Unwritten Literature of Hawaii - The Sacred Songs of the Hula
by Nathaniel Bright Emerson
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Page 1]








[Page 2][Blank]

[Page 3]


Previous to the year 1906 the researches of the Bureau were restricted to the American Indians, but by act of Congress approved June 30 of that year the scope of its operations was extended to include the natives of the Hawaiian islands. Funds were not specifically provided, however, for prosecuting investigations among these people, and in the absence of an appropriation for this purpose it was considered inadvisable to restrict the systematic investigations among the Indian tribes in order that the new field might be entered. Fortunately the publication of valuable data pertaining to Hawaii is already provided for, and the present memoir by Doctor Emerson is the first of the Bureau's Hawaiian series. It is expected that this Bulletin will be followed shortly by one comprising an extended list of works relating to Hawaii, compiled by Prof. H.M. Ballou and Dr. Cyrus Thomas.



[Page 4] [Blank]

[Page 5]



Introduction 7

I. The hula 11

II. The halau; the kuahu—their decoration and consecration 14

III. The gods of the hula 23

IV. Support and organization of the hula 26

V. Ceremonies of graduation; debut of a hula dancer 31

VI. The password—the song of admission 38

VII. Worship at the altar of the halau 42

VIII. Costume of the hula dancer 49

IX. The hula ala'a-papa 57

X. The hula pa-ipu, or kuolo 73

XI. The hula ki'i 91

XII. The hula pahu 103

XIII. The hula uliuli 107

XIV. The hula puili 113

XV. The hula ka-laau 116

XVI. The hula ili-ili 120

XVII. The hula kaekeeke 122

XVIII. An intermission 126

XIX. The hula niau-kani 132

XX. The hula ohe 135

XXI. The music and musical instruments of the Hawaiians 138

XXII. Gesture 176

XXIII. The hula pa-hua 183

XXIV. The hula Pele 186

XXV, The hula pa'i-umauma 202

XXVI. The hula ku'i Molokai 207

XXVII. The hula kielei 210

XXVIII. The hula mu'u-mu'u 212

XXIX. The hula kolani 216

XXX. The hula kolea 219

XXXI. The hula mano 221

XXXII. The hula ilio 223

XXXIII. The hula pua'a 228

XXXIV. The hula ohelo 233

XXXV. Thehula kilu 235

XXXVI. The hula hoonana 244

XXXVII. The hula ulili 246

XXXVIII. The hula o-niu 248

XXXIX. The hula ku'i 250

XL. The oli 254

XLI. The water of Kane 257

XLII. General review 260

Glossary 265

Index 271

[Page 6]


Page PLATE I. Female dancing in hula costume Frontispiece II. Ie-ie (Freycinetia arnotti) leaves and fruit 19 III. Hala-pepe (Dracaena aurea) 24 IV. Maile (Alyxia myrtillifolia) wreath 32 V. Ti (Dracaena terminalis) 44 VI. Ilima (Sida fallax), lei and flowers 56 VII. Ipu hula, gourd drum 73 VIII. Marionettes (Maile-pakaha, Nihi-au-moe) 91 IX. Marionette (Maka-ku) 93 X. Pahu hula, hula drum 103 XI. Uli-uli, a gourd rattle 107 XII. Hawaiian tree-snails (Achatinella) 120 XIII. Lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) flowers and leaves 126 XIV. Hawaiian trumpet, pu (Cassis madagascarensis) 131 XV. Woman playing on the nose-flute (ohe-hano-ihu) 135 XVI. Pu-niu, a drum 142 XVII. Hawaiian musician playing on the uku-lele 164 XVIII. Hala fruit bunch and drupe with a "lei" 170 XIX. Pu (Triton tritonis) 172 XX. Phyllodia and true leaves of the koa (Acacia koa) 181 XXI. Pala-palai ferns 194 XXII. Awa-puhi, a Hawaiian ginger 210 XXIII. Hinano hala 235 XXIV. Lady dancing the hula ku'i 250 FIGURE 1. Puili, bamboo rattle 113 2. Ka, drumstick for pu-niu 142 3. Ohe-hano-ihu, nose-flute 145


I. Range of the nose-flute—Elsner 146 II. Music from the nose-flute—Elsner 146 III. The ukeke (as played by Keaonaloa)—Eisner 149 IV. Song from the hula pa'i-umauma—Berger 153 V. Song from the hula pa-ipu—Berger 153 VI. Song for the hula Pele—Berger 154 VII. Oli and mele from the hula ala'a-papa—Yarndley 156 VIII. He Inoa no Kamehameha—Byington 162 IX. Song, Poli Anuanu—Yarndley 164 X. Song, Hua-hua'i—Yarndley 166 XI. Song, Ka Mawae—Berger 167 XII. Song, Like no a Like—Berger 168 XIII. Song, Pili Aoao—Berger 169 XIV. Hawaii Ponoi—Berger 172

[Page 7]


This book is for the greater part a collection of Hawaiian songs and poetic pieces that have done service from time immemorial as the stock supply of the hula. The descriptive portions have been added, not because the poetical parts could not stand by themselves, but to furnish the proper setting and to answer the questions of those who want to know.

Now, the hula stood for very much to the ancient Hawaiian; it was to him in place of our concert-hall and lecture-room, our opera and theater, and thus became one of his chief means of social enjoyment. Besides this, it kept the communal imagination in living touch with the nation's legendary past. The hula had songs proper to itself, but it found a mine of inexhaustible wealth in the epics and wonder-myths that celebrated the doings of the volcano goddess Pele and her compeers. Thus in the cantillations of the old-time hula we find a ready-made anthology that includes every species of composition in the whole range of Hawaiian poetry. This epic[1] of Pele was chiefly a more or less detached series of poems forming a story addressed not to the closet-reader, but to the eye and ear and heart of the assembled chiefs and people; and it was sung. The Hawaiian song, its note of joy par excellence, was the oli; but it must be noted that in every species of Hawaiian poetry, mele—whether epic or eulogy or prayer, sounding through them all we shall find the lyric note.

[Footnote 1: It might be termed a handful of lyrics strung on an epic thread.]

The most telling record of a people's intimate life is the record which it unconsciously makes in its songs. This record which the Hawaiian people have left of themselves is full and specific. When, therefore, we ask what emotions stirred the heart of the old-time Hawaiian as he approached the great themes of life and death, of ambition and jealousy, of sexual passion, of romantic love, of conjugal love, and parental love, what his attitude toward nature and the dread forces of earthquake and storm, and the mysteries of spirit and the hereafter, we shall find our answer in the songs and prayers and recitations of the hula.

The hula, it is true, has been unfortunate in the mode and manner of its introduction to us moderns. An institution of divine, that is, religious, origin, the hula in modern times [Page 8] has wandered so far and fallen so low that foreign and critical esteem has come to associate it with the riotous and passionate ebullitions of Polynesian kings and the amorous posturing of their voluptuaries. We must make a just distinction, however, between the gestures and bodily contortions presented by the men and women, the actors in the hula, and their uttered words. "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." In truth, the actors in the hula no longer suit the action to the word. The utterance harks back to the golden age; the gesture is trumped up by the passion of the hour, or dictated by the master of the hula, to whom the real meaning of the old bards is ofttimes a sealed casket. Whatever indelicacy attaches in modern times to some of the gestures and contortions of the hula dancers, the old-time hula songs in large measure were untainted with grossness. If there ever were a Polynesian Arcadia, and if it were possible for true reports of the doings and sayings of the Polynesians to reach us from that happy land—reports of their joys and sorrows, their love-makings and their jealousies, their family spats and reconciliations, their worship of beauty and of the gods and goddesses who walked in the garden of beauty—we may say, I think, that such a report would be in substantial agreement with the report that is here offered; but, if one's virtue will not endure the love-making of Arcadia, let him banish the myth from his imagination and hie to a convent or a nunnery.

If this book does nothing more than prove that savages are only children of a younger growth than ourselves, that what we find them to have been we ourselves—in our ancestors—once were, the labor of making it will have been not in vain'.

For an account of the first hula we may look to the story of Pele. On one occasion that goddess begged her sisters to dance and sing before her, but they all excused themselves, saying they did not know the art. At that moment in came little Hiiaka, the youngest and the favorite. Unknown to her sisters, the little maiden had practised the dance under the tuition of her friend, the beautiful but ill-fated Hopoe. When banteringly invited to dance, to the surprise of all, Hiiaka modestly complied. The wave-beaten sand-beach was her floor, the open air her hall; Feet and hands and swaying form kept time to her improvisation:

Look, Puna is a-dance in the wind; The palm groves of Kea-au shaken. Haena and the woman Hopoe dance and sing On the beach Nana-huki, A dance of purest delight, Down by the sea Nana-huki.

