Kuahiwi Nani (Haleakalā Hula)

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Alice Kuuleialohapoinaole Namakelua.

Known by these titles: "Kuahiwi Nani" (1941), "Kuahiwi Nani ‘Oe" (1949), "Haleakalā Hula" (196-?).

Date of composition: May 6, 1941, for the Maui float of that year’s Kamehameha Day Parade.

Sources: 1) Hienz-Gunther Gerhard Pink, Aunty Alice Namakelua’s Lifetime Hawaiian Compositions, Honolulu,1973. 2) Kimo Alama-Keaulana, "Kuahiwi Nani." MS. Grp. 329, Bishop Museum Archives.

Discography: First recorded by Flora Waipa with Joe Keawe and His Harmony Hawaiians, (49th State Records #53, 1949). Later recordings include those by Leina’ala Haili (Leinaala, Lehua SL 2022), the Ho‘opi‘i Brothers (Aloha From Maui, Mountain Apple 2053), Kealoha Kalama (Kealoha & Her Hawaiian Echoes, Genoa Keawe Records 103), and the Brothers Cazimero (Destination Paradise, Mountain Apple 2052).

Text below: Kimo Alama-Keaulana, MS. Grp. 329, BPBM Archives. Orthographic editing and translation: Kīhei de Silva.

Alice Namakelua composed the song we now know as "Haleakalā Hula" on May 6, 1941. Its original title was "Kuahiwi Nani," and it was written for the Maui float of that year’s Kamehameha Day Parade. By 1941, Aunty Alice had completed six years of a 24-year career with the City of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Over the course of that career, she found herself in charge of ten Maui and ten Hawai‘i Island floats in a succession of Kamehameha Day Parades.[1] "Kuahiwi Nani" was probably the first of at least four mele that she composed for those occasions; the other mele include "‘I‘iwi a‘o Hilo" for the 1950 Hawai’i float, "Aia i Hilo ka Ua Kani Lehua" for the 1956 Hawai’i float, and "Hanohano nō ‘o Hawai‘i" for the 1958 Hawai‘i float. When asked how these songs were received by parade participants and spectators, Aunty Alice is said to have responded: "Now they all want me to ride float so I will make a new song for it."[2] 

Students of Aunty Alice’s work are not quite in agreement over the place occupied by "Kuahiwi Nani" in the chronology of her compositions: Nona Beamer lists it fourth after "Hanohano Hawai’i" (April 1940), "Na Wai ‘Ehā" (April 6, 1940), and "Ka Lehua a’o Hilo" (January 27, 1941);[3] Kimo Alama-Keaulana identifies it as "Aunty Alice’s 2nd composition";[4] and George Kanahele reports that Aunty Alice’s song-writing career actually began in 1919 with the English language compositions "That’s the Wish I Wish to You" and "You Are My Rosebud."[5] Regardless of its exact position in the line-up, "Kuahiwi Nani" is one of the earliest and most enduring of the more than 180 mele that Aunty Alice eventually composed. It all started, she said, because "I got tired of singing the same old songs, like ‘Ahi Wela,’ which was always being taught to innocent children."[6]  

"Kuahiwi Nani" was first recorded in 1949 on the 49th State label and released under the slightly longer title "Kuahiwi Nani ‘Oe." Flora Waipa, backed by Joe Keawe and his Harmony Hawaiians, was the featured artist. Since that time, "the song has become popularly known as ‘Haleakalā Hula.’"[7] This confusion of titles is perhaps due to the fact that both Aunty Alice’s "Kuahiwi Nani" and Amy Kalili’s earlier but equally popular "Haleakalā" share similar melodies and begin with nearly identical first lines: "Kuahiwi nani ‘oe e Haleakalā," and "Kuahiwi nani ‘oe a‘o Haleakalā." It is probably for this reason that Aunty Alice’s song is listed under three titles on Leina’ala Haili‘s LP Leinaala: as "Kuahiwi Nani ‘Oe" on the album jacket, as "Haleakalā" in Jean Sullivan’s liner notes, and as "Haleakalā Hula" on the record label itself. To further complicate matters, there are at least three other songs with "Haleakalā" as their title – two are fairly old mele for the ship of the same name (one begins with "Ke lawe ‘ia lā ku‘u aloha / Ma luna o ka moku Haleakalā," the other with "Ha’aheo ka mokuahi Haleakalā / Ka mahimahi o ka Pakipika"), and the third is a more recent Jay Kauka composition. All of this can cause the unsuspecting discographer a heap of trouble: Dennis Ladd’s normally meticulous Index to Hawaiian Songs on Albums (Honolulu 1992:26), for example, lists nine different recordings of "Haleakalā" and "Haleakalā Hula," identifies Jay Kauka as the author of two, provides no authors’ names for the other seven, and gives no listing at all for "Kuahiwi Nani." Out of respect for Aunty Alice – and for the peace of mind of future researchers – it would probably be best for everyone who works with the song to follow the lead of Kimo Alama-Keaulana and give it back its original name. That has certainly become our intention.

