe’s own “hau kaomi” verse, we find ourselves in a much happier place.

What Kauwe is telling us, in his own riddler-boaster fashion, is that he is from Ho‘okena, a land famous for love-making and love-makers. Ho‘okena is where the dew-laden hau breeze caresses the leaf-buds of the niu grove. It is where Kauwe finds himself spinning dizzily in love, flashing and fluttering like a manini’s tailfin in the beloved waters of Kapewaokamanini in Kauhako Bay.5 Surely he is about to enjoy the same kaomi of delight and satisfaction for which his homeland is celebrated. Surely he as about to taste the same manini delicacies that he extols in another of his famous songs: “Aloha ka Manini me ka Popolo.”

The opening lines of the second verse of “Ho‘okena” serve to advance these expectations. The lovers are in a car whose spinning wheels echo the early imagery of spinning pewa6; Kauwe’s heart continues to niniu and oni; their ‘ili pālua, skin-pressed-together proximity brings him to a state of near rapture. He is not merely conveyed (lawe) by car, he is also transported emotionally (lalawe) by the overwhelming sensations of reciprocated love.

Or this is what he thinks until the thrill ride comes to a complete and unexpected stop in the third and fourth lines of the verse: uluhua wau iā ‘oe (I am frustrated by you), kahi moa kani ahiahi (by a rooster who crows in the evening). Kauwe’s hopes are suddenly dashed by a now less-than-committed partner who calls a halt to what should have been a long night of romance. This, in Kauwe’s mind at least, is a completely unanticipated reversal; the lad from a land famed for “thirst quenching” will not live up to that reputation.

Hawaiian language newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are full of references to chickens and roosters that sound-off at inappropriate times. These references are usually expressed as “moa kani hewa,” “moa kani ao,” “moa kani hewa i ke ao,” and  “moa kani hewa i ke awakea.” An English writer, in a 1909 issue of Kuokoa Home Rule, offers the following explanation:

When you hear a native telling his very dear friend, “he moa kani ao” – you are a daylight cackling hen! or you are like a rooster that crows in the daytime – you must take the allusion to mean that the person addressed to did not mean what he (or she) utters, but was simply joking.7

This humorous misdirection – of making a joke by saying the opposite of what one means – is not evident in many Hawaiian uses of the phrase. There is definitely more “bite” in much of what we’ve found, sometimes in anger over a far-from-harmless opinion, sometimes in frustration over an intentional hypocrisy, and always in response to something that is just plain incorrect.  In 1862, for example, S. N. H. accuses Kamoana of being “he keu o ka hupo a me ka poeleele loa” and gives him the name “moa kani hewa.”8 In 1872, “moa kani hewa i ke awakea” is used in an angry letter written by He Pohaku Nahaha Wale who dismisses his opponent’s arguments as the meaningless chatter of a moa cackling mistakenly at mid-day.9 In the 1906 Ka Nai Aupuni version of Ka Moolelo o Hiiakaikapoliopele, Lohi‘au accuses Hi‘iaka of leading him on and then dashing his hopes; “a-waha e mai nei no nae oe. He moa kani ao no paha oe. ”10 And in the many nane-exchanges of the period, “moa kani hewa” is often used to make fun of an incorrect answer, as when Ulalaeho’s response to a riddle posed by Kekaihawanawana is rejected with “he moa kani hewa kena i ke aumoe…hulia hou ia maila, a malia ia manawa e hei pono ai i kau kipukaili.”11

The “moa kani ahiahi” of “Ho‘okena’s” second verse is probably closest in context to Lohi‘au’s frustration over Hi‘iaka’s mixed messages; she leads him on, and she cuts him off. As Kauwe tells it, the pili pālua of his car ride, gives him every reason to anticipate a long night of romance (one that might even result in a hōʻao relationship in which he “stays until daylight” and commits to something longer lasting, like marriage), but the moa crows unexpectedly and inopportunely, and his hopes are dashed before night even falls.12

If the disappointment of his evening-gone-wrong weren’t bad enough, the telephone rings in the penultimate verse of Kauwe’s mele with more bad news: his intended lover is now chattering on and on about her fun-filled night at Ka’awaloa, a le‘ale’a from which he has blithely been excluded. The extent of his self-deception is now unbearable, or maybe just laughable. Not only have his amorous intentions been axed, but it is now evident that his feelings were never reciprocated and maybe not even guessed at.

Would he be hearing something so hurtful if the speaker were not, in fact, oblivious to the hurt she was delivering? Could she be so cruel as to know his feelings and to rub salt in his wounds? Is this the oppressive hau kaomi? Kauwe does not answer the newly posed riddle; instead, he shakes his head and says, “Oh my, at this rate, it will be a long time before I find (true) love.”