The nature of this work has made it necessary to use occasional Hawaiian words in the technical parts. At their [Page 9] first introduction it has seemed fitting that they should be distinguished by italics; but, once given the entree, it is assumed that, as a rule, they will be granted the rights of free speech without further explanation.

A glossary, which explains all the Hawaiian words used in the prose text, is appended. Let no one imagine, however, that by the use of this little crutch alone he will be enabled to walk or stumble through the foreign ways of the simplest Hawaiian mele. Notes, often copious, have been appended to many of the mele, designed to exhaust neither the subject nor the reader, but to answer some of the questions of the intelligent thinker.

Thanks, many thanks, are due, first, to those native Hawaiians who have so far broken with the old superstitious tradition of concealment as to unearth so much of the unwritten literary wealth stored in Hawaiian memories; second, to those who have kindly contributed criticism, suggestion, material at the different stages of this book's progress; and, lastly, to those dear friends of the author's youth—living or dead—whose kindness has made it possible to send out this fledgling to the world. The author feels under special obligations to Dr. Titus Munson Coan, of New York, for a painstaking revision of the manuscript.


[Page 10][Blank]

[Page 11]




One turns from the study of old genealogies, myths, and traditions of the Hawaiians with a hungry despair at finding in them means so small for picturing the people themselves, their human interests and passions; but when it comes to the hula and the whole train of feelings and sentiments that made their entrances and exits in the halau (the hall of the hula) one perceives that in this he has found the door to the heart of the people. So intimate and of so simple confidence are the revelations the people make of themselves in their songs and prattlings that when one undertakes to report what he has heard and to translate into the terms of modern speech what he has received in confidence, as it were, he almost blushes, as if he had been guilty of spying on Adam and Eve in their nuptial bower. Alas, if one could but muffle his speech with the unconscious lisp of infancy, or veil and tone his picture to correspond to the perspective of antiquity, he might feel at least that, like Watteau, he had dealt worthily, if not truly, with that ideal age which we ever think of as the world's garden period.

The Hawaiians, it is true, were many removes from being primitives; their dreams, however, harked back to a period that was close to the world's infancy. Their remote ancestry was, perhaps, akin to ours—Aryan, at least Asiatic—but the orbit of their evolution seems to have led them away from the strenuous discipline that has whipped the Anglo-Saxon branch into fighting shape with fortune.

If one comes to the study of the hula and its songs in the spirit of a censorious moralist he will find nothing for him; if as a pure ethnologist, he will take pleasure in pointing out the physical resemblances of the Hawaiian dance to the languorous grace of the Nautch girls, of the geisha, and other oriental dancers. But if he comes as a student and lover of human nature, back of the sensuous posturings, in the emotional language of the songs he will find himself entering the playground of the human race.

The hula was a religious service, in which poetry, music, pantomime, and the dance lent themselves, under the forms of [Page 12] dramatic art, to the refreshment of men's minds. Its view of life was idyllic, and it gave itself to the celebration of those mythical times when gods and goddesses moved on the earth as men and women and when men and women were as gods. As to subject-matter, its warp was spun largely from the bowels of the old-time mythology into cords through which the race maintained vital connection with its mysterious past. Interwoven with these, forming the woof, were threads of a thousand hues and of many fabrics, representing the imaginations of the poet, the speculations of the philosopher, the aspirations of many a thirsty soul, as well as the ravings and flame-colored pictures of the sensualist, the mutterings and incantations of the kahuna, the mysteries and paraphernalia of Polynesian mythology, the annals of the nation's history—the material, in fact, which in another nation and under different circumstances would have gone to the making of its poetry, its drama, its opera, its literature.

The people were superstitiously religious; one finds their drama saturated with religious feeling, hedged about with tabu, loaded down with prayer and sacrifice. They were poetical; nature was full of voices for their ears; their thoughts came to them as images; nature was to them an allegory; all this found expression in their dramatic art. They were musical; their drama must needs be cast in forms to suit their ideas of rhythm, of melody, and of poetic harmony. They were, moreover, the children of passion, sensuous, worshipful of whatever lends itself to pleasure. How, then, could the dramatic efforts of this primitive people, still in the bonds of animalism, escape the note of passion? The songs and other poetic pieces which have come down to us from the remotest antiquity are generally inspired with a purer sentiment and a loftier purpose than the modern; and it may be said of them all that when they do step into the mud it is not to tarry and wallow in it; it is rather with the unconscious naivete of a child thinking no evil.

On the principle of "the terminal conversion of opposites," which the author once heard an old philosopher expound, the most advanced modern is better able to hark back to the sweetness and light and music of the primeval world than the veriest wigwam-dweller that ever chipped an arrowhead. It is not so much what the primitive man can give us as what we can find in him that is worth our while. The light that a Goethe, a Thoreau, or a Kipling can project into Arcadia is mirrored in his own nature.

If one mistakes not the temper and mind of this generation, we are living in an age that is not content to let perish one seed of thought or one single phase of life that can be rescued from the drift of time. We mourn the extinction of the buffalo of the plains and of the birds of the islands, [Page 13] rightly thinking that life is somewhat less rich and full without them. What of the people of the plains and of the islands of the sea? Is their contribution so nothingless that one can affirm that the orbit of man's mind is complete without it?

Comparison is unavoidable between the place held by the dance in ancient Hawaii and that occupied by the dance in our modern society. The ancient Hawaiians did not personally and informally indulge in the dance for their own amusement, as does pleasure-loving society at the present time. Like the Shah of Persia, but for very different reasons, Hawaiians of the old time left it to be done for them by a body of trained and paid performers. This was not because the art and practice of the hula were held in disrepute—quite the reverse—but because the hula was an accomplishment requiring special education and arduous training in both song and dance, and more especially because it was a religious matter, to be guarded against profanation by the observance of tabus and the performance of priestly rites.

This fact, which we find paralleled in every form of communal amusement, sport, and entertainment in ancient Hawaii, sheds a strong light on the genius of the Hawaiian. We are wont to think of the old-time Hawaiians as light-hearted children of nature, given to spontaneous outbursts of song and dance as the mood seized them; quite as the rustics of "merrie England" joined hands and tripped "the light fantastic toe" in the joyous month of May or shouted the harvest home at a later season. The genius of the Hawaiian was different. With him the dance was an affair of premeditation, an organized effort, guarded by the traditions of a somber religion. And this characteristic, with qualifications, will be found to belong to popular Hawaiian sport and amusement of every variety. Exception must be made, of course, of the unorganized sports of childhood. One is almost inclined to generalize and to say that those children of nature, as we are wont to call them, in this regard were less free and spontaneous than the more advanced race to which we are proud to belong. But if the approaches to the temple of Terpsichore with them were more guarded, we may confidently assert that their enjoyment therein was deeper and more abandoned.

[Page 14]



In building a halau, or hall, in which to perform the hula a Hawaiian of the old, old time was making a temple for his god. In later and degenerate ages almost any structure would serve the purpose; it might be a flimsy shed or an extemporaneous lanai such as is used to shelter that al fresco entertainment, the luau. But in the old times of strict tabu and rigorous etiquette, when the chief had but to lift his hand and the entire population of a district ransacked plain, valley, and mountain to collect the poles, beams, thatch, and cordstuff; when the workers were so numerous that the structure grew and took shape in a day, we may well believe that ambitious and punctilious patrons of the hula, such as La'a, Liloa, or Lono-i-ka-makahiki, did not allow the divine art of Laka to house in a barn.

The choice of a site was a matter of prime importance. A formidable code enunciated the principles governing the selection. But—a matter of great solicitude—there were omens to be heeded, snares and pitfalls devised by the superstitious mind for its own entanglement. The untimely sneeze, the ophthalmic eye, the hunched back were omens to be shunned.

Within historic times, since the abrogation of the tabu system and the loosening of the old polytheistic ideas, there has been in the hula a lowering of former standards, in some respects a degeneration. The old gods, however, were not entirely dethroned; the people of the hula still continued to maintain the form of divine service and still appealed to them for good luck; but the soul of worship had exhaled; the main study now was to make of the hula a pecuniary success.

