Pua Māmane

Excerpted from: Lena Machado, Hawai‘i’s Songbird

by Pi‘olani Motta with Kīhei de Silva

Aunty Lena was the youngest of the five children of Robert and Louise Poepoe Wai‘ale‘ale. The five, from hiapo to muli loa, were William, Gussie, Ivy, Robert Jr., and Lena. Aunty Lena was raised in Honolulu by her hānai parents and didn‘t know too much about her siblings. But as she got older, she got more inquisitive. She said that she was in her teens when she finally met them. They invited her to go to Kaua‘i -- that was where they lived and where their father was from. They accepted the fact that Aunty Lena had been adopted out and never heard from for years, and they accepted the fact that all of a sudden they had this sister who wanted to be part of the family. Because they were Hawaiian, they opened up their hearts and took her in. They encouraged her with her music and introduced her to a lifestyle that was different from the more rigid, Western ways of her adoptive family.

Shortly after he graduated from Kamehameha, Uncle Bob moved to the mainland to follow his own career in music. In time, Aunty Gussie and Aunty Ivy moved to Honolulu to marry and raise their families. But Uncle Bill -- William Kauila Wai‘ale‘ale -- didn't leave Kaua‘i. He had a home in Kōloa -- on the beach near Prince Kūhiō Park -- and he was the one who really made Aunty Lena part of the family. Uncle Bill was a member of the Kaua‘i Police Department. His wife was Edith Momi Kamauoha from Nāpō‘opo‘o on the Big Island; she was a relative of ‘Iolani Luahine who would become another of Aunty Lena's friends. Bill and Momi had four children: William Jr., Helen, Paule, and Pearl, and they all grew very close to Aunty Lena. When Aunty visited them, Uncle Bill would take her all over the island and introduce her to people like Hanohano Pā, Jacob Maka, and Alfred ‘Alohikea. These were some of the best chanters and singers of the day, and I think her long-lasting connections to these people and their families had a strong influence on her singing. They gave her a background, I think, to start off her life in music. Because her voice, her range, was like theirs: far above the ordinary. 

When Aunty Lena visited Uncle Bill in her teens, she'd go hunting with him for pheasants -- just the two of them with his dogs and guns. That was his hobby -- not so much for the pheasants themselves, but more so for their feathers. This was because his wife was a feather-lei maker. When I visited them, I helped to box all of her supplies, but since I had hānō, I had to wear a mask and not breathe all these hulu flying around me. When I'd come by for the summers, Aunty Momi would say, "No, no, no; please don't go into the feather room without your mask."

So Uncle Bill and Aunty Lena would hike up the slopes of Wai‘ale‘ale to hunt for pheasants. There was a kind of entrance, Aunty said, that took them all the way to the brim of the mountain. It was hot, she said, and the trek went on and on, but they would finally reach a point that overlooked a beautiful, bowl-shaped valley: a piko verdant with waterfalls, ferns, and trees in full bloom. She said the trees were māmane, and little green and yellow birds would flit around the yellow flowers, feeding. She said that she felt like an ant in a bowl and that she was overwhelmed by the beauty and serenity of God's creation. She carried this scene with her for many years, and whenever she was traveling and busy, the memory brought her to a place of calmness and strong Hawaiian presence.

Aunty Lena didn't compose "Pua Māmane" right away. It came to her later on, after she had been traveling all over, singing other people's songs, listening to how they expressed themselves, and thinking about what she would do out there with her own music. The memory of Uncle Bill and the māmane blossoms of Wai‘ale‘ale brought her serenity and inspiration. It helped her to delve into her Hawaiian appreciation of where she came from -- not only the mountains, flowers, winds, and ocean, but the whole sphere of the family. When she finally composed "Pua Māmane," she dedicated it to her oldest brother William. The song seems to describe the beauty of what she saw on their hikes -- the scenery, mostly. But her description of the flower that stands in this bowl, in this big realm of God's creation, is actually an expression of appreciation for her brother. He is the beautiful māmane blossom of Kaua‘i, and he is the center and head -- the piko -- of her Wai‘ale‘ale family.

Aunty Lena copyrighted her first songs in the 1930s, but most of these songs were written about feelings and experiences that she had held inside her for a long time. She usually didn't compose anything right away. All the things that she held in her -- her music and words -- came out later.  But when her first songs were beginning to pile up, a friend mentioned that she had better start copyrighting them before someone else did. She followed through on this advice because she had worked with Sol Bright, the Mansfields, and the Kealohas, and she had seen a lot of their music taken by others. She chose "Pua Māmane" as the first of her copyrighted songs. This wasn't an accident; it was something she thought carefully about. She wanted to put her brother's song first in order to honor her family connection. So "Pua Māmane" became her foundation and starting point. Once she paid tribute to Uncle Bill, she could begin to introduce her other compositions.

Pua Māmane

Aia ka nani i luna 
Ka liko pua māmane
Hiehie launa ‘ole 
He u‘i mai ho‘i kau 

‘O ka u‘i hea kēia 
Kaulana nei a puni 
Kaua‘i Manookalani 
Ku‘u one hānau ia. 

