Hui Holo Lio

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Unknown.

Date: “In [Kalaniana‘ole's] youth when he headed a riding club in the Wai‘anae district; in the days of the monarchy”[1] (late 1880s, early 1890s).

Sources: 1) “Hui Holo Lio,” Mary Kawena Pukui Collection, as taught by her daughter Patience Namaka Bacon in a Kalihi-Pālama Culture and Arts sponsored workshop, October 11, 1991. 2) “He Inoa no Kalaniana‘ole,” Nona Beamer, Nā Mele Hula, 26-27. This is an abbreviated version; verses 4 and 6 of the Pukui text are not included. 3) “Hui Hololio / Kalaniana‘ole,”

Discography: “Kalanianaole,” Al Kealoha Perry and the Singing Surfriders, Al Perry’s Favorite Hawaiian Chants and Hulas, Decca Records, DL 8258. This is an ‘auana rendition of the mele done in in Perry's inimitable and now rarely-heard style.

Text below: “Hui Holo Lio,” Pukui Collection; translated by Mary Kawena Pukui; orthographic editing by Kīhei de Silva.

This is thy name song O Kalaniana‘ole

Leader of the riders washed by sea sprays

It was a glorious sight

To see the horses prancing[3]

Like the colors of the rainbow

That arches before the face of Ka‘ala

The fragrance of the tiny-leaved koa

On the sunny plain of Leilehua

The bright colors of the pā‘ū[5]

Waving proudly in the breeze

The fragrant breezes of the land

And the dew-laden zephyrs of the town

We call thee, do answer

To thy name song, O Kalaniana‘ole

He inoa nou e Kalaniana‘ole

O ka hui holo lio o ka ‘ehu kai[2]

‘Akahi o ka nani ua ‘ike ‘ia

I ka holo ka‘inapu a nā lio

Ua like me ka wai ānuenue

Ka pipi‘o i ke alo a‘o Ka‘ala

Ke ‘ala o ke koa lau li‘ili‘i

Kauluwela[4] i ke kula o Leilehua

‘O ka lihilihi ‘ula o ka pā‘ū

Ka pulelo ha‘aheo lā i ka makani

Ka makani onaona o ka ‘āina[6]

‘O ka hanu kēhau (a‘o) ke kaona

Hea aku mākou ō mai ‘oe

‘O Kalaniana‘ole kou inoa

Queen Emma’s riding chants speak metaphorically of the firm-but-easy grip with which she meant to hold the reins of state. Kalākaua’s surfing chants speak similarly of his skill at navigating the muku and lala of political fortune. Lili‘u's train chants, too, can be read as metaphors of her capacity for confident, inspiring rule. Much of this same kaona runs just beneath the surface of “Hui Holo Lio,” the riding-club chant of Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole, Hawai‘i's “citizen prince.” This mele, composed before Lili‘u's overthrow, conveys an ebullient (but now ironic) message of confidence in the future leadership of the Hawaiian nation.

“Hui Holo Lio” opens with “He inoa nou e Kalaniana‘ole” – This is a name chant for you O Chief-Without-Limitations – and it gallops immediately to a metaphor of Kalaniana‘ole's ability to lead his (lā)hui, in dashing, ana‘ole fashion, through the ‘ehu of sea spray and the ‘ehuehu of challenging times.[7] There is no let-up, in the six paukū that follow, to the vigor and optimism of these opening lines. 

In verses two and three, the gracefully running horses and colorfully dressed riders are compared to a rainbow arching across the face of Mt. Ka‘ala. The sight of the hui in motion, we are told, is “just now, for the first-time” glorious, perhaps because the poet has suddenly become aware of the multiple, layered meanings of this beautiful scene. The rainbow is a traditional sign of royalty – of nature responding above to the presence of lani below. So the riders not only resemble a rainbow, they ride with Kalani under the metaphorical arch of a royalty-signaling rainbow. The conjunction of ka pipi‘o and Ka‘ala also suggests the benign, mākua lani presence of Kapi‘olani and Kalākaua,[8] Queen and King, aunt and uncle. Kalākaua, on the morning of his 1883 coronation, had recognized the Pi‘ikoi brothers (Kawānanakoa, Keli‘iahonui, and Kalaniana‘ole) as members of the royal family and heirs to the throne. The image of royal riders, rainbow, and mountain face thus calls to mind the close relationship of prince, queen, and king. All is pono, above and below, as the nation’s future gallops across the plain. 