In an important sense the old way was in sympathy with the thought, "Except God be with the workmen, they labor in vain that build the house." The means for gaining divine favor and averting the frown of the gods were those practised by all religionists in the infantile state of the human mind—the observance of fasts and tabus, the offering of special prayers and sacrifices. The ceremonial purification of the site, or of the building if it had been used for profane purposes, was accomplished by aspersions with sea water mixed with turmeric or red earth. [Page 15] When one considers the tenacious hold which all rites and ceremonies growing out of what we are accustomed to call superstitions had on the mind of the primitive Hawaiian, it puzzles one to account for the entire dropping out from modern memory of the prayers which were recited during the erection of a hall for the shelter of an institution so festive and so popular as the hula, while the prayers and gloomy ritual of the temple service have survived. The explanation may be found, perhaps, in the fact that the priests of the temple held position by the sovereign's appointment; they formed a hierarchy by themselves, whereas the position of the kumu-hula, who was also a priest, was open to anyone who fitted himself for it by training and study and by passing successfully the ai-lolo[2] ordeal. After that he had the right to approach the altar of the hula god with the prescribed offerings and to present the prayers and petitions of the company to Laka or Kapo.

[Footnote 2: Ai-lolo. See pp. 32, 34, 36.]

In pleasing contrast to the worship of the heiau, the service of the hula was not marred by the presence of groaning victims and bloody sacrifices. Instead we find the offerings to have been mostly rustic tokens, things entirely consistent with light-heartedness, joy, and ecstasy of devotion, as if to celebrate the fact that heaven had come down to earth and Pan, with all the nymphs, was dancing.

During the time the halau was building the tabus and rules that regulated conduct were enforced with the utmost strictness. The members of the company were required to maintain the greatest propriety of demeanor, to suppress all rudeness of speech and manner, to abstain from all carnal indulgence, to deny themselves specified articles of food, and above all to avoid contact with a corpse. If anyone, even by accident, suffered such defilement, before being received again into fellowship or permitted to enter the halau and take part in the exercises he must have ceremonial cleansing (huikala). The kumu offered up prayers, sprinkled the offender with salt water and turmeric, commanded him to bathe in the ocean, and he was clean. If the breach of discipline was gross and willful, an act of outrageous violence or the neglect of tabu, the offender could be restored only after penitence and confession.


In every halau stood the kuahu, or altar, as the visible temporary abode of the deity, whose presence was at once the inspiration of the performance and the luck-bringer of the enterprise—a rustic frame embowered in greenery. The gathering of the green leaves and other sweet finery of [Page 16] nature for its construction and decoration was a matter of so great importance that it could not be intrusted to any chance assemblage of wild youth, who might see fit to take the work in hand. There were formalities that must be observed, songs to be chanted, prayers to be recited. It was necessary to bear in mind that when one deflowered the woods of their fronds of ie-ie and fern or tore the trailing lengths of maile—albeit in honor of Laka herself—the body of the goddess was being despoiled, and the despoiling must be done with all tactful grace and etiquette.

It must not be gathered from this that the occasion was made solemn and oppressive with weight of ceremony, as when a temple was erected or as when a tabu chief walked abroad, and all men lay with their mouths in the dust. On the contrary, it was a time of joy and decorous exultation, a time when in prayer-songs and ascriptions of praise the poet ransacked all nature for figures and allusions to be used in caressing the deity.

The following adulatory prayer (kanaenae) in adoration of Laka was recited while gathering the woodland decorations for the altar. It is worthy of preservation for its intrinsic beauty, for the spirit of trustfulness it breathes. We remark the petitions it utters for the growth of tree and shrub, as if Laka had been the alma mater under whose influence all nature budded and rejoiced.

It would seem as if the physical ecstasy of the dance and the sensuous joy of all nature's finery had breathed their spirit into the aspiration and that the beauty of leaf and flower, all of them familiar forms of the god's metamorphosis—accessible to their touch and for the regalement of their senses—had brought such nearness and dearness, of affection between goddess and worshiper that all fear was removed.

He kanaenae no Laka

A ke kua-hiwi, i ke kua-lono, Ku ana o Laka i ka mauna; Noho ana o Laka i ke po'o o ka ohu. O Laka kumu hula, 5 Nana i a'e ka tvao-kele,[3] Kahi, kahi i moli'a i ka pua'a, I ke po'o pua'a, He pua'a hiwa na Kane.[4] [Page 17] He kane na Laka, 10 Na ka wahine i oni a kelakela i ka lani: I kupu ke a'a i ke kumu, I lau a puka ka mu'o, Ka liko, ka ao i-luna. Kupu ka lala, hua ma ka Hikina; 15 Kupu ka laau ona a Maka-li'i,[5] O Maka-lei,[6] laau kaulana mai ka Po mai.[7] Mai ka Po mai ka oiaio— I ho-i'o i-luna, i o'o i-luna. He luna au e ki'i mai nei ia oe, e Laka, 20 E ho'i ke ko-kua[8] pa-u; He la uniki[9] e no kaua; Ha-ike-ike[10] o ke Akua; Hoike ka mana o ka Wahine, O Laka, kaikuahine, 25 Wahine a Lono i ka ou-alii.[11] E Lono, e hu'[12] ia mai ka lani me ka honua. Nou okoa Kukulu o Kaniki.[13] Me ke ano-ai[14] i aloha, e! E ola, e!

[Footnote 3: Wao-kele. That portion of the mountain forest where grew the monarch trees was called wao-kele or wao-maukele.]

[Footnote 4: Na Kane. Why was the offering, the black roast porkling, said to be for Kane, who was not a special patron, au-makua, of the hula? The only answer the author has been able to obtain from any Hawaiian is that, though Kane was not a god of the hula, he was a near relative. On reflection, the author can see a propriety in devoting the reeking flesh of the swine to god Kane, while to the sylvan deity, Laka, goddess of the peaceful hula, were devoted the rustic offerings that were the embodiment of her charms. Her image, or token—an uncarved block of wood—was set up in a prominent part of the kuahu, and at the close of a performance the wreaths that had been worn by the actors were draped about the image. Thus viewed, there is a delicate propriety and significance in such disposal of the pig.]

[Footnote 5: Maka-li'i (Small eyes). The Pleiades; also the period of six months, including the rainy season, that began some time in October or November and was reckoned from the date when the Pleiades appeared in the East at sunset. Maka-li'i was also the name of a month, by some reckoned as the first month of the year.]

[Footnote 6: Maka-lei. The name of a famous mythological tree which had the power of attracting fish. It did not poison, but only bewitched or fascinated them. There were two trees bearing this name, one a male, the other a female, which both grew at a place in Hilo called Pali-uli. One of these, the female, was, according to tradition, carried from its root home to the fish ponds in Kailua, Oahu, for the purpose of attracting fish to the neighboring waters. The enterprise was eminently successful.]

[Footnote 7: Po. Literally night; the period in cosmogony when darkness and chaos reigned, before the affairs on earth had become settled under the rule of the gods. Here the word is used to indicate a period of remote mythologic antiquity. The use of the word Po in the following verse reminds one of the French adage, "La nuit porte conseil."]

[Footnote 8: Kokua. Another form for kakua, to gird on the pa-u. (See Pa-u song, pp. 51-53.)]

[Footnote 9: Uniki. A word not given in the dictionary. The debut of an actor at the hula, after passing the ai-lolo test and graduating from the school of the halau, a critical event.]

[Footnote 10: Ha-ike-ike. Equivalent to ho-ike-ike, an exhibition, to exhibit.]

[Footnote 11: Ou-alii. The Hawaiians seem to have lost the meaning of this word. The author has been at some pains to work it out somewhat conjecturally.]

[Footnote 12: E Lono, e hu' ia, mai, etc. The unelided form of the word hu' would be hui. The final i is dropped before the similar vowel of ia.]

[Footnote 13: Kukulu o Kahiki. The pillars of Kahiki. The ancient Hawaiians supposed the starry heavens to be a solid dome supported by a wall or vertical construction—kukulu—set up along the horizon. That section of the wall that stood over against Kahiki they termed Kukulu o Kahiki. Our geographical name Tahiti is of course from Kahiki, though it does not apply to the same region. After the close of what has been termed "the period of intercourse," which, came probably during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and during which the ancient Hawaiians voyaged to and fro between Hawaii and the lands of the South, geographical ideas became hazy and the term Kahiki came to be applied to any foreign country.]

[Footnote 14: Ano-ai. An old form of salutation, answering in general to the more modern word aloha, much used at the present time. Ano-ai seems to have had a shade of meaning more nearly answering to our word "welcome." This is the first instance the author has met with of its use in poetry.]