‘O ka piko Wai‘ale‘ale 
Kilohi au i ka nani 
I ka wai ‘ula ‘iliahi
Kaulana o ka ‘āina 

Me ke one a‘o Nohili 
Pahapaha o Polihale
Me ka nani a‘o Hā‘upu 
Kaulana a‘o Kōloa

Ku‘u lei ua ka puana 
Ka nani o ia pua 
Me a‘u mai ‘oe 
A mau loa. 

There is beauty above
In the budding māmane blossom
Incomparably appealing
So very attractive

Which youthful beauty is this?
One who is known throughout
Kaua‘i of Manookalanipō
Sands of my birth

From the summit of Wai‘ale‘ale
I gaze at the beauty
At the red sandalwood water of Waimea 
Celebrated throughout the land

At the sands of Nohili
The limu pahapaha of Polihale
And the splendor of Hā‘upu
Famed mountain ridge at Kōloa

For my dear one is the refrain
The beauty of this flower
May you be with me
Forever more.


Hawaiian text from the collection of Pi‘olani Motta, © June 26, 1933. Orthographic editing and translation by Kīhei de Silva.


1- The māmane tree, a native member of the pea family, thrives at high altitudes and produces a delicate, inch-long, bright yellow flower. These flowers develop in clusters at the tips of the tree's branches, so a māmane in full bloom is a spectacular sight. The māmane often appears in Hawaiian poetry as a metaphor of high rank, youthful beauty, or intense physical appeal. The last of these -- sexual appeal -- has mislead a number of Lena Machado enthusiasts into interpreting her "Pua Māmane" as a song of romantic love. The mele is, in fact, an expression of admiration for her brother William and their Wai‘ale‘ale family of Kaua‘i.

2- "Wai ‘ula ‘iliahi" is an old poetic expression for the Waimea River which, after heavy rains, sometimes runs red along its western bank.

3- The pahapaha sea-lettuce of Polihale was said to have a special quality; it "could be revived by immersion in sea water after it had partially dried" (Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #2568). The time-honored expressions "Kaua‘i o Manookalanipō," "wai ‘ula ‘iliahi," "ke one a‘o Nohili," and "pahapaha o Polihale" appear frequently in mele for Kaua‘i, and their use here clearly demonstrates Lena Machado's knowledge of the island's poetic legacy. 

4- William Wai‘ale‘ale's house was located in the district of Kōloa on the Po‘ipū shoreline near Prince Kūhiō Park. It is probably no accident that his sister’s homecoming song comes to a happy end at this family home.

The essay above has been excerpted from the book Lena Machado, Hawai‘i's Songbird and appears, as well, on the KS website Ka‘iwakīloumoku. A book review, five essays, and a sound-clip of an interview with Aunty Pi‘olani can be accessed at the Ka‘iwa website by clicking here >> .

The essay also appears in more media-rich fashion (with photos and sound clip) on the HMI website (click here >>) in tandem with a photo essay of Aunty Piʻo Mottaʻs "Pua Māmane" visit to our Merrie Monarch class (click here >>).

More Pua Māmane

Additional Commentary by Kīhei de Silva

Although Lena Machado is widely recognized for the excellence of her voice and music, surprisingly little has been written about the quality of her poetry.[1]  We need look no further than the first of her copyrighted songs, however, for evidence of her ability to employ the image-rich, subtly allusive, multi-layered language that is the hallmark of an accomplished haku mele.

Pi‘olani Motta tells us above that the readily accessible, literal descriptions of "Pua Māmane" are underpinned by kaona – by a considerably less-obvious layer of figurative meaning.  On its literal level, the mele supplies us with a series of carefully selected and hauntingly familiar images: budding flowers, illustrious mountains, birthing and barking sands, red sandalwood waters, and cherished sea-lettuce lei.  On its figurative level, the mele speaks of a beloved brother, a heightened perspective, a restored family relationship, and a newly discovered sense of inner calm.  The easily overlooked interplay, in “Pua Māmane,” of the literal and the figurative, the apparent and the underlying,[2] is a measure of Machado’s capacity for composing in the seemingly effortless, seemingly transparent fashion of her own father and her two ‘Alohikea mentors.[3]  She adheres to an old precept of Hawaiian poetic expression that says subtle is good, but subtly potent is even better

If we listen carefully, kaona can be heard resonating beneath the surface of “Pua Māmane” in the word-play of “ka piko Wai‘ale‘ale.”  The literal meaning of this phrase is “the summit of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale,” but piko can also mean “crown of the head,” “center,” “navel, umbilical cord,” and “blood relative.”  Wai‘ale‘ale, for its part, is not only the name of Kaua‘i’s central mountain mass; it is also Lena Machado’s maiden name – the surname of her parents and siblings.  “Ka piko [o] Wai‘ale‘ale,” then, carries considerable figurative meaning as an allusion to Machado’s oldest brother Robert, “the head/center/ umbilical-connection of the Wai‘ale‘ale family.” 