The imagery shifts, in verse four, from mountain rainbow to fragrant koa leaves, but the initial metaphor of glorious new leadership still holds true. Koa trees often grow in circular configurations, the parent tree at the center surrounded by consecutive generations of younger (“small-leafed”) koa [9] The word koa also means “warrior, hero” and is figurative of long life and courage.[10] The ‘ala that characterizes the koa children of this verse adds further connotations of “esteemed, chiefly,” and the kauluwela brilliance with which the leaves glow can also be read as “innumerable, swarming." [11]  All told, the tiny, fragrant, glowing, ana‘ole koa leaves through which the hui rides, serve as an understated but intricate poetic reference to the riders themselves: to their ancestry, vigor, and limitless promise.

Verse four ends at Leilehua, the central Wahiawā plain traversed by our riders. But the name also invokes the image of a delicately fringed lehua blossom, the “lihilihi” of which forms a subtle, linked-terminal transition to the lihilihi ‘ula that opens the mele’s fifth verse.[12] This lihilihi belongs to the riding skirt of a female member of Kalaniana‘ols party, and the sight of her wind-tossed, red hem gives our poet the opportunity to dress an old proverb in contemporary trappings. His “pulelo ha‘aheo [ka lihilihi] i ka makani” ([the hem] waves proudly in the breeze) is based on the saying “Pulelo ha‘aheo ke ahi i nā pali” (the fire soars/flutters/flashes proudly over the cliffs). Mary Kawena Pukui identifies the older “pulelo” as a reference to “the firebrand-hurling of Kaua‘i or the glow of volcanic fire on Hawai‘i,” and she explains its figurative meaning as “triumph, victory, or rise from obscurity.[13] Like firebrand and lava fountain, the flashing skirt-fringe of “Hui Holo Lio” speaks of the triumphant appearance of Kalaniana‘ole and his riders; it proclaims the ascendancy of nation and lāhui that our prince seems to embody. 

The troika of pulelo possibilities that underlies the deceptively simple language of the fifth verse also hints at the island-spanning, kingdom-uniting powers of the young Kalaniana‘ole. He is, by ancestry, both the fire plume of Hawai‘i (through his grandfather Kūhiō) and the firebrand of Kaua‘i (through his great-grandfather Kaumūali‘i), and here he is on O‘ahu flying a red-fringed banner of Hawai‘i-to-Kaua‘i, pae ‘āina victory. Verse six drives this message home in metaphors of the two winds that lift and embrace our hard-riding, high-flying chief. The first is the fragrant breeze of the ‘āina, the second is the dew-laden “breath” of the kaona. Together they encompass country and town, kua‘āina and city-slicker, maka‘āinana and ali‘i, backbone and political center. This, the poet tells us, is the length and breadth of the young man’s ana‘ole appeal. Winds are often figurative, in Hawaiian poetry, of anger, gossip, and difficult circumstances,[14] but the opposite – sweet affection and misty breath – holds  true here. Our last look at Kalaniana‘ole is thus as buoyant and boundless as the first: on the back of a horse and on the wings of the wind. We realize, as the mele ends with a call for Kalaniana‘ole to acknowledge his inoa, that the mele has, in fact, been an uplifting tribute to the meaning and promise of his name. 

“Hui Holo Lio” enjoys some popularity today in the extended hula community. It surfaces most often in “mainland” workshops for beginners and is explained – if explained at all – as an upbeat riding chant for Prince Kūhiō, Hawai‘i's beloved delegate to congress, primary force behind the Hawaiian Homes Act, and founder of the Hawaiian Civic Clubs. This is true, but only in a shallow way. We learned the Mary Kawena Pukui version of “Hui Holo Lio” from Patience Namaka Bacon; it is anything but a beginner’s dance. Its poetry, too, is anything but simple, transparent, or exhausted by a Wikipedia-based understanding of the Citizen Prince. To view the dance and mele in this light is to belittle the genius of our people and the complexity of Kalaniana‘ole's place in our history. Our work with “Hui Holo Lilo” – and its presentation on the Merrie Monarch stage in conjunction with two mele lāhui[15] composed for Kalaniana‘ole after the counter-revolution of 1895 – is meant to challenge these unfortunate misconceptions. 