[Page 18] [Translation]

A Prayer of Adulation to Laka

In the forests, on the ridges Of the mountains stands Laka; Dwelling in the source of the mists. Laka, mistress of the hula, 5 Has climbed the wooded haunts of the gods, Altars hallowed by the sacrificial swine, The head of the boar, the black boar of Kane. A partner he with Laka; Woman, she by strife gained rank in heaven. 10 That the root may grow from the stem, That the young shoot may put forth and leaf, Pushing up the fresh enfolded bud, The scion-thrust bud and fruit toward the East, Like the tree that bewitches the winter fish, 15 Maka-lei, tree famed from the age of night. Truth is the counsel of night— May it fruit and ripen above. A messenger I bring you, O Laka, To the girding of pau. 20 An opening festa this for thee and me; To show the might of the god, The power of the goddess, Of Laka, the sister, To Lono a wife in the heavenly courts. 25 O Lono, join heaven and earth! Thine alone are the pillars of Kahiki. Warm greeting, beloved one, We hail thee!

The cult of god Lono was milder, more humane, than that of Kane and the other major gods. No human sacrifices were offered on his altars,—The statement in verse 26 accords with the general belief of the Hawaiians that Lono dwelt in foreign parts, Kukulu o Kahiki, and that he would some time come to them from across the waters. When Captain Cook arrived in his ships, the Hawaiians worshiped him as the god Lono.

The following song-prayer also is one that was used at the gathering of the greenery in the mountains and during the building of the altar in the halau. When recited in the halau all the pupils took part, and the chorus was a response in which the whole assembly in the halau were expected to join:

Pule Kuahu no Laka

Haki pu o ka nahelehele, Haki hana maile o ka wao, [Page 19] Hooulu[15] lei ou, o Laka, e! O Hiiaka[16] ke kaula nana e hooulu na ma'i, 5 A aeae a ulu[17] a noho i kou kuahu, Eia ka pule la, he pule ola, He noi ola nou, e-e!

Chorus: E ola ia makou, aohe hala!


Altar-Prayer to Laka

This spoil and rape of the wildwood, This plucking of wilderness maile— Collect of garlands, Laka, for you. Hiiaka, the prophet, heals our diseases. 5 Enter, possess, inspire your altar; Heed our prayer, 'tis for life; Our petition to you is for life.


Give us life, save from transgression!

[Footnote 15: Hoo-ulu. This word has a considerable range of meaning, well illustrated in this mele. In its simplest form, ulu, it means to grow, to become strong. Joined with the causative hoo, as here, it takes on the spiritual meaning of causing to prosper, of inspiring. The word "collect," used in the translation, has been chosen to express the double sense of gathering the garlands and of devoting them to the goddess as a religious offering. In the fourth verse this word, hooulu, is used in the sense of to heal. Compare note c.]

[Footnote 16: Hiiaka. The youngest sister of Pele, often spoken of as Hiiaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele, Hiiaka-of-the-bosom-of-Pele. Why she should be spoken of as capable of healing diseases is not at all clear.]

[Footnote 17: Ulu. Here we have the word ulu in its simple, uncombined form, meaning to enter into and inspire.]

The wildwoods of Hawaii furnished in great abundance and variety small poles for the framework of the kuahu, the altar, the holy place of the halau, and sweet-scented leaves and flowers suitable for its decoration. A spirit of fitness, however, limited choice among these to certain species that were deemed acceptable to the goddess because they were reckoned as among her favorite forms of metamorphosis. To go outside this ordained and traditional range would have been an offense, a sacrilege. This critical spirit would have looked with the greatest disfavor on the practice that in modern times has crept in, of bedecking the dancers with garlands of roses, pinks, jessamine, and other nonindigenous flowers, as being utterly repugnant to the traditional spirit of the hula.

Among decorations approved and most highly esteemed stood pre-eminent the fragrant maile (pl. IV) and the star-like fronds and ruddy drupe of the ie-ie (pl. II) and its kindred, the hala-pepe (pl. III); the scarlet pompons of the lehua (pl. XIII) and ohi'a, with the fruit of the latter (the mountain-apple); many varieties of fern, including that splendid parasite, the "bird's nest fern" [Page 20] (ekaha), hailed by the Hawaiians as Mawi's paddle; to which must be added the commoner leaves and lemon-colored flowers of the native hibiscus, the hau, the breadfruit, the native banana and the dracaena (ti), plate V; and lastly, richest of all, in the color that became Hawaii's favorite, the royal yellow ilima (pl. VI), a flower familiar to the eyes of the tourist to Honolulu.

While deft hands are building and weaving the light framework of the kuahu, binding its parts with strong vines and decorating it with nature's sumptuous embroidery, the kumu, or teacher, under the inspiration of the deity, for whose residence he has prepared himself by long vigil and fasting with fleshly abstinence, having spent the previous night alone in the halau, is chanting or cantillating his adulatory prayers, kanaenae—songs of praise they seem to be—to the glorification of the gods and goddesses who are invited to bless the occasion with their presence and inspiration, but especially of that one, Laka, whose bodily presence is symbolized by a rude block of wood arrayed in yellow tapa that is set up on the altar itself. Thus does the kumu sing:

Pule Kuahu

El' au e Laka mai uka, E Laka mai kai; O hooulu O ka ilio[18] nana e hae, 5 O ka maile hihi i ka wao, O ka lau-ki[19] lei o ke akua, O na ku'i hauoli O Ha'i-ka-manawa.[20] O Laka oe, 10 O ke akua i ke kuahu nei, la; E ho'i, ho'i mai a noho i kou kuahu!


Altar-Prayer (to Laka)

Here am I, oh Laka from the mountains, Oh Laka from the shore; Protect us Against the dog that barks;

[Page 21] 5 Reside in the wild-twining maile And the goddess-enwreathing ti. All, the joyful pulses. Of the woman Ha'i-ka-manawa! Thou art Laka, 10 The god of this altar; Return, return, abide in thy shrine!

[Footnote 18: Ilio nana e hae. The barking of a dog, the crowing of a cock, the grunting of a pig, the hooting of an owl, or any such sound occurring at the time of a religious solemnity, aha, broke the spell of the incantation and vitiated the ceremony. Such an untimely accident was as much deprecated as were the Turk, the Comet, and the Devil by pious Christian souls during the Middle Ages.]

[Footnote 19: Lau-ki. The leaf of the ti plant—the same as the ki—(Dracaena terminalis), much used as an emblem of divine power, a charm or defense against malign spiritual influences. The kahuna often wore about his neck a fillet of this leaf. The ti leaf was a special emblem of Ha'i-wahine, or of Li'a-wahine. It was much used as a decoration about the halau.]

[Footnote 20: Ha'i-ka-manawa. It is conjectured that this is the same as Ha'i-wahine. She was a mythological character, about whom there is a long and tragic story.]

The prayers which the hula folk of old times chanted while gathering the material in the woods or while weaving it into shape in the halau for the construction of a shrine did not form a rigid liturgy; they formed rather a repertory as elastic as the sighing of the breeze, or the songs of the birds whose notes embroidered the pure mountain air. There were many altar-prayers, so that if a prayer came to an end before the work was done the priest had but to begin the recitation of another prayer, or, if the spirit of the occasion so moved him, he would take up again a prayer already repeated, for until the work was entirely accomplished the voice of prayer must continue to be heard.

The pule now to be given seems to be specially suited to that portion of the service which took place in the woods at the gathering of the poles and greenery. It was designed specially for the placating of the little god-folk who from their number were addressed as Kini o ke Akua, the multitude of the little gods, and who were the counterparts in old Hawaii of our brownies, elfins, sprites, kobolds, gnomes, and other woodland imps. These creatures, though dwarfish and insignificant in person, were in such numbers—four thousand, forty thousand, four hundred thousand—and were so impatient of any invasion of their territory, so jealous of their prerogatives, so spiteful and revengeful when injured, that it was policy always to keep on the right side of them.

Pule Kuahu

E hooulu ana I Kini[21] o ke Akua, Ka lehu o ke Akua, Ka mano o ke Akua, I ka pu-ku'i o ke Akua, 5 I ka lalani Akua, Ia ulu mai o Kane, Ulu o Kanaloa; Ulu ka ohia, lau ka ie-ie; Ulu ke Akua, noho i ke kahua, 10 A a'ea'e, a ulu, a noho kou kuahu. Eia ka pule la, he pule ola.


E ola ana oe!

[Footnote 21: Kini o ke Akua. See note d, p. 24.]

[Page 22]



Invoke we now the four thousand, The myriads four of the nimble, The four hundred thousand elves, The countless host of sprites, 5 Rank upon rank of woodland gods. Pray, Kane, also inspire us; Kanaloa, too, join the assembly. Now grows the ohi'a, now leafs ie-ie; God enters, resides in the place; 10 He mounts, inspires, abides in the shrine. This is our prayer, our plea this for life!


Life shall be thine!

From one point of view these pule are not to be regarded as prayers in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather as song-offerings, verbal bouquets, affectionate sacrifices to the gods.