"Kuahiwi Nani" consists almost entirely of poetic expressions belonging to the Maui song-writing tradition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the song demonstrates Aunty Alice’s deep, perhaps sub-conscious familiarity with that island’s poetry; the song demonstrates, as well, her allegiance to the haku mele traditions of that time. There is a protocol that must be observed if one wishes to compose in the old way. One must know and honor the language of those who came before. One does not blindly strike out on one’s own in an effort to "say what’s never been said." Instead, one builds carefully, courteously, and lovingly on the poetry of the past. Thus Aunty Alice’s 1941 praise of Haleakalā begins by echoing the first verse of Amy Kalili’s 1920s composition for the opening of the "new" road to the mountain’s summit:

  1. Kuahiwi nani ‘oe a‘o Haleakalā

  2. Kaulana nei a puni ka honua

  3. You are a beautiful mountain, Haleakalā

  4. Famous throughout the world.[8]

Kalili’s mele, however, is not Aunty Alice’s only inspiration; Aunty’s descriptive vocabulary for Haleakalā – nani, kaulana, and kū kilakila – draws unequivocally on the tradition of patriotic superlatives evident in a number of early Maui songs including:

  1. "‘O Maui Nui o Kama ka ‘Oi" by Rev. Samuel Pa‘aluhi: "Nā kualono nani / Na

  2. kuahiwi kilakila" [Kelsey Collection, HI. M40:32, BPBM Archives]

  3. "He Lei Hanohano no Balauwina" by Mrs. H. Freitas: "Kaulana nā hono a

  4. Pi’ilani / Uanani nō ‘oe Haleakalā" [Nupepa Kuokoa, March 24, 1922]

  5. "Kaulana ke Kuahiwi," by Alice Johnson: "Kaulana ke kuahiwi a‘o

  6. Haleakalā" [Kai Davis Sings Old Hawaiian Favorites, Makaha Records MS

  7. 2048]

  8. Maui o Kama," author unknown: "Ē Maui o Kama ku‘u one hanau / Kilakila i ke

  9. kū mai ‘o Haleakalā" [Alama-Keaulana, MS. Grp. 329, BPBM Archives]

  10. "Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui," author unknown: "U‘i roselani ē / Nani Haleakalā" [Alama-

  11. Keaulana, MS. Grp. 329, BPBM Archives]

  12. "Lei Lokelani," by Charles E. King: "Kaulana ‘oe ē Maui, Nā-hono-a-Pi‘ilani /

  13. Kilakila Haleakalā ma kahikina" [King’s Book of Hawaiian Melodies, Honolulu

  14. 1934:94-95].

The second and third verses of "Kuahiwi Nani" follow the same precedents of echo and hyperbole: these verses seem to derive most immediately from the anonymously authored Maui boasting song "Lani Ha‘a" which, in turn, was inspired by "Malu i ke Ao," a composition attributed to the Reverend Samuel Kapū, Sr. of Lahaina. "Lani Ha‘aha‘a" begins with: 

  1. ‘Ohi e ka ‘i‘o o ka lā‘au no Makawao

  2. Me ka ua ‘Ūkiukiu anuanu ‘ino.

  3. Gathering the tree fungus is a custom of Makawao

  4. With the ‘Ūkiukiu rain so terribly cold.[9]

"Malu i ke Ao" begins with:

  1. ‘Ohi e ka ‘i‘o o ka lā‘au

  2. No Makawao nō ia.

  3. ‘O ka ua ‘Ūkiukiu

  4. ‘Ohu‘ohu nō.

  5. To gather in the tree fungus

  6. Is a custom of Makawao

  7. Land of the ‘Ūkiukiu rain

  8. Beautifully adorned.[10]

And the second and third verses of  "Kuahiwi Nani" are:

  1. ‘O Makawao ia ua kaulana

  2. I ka ‘ohi i ka ‘i‘o o ka lā‘au.

  3. He ‘Ūkiu e ka ua o ka ‘āina

  4. Me ka makani aheahe ‘olu‘olu. 

  5. It’s Makawao that’s well-known

  6. For gathering the fungus from trees.

  7. Prickly cold is the rain of the land

  8. With the gentle, cooling breeze.[11]

Although Aunty Alice was born on Hawai‘i Island and lived most of her adult life on O‘ahu, these verses provide clear evidence of her understanding of the lore and literature of out-of-the-way Makawao: she knew the Makawao custom of gathering edible fungus from fallen trees; she knew the name of the rain that falls at Makawao; she knew the poetic language with which Makawao’s tree fungus and rain are traditionally described; and she knew enough of Maui "bombast" to confer fame on fungus-picking and gentleness upon an icy rain whose impact on the skin is comparable to that of ‘ūkiukiu – broken kukui nut shells.[12] She knew her subject, and she knew the patriotic tone with which to embellish it.

