An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele:  Although John Pi‘ilani Watkins has been credited with composing this song, two considerably older and longer versions can be found in the Roberts Collection of the Bishop Museum Archives. According to Mary Kawena Pukui, whose notes are appended to Roberts' text, "Piukeona" was composed in 1897 by the part-Mexican lover of Pōlani, a woman born in either Ka‘ū or Kona in the late 19th century.

Source: MS SC Roberts, 2.6:62c-66c, Bishop Museum Archives. Roberts received this 26-line "mele hula pila" (hula with guitar accompaniment) from Mrs. Levy Ho‘opi‘i of Hanapai, Kaua‘i. Pukui's notes, with a 30-line version, are penciled in the margins and backs of the Roberts' manuscript.

Select Discography:  1) John Pi'ilani Watkins, 49th State HRC-297A; re-released on Vintage Hawaiian Treasures Vol. 2: Hula Hawaiian Style, Hana Ola HOC 1800.  2) Myrtle K. Hilo, Will You Love Me When My Carburetor's Busted? Lehua S1206. 3) Tony Conjugacion, Pure Tony, Kahale KMI-14001.  4) Weldon Kekauoha, Hawaiian Man, A Guava Ding Thing GDT 1230.

Text below: Transcribed from the Watkins' recording and edited by Kīhei de Silva.  Translation: Kīhei de Silva, based on Pukui.

Kaulana mai nei ‘o Piukeona lā

Piukeona's notoriety is growing
Now pay attention
Like the artificial limb of Maukealana
Now pay attention.

I've just now realized
Now pay attention.
That we‘d better have a talk
Now pay attention.

I am the one who has just been called
Now pay attention.
The skinny, part-Mexican banana
Now pay attention.

But this skinny bit of magnetized steel
Now pay attention.
Has certainly been enjoyed by your iron ring
Now pay attention.

This is the end of my song
Now pay attention.
Piukeona is becoming well-known
[The artificial limb of Maukealana]
Now pay attention.

‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Ka lima ku‘i o Maukealana
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

‘Akahi a lana ko‘u mana‘o lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
E hui ‘ōlelo pū kāua lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

‘O wau kai kapa ‘ia mai nei lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Mai‘a wīwī hapa Mekiko lā
ʻAuhea wale ana ʻoe.

Wīwī haokila makeneki lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Nanea na‘e kou puka linohao lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana lā
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe
Kaulana mai nei ‘o Piukeona lā
[Ka lima ku‘i o Maukealana lā]
‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe.

The story of Pōlani and her part-Mexican lover (he refers to himself in his song as Piukeona) illustrates, in juicy detail, the consequences of gossip and conclusion-jumping in a closely knit Hawaiian community. The story demonstrates, as well, the double-edged potential of words spoken (or, in this case, composed) in anger.

According to Kawena Pukui's summary of the story, Pōlani's relationship with her handsome hapa Mekiko was ruined by a jealous woman who went to him with lies about Pōlani's dissatisfaction with his performance as a lover. When he heard that Pōlani had described him as a maiʻa wīwī (skinny banana), he lost his temper and composed a song that praised his own endowments and abilities ("Ko‘i‘i ku‘u pua inu i ka wai" – Ever fresh is my water-drinking flower) while insulting Pōlani's body parts and fidelity ("Nānā iho ‘oe i ko kai kapu / Ua hehi kū ‘ia e ka nui manu" – Why don't you care for your own kapu sea / Where the birds have trampled at will). He sang this song at a party to which they were both invited, and the unsuspecting Pōlani fled in humiliation.

Pōlani composed a reply and delivered it at a subsequent gathering. Although her mele was neither as insulting nor as memorable as his (we have no record of it today), the young man was overcome by remorse when he discovered that she had been, in Pukui's words, "the innocent victim of a jealous rival." He begged for – and received – Pōlani's pardon, but she refused to resume their lovers' relationship, having lost all desire for one who had proved to be suspicious, quick-tempered, and nasty.

Pukui says that the story of Pōlani was one that she heard many times in her childhood. We can imagine how it served as the bad example against which proper behavior was modeled: don't listen to gossip, don't jump to conclusions, don't vent your spleen in public, don't elevate yourself at another's expense, and don't forget that your ill-chosen words can come back to hurt you. Pukui also notes that the song "Piukeona" was once as well known as the story; it was especially popular with Pōlani's family who would sing it whenever the young man was present – just "to see him squirm!" Hawaiian songs are usually songs of celebration; more often than not, they focus on joy and beauty, even in situations where these can only be found in the past. Here, however, the mean-spirited "Piukeona" was somewhat gleefully turned on its composer as an illustration of the consequences of his negative focus.