[Page 23]


Of what nature were the gods of the old times, and how did the ancient Hawaiians conceive of them? As of beings having the form, the powers, and the passions of humanity, yet standing above and somewhat apart from men. One sees, as through a mist, darkly, a figure, standing, moving; in shape a plant, a tree or vine-clad stump, a bird, a taloned monster, a rock carved by the fire-queen, a human form, a puff of vapor—and now it has given place to vacancy. It was a goddess, perhaps of the hula. In the solitude of the wilderness one meets a youthful being of pleasing address, of godlike wit, of elusive beauty; the charm of her countenance unspoken authority, her gesture command. She seems one with nature, yet commanding it. Food placed before her remains untasted; the oven, imu,[22] in which the fascinated host has heaped his abundance, preparing for a feast, when opened is found empty; the guest of an hour has disappeared. Again it was a goddess, perhaps of the hula. Or, again, a traveler meets a creature of divine beauty, all smiles and loveliness. The infatuated mortal, smitten with hopeless passion, offers blandishments; he finds himself by the roadside embracing a rock. It was a goddess of the hula.

The gods, great and small, superior and inferior, whom the devotees and practitioners of the hula worshiped and sought to placate were many; but the goddess Laka was the one to whom they offered special prayers and sacrifices and to whom they looked as the patron, the au-makua,[23] of that institution. It was for her benefit and in her honor that the kuahu was set up, and the wealth of flower and leaf used in its decoration was emblematic of her beauty and glory, a pledge of her bodily presence, the very forms that she, a sylvan deity, was wont to assume when she pleased to manifest herself.

As an additional crutch to the imagination and to emphasize the fact of her real presence on the altar which she had been invoked to occupy as her abode, she was symbolized by an uncarved block of wood from the sacred lama[24] tree. This was wrapped in a robe of choice yellow tapa, scented with turmeric, and set conspicuously upon the altar.

[Footnote 22: Imu. The Hawaiian oven, which was a hole in the ground lined and arched over with stones.]

[Footnote 23: Au-makua. An ancestral god.]

[Footnote 24: Lama. A beautiful tree having firm, fine-grained, white wood; used in making sacred inclosures and for other tabu purposes.] [Page 24] Laka was invoked as the god of the maile, the ie-ie, and other wildwood growths before mentioned (pl. II). She was hailed as the "sister, wife, of god Lono," as "the one who by striving attained favor with the gods of the upper ether;" as "the kumu[25] hula"—head teacher of the Terpsichorean art; "the fount of joy;" "the prophet who brings health to the sick;" "the one whose presence gives life." In one of the prayers to Laka she is besought to come and take possession of the worshiper, to dwell in him as in a temple, to inspire him in all his parts and faculties—voice, hands, feet, the whole body.

Laka seems to have been a friend, but not a relative, of the numerous Pele family. So far as the author has observed, the fiery goddess is never invited to grace the altar with her presence, nor is her name so much as mentioned in any prayer met with.

To compare the gods of the Hawaiian pantheon with those of classic Greece, the sphere occupied by Laka corresponds most nearly to that filled by Terpsichore and Euterpe, the muses, respectively, of dance and of song. Lono, in one song spoken of as the husband of Laka, had features in common with Apollo.

That other gods, Kane, Ku, Kanaloa,[26] with Lono, Ku-pulupulu,[27] and the whole swarm of godlings that peopled the wildwood, were also invited to favor the performances with their presence can be satisfactorily explained on the ground, first, that all the gods were in a sense members of one family, related to each other by intermarriage, if not by the ties of kinship; and, second, by the patent fact of that great underlying cause of bitterness and strife among immortals as well as mortals, jealousy. It would have been an eruptive occasion of heart-burning and scandal if by any mischance a privileged one should have had occasion to feel slighted; and to have failed in courtesy to that countless host of wilderness imps and godlings, the Kini Akua,[28] mischievous and irreverent as the monkeys of India, would indeed have been to tempt a disaster.

While it is true that the testimony of the various kumu-hula, teachers of the hula, and devotees of the art of the hula, so far as the author has talked with them, has been overwhelmingly to the effect that Laka was the one and only divine patron of the art known to them, there has been a small number equally ready to assert that there were those who observed the cult of the goddess Kapo and worshiped her [Page 25] as the patron of the hula. The positive testimony of these witnesses must be reckoned as of more weight than the negative testimony of a much larger number, who either have not seen or will not look at the other side of the shield. At any rate, among the prayers before the kuahu, of which there are others yet to be presented, will be found several addressed to Kapo as the divine patron of the hula.

[Footnote 25: The teacher, a leader and priest of the hula. The modern school-master is called kumu-hula.]

[Footnote 25: Kanaloa. Kane, Ku, Kanaloa, and Lono were the major gods of the Hawaiian pantheon.]

[Footnote 27: Ku-pulupulu. A god of the canoe-makers.]

[Footnote 28: Kini Akua. A general expression—often used together with the ones that follow—meaning the countless swarms of brownies, elfs, kobolds, sprites, and other godlings (mischievous imps) that peopled the wilderness. Kini means literally 40,000, lehu 400,000, and mano 4,000. See the Pule Kuahu—altar-prayer—on page 21. The Hawaiians, curiously enough, did not put the words mano, kini, and lehu in the order of their numerical value.]

Kapo was sister of Pele and the daughter of Haumea.[29] Among other roles played by her, like Laka she was at times a sylvan deity, and it was in the garb of woodland representations that she was worshiped by hula folk. Her forms of activity, corresponding to her different metamorphoses, were numerous, in one of which she was at times "employed by the kahuna[30] as a messenger in their black arts, and she is claimed by many as an aumakua," [31] said to be the sister of Kalai-pahoa, the poison god.

[Footnote 29: Haumea. The ancient goddess, or ancestor, the sixth in line of descent from Wakea.]

[Footnote 30: Kahuna. A sorcerer; with a qualifying adjective it meant a skilled craftsman; Kahuna-kalai-wa'a was a canoe-builder; kahuna lapaau was a medicine-man, a doctor, etc.]

[Footnote 31: The Lesser Gods of Hawaii, a paper by Joseph S. Emerson, read before the Hawaiian Historical Society, April 7, 1892.]

Unfortunately Kapo had an evil name on account of a propensity which led her at times to commit actions that seem worthy only of a demon of lewdness. This was, however, only the hysteria of a moment, not the settled habit of her life. On one notable occasion, by diverting the attention of the bestial pig-god Kama-pua'a, and by vividly presenting to him a temptation well adapted to his gross nature, she succeeded in enticing him away at a critical moment, and thus rescued her sister Pele at a time when the latter's life was imperiled by an unclean and violent assault from the swine-god.

Like Catherine of Russia, who in one mood was the patron of literature and of the arts and sciences and in another mood a very satyr, so the Hawaiian goddess Kapo seems to have lived a double life whose aims were at cross purposes with one another-now an angel of grace and beauty, now a demon of darkness and lust.

Do we not find in this the counterpart of nature's twofold aspect, who presents herself to dependent humanity at one time as an alma mater, the food-giver, a divinity of joy and comfort, at another time as the demon of the storm and earthquake, a plowshare of fiery destruction?

The name of Hiiaka, the sister of Pele, is one often mentioned in the prayers of the hula. [Page 26]


In ancient times the hula to a large extent was a creature of royal support, and for good reason. The actors in this institution were not producers of life's necessaries. To the alii belonged the land and the sea and all the useful products thereof. Even the jetsam whale-tooth and wreckage scraps of iron that ocean cast up on the shore were claimed by the lord of the land. Everything was the king's. Thus it followed of necessity that the support of the hula must in the end rest upon the alii. As in ancient Rome it was a senator or general, enriched by the spoil of a province, who promoted the sports of the arena, so in ancient Hawaii it was the chief or headman of the district who took the initiative in the promotion of the people's communistic sports and of the hula.

We must not imagine that the hula was a thing only of kings' courts and chiefish residences. It had another and democratic side. The passion for the hula was broadspread. If other agencies failed to meet the demand, there was nothing to prevent a company of enthusiasts from joining themselves together in the pleasures and, it might be, the profits of the hula. Their spokesman—designated as the po'o-puaa, from the fact that a pig, or a boar's head, was required of him as an offering at the kuahu—was authorized to secure the services of some expert to be their kumu. But with the hula all roads lead to the king's court.

Let us imagine a scene at the king's residence. The alii, rousing from his sloth and rubbing his eyes, rheumy with debauch and awa, overhears remark on the doings of a new company of hula dancers who have come into the neighborhood. He summons his chief steward.

"What is this new thing of which they babble?" he demands.

"It is nothing, son of heaven," answers the kneeling steward.

"They spoke of a hula. Tell me, what is it?"