“Ho‘okena” takes us on a three-verse journey from anticipation to disappointment, from self-confidence to self-deprecation, from the expectation of “thirst quenching” (Ho‘okena) to the reality of “the long bitterness” (Ka‘awaloa). In some respects, the mele is reminiscent of Lunalilo’s “Alekoki”; in both, we have the jilted lover who must shake off the pain of dashed expectations and hope for better days. But Kauwe is far less inclined to wallow in his loss and cast accusations at time and circumstance. He probably had far less to lose, and he seems to find amusement in riddling over his relationship, punning on place names, and allowing himself to become the butt of his own joke, his own self-delusion.

If “Ho‘okena” has a hoa like, I think it would be “Aia i He‘eia,” the surfing chant that opens with boastful descriptions of Kalākaua’s irresistible talent on the waves and ends with the embarrassing admission that the woman he hoped to impress had, in fact, not been impressed at all: “‘E‘ena ia manu lā / Noho mai i ke kuahiwi – But this timid bird / Had retired to the mountains.” We laugh with Kalākaua over his failure; even the ali‘i are not always successful in love, are sometimes “kuhihewa…i ka poli.” We think that Lot Kauwe also invites us to smile over his failure; even a keiki of Ho‘okena can be dazzled, disoriented, and completely deluded by ka pewa o ka manini.  


Kaulana mai nei a‘o Ho‘okena      

I ka hau kaomi mu‘o lau niu          

He niniu mai ho‘i kau           

I ka pewa a‘o ka manini.        

Kau aku i ke ka‘a ‘oni ka huila  

Ka lalawe i ka ‘ili pili pālua       

Uluhua wau iā ‘oe          

Kahi moa kani ahiahi.           

Na ke kelepona āu i ha‘i mai       

I ka pō le‘ale‘a o Ka‘awaloa      

He loloa mai ho‘i kau          

Ke ki‘ina a ke aloha.          

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana      

I ka hau kaomi mu‘o lau niu      

He niniu mai ho‘i kau          

I ka pewa a‘o ka manini.        

Famous is Ho‘okena

For the hau caressing the young coconut leaf

It is such a dizzying sensation

At Kapewaokamanini.13

Aboard the car, the wheels turn

The carrying of “skins” pressed closely in pairs14

I am annoyed by you

A rooster who crows in the evening.

It is by telephone15 that you tell

Of the fun-filled night of Ka‘awaloa

Long indeed

The searching for love.16

Tell the refrain

Of the hau pressing against the young coconut leaf

Dizzy, disoriented17

At Kapewaokamanini.



1 Two Hawaiian language obituaries for Lot Kauwe were published in the July 20, 1922, edition of Kuokoa. They speak of him as a much-respected Hōnaunau school teacher and member of Pukaana Church at Ho‘okena (and in his last days, as a member of  Kawaiaha‘o in Honolulu). Earlier articles identify him as a highly regarded choir director, church fund-raiser, musician, and leader of a group called “Ka Nightingale Club o Kona.” None of these articles bear out his current reputation as something of a playboy (as suggested, for example, in the huapala.org notes for “He Aloha nō o Honolulu”).

2 The song might, of course, have made earlier and later appearances. Our “first and only” is based on the scanned, searchable nupepa issues currently available to us in the ho‘olaupa‘i and papakilo databases.

3 Translation ours.

4 Mokihana Fernandez’s “Kuu Lei Mokihana,” published in Kuokoa 9-16-1910, contains the line “kau aku i ke kaa otomobile” in her description of a visit to Kailua, Kalehuanui, Ka‘awaloa, and Hōnaunau.” It is the earliest car-ride reference we have been able to find. Other accounts include “Ka Opuu Daimana Ua Hala” (a four year-old boy taken by ka‘a otomobile from Ho‘okena to Kalaoa, N. Kona; Kuokoa 5-12-1916) and “Holo Kaapuni ia Hawaii” (J.K. Mokumaia’s description of a round-the-island car ride with stops at Nāpo‘opo‘o, Hōnaunau, and Ho‘okena; Kuokoa, 7-25-1919).

5 Kauhako Bay at Ho‘okena is described in the 1919 Coast Pilots Notes on the Hawaiian Islands as: “marked at its head by a pali or cliff, which is about a half mile long and 150 feet high at its southerly end. The bay is a slight indentation on the coast, and the village of Hookena is located on the lowland in front of the northerly end of the pali. A church with steeple is a prominent landmark in the northerly end of the village. There is a large grove of coconut and shade trees near the village” (U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1919, p. 16).