The fourth verse of "Kuahiwi Nani" is based on the fifth and sixth lines of the Reverend Kapū’s "Malu i ke Ao":

  1. E aho nō e komo mai

  2. I ka malu ma ke ao

  3. It is well to come in

  4. In this nook of the world[13]

Kapū’s mele is said to have been composed for John W. Kalua, a Wailuku politician, lawyer, and judge, who was a widely recognized spokesman for native rights in the last decade of Kalākaua’s reign[14] and whose fiery personality may have given rise to his inoa kapakapa,[15] "Ke-ahi-o-Wailuku." The chorus of Kapū’s song (which is identical to the chorus of  "‘O Maui Nui o Kama ka ‘Oi," a possibly earlier piece for Kalua by the Rev. Pa‘aluhi of Ka‘ahumanu Church, Wailuku) sandwiches Kalua’s nickname between two traditional epithets for Wailuku and ‘Īao: "Malu i ke ao / Ke ahi o Wailuku / Ke pani wai o ‘Īao." The emotional effect of this poetic sequence on Maui’s native sons and daughters cannot be minimized. "Malu-i/ma/o-ke-ao" is an epithet for the cloud-shelter of ‘Īao and Wailuku; it has also been linked with the names of Ka‘ahumanu Church and the heiau that once stood in its place; "Ke-pani-wai" is the site of Kamehameha’s defeat of Kalanikūpule’s army at ‘Īao. Taken together the three epithets speak of native-son leadership in conjunction with the concept of pu‘uhonua and sacrifice-for-the-greater-good; the three become symbols of Maui pride, unity, loss, and renewal.

Aunty Alice’s fourth verse echoes Kapū’s language of invitation and shelter, but quietly by-passes the heavier, more powerful emotions of his chorus:

  1. E aho nō ‘oe a‘e komo mai

  2. A‘e ho‘ola‘i i ka malu o ke ao

  3. You really ought to come in

  4. And relax at Shelter of the Clouds.

Where Kapū’s fifth and sixth lines serve as a rousing transition from majestic Maui mountain to upstanding Maui citizen, Aunty Alice’s fourth verse offers a personal perspective on the mountain itself. She invests her lines with a fussy one-on-one concern ("E aho nō ‘oe...A e ho‘ola‘i...") that is more characteristic of an "aunty" than of a political rally. In our ears, at least, there is a great deal of wry, Alice Namakelua humor in this verse: we have journeyed to the summit of Haleakalā, gathered fungus at Makawao, and experienced the ‘Ūkiu rain of that land. The tour has been inspirational, but Haleakalā is best left to its hardy residents; Aunty Alice suggests that we malihini really ought to get out of the ‘Ūkiu, descend into Wailuku, and enjoy the warmth and shelter of Malu-o-ke-ao. The verse sets up a contrast between high and low, cold and warm, out and in, resident and guest, boast and reality: to praise the ‘Ūkiu rain is one thing, to be caught in it is, for the visitor, an entirely different matter. To the kama‘āina belongs the saying, "Keiki holoholo kuaua o Makawao / The lad of Makawao goes about in the rain / Said of a native of that place who is not afraid of being wet";[16] to the malihini belongs Aunty’s suggestion, "You’d better go in and get warm." 

"E aho" is often left out of contemporary performances of "Kuahiwi Nani" -- after three "easy" verses, the idiom becomes more sophisticated, the language less familiar, the allusion more obscure...and the audience less attentive. We think it unfortunate when verses are left out of any song, but such neglect is particularly damaging to "Kuahiwi Nani" because it robs the mele of Aunty Alice’s personality. Her first three verses demonstrate her ability to adhere to the Maui tradition; her fourth verse demonstrates her ability to play just enough with that tradition to give it a humorous edge and a malihini perspective. Until this verse, "Kuahiwi Nani" is a public mele; with this verse, we are treated to Aunty Alice’s personal touch. 

In a 1974 interview with Don McDiarmid Jr., Aunty Alice explained her compositional techniques as writing and writing down. Writing required conscious effort and careful application of her language skills; it occurred when she had to "get down to business and work out the words." Writing down, on the other hand, required little or no conscious effort; it occurred when voices – "sometimes man, sometimes woman, sometimes several voices" – sang in her mind; she simply heard the words and recorded them on paper. Although Aunty Alice did not provide McDiarmid with specific examples, our guess is that the first, second, third, and "ha‘ina" verses of "Kuahiwi Nani" were written down; their effortless flow, public sentiments, and familiar phrasing suggest that they came to her by way of the voices of Pa‘aluhi, Kapū, Kalili, and their anonymous contemporaries.  Voices like these are the "flowers" that traditional haku mele gather, select, and arrange – consciously and otherwise – in the course of a lifetime of listening and composing.