"Ah, thou heaven-born (lani), it was but a trifle—a new company, young graduates of the halau, have set themselves up as great ones; mere rustics; they have no proper acquaintance with the traditions of the art as taught by the bards of... your majesty's father. They mouth and twist the old songs all awry, thou son of heaven."

"Enough. I will hear them to-morrow. Send a messenger for this new kumu. Fill again my bowl with awa." [Page 27] Thus it comes about that the new hula company gains audience at court and walks the road that, perchance, leads to fortune. Success to the men and women of the hula means not merely applause, in return for the incense of flattery; it means also a shower of substantial favors—food, garments, the smile of royalty, perhaps land—things that make life a festival. If welcome grows cold and it becomes evident that the harvest has been reaped, they move on to fresh woods and pastures new.

To return from this apparent digression, it was at the king's court—if we may extend the courtesy of this phrase to a group of thatched houses—that were gathered the bards and those skilled in song, those in whose memories were stored the mythologies, traditions, genealogies, proverbial wisdom, and poetry that, warmed by emotion, was the stuff from which was spun the songs of the hula. As fire is produced by friction, so it was often by the congress of wits rather than by the flashing of genius that the songs of the hula were evolved.

The composition and criticism of a poetical passage were a matter of high importance, often requiring many suggestions and much consultation. If the poem was to be a mele-inoa, a name-song to eulogize some royal or princely scion, it must contain no word of ill-omen. The fate-compelling power of such a word, once shot from the mouth, was beyond recall. Like the incantation of the sorcerer, the kahuna anaana, it meant death to the eulogized one. If not, it recoiled on the life of the singer.

The verbal form once settled, it remained only to stereotype it on the memories of the men and women who constituted the literary court or conclave. Think not that only thus were poems produced in ancient Hawaii. The great majority of songs were probably the fruit of solitary inspiration, in which the bard poured out his heart like a song-bird, or uttered his lone vision as a seer. The method of poem production in conclave may be termed the official method. It was often done at the command of an alii. So much for the fabrication, the weaving, of a song.

If the composition was intended as a eulogy, it was cantillated ceremoniously before the one it honored; if in anticipation of a prince yet unborn, it was daily recited before the mother until the hour of her delivery; and this cantillation published it abroad. If the song was for production in the hula, it lay warm in the mind of the kumu, the master and teacher of the hula, until such time as he had organized his company.

The court of the alii was a vortex that drew in not only the bards and men of lore, but the gay and fashionable rout of pleasure-seekers, the young men and women of shapely form and gracious presence, the sons and daughters of the king's [Page 28] henchmen and favorites; among them, perhaps, the offspring of the king's morganatic alliances and amours—the flower and pick of Hawaii's youth. From these the kumu selected those most fitted by beauty and grace of form, as well as quickness of wit and liveliness of imagination, to take part in the hula.

The performers in the hula were divided into two classes, the olapa—agile ones—and the ho'o-paa—steadfast ones. The role of olapa, as was fitting, was assigned to the young men and young women who could best illustrate in their persons the grace and beauty of the human form. It was theirs, sometimes while singing, to move and pose and gesture in the dance; sometimes also to punctuate their song and action with the lighter instruments of music. The role of ho'o-paa, on the other hand, was given to men and women of greater experience and of more maturity. They handled the heavier instruments and played their parts mostly while sitting or kneeling, marking the time with their instrumentation. They also lent their voices to swell the chorus or utter the refrain of certain songs, sometimes taking the lead in the song or bearing its whole burden, while the light-footed olapa gave themselves entirely to the dance. The part of the ho'o-paa was indeed the heavier, the more exacting duty.

Such was the personnel of a hula troupe when first gathered by the hula-master for training and drill in the halau, now become a school for the hula. Among the pupils the kumu was sure to find some old hands at the business, whose presence, like that of veterans in a squad of recruits, was a leaven to inspire the whole company with due respect for the spirit and traditions of the historic institution and to breed in the members the patience necessary to bring them to the highest proficiency.

The instruction of the kumu, as we are informed, took a wide range. It dealt in elaborate detail on such matters as accent, inflection, and all that concerns utterance and vocalization. It naturally paid great attention to gesture and pose, attitude and bodily action. That it included comment on the meaning that lay back of the words may be gravely doubted. The average hula dancer of modern times shows great ignorance of the mele he recites, and this is true even of the kumu-hula. His work too often is largely perfunctory, a matter of sound and form, without appeal to the intellect.

It would not be legitimate, however, to conclude from this that ignorance of the meaning was the rule in old times; those were the days when the nation's traditional songs, myths, and lore formed the equipment of every alert and receptive mind, chief or commoner. There was no printed page to while away the hours of idleness. The library was stored in one's memory. The language of the mele, which now has [Page 29] become antiquated, then was familiar speech. For a kumu-hula to have given instruction in the meaning of a song would have been a superfluity, as if one at the present day were to inform a group of well-educated actors and actresses who was Pompey or Julius Caesar.

"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue." Hamlet's words to the players were, it may be supposed, the substance of the kumu's instructions to the pupils in his halau.

The organization of a hula company was largely democratic. The kumu—in modern sense, the teacher—was the leader and conductor, responsible for the training and discipline of the company. He was the business manager of the enterprise; the priest, kahuna, the leader in the religious exercises, the one who interpreted the will of heaven, especially of the gods whose favor determined success. He might be called to his position by the choice of the company, appointed by the command of the alii who promoted the enterprise, or self-elected in case the enterprise was his own. He had under him a kokua kumu, a deputy, who took charge during his absence.

The po'o-puaa was an officer chosen by the pupils to be their special agent and mouthpiece. He saw to the execution of the kumu's judgments and commands, collected the fines, and exacted the penalties imposed by the kumu. It fell to him to convey to the altar the presents of garlands, awa, and the like that were contributed to the halau.

The paepae, also chosen by the pupils, subject to confirmation by the kumu, acted as an assistant of the po'o-puaa. During the construction of the kuahu the po'o-puaa stood to the right, the paepae at his left. They were in a general sense guardians of the kuahu.

The ho'o-ulu was the guard stationed at the door. He sprinkled with sea-water mixed with turmeric everyone who entered the halau. He also acted as sergeant-at-arms to keep order and remove anyone who made a disturbance. It was his duty each day to place a fresh bowl of awa on the altar of the goddess (hanai kuahu), literally to feed the altar.

In addition to these officials, a hula company naturally required the services of a miscellaneous retinue of stewards, cooks, fishermen, hewers of wood, and drawers of water.


Without a body of rules, a strict penal code, and a firm hand to hold in check the hot bloods of both sexes, it would have been impossible to keep order and to accomplish the business purpose of the organization. The explosive force of passion would have made the gathering a signal for the breaking loose of pandemonium. That it did not always so result is a [Page 30] compliment alike to the self-restraint of the people and to the sway that artistic ideals held over their minds, but, above all, to a peculiar system of discipline wisely adapted to the necessities of human nature. It does not seem likely that a Thespian band of our own race would have held their passions under equal check if surrounded by the same temptations and given the same opportunities as these Polynesians. It may well be doubted if the bare authority of the kumu would have sufficed to maintain discipline and to keep order, had it not been reenforced by the dread powers of the spirit world in the shape of the tabu.

The awful grasp of this law; this repressive force, the tabu, held fast the student from the moment of his entrance into the halau. It denied this pleasure, shut off that innocent indulgence, curtailed liberty in this direction and in that. The tabu waved before his imagination like a flaming sword, barring approach to the Eden of his strongest propensity.

The rules and discipline of the halau, the school for the hula, from our point of view, were a mixture of shrewd common sense and whimsical superstition. Under the head of tabus certain articles of food were denied; for instance, the sugar-cane—ko—was forbidden. The reason assigned was that if one indulged in it his work as a practitioner would amount to nothing; in the language of the kumu, aohe e leo ana kana mau hana, his work will be a failure. The argument turned on the double meaning of the word ko, the first meaning being sugar cane, the second, accomplishment. The Hawaiians were much impressed by such whimsical nominalisms. Yet there is a backing of good sense to the rule. Anyone who has chewed the sweet stalk can testify that for some time thereafter his voice is rough, ill-fitted for singing or elocution.

The strictest propriety and decorum were exacted of the pupils; there must be no license whatever. Even married people during the weeks preceding graduation must observe abstinence toward their partners. The whole power of one's being must be devoted to the pursuit of art.

The rules demanded also the most punctilious personal cleanliness. Above all things, one must avoid contact with a corpse. Such defilement barred one from entrance to the halau until ceremonial cleansing had been performed. The offender must bathe in the ocean; the kumu then aspersed him with holy water, uttered a prayer, ordered a penalty, an offering to the kuahu, and declared the offender clean. This done, he was again received into fellowship at the halau.

