Lani Ha‘aha‘a (Makawao)

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku Mele: Unknown? (Listed on Makapu‘u Sand Band’s Winds of Waimanalo as Mary Sing Joe.)

Date of composition: Late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Sources: 1) Kimo Alama-Keaulana, Puke Mele,Vol. 1, Mililani 1988:62-63. 2) Kimo Alama-Keaulana, “Lani Ha’aha’a,” MS. Grp. 329, Bishop Museum Archives. 3) Jean Sullivan, liner notes for Sunset at Makaha, Agnes Malabey Weisbarth and the Makaha Serenaders, Hula Records HS 537. The song is listed as “Makawao,” its alternate title.

Discography: 1) Sunset at Makaha, Agnes Malabey Weisbarth and the Makaha Serenaders, Hula Records HS 53l7. 2) Gabby Pahinui with the Sons of Hawai’i, Hula Records HS 503. 3) Live, Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, Ohana Records ORS 1929. 4) Winds of Waimanalo, Makapu‘u Sand Band, Mele Records MLP 6527.

Text below: As given by Kimo Alama-Keaulana, MS. Grp. 329 BPBM Archives. Translation: Kīhei de Silva.

“Lani Ha‘aha‘a,” like “Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui,” belongs to the tradition of turn-of-the-century Maui boasting songs on which Alice Namakelua based her own Maui composition “Kuahiwi Nani.” As with “Ku’u Home ‘o Maui” and the majority of the songs in this tradition, the exact origin of “Lani Ha’aha’a” is difficult to trace: its author is unknown (or at least in question) and its date of composition is equally obscure. Indeed, this obscurity of author and date seems as much a part of the genre as its near-obsession with the phrase “Maui nō ka ‘oi!” The poets of this tradition were extremely proud of their Maui home, but their island pride did not corrupt their basic humility of self. They wrote “loud” songs for Maui, but they seem to have been very quiet about their own identities. 

“Lani Ha‘aha‘a” shares with the Maui boasting genre two characteristics of composition that warrant further emphasis: borrowing and naming. Little, if any, of “Lani Ha‘aha‘a” is original; the song is actually a collection of phrases derived from earlier Maui compositions and well-known Maui sayings. Its opening lines, as we’ve seen in our discussions of “Ku‘u Home ‘o Maui” and “Kuahiwi Nani,” can be traced at least as far back as the Reverend Samuel Kapū, Sr.’s “Malu i ke Ao”; its enthusiastic repetition of “‘O Maui nō ka ‘oi” can be traced at least as far back as Kapū’s 1890s composition “Nā Lei o Hawai‘i”; its “Moloka‘i-nui-a-Hina” is an immediately recognizable epithet from that island’s distant past; and its helu-style listing of rain-, wind-, and place-names draws on an equally familiar lexicon of Maui locations and natural phenomena. To the Western ear, the consequence of such borrowing is boredom; to the Hawaiian ear, however, it is what Katherine Luomala has called “a halo of happiness and sorrow” that clings to listeners who never tire of hearing over and over again the words that tie them to land, family, and past.[1]

The same halo of associations results from the use of epithets in this category of Maui literature. An epithet is a substitute name – a meaning-compressed, descriptive replacement for the “ordinary” name of a person or place. To the educated Hawaiian ear, a well-turned epithet is able to convey, in a simple phrase, volumes of history and emotion. Thus the phrase Malu ‘Ulu o Lele (The Breadfruit-Tree Shade of Lele) is a poetic epithet for Lahaina; it calls to mind the legend of the voracious young chief Kaululā‘au, his destruction of the breadfruit grove at Lele (the old name of Lahaina), his self-redeeming victory over the ghosts of Lāna‘i, and his proud return to his father’s court. The epithet Maui o Kama (Maui of Kama) is a poetic re-naming of Maui. The term pays homage to Kamalālāwalu, the late sixteenth century Maui ali‘i whose prosperous reign and “good, just, liberal, hospitable” character[2] gave rise to the linking of his name with the island over which he ruled. So, too, with the epithet Nā Hono a Pi‘ilani (The Hono-bays of Pi‘ilani). The term associates Pi‘ilani, Kamalalawalu’s grandfather, with the six bays on Maui’s northwest coast whose names begin with “Hono-” (Honokahua, Honokeana, Honokōhau, Honokōwai, Honolua, and Hononana). Because Pi’ilani’s domain included these bays, Nā Hono a Pi’ilani became a poetic name for all of Pi’ilani’s lands and eventually a poetic name for Maui itself.

