Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana

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

Haku Mele: Charles Manu Boyd.

Date: 1982. Revised by Mr. Boyd in November 2010 for Merrie Monarch performance by Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima.

Discography: "Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana,” The Brothers Cazimero, Proud Family, Mountain Apple Company, November 11, 1983. Manu received the 1984 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Haku Mele award for this composition.

Our Text: As shared by the composer in November 2010.

If You Hold It, They Will Come

Back in the late 1970s, Norman Umihulumakaokalani Nakamoto came up with what we would call today a Field of Dreams idea. He wanted to hold an outdoor hula and Hawaiian music concert at his CYO Camp Hau‘ula. He would call it Nā Mele o Hau‘ula, and it would happen every August in the blazing sun, ninety minutes from town, on a palm-bunted plywood stage built under the false kamani trees of the former Fathers of the Sacred Hearts Seminary. Who the heck will show up? his detractors asked. But Norman held it anyway, and Hawaiians – especially young Hawaiians – came in droves. Year after year, the traffic would back up to Punalu‘u in one direction and to PCC in the other. Everyone scrambling for parking to see Beaumont and Santos. Skippy and the boys. Kekua’s Trio. Loyal. Robert, ‘Ala, and Darrell fresh from their victories in Hilo. Johnny and Ka‘ula. Former camp counselor Frank Delima. Three generations of Zuttermeister women.

Norman’s mother was an Ontai from Lahaina. His cousin Haunani Ontai was dancing with Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima, a new, small potatoes troupe from somewhere in Kailua. The performance résumé of this “other ‘Ilima studio” – hardly anyone could remember its exact name, but hula people were careful to distinguish it from Luka Kaleikī’s well-known ‘Ilima Hula Studio – included appearances at a Waimānalo Pop Warner Carnival, a Kokokahi YWCA wedding, a Kalāheo night school potluck dinner, and a Kailua Recreation Center May Day celebration. It had not placed at all in its first hula competitions: Kamehameha Day at the Kapi‘olani Park Bandstand and Merrie Monarch on the green tennis courts of the not-yet-Kanaka‘ole Stadium. But in 1980, Norman asked Haunani to ask if Mrs. Leslie de Silva and her new group would like to do some hula kahiko at his concert in the country.

We danced at Norman Nakamoto’s Nā Mele o Hau‘ula that August and for the next three years in a row. Nā Mele was the highpoint of those four summers and helped us to forge an identity grounded in sweaty, half-hour, grass roots hula repertoires for grass roots audiences of hardcore kupa ‘āina. We would be dancing there still were it not for the demise of the camp and concert because of “changing attitudes, new approaches, shifting priorities and rising costs.” The CYO disbanded in 1987 at which time Norman became the director of development and parish relations for Catholic Charities Hawaii. He retired in 2003, and he died in 2007 after a long, off-and-on struggle with throat cancer. Friends say that even in his last months, he was enthusiastically cooking and serving them his favorite Hawaiian foods while he, himself, was fed liquids through a tube. He is remembered by the Catholic community for introducing Hawaiian music and dance into the liturgy, for transforming the CYO from “an after-school elementary sports league to an Oahu-wide summer fun and camping program… for children from low-income families,” and for inspiring a generation of youthful camp counselors to pursue careers in community service.[1]

We remember Norman for having faith in a small potatoes hālau. For courageous, out of the box thinking that fed the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, empowered its practitioners, and forged relationships that have lasted to this very day.

Hanu Heaven

In the summer of ’82, Charles Manu Boyd was just two years out of high school and still more punua than manu in Robert Uluwehi Cazimero’s Hālau Nā Kamalei. He was late to check in for their performance at Nā Mele o Hau‘ula – “very late” – and was tempted to not show up at all. But he grew some spine and decided to face the wrath of Robert without additional, perhaps terminal delay. But before he could approach his kumu, Māpuana walked over and gave Robert a lei mokihana, the effect of which can best be described as a stay of execution. Because Robert was then, and for the rest of the day, afloat in hanu heaven, Manu made his apologies and escaped unscathed into the Nā Kamalei dance line. He escaped, in fact, with inspiration for a song about the lei, its scent, and the merciful, much-loved kumu to whom it was given.