The ordinary penalty for a breach of ceremony or an offense against sexual morality was the offering of a baked porkling with awa. Since the introduction of money the penalty has generally been reckoned on a commercial basis; a money fine is imposed. The offering of pork and awa is retained as a concession to tradition.

[Page 31]



The ai-lolo rite and ceremony marked the consummation of a pupil's readiness for graduation from the school of the halau and his formal entrance into the guild of hula dancers. As the time drew near, the kumu tightened the reins of discipline, and for a few days before that event no pupil might leave the halau save for the most stringent necessity, and then only with the head muffled (pulo'u) to avoid recognition, and he might engage in no conversation whatever outside the halau.

The night preceding the day of ai-lolo was devoted to special services of dance and song. Some time after midnight the whole company went forth to plunge into the ocean, thus to purge themselves of any lurking ceremonial impurity. The progress to the ocean and the return they made in complete nudity. "Nakedness is the garb of the gods." On their way to and from the bath they must not look back, they must not turn to the right hand or to the left.

The kumu, as the priest, remained at the halau, and as the procession returned from the ocean he met it at the door and sprinkled each one (pikai) with holy water. Then came another period of dance and song; and then, having cantillated a pule hoonoa, to lift the tabu, the kumu went forth to his own ceremonial cleansing bath in the sea. During his absence his deputy, the kokua kumu, took charge of the halau. When the kumu reached the door on his return, he made himself known by reciting a mele wehe puka, the conventional password.

Still another exercise of song and dance, and the wearied pupils are glad to seek repose. Some will not even remove the short dancing, skirts that are girded about them, so eager are they to snatch an hour of rest; and some lie down with bracelets and anklets yet unclasped.

At daybreak the kumu rouses the company with the tap of the drum. After ablutions, before partaking of their simple breakfast, the company stand before the altar and recite a tabu-removing prayer, accompanying the cantillation with a rhythmic tapping of feet and clapping of hands:

Pule Hoonoa

Pupu we'uwe'u e, Laka e! O kona we'uwe'u ke ku nei. [Page 32] Kaumaha a'e la ia Laka. O Laka ke akua pule ikaika. 5 Ua ku ka maile a Laka a imua; Ua lu ka liua[32] o ka maile. Noa, noa ia'u, ia Kahaula— Papalua noa. Noa, a ua noa. 10 Eli-eli kapu! eli-eli noa! Kapu oukou, ke akua! Noa makou, ke kanaka'.


Tabu-lifting Prayer

Oh wildwood bouquet, oh Laka! Hers are the growths that stand here. Suppliants we to Laka. The prayer to Laka has power; 5 The maile of Laka stands to the fore. The maile vine casts now its seeds. Freedom, there's freedom to me, Kahaula— A freedom twofold. 10 Freedom, aye freedom! A tabu profound, a freedom complete. Ye gods are still tabu; We mortals are free.

[Footnote 32: Lu ka hua. Casts now its seeds. The maile vine (pl. IV), one of the goddess's emblems, casts its seeds, meaning that the goddess gives the pupils skill and inspires them.]

At the much-needed repast to which the company now sit down there may be present a gathering of friends and relatives and of hula experts, called olohe. Soon the porkling chosen to be the ai-lolo offering is brought in—a black suckling without spot or blemish. The kumu holds it down while all the pupils gather and lay their hands upon his hands; and he expounds to them the significance of the ceremony. If they consecrate themselves to the work in hand in sincerity and with true hearts, memory will be strong and the training, the knowledge, and the songs that have been intrusted to the memory will stay. If they are heedless, regardless of their vows, the songs they have learned will fly away.

The ceremony is long and impressive; many songs are used. Sometimes, it was claimed, the prayers of the kumu at this laying on of hands availed to cause the death of the little animal. On the completion of the ceremony the offering is taken out and made ready for the oven.

One of the first duties of the day is the dismantling of the old kuahu, the shrine, and the construction of another from new materials as a residence for the goddess. While night yet shadows the earth the attendants and friends of the pupils [Page 33] have gone up into the mountains to collect the material for the new shrine. The rustic artists, while engaged in this loving work of building and weaving the new kuahu, cheer and inspire one another with joyful songs vociferous with the praise of Laka. The halau also they decorate afresh, strewing the floor with clean rushes, until the whole place enthralls the senses like a bright and fragrant temple.

The kumu now grants special dispensation to the pupils to go forth that they may make good the results of the neglect of the person incident to long confinement in the halau. For days, for weeks, perhaps for months, they have not had full opportunity to trim hair, nails, or beard, to anoint and groom themselves. They use this short absence from the hall also to supply themselves with wreaths of fragrant maile, crocus-yellow ilima, scarlet-flaming Jehua, fern, and what not.

At the appointed hour the pupils, wreathed and attired like nymphs and dryads, assemble in the halau, sweet with woodsy perfumes. At the door they receive aspersion with consecrated water.

The ai-lolo offering, cooked to a turn—no part raw, no part cracked or scorched—is brought in from the imu, its bearer sprinkled by the guard at the entrance. The kumu, having inspected the roast offering and having declared it ceremonially perfect, gives the signal, and the company break forth in songs of joy and of adulation to goddess Laka:

Mele Kuau

Noho ana Laka I ka ulu wehi-wehi, Ku ana iluna I Mo'o-helaia,[33] Ohia-Ku[34] ouna o Mauna-loa.[35] Aloha mai Kaulana-ula[36] ia'u. 5 Eia ka ula la, he ula leo,[37] He uku, he modai, he kanaenae, He alana na'u ia oe. E Laka e, e maliu mai; E maliu mai oe, i pono au, 10 A pono au, a pono kaua.

[Footnote 33: Mo'o-helaia. A female deity, a kupua, who at death became one of the divinities, au-makua, of the hula. Her name was conferred on the place claimed as her residence, on Mauna-loa, island of Molokai.]

[Footnote 34: Ohia-Ku. Full name ohia-ku-makua; a variety of the ohia, or lehua (pl. XIII), whose wood was used in making temple gods. A rough stem of this tree stood on each side near the hala-pepe. (See pl. III, also pp. 19-20.)]

[Footnote 35: Mauna-loa. Said to be the mountain of that name on Molokai, not that on Hawaii.]

[Footnote 36: Kaulana-ula. Full form Kaulana-a-ula; the name of a deity belonging to the order, papa, of the hula. Its meaning is explained in the expression ula leo, in the next line.]

[Footnote 37: Ula leo. A singing or trilling sound, a tinnitus aurium, a sign that the deity Kaulanaula was making some communication to the one who heard it.

"By the pricking of my thumbs Something wicked this way comes."]

[Page 34]



Laka sits in her shady grove, Stands on her terrace, at Mo'o-helaia; Like the tree of God Ku on Mauna-loa. Kaulana-ula trills in my ear; 5 A whispered suggestion to me, Lo, an offering, a payment, A eulogy give I to thee. O Laka, incline to me! Have compassion, let it be well— 10 Well with me, well with us both.

There is no stint of prayer-song. While the offering rests on the Imahu, the Joyful service continues:

Mele Kualiu

E Laka, e! Pupu we'uwe'u e, Laka e! E Laka i ka leo; E laka i ka loaa; 5 E Laka i ka waiwai; E Laka i na mea a pau!



O goddess Laka! O wildwood bouquet, O Laka! O Laka, queen of the voice! O Laka, giver of gifts! 5 O Laka, giver of bounty! O Laka, giver of all things!

At the conclusion of this loving service of worship and song each member of the troupe removes from his head and neck the wreaths that had bedecked him, and with them crowns the image of the goddess until her altar is heaped with the offerings.

Now comes the pith of the ceremony: the novitiates sit down to the feast of ai-lolo, theirs the place of honor, at the head of the table, next the kuahiu. The ho'o-pa'a, acting as carver, selects the typical parts—snout, ear-tips, tail, feet, portions of the vital organs, especially the brain (lolo). This last it is which gives name to the ceremony. He sets an equal portion before each novitiate. Each one must eat all that is set before him. It is a mystical rite, a sacrament; as he eats he consciously partakes of the virtue of the goddess that is transmitted to himself. [Page 35] Meantime the olohe and friends of the novitiates, inspired with the proper enthusiasm, of the occasion, lift their voices in joyful cantillations in honor of the goddess, accompanied with the clapping of hands.

The ceremony now reaches a new stage. The kumu lifts the tabu by uttering a prayer—always a song—and declares the place and the feast free, and the whole assembly sit down to enjoy the bounty that is spread up and down the halau. On this occasion men and women may eat in common. The only articles excluded from this feast are luau—a food much like spinach, made by cooking the young and delicate taro leaf—-and the drupe of the hala, the pandanus (pl. xviii).