Epithets of this sort comprise the backbone of such Maui rally songs as “Maui nō ka ‘Oi,” “Maui o Kama,” “Malu i ke Ao,” and “Kuahiwi Nani.” In “Lani Ha‘aha‘a,” these epithets include Ka ‘i‘o o ka lā‘au, Ua ‘Ūkiukiu, Ua Lani Ha‘aha‘a, Makani Kili‘o‘opu, and Ke pani wai o ‘Īao. The first two are substitute names for Makawao; one refers to the Makawao custom of gathering an edible fungus from fallen trees[3], the other refers to the famous “broken-kukui-shell” rain of the district. Taken in tandem, the two become powerful expressions of Makawao’s stubborn autonomy and hardy character: although over-run by sugar planters and ranchers, Makawao is remembered for its native food – not for its introduced sugar crop or its ‘i‘o pipi – and for the chilly rain that only its natives can truly enjoy (“Keiki holoholo kuaua o Makawao / The lad of Makawao who goes about in the rain / Said of a native of that place who is not afraid of being wet.”[4] To the uneducated ear, these epithets are quaint and harmless; to those versed in Maui tradition, they are synonymous with the tough independence of the ‘ōiwi of Makawao and, by extension, of Maui as a whole.

Ua Lani Ha‘aha‘a (Rain of the Low-Hanging Sky) is a poetic name for the Hana district and its line of high-ranking ali’i. Once the young chief Ka‘eokūlani ran to a Hāna banana grove to shelter himself from a sudden shower; he was safe and dry until he accidentally lifted his spear and poked a hole in the leaves overhead. As the rain trickled down on him, he joked that the sky in Hāna was so low that his spear had pierced it and caused it to leak[5]. As Kimo Alama-Keaulana notes, “Ua Lani Ha‘aha‘a” has been replaced by “Hoorah Lani Ha‘aha‘a” (and its variants “hulō” and “huro”) in more recent renditions of the song;[6] the altered version may be less subtle than the original, but it is certainly in keeping with the inflated spirit of the mele. 

Makani Kili‘o‘opu, the name of the gentle wind of Waihe‘e, is a less widely-known epithet for this district of Maui and for the gentle character of its land and populace. The epithet may allude to Kiha-a-Pi‘ilani, one of Maui’s favorite chiefs, who farmed Waihe‘e and cared for its people until he was humiliated and evicted by his brother Lono-a-Pi‘ilani. Kiha lived in poverty, “patiently bore his troubles and his homeless state,” and eventually became ali‘i nui of the island.[7] The epithet may also refer to the succession of high chiefesses – Ha‘alo‘u, her daughter Namahana, and her daughter Ka‘ahumanu – who ruled over the district through the eighteenth century. Subsequent to Kamehameha’s rise to power, Ka‘ahumanu’s lands in Waipukua, Waihe‘e were “turned into places of refuge...where people could be saved from death,”[8] and the plumpest ‘o‘opu of the kingdom’s fishponds, including those of the land of the Kili‘o‘opu “were all kapu for Ka‘ahumanu.”[9]

There is no uncertainty over the last of “Lani Ha‘aha‘a’s” epithets. Ke pani wai o ‘Īao (The dammed waters of ‘Īao) is a name for the 1790 battle in ‘Īao Valley between the armies of Kamehameha and Kalanikūpule. Kamehameha brought with him an American cannon named Lopaka; he set it up at the valley mouth and fired it into the narrow pass where Kalanikūpule had gathered his warriors in a defensive position. But there was no defense against the cannon, and what might have been an evenly matched battle became a rout. The bodies of the Maui dead are said to have tumbled into ‘Īao stream, dammed up the water, and caused it to run red for many days afterwards.[10] In commemoration of this defeat, the battle site was named for the blocked waters of the stream: Ke pani wai o ‘Īao. The significance of the epithet did not stop there; it took on greater meaning in light of Kamehameha’s continued political success: 1) Kalanikūpule’s defeat at ‘Īao signaled the end of Maui’s sovereignty: the once-dominant island and its line of once-dominant chiefs were soon subjugated by Hawai‘i island and its upstart chief; 2) as a result of his victory at ‘Īao, that upstart chief – Kamehameha – was able to insist on marrying the Maui-line chiefess Keōpūolani, the highest ranking woman of his time; 3) once Kamehameha united all the islands under his rule, he founded a dynasty on the sons born of his union with Keōpūolani, sons whose Maui-derived kapu far surpassed his own.

Ke pani wai o ‘Īao, then, resonates with a sense of loss and renewal – with an end that is a beginning. At ‘Īao, Maui gave up its sovereignty for the sovereignty of a nation; at ‘Īao, Maui’s line of chiefs gave way to a Maui-connected line of kings. Thus, when Ke pani wai appears in Maui songs like “Lani Ha‘aha‘a,” it is usually the panina, the closing, of an epithet sequence honoring the island’s chiefs, but it rarely ends the song itself. It leads, instead, to lines that reaffirm Maui’s proud sense of worth. In “Lani Ha‘aha‘a” it is capped by the twice repeated “Lā ‘o Maui nō e ka ‘oi” – the rallying cry that drives Maui forward  and insists on the broader and more positive perspective of new beginnings. This perspective is held, even today, by people who know and love the epithet: when we first asked Kawai Cockett why Maui songs so frequently celebrate the “tragedy” of ‘Īao, he explained what he had been taught:

  1. Maui people believe that the battle helped unite the islands and give birth to the

  2. future kings. Maui is pili to the name Ke-pani-wai because it means that fighting