In contrast, verse four of "Kuahiwi Nani" hints at having been worked on, as having been written. The quiet exclusion of Kapu’s native-son chorus, the unobtrusive introduction of a concerned host, and the subtle deflation of tone from public praise to private humor – these delicate shifts in the mele’s "gears" – provide tantalizing evidence of Aunty Alice’s deft and careful hand. The complete composition, moreover, offers us a lesson in the relationship of echo to invention in the work of one of this century’s best and most traditional haku mele. Aunty Alice began by listening to those who came before; it was only after she paid courteous and loving tribute to these voices that she subtly wove her own voice into the choir.  Such is the protocol observed by one who composed in the old way.

Kuahiwi Nani

You are a beautiful mountain, Haleakalā So famous and majestic

It is Makawao that is well-known

For the eating of edible tree fungus

An ‘Ūkiu is the rain of the land

Accompanied by a cool, gentle breeze

You really should come in

And relax at Shelter of the Clouds

Repeat the name that has been heard

You are a beautiful mountain, Haleakalā

Kuahiwi nani ‘oe ē Haleakalā

Kaulana ho’i a he kū kilakila

‘O Makawao ia ua kaulana

I ka ‘ohi i ka ‘i‘o o ka lā‘au

He ‘Ūkiu e ka ua o ka ‘āina

Me ka makani aheahe ‘olu‘olu

E aho nō ‘oe a‘e komo mai

A‘e ho‘ola‘i i ka malu o ke ao

Puana ka inoa a i lohe ‘ia

Kuahiwi nani ‘oe ē  Haleakalā

Notes to the Mele

E aho nō ‘oe... This idiomatic expression offers considerable leeway in translation: "Won’t you" / "Why not" / "Why don’t you" / "You really ought to" / "It would be much better for you to" / "It would be preferred that you" /  "It is well for you to." We choose to interpret it in Aunty Alice’s song as an invitation issued by a concerned host to leave the cold of Makawao/Haleakalā in favor of Wailuku’s warmth. Pukui and Elbert indicate that comparisons of this sort are sometimes implied in the "e aho" idiom (Hawaiian Dictionary, 1986:8).

Malu-o-ke-ao. The structure of ‘Īao Valley is such that morning clouds pour over the summit of the West Maui Mountains and tumble down the length of the canyon. As the day warms, these clouds absorb heat and evaporate before they reach the valley mouth, "but when equilibrium is reached, a steady line of cloud is formed" that forms a canopy over the upper ‘Īao and Wailuku plain (Kyselka and Lanterman, Maui: How it Came to Be, Honolulu 1980:36). The poetic name for this canopy is "Malu-o-ke-ao," the shelter of the clouds. We are under the impression – but are presently unable to document our sources – that Maluokeao is the poetic name given to Wailuku’s Ka‘ahumanu Church, and that the epithet originally belonged to a heiau erected by Kahekili at the present-day church site. Inez Ashdown concurs with this last bit of information – " Across from there [Haleakalā Motors] stood his [Kahekili’s] private temple of worship, now the site of Ka‘ahumanu Church" Ke Alaloa O Maui, Wailuku, 1971:34) – but we have yet to track down the "Malu-o-ke-ao" connection to those places of worship. 

Notes to the Essay

  1. 1.Don McDiarmid Jr., Auntie Alice Ku‘uleialohapoina‘ole Namakelua, Hula Records, HS-552.

  2. 2.Jean Sullivan, Auntie Alice Namakelua, Hula Records HS-552.

  3. 3.Kamehameha Schools Bishop Choral Room music files, 11-16-85.

  4. 4.Kimo Alama Keaulana, MS. Grp. 329, Bishop Museum Archives.

  5. 5.George Kanahele, Hawaiian Music and Musicians, 264.

  6. 6.Ibid, 264.

  7. 7.Alama-Keaulana, MS. Grp. 329.

  8. 8.Kimo Alama-Keaulana, "Haleakalā,"  Puke Mele, Vol. 1, 24-25;  the song is also attributed to Al Kealoha Perry.

  9. 9.Alama-Keaulana, Ms. Grp. 329;  the song is also known as  "Makawao."

  10. 10.HEN III:1062, Bishop Museum Archives.

  11. 11.Alama-Keaulana, Ms. Grp. 329.

  12. 12.Alama-Keaulana, Puke Mele, Vol. 1, 62.

  13. 13.HEN III:1062, Bishop Museum Archives.

  14. 14.R.S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, Vol. III,182, 247, 270, 281, 282, 283, 461, 462, 473n.

  15. 15.Nickname.

  16. 16.Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #1705.

© Kīhei de Silva 1995. All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilimaʻs 1995 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.