28 years later – in September of 2010 – we apprehensively asked Manu if he would consider singing “Ke ‘Ala Ka‘u i Honi” for us in this April’s Merrie Monarch Festival. ʻApprehensively’ because we knew that he was entering his women in the same competition and already singing for Maelia’s hālau. Manu agreed immediately (with an expression of generosity and friendship that still continues to stagger us: “Māpuana, you know I’ll do anything for you”), but he then asked our daughter Kapalai to see if we would hold off on submitting the song to the Festival because he had something else in mind. Could we wait to hear his proposal until after he returned from a trip to Japan?

What Manu had in mind was to use “Ke ‘Ala Ka‘u i Honi” as the ka‘i and ho‘i for a nearly-forgotten fragrance-song of his own composition. This would be “Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana,” a mele recorded by the Brothers Cazimero and inspired by the lei mokihana that Māpuana had given to Robert, almost three decades ago, at Norman Nakamoto’s Nā Mele o Hau‘ula. The email excerpts below – Manu to Māpu – serve to document the process by which the song was suggested, explained, updated, and arranged. What the excerpts do not show is the joyful, kau-ka-hali‘a process by which “Ka Hanu” has become pili to our hearts and hālau.

•  October 20, 2010:

…As Fern [Kapalai] mentioned before the trip, I have an idea for your group mele at MM that uses Ke ‘Ala Ka‘u I Honi as the ka‘i/ho‘i — Ke ‘ala / Ka pua -- in, Kahi wai / Ka lipo -- out. I’m not sure if you know this, but you are partly responsible for my early-80s mele, “Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana,” inspired not on Kaua‘i, but at a CYO performance in Hau‘ula. That song would not have been written had I not shown up (very) late, and had you not given my kumu a lei mokihana that same day…

This is just a suggestion offered for your consideration. Musically, it works perfectly. Keala [Chock] and I worked out an arrangement. Here are the words that will likely be updated a bit. Ah -- just added the “Laua‘e” and  “Onaona” verses.

E o e Kaua‘i, e o e Hau‘ula! 

•  November 1, 2010:

Attached are the final lyrics for Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana. I’ll send you a recording in a couple of days with verses in this order.

I’m not sure if this was written in 1982 or 1983 after Na Mele O Hau‘ula, but it was recorded on the Brothers Caz “Proud Family” album. In February 1984, this song won the haku mele category at the Hoku awards. I remember that specifically as that was the day of my Grandma’s ho‘olewa.  I remember that night watching Aunti Maiki repeatedly taking off and putting on her glasses as she was announcing one of the categories. I now know why (as I do the same thing ...).

Hope you are enjoying this arrangement. I totally am!!

•  January 6, 2011:

The attached file is a very rough draft of your MM music — just me on ‘ukulele. This includes the ka‘i and ho‘i, and is 6 min 18 sec. The keys and modulations will likely change, but this gives you the overall format including the two new verses for you and your ‘ohana.

The Veil Beneath the Veil

Manu’s Hōkū-winning version of the song is four verses long and set entirely in Kōkeʻe, Kaua‘i, where the chill of that upland is offset by love’s warm embrace, where the mountain’s verdure is imbued with cherished mokihana fragrance, where the fringes of the Kalalau cliffs are wooed by creeping mists, and where the poet affirms his deep affection for one he calls “the enticing breath of mokihana.”

