Ka Ua a‘o Hilo

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele:  Frequently identified as "traditional" but attributed by Kawai Cockett to John Kameaaloha Almeida.

Sources: 1) Kawai Cockett, who learned it from Johnny Almeida.  2) Kimo Alama Keaulana Collection, MS Grp 329, 3.38, Bishop Museum Archives.

Discography: Kawai Cockett, Beautiful Kaua'i, Hula Records HS-541.

Text below: Transcribed from Almeida's 49th State release. Translation: Kīhei de Silva.

Ka ua a‘o Hilo a‘e mao ana lā

The rain of Hilo will subside
But the love of a sweetheart is an endless thing.

Your love for me is a standing mirror
A friend to talk with all night and day.

We have spent the night together, my love.

The lehua bud is misting.

You are the first lehua that I've worn in a lei
As I travel in this unfamiliar land.

The summary is told:
The love of a sweetheart is an endless thing.

Ke aloha o ka ipo mea pau ‘ole.

He aniani kū kou aloha na‘u
He hoa kūkā pō me ke ao.

Ua ao kāua e ku‘u aloha
Ke noe mai nei ka liko lehua.

He lehua mua ‘oe na‘u i lei
Ka helena o ka ‘āina malihini.

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana la
Ke aloha o ka ipo mea pau ‘ole.

Many of the songs that Kawai Cockett first released 30 years ago were applauded tearfully by people who hadn't heard them in years. This is because Kawai's mentors were among the best of that generation's old-timers: Johnny Almeida, Pauline Kekahuna, Henry Pa, Vickie Ii, and Alice Namakelua. "Ka Ua a‘o Hilo" is one such mele taught by one such mentor. It appeared on his debut album Beautiful Kaua‘i and was described in Jean Sullivan's liner notes for the LP as something that "Hilo people in their eighties remember hearing…" To this, Kawai has provided several bits of interesting information. 1- When Johnny Almeida's "Green Carnation" won the 1954 Parks Department song writing contest, he asked Kawai to help record the new composition; because they needed a second song for the flip side, Almeida taught Kawai "Ka Ua a'o Hilo."  2- Kawai remembers Almeida saying that the song was written by an O'ahu man who was not able to visit his Big Island sweetheart as often as both would have liked. 3- It is, in fact, Kawai's belief that a young Johnny Almeida was this O'ahu man.[1]

The composer, though new to Hilo, is not unfamiliar with Hilo sayings, nor is he without a sense of humor. His opening lines make gentle fun of the proverbial "Hana mao 'ole ka ua o Hilo – Endlessly pours the rain of Hilo,"[2] an expression meant to convey the persistence of something usually unpleasant. The love described in this song, however, outlasts even Hilo's rain and is of a decidedly pleasant nature.

"Ka Ua a'o Hilo's" second verse comparison of love to a standing mirror demonstrates the composer's flair for metaphor. Unorthodox comparisons of this sort are a common feature of late 19th century Hawaiian love poetry. "Latitū," for example, compares an unfaithful woman to a harbor navigated by a multitude of pilots; the long version of "Piukeona" compares the cuckolded poet to an "emperor" of a busy hotel lobby; and "Waiho 'Ao'ao" compares an empty-headed beauty to a sugar mill without machinery. Our song's metaphor has far more pleasant connotations than these – the comparison conveys several interesting and delightful images of bedrooms (where such mirrors are found), reflections (as in "we are mirrors reflecting each other's love"), and a certain upstanding physical excitement – but all exhibit a knack for surprise and an adroitness of expression that is often lacking in Hawaiian mele of today.

The second line of verse two is given on the Beautiful Kaua'i liner notes as: "He hoa kūkā pū no ke ao – A companion to talk with during the day." Kawai, however, sings: "He hoa kūkā pō me ke ao – A companion to talk with all night and day." Both versions make sense, and their difference can be attributed to the orally transmitted nature of "Ka Ua a'o Hilo": it has been sung, heard, and re-sung (without the benefit of written publication) for most of the 20th century. I follow Kawai's lead in my publication because the romantic intensity of the song suggests something more than a daytime-only relationship.

"Ua ao ka ua…," the first line of verse three, has been translated "The rain grows light," but ao means "light" only in the sense of "illumination." In the context of the song, ao can be seen, instead, as referring to a lovers' visit that lasts through the night and on into the morning. Hō'ao, in fact, is the old term for marriage, probably because married people were able to "stay until daylight." Following this line of thought, I have revised Sullivan's text to read "Ua ao kāua e ke aloha – We two have spent the whole night together, my love." The second line of the verse provides additional evidence of the poet's wit: whether or not the rain outside has cleared, the liko lehua is still covered with mist. The reference, I take it, is not to a flower bud beyond the walls of their trysting place, but to the still-unabated ardor within.

The song closes with the poet's assurance that this sweetheart is his first lei lehua in a new land. The sentiments of earlier lines (endless love, mirrored affections, long talks, marriage) suggest that this is an expression of fidelity and not of potential interest in wearing other lei. But if Johnny Almeida actually wrote the song, the less domestic of these interpretations might be in order since he was well-known for his fascination with a wide variety of island flora.


1. Kawai Cockett, Personal communication, January 1990.  Kimo Alama Keaulana has supplied the following correction to Kawai's account: “Johnny Almeida’s ‘Green Carnation’ actually won the 1962 Hawaiian Song Writing and Composing Contest. Marlene Sai did the first commercially available recording – not Kawai Cockett. Kawai sang the song at the contest only” (Personal communication, May 24, 1999).

2.  Mary Kawena Pukui, ’Ōlelo No’eau, #462.

© Kīhei de Silva, 1997.  All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in
He Aloha Moku o Keawe: A Collection of Songs for Hawai‘i, Island of Keawe, (Honolulu: Lelepali Productions, 1997) 11-12. It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.