‘Umia ke Aloha i Pa‘a i Loko

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Haimoeipo (Lili‘uokalani).

Date of composition: March or April, 1895.

Sources: 1) “Umia ke Aloha i Paa Iloko,” Ka Makaainana, April 15, 1895. 2) “He Inoa Wehi no ka Oiwi Pokii,” J.F. Testa (ed), Buke Mele Lahui, 10-11. 3) “He Inoa Wehi no Kalanianaole,” Lili‘uokalani, He Buke Mele Hawaii, 127.

Text below: Ka Makaainana, April 15, 1895; translated by Kïhei de Silva.

Hiki mai e ka lono i o‘u nei,

Word has come to me
That my pōki‘i is at Kawa
In the big castle of the Republic
Where he resides in apparent ease.

Persist in your deeply held love

For your native sands, O Hawai‘i
Where your kūpuna's legacy has been violated
That of Keawe and Kalaninu‘īamamao.

The watchword of the chiefly heart is this:

Wreathe yourself in Aloha ‘Āina

Cherish your lei of noble character
It honors you always, my warrior child.

Especially disgraceful to the eyes
Are these infamous prison walls
Where you are one in suffering
With your beloved people

Your heart has but one concern
It is for the people who love their nation.

Aia o‘u pōki‘i lā i Kawa [1],      
I ke kākela nui o ke Aupuni,
Kahi i noho ai me ka maluhia [2],

‘Umia ke aloha i pa‘a i loko,
No ke one ‘ōiwi ou e Hawai‘i,
‘Eha ai ka ili [3] ou kūpuna,    
‘O Keawe, ‘o Kalani-‘Ī-a-Mamao [4],

Ka hua i ka umauma mailani ia,

Pāpahi ‘ia ke Aloha ‘Āina,
Hi‘ipoi ‘ia ko lei hanohano,

I kāhiko mau nou e ka lehua [5],  

A ‘oi ‘alina [6] i ka ‘ike ‘ana,
Ia paia kaulana ho‘iho‘i ‘ole,

Ho‘okahi ‘ike pū ‘ana ka ‘ïnea,

Me ou pōki‘i maka‘āinana,

Ho‘okahi puana kou pu‘uwai,

No ka po‘e i aloha i ka lāhui.

This is a mele pio kālai‘āina [7], a political-prisoner song composed by a deposed and captive queen (Lili‘uokalani) for a deposed and captive prince (Kalaniana‘ole). Lili‘u was locked up in a second floor room at the former palace. Kalaniana‘ole was serving out a sentence of hard labor at O‘ahu Prison. Both Queen and Prince, aunt and nephew, had been convicted of misprision of treason for their “silent” roles in the failed countercoup of January 1895.

Because Lili‘u was held incommunicado for the duration of what would be a year-long prison term, she could not converse with Kalaniana‘ole or the 200-plus rebels with whom he was incarcerated [8]. Nor, for that matter could she exchange opinions and assurances with the unimprisoned loyalists who prayed for her release. Their newspapers had been shut down and their newspapermen arrested and jailed. Where once the mana‘o of the Queen and loyalist leaders had been published on a weekly basis, the only reports now available to the lāhui were those that appeared in pro-government newspapers like the Pacific Commercial Advertiser and Kuokoa [9].

As might be expected, these papers waged a lopsided war of misinformation designed to undermine the lāhui’s faith in its Queen and deflate its hopes of restoration. Lili‘u, they reported, had given up on the aloha ‘āina cause, “releasing, abandoning completely, and completely quitting all her claims, and [those of] her heirs and other claimants, to the throne of Hawai‘i forever” [10]. Her people, they advised, should follow suit. 