Unfortunately, the details of the story and the full impact of the 26- and 30-line versions of the song have been confused and diluted in the 100 years since Piukeona's insult originally backfired. When we first learned the song for presentation in the 1989 Merrie Monarch Festival, for example, we took the "side" of Pōlani's lover in the mistaken belief that she had insulted his virility in a fit of jealousy over his attraction to another woman. As for textual dilution, it is not only evident in the shortened John Pi‘ilani Watkins'[1] version but even in the much older Roberts' text. Pukui indicates that the latter text is, in fact, comprised of three different songs – "ʻAno‘ai Ke Aloha No Piukeona," an unnamed mele, and another song for Pōlani that begins with "‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe / E ka u‘i Pōlani hana kupanaha."

A comparison of Pukui, Roberts, and Watkins reveals that Watkins' recorded version is constructed of the first four lines of Pukui and Roberts, and lines 9-12 of Roberts. Watkins' version, moreover, changes the initial "'Ano‘ai ke aloha no Piukeona" of the two earlier versions to "Kaulana mai nei ‘o Piukeona" and the "Kani pono na‘e kou puka linohao" of Roberts' 12th line to "Nanea na‘e kou puka linohao." Watkins' version also employs the opening line of Pukui's "third" song – "‘Auhea wale ana ‘oe" – as the refrain that follows each line of his otherwise Pukui- and Roberts-derived text.

The text provided above is transcribed from the re-released Watkins' recording – with occasional changes made in deference to Pukui's notes and Roberts' manuscript. Watkins pronounces Piukeona as Piukeone, and Maukealana as Maukelana. According to Pukui, both Piukeona and Maukealana are the Hawaiianized names of "characters in a foreign tale." I know nothing else of this story, and tracking it down would make for a valuable research project.[2] Whether or not the names can be traced to a foreign story, their possible Hawaiian meanings are themselves appropriate to someone intent on defending his physical attributes and virility: Piuke-[‘]ona easily translates to "fragrant / intoxicating beauty" and is probably the man's poetic name for himself. Mau-ke-[‘]alana – "continuously rising up" – might well be the nickname of his notorious magnetic appendage. My Pukui-based translation of Roberts' un-edited text is provided below: the serious reader, however, would do well to examine Pukui's version and notes in the Bishop Museum Archives.

Ano ai ke aloha no Piukeona

This is the love song of Piukeona

He of the artificial limb Maukealana

I have just now hoped

That we might talk together

Or that I might meet briefly with you

In the lehua blossom fringes

I am a descendant of Keawe

Whose work is the gaining of favors

It was I who was called

The part Mexican skinny banana

But mine is really a thin bit of magnetized steel

That will strike home to your iron ring

It will draw out all your vile traits

Extracting the dirt and acids

Down there at the junction of your thighs

Is the meeting place of telephone wires

Where you speak of my shortcomings

What about yours, pretty Polani?

Your lehua is an island jutting into the sea

On it stands a huge furrowed hill

Kauhao is a deep valley

With a cock's comb at its entrance

I am the one who first took an iron to it

O strange-behaving Polani

This ends my song

For pretty, strange-behaving Polani.

Ka lima ku‘i o Maukealana

Akahi i lana ko‘u mana‘o

E hui olelo pu kaua

Malia o loa‘a lihi aku oe

I ka lihilihi o pua ka lehua

He pua mamo mai Keawe

O ka‘u hana ite ia o ka me‘o

O wau ke kapa ia mai

He maia wiwi hapa Mekiko

Wiwi haokila makeneki

Kani pono na‘e i ka puka linohao

Nana e hao mai pau na ino

Puka pu me ka lepo wai akika

Ke kumu uha iho ia malalo

Ka huina ka uea olelo

Olelo ana oe i ko‘u ke‘e

Pehea oe e ka ui Polani

Ua moku o lehua au i ke kai

Kuu ana puu nui puu wa‘awa‘a

He awawa hohonu o Kauhao

O ka lepe a moa ko mua

Na‘u hele mua nei aiana

E ka ui Polani hana kupanaha

Ha‘ina‘ia mai ana ka puana la

Ka ui Polani hana kupanaha.


1. Hula master John Piʻilani Watkins (1928-1983) is remembered today as the creative force behind the original Germaine's Lū‘au at Sea Life Park and as the composer of many still-popular mele hula, among them: "Green Lantern Hula," "Hāna Chant," "Kaloaloa," "Me Ka Nani a‘o Kaupō," and "Ulupalakua." His 49th State Records version of "Piukeona" is perhaps the oldest release of a song that Tony Conjugacion, Keali‘i Reichell, and Weldon Kekauoha have done much to re-popularize.

2. Kimo Alama Keaulana has indicated that "Piukeona stems from a Hawaiian language newspaper serial that ran for a real long time. The tale is about someone from Maudelana (Maukelana). This story ran in the 1860s and must have been well enjoyed for it ran so long." (Personal Communication, May 24, 1999.).

© 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) 26-28. It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.