6 I see this as a very sophisticated form of the song-writing technique called “linked terminals.” Where repeated sounds often link the last and first words of consecutive verses in Hawaiian poetry, Kauwe ties the first and second verses of his mele with linked imagery: spinning fishtail followed by spinning car wheel, niniu and oni. A similar connection occurs between the second and third verses: the second ends in the evening, and the third transitions into night; we move from ahiahi into pō.

7 “Too Early to Crow,” Kuokoa Home Rule, July 16, 1900.

8 Kuokoa, December 13 1862. “You are the epitome of stupidity and benightedness.”

9 Keauokoa, March 7, 1872.

10 Ka Nai Aupuni, August 9, 1906. “But you have already spoken rudely (to me). You are probably a moa kani ao.”

11 “Mau Haina Nane,” Ka Hoku o Hawaii, February 23, 1944. “Your answer is a rooster crowing in the middle of the night…search again (for the right answer) and maybe this time it will be caught properly in your noose.”

12 The use of ahiahi in this otherwise familiar expression is unique to Kauwe and his song – at least insofar as we’ve been able to discover. It demonstrates a specific and much-admired form of Hawaiian creativity: the ability to modify the familiar and give it a slightly new twist and life. Ours ears are used to soothing ahiahi phrases – “piano ahiahi,” “i ke ahiahi Pō‘akolu,” and “no ke ano ahiahi” – but the jolt to Kauwe’s romantic expectations is reflected in his unexpected combination of moa and ahiahi.

13 We have always assumed that Kapewaokamanini is the name of the landing and small cove in Kauhako Bay at Ho‘okena. Kauwe himself is probably responsible for this assumption because of the implied location of Kapewa in his “He Aloha nō ‘o Honolulu”: “Ha‘alele ka Maunaloa i ka pohu la’i o Kona / Ho‘okomo iā Ho‘okena i Kapewaokamanini” (“The Maunaloa departs from the peaceful tranquility of Kona / And enters Ho‘okena at Kapewaokamanini”). It has been difficult, however, to find this place name in our nūpepa and other primary sources. “Kapewaokamanini, Ho‘okena, S. Kona” is a favorite pen name for letter-writers and riddlers of the day (see, for example, Kuokoa, 4-12-1918), and the people of Ho‘okena were quick to respond with great enthusiasm to all musical references to “Kapewaokamanini” because this was the favorite fish of their land (“Ka Papa Himeni Kaulana o Kauai i ke Kai Malino o Kona” Kuokoa, 7-15-1926), but the name is not explained in specific geographical terms in anything we have so far examined. Kapewaokamanini is described by Pukui as a small harbor in Kona, “On one side of this bay, the manini are said to be fat, but on the other side they are thin,” but she gives no additional location for the bay (Place Names of Hawai‘i, 88 ). The musical group Ho‘okena describes the place it is named after as “known for its beautiful beach, Pūhau spring, Lelekawa swimming hole, Kupa (Cooper’s) Landing and Kapewaokamanini Bay” (www.hookena.com). This difficulty of identification is perhaps responsible fore Manu Boyd’s own translation of Kapewa as a common noun phrase – ka pewa o ka manini (“I am dizzy, spinning / Like the tail of the manini fish”). Our translation treats it as a single-word place name – not to disagree with Manu, but to offer a second, hopefully legitimate alternative.

14 Manu Boyd’s more interpretive translation: “Thrilled and overcome with emotion when we are together.”

15 Telephone research – when and how the device was introduced to Kona Hema – might aid in our efforts to further narrow the window of  “Ho‘okena’s” composition. All we have been able to find so far is a letter from Z.P. Kalokuokamaile of Nāpo‘opo‘o describing a phone call he made prior to taking a car ride to Kealia village just north of Ho‘okena (“No Kealia ka Pahuhopu,” Kuokoa, 9-30-1921). More work remains to be done here.

16 Boyd’s translation of the last two lines of the verse: “It’ll be a long while / ‘Til love comes my way.”

17 Besides “to spin, dizzy,” niniu can also mean “unclear, blurred, indistinct.” Both are perhaps applicable to the sight of a fluttering manini tail in the water. In the first verse of the song, the word’s connotations of spinning dizzily in love seem most applicable. But at song’s end, the same word conveys a sense of the poet’s inability to correctly read the relationship that he hoped he was in.

© Kīhei de Silva 2014.  All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilimaʻs 2014 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised form.