But the Republic's stranglehold on the opposition press began to unravel in late March 1895, when it released the loyalist newspaper editor F.J. Testa in an arrogant miscalculation of native intelligence and defiance. The fearless “Hoke,” as Testa was known to his Ka Makaainana readership, kick-started his paper in the last week of that month, and featured, in its second edition, the first in a series of four anonymous mele [11] composed by Lili‘u and smuggled to him from her upstairs room. Noenoe Silva explains that the message of these mele:

was that her heart was still with her people and her nation, and that contrary to the representations being made in the prorepublic papers she had not abandoned the po‘e aloha ‘āina or the struggle for their nation….she was with them; she had not abandoned them, and she was fighting the provisional government in every way she could, including through spiritual appeals. The people were po‘e aloha ‘āina, and so was she [12].

The Queen’s message, moreover, was couched in poetic Hawaiian language whose kaona went undetected by the ‘enemi. The watchdogs of the Republic failed to recognize her voice, and failed, as well, to take stock of the hidden meanings, veiled references, and political double entendre of her words. Printed in the upper left hand corner of the front page of the Makaainana, for four weeks in a row, were the aloha ‘āina thoughts of an unrepentant Lili‘u: her mele ran right under the noses of her captors but flew way over their heads. Nor did the Republic catch on to the equally deceptive mele that were written and published in support of her nationalist sentiments – mele smuggled from Kawa and Halekoa, mele composed by Hawaiian women, mele of loyalty from what was supposed to have been a beaten and inferior race. These mele, Silva concludes:

acted like conversations between people who were physically unable to talk to each other because they were imprisoned in different locations and separated on different islands…These mele served as a way for [Lili‘u] to communicate to her people that she shared their anger, sorrows, and desire to regain their nationhood, and for them to communicate to her that they were still loyal, no matter what the haole newspapers said [13].

Lili‘u's "Umia ke Aloha i Paa Iloko” is the third in her series of covert mele pio kālai‘āina.  It opens in apparent reverie over a beloved “younger sibling” who has taken up peaceful residence in some kind of castle. It moves without transition to a typically clichéd expression of Hawaiian attachment to birth sands and ancestors. It then speaks in typically inane fashion of “fruits on the chest” and other garlands of adornment and love.  It then makes typically sketchy references to a “famous, uninteresting-unreturning wall” and to some kind of singular, shared view of sibling difficulty. And it ends, in typically unimaginative “puana” fashion, with roundabout, overused expressions of love for the land.

The mele must have registered in the Republican ear as nothing more than the harmless clatter of disjointed native sentiments; no nerves were struck, no whistles blown, no red flags raised. Not so with Lili‘u's native audience. Her people would have known right away that the sibling of the castle was, in fact, the nephew in the prison, and that the mele had been penned by the aunt herself. They would have recognized that Lili‘u's apparently generic words of affection for sands and ancestors served, in fact, to disguise a battle cry of ongoing resistance (‘umia ka hanu, ‘umia ke aloha!” – hold the breath, hold the love, be patient, persist! [14]) and a pointed expression of approval for Kalaniana‘ole's part in the counterrevolution (I can barely contain my love for you; your actions have honored the legacy of our warrior-chief ancestors). 

Her people would have seen, too, that “hua i ka umauma” was far less a reference to a fruit lei worn on the chest than it was a poetic expression for the watchwords (hua) of encouragement and pride that were burning in her heart. These words (imperative ‘ias camouflaged as wimpy passives) implore her nephew and lāhui to persist in the aloha ‘āina cause: wear your resistance as a lei, cherish its dignified character for it will ennoble and honor you always. The lāhui would have caught on, as well, to her duplicitous use of lehua; it looks like one of the lei flowers in her rambling catalogue of adornments; it is, in fact, an epithet – “warrior, expert, royal descendent” – for Kalaniana‘ole, the direct object of her praise and exhortation.     

