Ho‘opuka e ka Lā ma ka Hikina

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva                                                        << HMI MM 11 preview

Haku Mele:  Traditional. The chant is believed to pre-date Kamehameha I; this makes it well over two centuries old.

Sources: 1)  Mader Collection, MS Group 81, 7.4, Bishop Museum Archives.  2)  Elizabeth Kekau‘ilani Kalama, as taught to Māpuana de Silva in 1986.

Discography: Ka‘upena Wong (chanter), Mele Inoa, Poki Records, SP 9003.

Our Text:  As given to Māpuana by Elizabeth Kekau‘ilani Kalama.

Our text – taught to Māpuana in 1986 by Aunty Nana (Elizabeth Kekau‘ilani Kalama) – is the same as that given to Huapala Mader by Emma Fern and John Silva in 1935, and it is the same at that chanted by Ka‘upena Wong on the LP Mele Inoa. Our translation, also given to Māpuana by Aunty Nana in ‘86, is the same as that translated for Mader by Mary Kawena Pukui in 1935. Mader’s notes identify it as “Mele akua for the goddess Pele,” as “Hula alaapapa with ipu accompaniment sung in aihaa style,” and as “Old - Before Kamehameha I.”[1]  Pukui’s translation is followed by the note: “An old, old heiau stood at Point Kumukahi the [eastern]most point of Hawai‘i. Here the priests go annually for their worship. The northernmost point is the island of Lehua.”

The central image of this mele is that of the sun as it enters the sky in the east and spreads light over the land. There is no overstating the significance of sun and east in Hawaiian thought. As Mary Kawena Pukui explains: “The sun rises flooding the earth with light, and bringing forth vitality to all nature. The Hawaiians wished for life, health, and growth in dancing and expressed it by building the kuahu on the east side.”[2] Hawaiians also expressed this wish by associating the entrance of a dancer with the appearance in the east of that same golden sun. Like the rising sun, the dancer brings with her the promise of something considerably more important than mere

entertainment: she brings life itself.

Ho‘opuka e ka Lā ma ka Hikina

Ho‘opuka e ka lā ma ka hikina

Me ka huaka‘i hele no Kumukahi.[3]

Ha‘a mai nā ‘iwa me Hi‘iaka[4]

Me Kapo laka i ka uluwehiwehi.[5]

Ne‘e mai nā ‘iwa ma ku‘u alo

Me ke alo kapu o ke āiwaiwa.  

Ho‘i e ke kapu me nā ali‘i

E ola mākou apau loa.

He inoa no Hi‘iaka.

Let the sun rise in the east,

Forth it goes on its journey to Kumukahi

The sea bird comes forth with Hi‘iaka,

Kapo emerges from the deep forest.

The birds draw close before me,

Before me the wonderful one.

Let the kapu go back to the chiefs

And let us all have life.


  1. 1. Mader Collection, MS Group 81, 7.4, Bishop Museum Archives.

2.  Mary Kawena Pukui, “Hulas of Kaua‘i,” HI.M.72:5, Bishop Museum Archives.

3.  Kumukahi, “first beginning, origin.” Kumukahi is the easternmost cape of Hawai‘i, hence its frequent associations in Hawaiian poetry with the rising of the sun. Cape Kumukahi is said to have been named for a migratory hero from Kahiki (Pukui, Place Names of Hawai‘i, 124) or an ancient god (Erdman, MS. Grp 81, 9.45, Bishop Museum Archives) who either stopped, settled, or died here. Kumukahi and his four wives took the form of stones at this cape. In Erdman’s notes these wife-stones were Kanono (who marked the southern limit of the sun), Paupoulu (who marked its northern limit), Ha‘eha‘e (who stood in the east), and Hanakaulua (who stood in the west). Emerson’s account (Unwritten Literature, 197) differs from Pukui and Erdman in that Kumukahi was female: she was the sun’s wife and a “pillar of stone planted on the northern border of the cape.” Emerson goes on to identify Ha‘eha‘e as the sun’s eastern gateway and Makanoni as the monolith standing on the cape’s southern side: Kumukahi and Ha‘eha‘e, then, marked the northern (summer) and southern (winter) limits of the sunrise on the eastern horizon over the course of a year.

  1. 4.  Ha‘a mai nā ‘iwa me Hi‘iaka, “The ‘iwa dance with Hi‘iaka.” Although ha‘a is sometimes glossed as the older term for hula, it might be better defined as the dancing of natural forces, deities, and humans-in-sacred-circumstances. In “Pā ka Makani,” for example, the dancing of koali flowers on the plain is described as ha‘a: “Pā ka makani, naue ka lau o ka niu / Ha‘a ka pua koali i ke kula.” In “Aia lā ‘o Pele i Hawai‘i,” the goddess’s dancing is described as ha‘a: “Ke ha‘a mai lā i Maukele.” And in “Ke Ha‘a lā Puna i ka Makani” (whose first two lines use ha‘a to describe the dancing of Puna and the hala groves of Kea‘au), the dancing of Hi‘iaka’s human associates as they join in nature’s dance is also described as ha‘a: “Ha‘a Hā‘ena me Hōpoe / Ha‘a ka wahine.” Adrienne Kaeppler, in Hula Pahu vI:7, even theorizes that ha‘a and hula can be defined by a difference in context: ha‘a is formalized movement in a sacred context; hula is formalized movement as an expression of joy in a non-sacred context.

It seems to us that the functions of traditional hula ka‘i are 1) to summon the sacred into the secular, 2) to consign that sacredness to its proper residence, and 3) to give sanction and meaning to the secular dances that are to follow. “Ho‘opuka e ka Lā ma ka Hikina” strikes us as both an invocation and metaphor of this process: the sun enters this world and infuses it with light, health, and growth; the high flying ‘iwa dance (ha‘a) with the goddess Hi‘iaka and link us to the high and sacred; the patron deity of hula, Kapo-Laka, enters into the lush vegetation of this place; and the sacred presence of the most divine (ke alo kapu o ke āiwaiwa) is escorted by ‘iwa into our presence where it takes up residence with our ali‘i. When the process is complete, we are all given life. When the ha‘a has been acknowledged, the hula can begin.

5.  Kapo / Kapo-Laka / Kapo laka / Kapolakā. The different orthographies of kapo laka make for a variety of possible interpretations. 1) Kapo (-‘ula-kīna‘u) is commonly identified of as a sister of Pele and a fierce goddess of sorcery (Pukui and Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, 1970:388); some hula traditions regard her, and not Laka, as the primary goddess of hula (Emerson, Unwritten Literature, 25). 2) Other traditions treat Kapo and Laka as names that reflect the dual nature of the same hula deity (Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology, 185), thus: Kapo-Laka. 3) Translation notes in Mader’s MS 81, 7.4 treat laka as a verb meaning “to emerge, circulate, spread out.” Although this does not appear in the Elbert-Pukui Hawaiian Dictionary gloss for the word, Pukui’s translation of the mele clearly relies on her understanding of laka as having just that denotation: “Kapo emerges from the deep forest.” 4) An additional translation note in Mader’s file supplies us with the word kapolakā, a stative verb whose meaning – “mysterious, unfathomable” – nicely reinforces the sense of awe created by the kapu and āiwaiwa of subsequent lines of the composition. As in so many classic Hawaiian mele, these interpretations are anything but mutually exclusive; they weave in and out of each other and thereby give depth and beauty to the entire piece.

© Kīhei de Silva, 2011.  All rights reserved.