The song’s kaona resonates with equal subtlety in Machado’s use of place-names that are suggestive of her long journey to the bosom of the Wai‘ale‘ale family.  She grew up knowing almost nothing about this family, and she did not meet her siblings until she visited Kaua‘i in her teens. Nohili means “tedious, slow” and “wandering.”  Polihale means “house bosom.” Hā‘upu means “to recollect, recall, remember.” And Kōloa means “drawn over a long distance” or “fulfilled after a long period of time.”  The names themselves tell a hidden story of absence, yearning, and reunion.  

Kaona also resonates with enviable finesse in the song’s third-verse reference to “ka wai ‘ula ‘iliahi,” an expression identified by Kawena Pukui as descriptive of the sandalwood-red color of the water nearest the west bank of the Waimea River after heavy rains in the upper reaches of the Waimea Canyon. “After a storm, Waimea Stream is said to run red.  Where it meets Makaweli Stream to form Waimea River, the water is sometimes red on one side and clear on the other.  The red side is called wai ‘ula ‘iliahi.”[4]  Older Hawaiian compositions used this expression as a metaphor of the union of separate, high-ranking families through marriage and offspring: the streams meet to form a single river whose twin sources are still obvious.[5]  The appearance of “wai ‘ula ‘iliahi” in “Pua Māmane” serves at least three functions: it demonstrates Machado’s knowledge of these old mele; it reinforces the song’s underlying sense of family re-union; and it hints at her own descent from the Poepoe and Wai‘ale‘ale lines of Hawai‘i and Kaua‘i. 

The same metaphorical finesse is evident in the song’s fourth-verse reference to the once-famed pahapaha seaweed of Polihale.  Kawena Pukui reminds us of the special nature of this limu: even when apparently dead, it can be revived by simple immersion in sea water: “Although pahapaha is common everywhere, only that which grows at Polihale revives once it is dry.”[6] The presence of “pahapaha o Polihale” in “Pua Māmane” demonstrates the depth of Machado’s capacity for composing in a traditional manner. In a song whose central, underlying meaning is the revival of a long “dry” and nearly lost family relationship, the pahapaha serves as an unforced and remarkably appropriate metaphor of that revival.

Finally, the kaona of “Pua Māmane” resonates with almost under-the-radar subtlety in the all-encompassing movement of Lena Machado’s eyes across the view-plane of her composition.  She travels from the heights of Wai‘ale‘ale in the east to the sands of Nohili in the west, and from the sea-lettuce ocean of Polihale in the west to the heights of Hā‘upu in the east.  The mele’s path and shape are circular, closed, complete: high-to-low, then around and back; mountain-to-sea, then around and back; east-to-west, then around and back.  Lena Machado, almost without our recognizing it, has fashioned a lei of words to define and adorn her ancestral home.

Pi‘olani Motta describes Lena Machado’s advice to the many young Hawaiian entertainers who sought her guidance as that of centering before creating: "Know who you are first, be true to your Hawaiian foundation, and then go out and develop your God-given talents."[7]  “Pua Māmane” provides extraordinary proof of Machado's own, initial act of centering.  The mele is both her “know who you are song,” and the Hawaiian foundation from which the rest of her work evolves and returns.  The mele demonstrates her early familiarity with the traditional language, literary devices, and principals of organization by which the best haku mele subtly infused their works with subtexts of kaona.  The virtuosity of “Pua Māmane” requires us to look at all of Lena Machado’s subsequent mele with new respect and careful attention


1- Kimo Alama Keaulana stands almost alone in his assessment of Lena Machado as “well-versed in the Hawaiian language of poetry [and knowledgeable] of ancient and modern hula as well” (MS Grp 329, 6.84, Bishop Museum Archives).

2- A sure sign of the song’s “easily overlooked interplay” of apparent and underlying meaning can be found in the regular misinterpretation of “Pua Māmane” as descriptive of romantic love and sexual attraction.  Were it not for Pi‘olani Motta’s explanation of the song’s familial context, I would certainly find myself in this same misdirected boat.

3- Robert Wai‘ale‘ale Sr., Lena’s father, is credited with the composition of two sophisticated, highly regarded, and now rarely-heard mele: “Wai o Minihaha” and “Ke Hone a‘e Nei.”  Alfred ‘Alohikea’s capacity for poetry is legendary.  His wife Lizzie – who Motta identifies as Lena Machado’s “idol, mentor, and colleague” – is still remembered for her the hauntingly beautiful “Nani Kaua‘i.”

4- Mary Kawena Pukui,‘Ōlelo No‘eau, #1662.

5- The mele “Ne‘ene‘e mai ‘o Ka‘ula,” for example, employs the description "nā manowai ‘elua" (the two waters sources: Waimea and Makaweli, the female and the male, the wai‘ula and the wai kea) as a metaphor of David Kawānanakoa’s descent from Kaumūali‘i of Kaua’i and Keawe of Hawai‘i.

6- Pukui, #2568.

7- Piʻolani Motta, Personal Communication, September 2005.  Among these entertainers are Jesse Kalima, Richard Kauhi, Kīhei Brown, and Emma Veary.

"More Pua Māmane; an essay"

© Kīhei de Silva, 2005; all rights reserved.