Lili‘u's poetic sleight-of-hand continues in the fourth verse of her mele with the highly elided “a oi alina i ka ike ana,” the cryptic “ia paia hoihoi ole,” and the vague, shared “ike” of “inea.” Who, her detractors might have asked, is doing what to whom? Indeed, there are no obvious actors or actions in the entire verse, and there are very few clues to help the foreign reader arrange this apparent jumble of fragments into a coherent, subject-verb-object string of thought. The native audience, however, would have picked up on the contrast between hanohano (honor, majesty, dignity) and ‘ālina (blemish, dishonor, disgrace) in verses three and four, and they would have seen the new verse as a logical counterpoint to its predecessor: that is what Lili‘u sees as honorable, now this is what Lili‘u sees as disgraceful. They would have recognized Kawa Prison as the source of this acute disgrace to the eyes of Lili‘u – that infamous place of walls from which there was no return (o ka mea oi, oia ka alina i ka ikena o Liliu i ia mau paia kaulana hoihoi ole o Kawa) [15].  And they would have understood and been inspired by the lesson of unity that Lili‘u draws from these shameful circumstances: the lāhui shares as one the ‘ïnea suffered by Kalaniana‘ole and his beloved citizen inmates. 

“‘Umia ke aloha” ends with an ordinary-looking “puana” verse: a two-line coda that reiterates the song’s  apparently sketchy message of affection for a pōki‘i whose heart went out to the people who loved their lāhui. Defiance is there, just beneath the surface, but it is framed in such a conventional manner and in such round-about language that it raised no republican hackles and sounded no anti-Makaainana alarms. It was scanned and dismissed by a people predisposed to minimize the significance of Hawaiian poetry: if it wasn’t about sex, it had to be harmless. The same old stuff about chiefs and land and love.

Hawaiian loyalists, on the other hand, would have noted with delight the non-conventional twist that Lili‘u gave to her seemingly conventional ending. Hers, in fact, is not a “ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana” coda. Instead of a distant, passive/imperative voice announcing that “the puana is told,” or asking that “the puana (story, refrain, summary) be told,” Lili‘u personalizes her puana. She makes it a direct, intimate expression of the heart. “Ho‘okahi puana kou pu‘uwai / No ka po‘e i aloha i ka lāhui.” – Your heart, Kalaniana‘ole, has but one refrain, love for the people who love the land.” Lili‘u's puana becomes the heart's voice – hers, her nephew's, and their lāhui's, all speaking to each other, heart-to-heart, about that which they would not surrender. Public forum, intimate thoughts; under the noses, over the heads.

All four of Lili‘u's Makaainana compositions end in this distinctive manner, three with “puana ko‘u/ku‘u pu‘uwai,” this one with “puana kou pu‘uwai.” None of the other mele lāhui poets employ the phrase. They recognize and honor it as belonging to their queen – as her subtle way of signing her work without using her name. Noenoe Silva observes, in her own quietly brilliant fashion, that these mele occupy a special place in the literature of Hawaiian resistance. Where Lili‘u's formal protests, articles, books, oratory, and presence in Washington were directed at America and its politicians, “her mele were primarily for her people. Kānaka were the only ones who could understand the language and the form…Communicating through mele was a way of keeping the lāhui together when they were most isolated from each other”[16]. These mele continue to be important to us today because they dispel the myth of a dull and acquiescent people and their beaten queen. And because they inspire us to resist, today, the same forces that threatened, back then, the ili of our kūpuna. ‘O Keawe, ‘o Kalaninui‘īamamao,‘o Lili‘u. 



1. Kawa was a pond in the old Honolulu waterfront district of Iwilei. Oahu Prison was built there, out of coral block, in the 1850s. Its three-story central edifice (photograph in Edward Scott, The Saga of the Sandwich Islands, 855) may have been castle-like in appearance, but by 1895 it had become a noisome “pesthole” (The Independent, September 24, 1896).

2. The description of a “peaceful, castle-like place of residence” is used with extreme sarcasm by Lili‘u and other prisoner-poets. Henry Enoka, for example, describes the political prisoners there as “e walea ana … i ka home kākela” – relaxing in the mansion (“Kalanianaole Kou Inoa,” Buke Mele Lahui, 40). 

3. The word ili appears without ‘okina in the three minimally marked versions of this song, and I have chosen to translate the word as transcribed: "inheritance, legacy." But ‘ili (skin) also makes sense here and I suspect that Lili‘u meant us to hear and appreciate both possibilities.