  1. 1.As explained by Patience Namaka Bacon when she taught the mele on October 11, 1991. Two of our graduate-students, Kahulu Ka‘iama and Māhealani Chang, were members of Aunty Maka's advanced class and subsequently taught “Hui Holo Lio” to Māpuana and the hālau. 

  2. 2.It is possible that Hui Holo Lio o ka ‘Ehu Kai was the name of Kalaniana‘ole's riding club. We have yet to find any published references to the organization.

  3. 3.Mary Kawena Pukui offers an alternate translation of this verse in her Dictionary gloss for the word ka‘inapu: “nothing as pretty has been seen/ as the graceful running of the horses” (117).

  4. 4.The stative verb kauluwela means “glowing, bright-colored, colorful” and “swarming, innumerable” (Pukui, Dictionary, 137). The line might then be more literally translated as “[koa leaves] Glowing on the plain of Leilehua” or “Innumerable [koa leaves] on the plain of Leilehua.” 

  5. 5.This line can be more literally translated as “The red fringe of the riding skirt.”

  6. 6.There appears to be some interesting word-play going on in this verse. In line one, “Makani onaona o ka ‘āina” can be easily collapsed into two shorter phrases: “Maka onaona o ka ‘āina” and “Maka ‘āina[na]. The first suggests romantic affection: maka onaona (“sweetly appealing eyes”). The second seems to reinforce the meaning of the full phrase: the maka‘āinana ("commoners, citizens") are, indeed, “the fragrant wind of the land," and Kalaniana‘ole was affectionately called Ke Ali‘i Maka‘āinana, "The Citizen Prince / The People's Prince," In line two, “ka hanu … o ke kaona” seems to amplify the “maka onaona” possibilities of the preceding line: Kalaniana‘ole would marry the sophisticated, town-educated Elizabeth Kahanu Ka‘auwai in October of 1896.

  7. 7.The metaphor of Kalaniana‘ole's effortless dash on horseback through ‘ehu-like difficulties is perhaps an updated version of an older metaphor of difficulties encountered and tossed aside by expert watermen. See, for example, the old saying: “Kū ke ‘ehu o nā wahi ‘auwa‘a li‘ili‘i – How the spray dashes up before the fleet of little canoes…Trifling things are as dust to the experts” (Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #1900). If so, this is the first of several such modernized metaphors in “Hui Holo Lio.”


  9. 8.“Maika‘i ka ‘Ōiwi o Ka‘ala,” a well known chant of the 1880s, compares Kalākaua in physique and majesty to Mt. Ka‘ala, the highest peak of the Wai‘anae Range. The comparison would not have been lost on the original kānaka ‘ōiwi audience of “Hui Holo Lio,” especially in conjunction with the mele’s more obvious ka pipi‘o allusion to Queen Kapi‘olani.

  10. 9.Charles Lamoureaux, Trailside Plants of Hawaii’s National Parks, 36: “[Stands of koa often feature] a large old tree in the center and gradually smaller trees towards the edges. Each such grove is probably a single colony formed of root sprouts from the original tree.” To speak poetically of innumerable tiny koa leaves is to speak of one’s genealogy – of a multi-generational family that spreads outward from an original, beloved source.

  11. 10.Pukui, Dictionary, 15; ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #365. Koa was also the nickname of Kalaniana‘ole's oldest brother, David Kawānanakoa, a possible member of the same hui holo lio of royal, rainbow-blessed, rainbow-resembling riders. 

  12. 11.Dictionary,16,137.

  13. 12.It is easy to recognize the sound repetition that links the first and second (“‘ehu kai /‘Akahi”), third and fourth (“Ka‘ala / Ke ‘ala”), and fifth and sixth verses (“makani / Makani”) of “Hui Holo Lio.” But the song's extremely subtle repetition of sound and image in the “Leilehua / lihilihi ‘ula” transition between its fourth and fifth verses demonstrates our unknown poet’s mastery of the “linked terminals” technique.   

  14. 13.‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #2735.

  15. 14.Dictionary, 227.

  16. 15.One of the two is discussed in this Waihona Mele collection of essays: "‘Umia ke Aloha i Pa‘a i Loko."

© Kīhei de Silva 2008.  All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilimaʻs 2008 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.