  3. among ourselves should be done and over with. It means that peace and unity should be what we work for and look forward to.[11]

“Lani Ha‘aha‘a” and songs of its genre are repositories of Maui’s definition of itself; these songs contain a wealth of borrowed and re-borrowed epithets for the beloved people and places of Maui’s past, and for the events and activities associated with those people and places. The purpose of such mele has little to do with western concepts of creativity and originality. These mele were not composed to “say what’s never been said.” They were composed to preserve, remind, instruct, and inspire. They were composed by wise old-timers who cared little for recognition as haku mele and much for shoring up their knowledge of Maui against this age of change, loss, and cultural illiteracy. Their tools were repetition, epithet, and boast. But the boasting songs they created are free of malice and arrogance; theirs is a pride born of aloha ‘āina; as such, it is something in which we all can happily share.

Lani Ha‘aha‘a

‘Ohi ē ka ‘i‘o o ka lā‘au no Makawao

Me ka ua ‘Ūkiukiu anuanu ‘ino

E Moloka‘i-nui-a-Hina ka heke nō ia

Lā ‘o Maui nō ē ka ‘oi,

Lā ‘o Maui nō ē ka ‘oi.


Huro, Lani Ha‘aha‘a

Me ka makani Kili‘o‘opu

Me Ke-pani-wai-a‘o-‘Īao

Lā ‘o Maui nō ē ka ‘oi.

Lā ‘o Maui nō ē ka ‘oi.

Gathering the meat of the trees is a Makawao custom

With the ‘Ūkiukiu rain so dreadfully cold.

Great Moloka‘i of Hina may be the heke,

But Maui is definitely the best,

But Maui is definitely the best!


Hurrah for Lani Ha‘aha‘a,

For the Kili‘o‘opu wind,

And for the dammed waters of ‘Īao.

Maui is definitely the best,

Maui is definitely the best!

Notes to the Mele

‘Ohi i ka ‘i‘o. We’ve recently discovered that this Makawao epithet, which we had traced to the Rev. Samuel Kapū, Sr.’s “Malu i ke Ao,” appears in the Maui paukū of the even earlier text “Mele Oli No Ema,” an island-hopping travelogue chant composed for Queen Emma in the 1860s and later popularized by Lili‘uokalani under the title “Maika‘i Waipi‘o he Alolua nā Pali.” Lines four through seven of that paukū are given below:

  1. Maopopo ka ‘ike i na nani o Pi‘iholo

  2. Ohi ka ‘i‘o o ka la‘au o Makawao

  3. He nani ia la he mohala ka pali o Kokomo

  4. E huia mai a pau na Ha‘iku.

  5. [Eleanor Williamson, “Hawaiian Chants and Songs Used in Political Campaigns,” in Directions in Pacific Literature, Honolulu 1976:143.  The absence of ‘okina and object marker in “ohi ka ‘i’o” suggests an alternate translation for the phrase:  “Vigorous/sprouting (ohi) is the tree fungus of Makawao.”]

Lani Ha‘aha‘a. This epithet appears frequently in hula ku‘i and hīmeni style Maui songs of the late 1800s, for example:

  1. Aia i Maui ko‘u aloha

  2. I ka aina ua lani haahaa.

  3. [“Hula no Maui,” HI.M.71 and H.I.M.30, BPBM Archives.]

  4. Haaheo wale ka ikena

  5. I ka ua lani haahaa.

  6. [“Maui Song,” HI.M.30:379, BPBM Archives]

  7. Makemake ke ike aku

  8. I ka ua Lanihaahaa.

  9. [S. Kapū, Sr., “Maui no ka Oi,” HEN III:897-898, BPBM Archives.]

‘Īao. The battle of 1790 was also called Ka-uwa‘u-pali (The clawed cliff) for the Maui warriors who sought to escape slaughter by clawing their way over the high valley walls.  Ke-pani-wai is the better known of the two epithets, perhaps because it holds more kaona: not only were the waters of ‘Īao dammed by the warriors’ bodies, so were Maui’s sovereignty and line of chiefly succession obstructed by Kamehameha’s victory. 

Notes to the Essay

  1. 1.Katherine Luomala, “Creative Processes in Hawaiian Use of Place Names in Chants,” Laographia 22:234-247.

  2. 2.Abraham Fornander, An Account of the Polynesian Race, Japan 1969:II:207.

  3. 3.Māpu’s mother, Nita Wong Howell, was born and raised in nearby Pa’ia and remembers that ‘i‘o o ka lā‘au was a black tree fungus that her family prepared “Chinese style.”

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

  5. 5.Ibid, #1578.

  6. 6.Kimo Alama-Keaulani, Puke Mele, Vol. 1:62-63.

  7. 7.Samuel M. Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs, Honolulu 1961:22.

  8. 8.Ibid, 313.

  9. 9.Ibid, 315.

  10. 10.Ibid, 148-149.

  11. 11.Personal communication, ‘Īao Valley, August 8, 1994.

© 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.