4. The two are father and son: Keawe‘īkekahiali‘iokamoku] and Kalani[nui]‘īamamao. Lili‘u identifies them (in the introduction to her translation of the Kumulipo, ix-x) as her own distant kūpuna and as kūpuna, as well, of Kūhio, the grandfather of Jonah Kūhio Kalaniana‘ole. Genealogical references of this sort, though meaningless to the foreigner’s ear, tied Hawaiians stubbornly, eternally, to their ali‘i and ‘āina, and provided models for noble behavior (Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, Native Land and Foreign Desires…, 19; cited by Noenoe Silva, Aloha Betrayed, 93).

5. This word is given as lahui in the Queen’s songbook (He Buke Mele Hawaii, 127). We might argue that the change in diction is a reflection of the increasingly strained relationship between Lili‘u and her nephew; as they grew apart with the turn of the century, she elected to address this section of the mele to her lāhui, not to her lehua (“warrior, expert, younger relative") nephew. The same might be said of Liliÿu’s songbook shift from ou to o‘u in the sixteenth line of the mele:  “your beloved people” becomes “my beloved people.”

6. The fourth letter of this word is indecipherable in the original newspaper text; it is an obvious n (alina), however, in Testa‘s Buke Mele Lahui and the Queen's He Buke Mele Hawaii.

7. This is my own term for a subset of the larger category of compositions known as mele lāhui. Pio kālai‘āina, “political prisoner,” is the phrase used by the countercoup loyalists of 1895 to define the po‘e aloha ‘āina who were imprisoned by the Republic of Hawaii for their treasonous activities and sentiments. Mele pio kālai‘āina are, therefore, songs composed by those treasonous captives, among them: Lili‘u, Henry Enoka, S. Kaili, S.K. Kaloa, J.W. Kamali, H.J. Kapu, J.K. Kaulia, and D.K. Koa.     

8. The number of prisoners is usually given as 200 or so, but Thomas Spencer lists 313 names in his “Ka Papa Inoa O na Poe i Hopu ia...” (Kaua Kuloko, 1895, 133-136). Hawaiian loyalists were also imprisoned at ‘Iolani Barracks (Halekoa) and – according to some Makaainana reports – in Hilo, as well, but I don’t yet have a clear idea of exactly who, where, and for how long.

9. The only reports that the lāhui was “now getting about the Queen and the situation of the people who were imprisoned was from the government newspapers, that is, from their enemies” (Noenoe Silva, Aloha Betrayed, 151).

10. Nupepa Kuokoa, February 2, 1895.  Cited and translated by Silva,181.

11. They were published without signature, but it would have been obvious – to her people – that Liliÿu had composed them. The title and first line of the initial mele, for example – “Mai Wakinekona a Iolani Hale” (From Washington to ‘Iolani Palace) and “Ia‘u e nanea ana ma Wakinekona” (While I was relaxing at Washington) – could only have been written by the Queen: the words describe her arrest at her Washington Place home and her removal, by carriage, to her ‘Iolani prison.

12. Silva, 187, 191.

13. Pukui identifies “‘Umia ka hanu” as a “war cry” (Dictionary, 371), and she explains similar ‘umia and ‘umi utterances as calls for unity, extraordinary mutual effort, and utmost patience (‘Ōlelo No‘eau, 2875, 2876, 2877). The battle-cry connotations of this phase lend a similar resonance to Lili‘u's use of pōki‘i in the second and sixteenth lines of the mele: her people might well have heard, in this seemingly innocent relationship term, an echo of Kamehameha's call to arms: “I mua e nā pōki‘i a inu i ka wai ‘awa‘awa; ‘a‘ohe hope e ho‘i mai ai” (Go forward my younger brothers and drink of the bitter waters of battle; there can be no retreat, no place to which we can return).

14. Silva, 190-191.

15. Lili‘u's poetic finesse is often evident in the tiniest details; in this verse, she effortlessly stands two readily understood words on their connotative ears. ‘Oi usually means “best,” but its subtext here is “worst.” Kaulana usually means “famous,” but its subtext here is “infamous.” 

16. Silva, 186.

© Kīhei de Silva 2008.  All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilimaʻs 2008 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.