Taken at face value, this four-verse “Ka Hanu” appears to be a delicately expressed but nonetheless passionate love song written along the lines, perhaps, of “Ka Hanu o Evelina” and “Ka Hanu o Hanakeoki.” We don’t realize that Manu has thrown us a curve until we take his Hau‘ula story into account. When seen in the light of Māpuana de Silva, Uluwehi Cazimero, and the gift of lei mokihana (verse 2: “Māpu ana i ka la‘i o ka uluwehi / ‘O ka mokihana, a he pua ho‘oheno”), the song becomes an expression of a different and deeper form of love: the love of a student for his teacher and for the much-cherished hula family to which student and teacher are both tied.

The twice-chilled (anuanu) teacher of the almost inaccessible heights (kōke‘e) is also the source of great warmth and affection; this is the pilina pumehana for which the wayward (kalalau) student yearns. The unexpected gift of mokihana by the kumu’s hula sister invokes the presence of “Aloha mokihana, pua o Kaua‘i” – of Aunty Maiki, the kumu of both kumu. All are therefore wrapped in her lei and held in her embrace. The mele ends with an epiphany of belonging as the student quickly-carefully (holonihi) takes his place in the dance line. “You,” he silently tells his kumu, “are the breath of Maiki. ‘O ‘oe ka hanu o ka pua mokihana.” As Manu, in his own time, will be.

Manu’s updated, MM 2011 version of the song features two new verses inserted between the second and third paukū of the 1983 text. These verses expand and balance the scope of “Ka Hanu” in geography, pua lei, and personnel. Where the original is confined to the northwest vistas of Kōke‘e and Kalalau, the update takes us to the other end of Nā Pali and the northeast vistas of Makana and Naue. Where the original is mokihana-imbued, the update adds the fragrances of maile, palai, laua‘e, and hala. And where the original cast of characters is limited to Manu, Robert, Māpu, and Maiki, the update brings the de Silva daughters (“Ka hikina i ka lipo o ka palai”) into the mix. The new version thus speaks of an expanded Maiki legacy and the bonds of friendship that have been forged across three generations of hālau and kumu hula.

Kaona often veils the romantic intent of a song. In the case of “Ka Hanu o ka Pua Mokihina,” veiled romance is itself the veil for a deeper, more devotional message. That Manu would be capable, in his very early twenties, of composing such a delicately layered and shaded mele is testament to the voices of kumu and kūpuna that he carries with him. We aren’t surprised. Nor are we surprised by the Hawaiian music world’s less than lukewarm reception of the song in the almost three decades since its release. As with so many of our best compositions, Haku Mele winners included, it’s not sung; it’s not played; it’s not danced. We mean to do something about that in April; we think that “Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana” is, in fact, today’s “Aloha Kaua‘i.” It breathes mokihana-life into the next generation of Aunty’s line.

Ka Hanu Pua Mokihana

(new verses are in italics)

Aia i ke anuanu o Kōke‘e

Ho‘opumehana i ka pili me ‘oe

Māpu ana i ka la‘i o ka uluwehi

‘O ka mokihana, a he pua ho‘oheno

Onaona e ke ‘ala maile lau li‘ili‘i

Ka hikina i ka lipo o ka palai

Laua‘e o Makana ka‘u i aloha ai

Hala o Naue ‘au aku i ke kai

I ka lihi o ka pali loa o Kalalau

I ho‘oipo ai ka holonihi a ka noe

Puana e ka wehi o Kaua‘i mālie

‘O ‘oe e ka hanu pua mokihana.

There, in the chill of Kōke‘e

Warmed in your embrace

Permeating the verdant grove

Is the mokihana, a cherished bloom

Sweet, the fragrance of dainty-leafed maile

Arriving there in the fern-laden depths of the forest

Laua‘e of Makana is what I love

And the hala grove at Naue, reaching out to the sea

Upon Kalalau’s distant cliffs

Creeping mist delights

Tell of the adornment of peaceful Kaua‘i

You are the enticing breath of mokihana.


1. “Norman Umihulumakaokalani Nakamoto (1938-2007),” Hawaii Catholic Herald:


© Kīhei de Silva 2011.  All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima's 2011 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.