The company sit down to eat and to drink; presently they rise to dance and sing. The kumu leads in a tabu-lifting, freedom-giving song and the ceremony of ai-lolo is over. The pupils have been graduated from the school of the halau; they are now members of the great guild of hula dancers. The time has come for them to make their bow to the waiting public outside, to bid for the favor of the world. This is to be their "little go;" they will spread their wings for a greater flight on the morrow.

The kumu with his big drum, and the musicians, the ho'o-pa'a, pass through the door and take their places outside in the lanai, where sit the waiting multitude. At the tap of the drum the group of waiting olapa plume themselves like fine birds eager to show their feathers; and, as they pass out the halau door and present themselves to the breathless audience, into every pose and motion of their gliding, swaying figures they pour a full tide of emotion in studied and unstudied effort to captivate the public.


The occasion is that of a lifetime; it is their uniki, their debut. The song chosen must rise to the dignity of the occasion. Let us listen to the song that enthralls the audience seated in the rushstrown lanai, that we may judge of its worthiness.

He Mele-Inoa (no Naihe)[38]

Ka nalu nui, a ku ka nalu mai Kona, Ka malo a ka mahiehie,[39] Ka onaulu-loa,[40] a lele ka'u malo. [Page 36] O kakai[41] malo hoaka,[42] 5 O ka malo kai,[43] malo o ke alii E ku, e hume a paa i ka malo.

E ka'ika'i [44] ka la i ka papa o Halepo;[45] A pae o Halepo i ka nalu. Ho-e'e i ka nalu mai Kahiki;[46] 10 He nalu Wakea,[47] nalu ho'ohua.[48] Haki opu'u [49] ka nalu, haki kua-pa.[50]

Ea mai ka makakai [51] he'e-nalu, Kai he'e kakala [52] o ka moku, Kai-ka o ka nalu nui, 15 Ka hu'a o ka nalu o Hiki-au.[53] Kai he'e-nalu i ke awakea.

Ku ka puna, ke ko'a i-nka. Ka makaha o ka nalu o Kuhihewa.[54] Ua o ia,[55] noha ka papa! 20 Nona Maui, nauweuwe, Nauweuwe, nakelekele.

Nakele ka ili o ka i he'e-kai. Lalilali ole ka ili o ke akamai; Kahilihili ke kai a ka he'e-nalu. 25 Ike'a ka nalu nui o Puna, o Hilo.

[Footnote 38: Naihe. A man of strong character, but not a high chief. He was horn in Kona and resided at Napoopoo. His mother was Ululani, his father Keawe-a-heulu, who was a celebrated general and strategist under Kamehameha I.]

[Footnote 39: Mahiehie. A term conferring dignity and distinction.]

[Footnote 40: Onaulu-loa. A roller of great length and endurance, one that reaches the shore, in contrast to a Kalcala.]

[Footnote 41: Kalai. An archaic word meaning forty.]

[Footnote 42: Hooka. A crescent; the name of the second day of the month. The allusion is to the curve (downward) of a large number (kakai) of malo when hung on a line, the usual way of keeping such articles.]

[Footnote 43: Malo kai. The ocean is sometimes poetically termed the malo or pa-a of the naked swimmer, or bather. It covers his nakedness.]

[Footnote 44: Ka'ika'i. To lead or to carry; a tropical use of the word. The sun is described as leading the board.]

[Footnote 45: Hale-po. In the opinion of the author it is the name of the board. A skilled Hawaiian says it is the name given the surf of a place at Napoopoo, in Kona, Hawaii. The action is not located there, but in Puna, it seems to the author.]

[Footnote 46: Kahiki. Tahiti, or any foreign country; a term of grandiloquence.]

[Footnote 47: Wakea. A mythical name, coming early in Hawaiian genealogies; here used in exaggeration to show the age of the roller.]

[Footnote 48: Ho'ohua. Applied to a roller, one that rolls on and swells higher.]

[Footnote 49: Opu'u. Said of a roller that completes its run to shore.]

[Footnote 50: Kua-pa. Said of a roller as above that dies at the shore.]

[Footnote 51: Maka-kai. The springing-up of the surf after an interval of quiet.]

[Footnote 52: Kakala. Rough, heaped up, one wave overriding another, a chop sea.]

[Footnote 53: Hiki-au. Said to be the name of a temple.]

[Footnote 54: Kuhihewa. Full name Ka-kuhi-hewa, a distinguished king of Oahu.]

[Footnote 55: O iu. Meaning that the board dug its nose into the reef or sand.]


A Name-Song, a Eulogy (for Naihe)

The huge roller, roller that surges from Kona, Makes loin-cloth fit for a lord; Far-reaching swell, my malo streams in the wind; Shape the crescent malo to the loins— 5 The loin-cloth the sea, cloth for king's girding. Stand, gird fast the loin-cloth!

[Page 37] Let the sun guide the board Ilalepo, Till Halepo lifts on the swell. It mounts the swell that rolls from Kahiki, 10 From Wakea's age enrolling. The roller plumes and ruffles its crest.

Here comes the champion surf-man, While wave-ridden wave beats the island, A fringe of mountain-high waves. 15 Spume lashes the Hiki-an altar—A surf this to ride at noontide.

The coral, horned coral, it sweeps far ashore. We gaze at the surf of Ka-kuhi-hewa. The surf-board snags, is shivered; 20 Maui splits with a crash, Trembles, dissolves into slime.

Glossy the skua of the surf-man; Undrenched the skin of the expert; 25 Wave-feathers fan the wave-rider. You've seen the grand surf of Puna, of Hilo.

This spirited song, while not a full description of a surf-riding scene, gives a vivid picture of that noble sport. The last nine verses have been omitted, as they add neither to the action nor to the interest.

It seems surprising that the accident spoken of in line 19 should be mentioned; for it is in glaring opposition to the canons that were usually observed in the composition of a mele-inoa. In the construction of a, eulogy the Hawaiians were not only punctiliously careful to avoid mention of anything susceptible of sinister interpretation, but they were superstitiously sensitive to any such unintentional happening. As already mentioned (p. 27), they believed that the fate compelling power of a word of ill-omen was inevitable. If it did not result in the death of the one eulogized, retributive justice turned the evil influence back on him who uttered it.

[Page 38]


There prevailed among the practitioners of the hula from one end of the group to the other a mutual understanding, amounting almost to a sort of freemasonry, which gave to any member of the guild the right of free entrance at all times to the hall, or halau, where a performance was under way. Admission was conditioned, however, on the utterance of a password at the door. A snatch of song, an oli, denominated mele kahea, or mele wehe puka, was chanted, which, on being recognized by those within, was answered in the same language of hyperbole, and the door was opened.

The verbal accuracy of any mele kahea that may be adduced is at the present day one of the vexed questions among hula authorities, each hula-master being inclined to maintain that the version given by another is incorrect. This remark applies, though in smaller measure, to the whole body of mele, pule, and oli that makes up the songs and liturgy of the hula as well as to the traditions that guided the maestro, or kumu-hula, in the training of his company. The reasons for these differences of opinion and of test, now that there is to be a written text, are explained by the following facts: The devotees and practitioners of the hula were divided into groups that were separated from one another by wide intervals of sea and land. They belonged quite likely to more than one cult, for indeed there were many gods and au-makua to whom they sacrificed and offered prayers. The passwords adopted by one generation or by the group of practitioners on one island might suffer verbal changes in transmission to a later generation or to a remote island.

Again, it should be remembered that the entire body of material forming the repertory of the hula—pule, mele, and oli—was intrusted to the keeping of the memory, without the aid of letters or, so far as known, of any mnemonic device; and the human mind, even under the most athletic discipline, is at best an imperfect conservator of literary form. The result was what might be expected: as the imagination and emotions of the minstrel warmed under the inspiration of his trust, glosses and amendments crept in. These, however, caused but slight variations in the text. The substance remains substantially the same.

After carefully weighing the matter, the author can not avoid the conclusion that jealousy had much to do with the slight differences now manifest, that one version is as [Page 39] authoritative as another, and that it would be well for each kumu-hula to have kept in mind the wise adage that shines among the sayings of his nation: Aohe pau ka ike i kau halau [56]—" Think not that all of wisdom resides in your halau."[57]

[Footnote 56: Sophocles (Antigone, 705) had said the same thing:[Greek: me nun en ethos pounon en sauto phorei os phes su, kouden allo, tout' orphos echein]—"Don't get this idea fixed in your head, that what you say, and nothing else, is right."]

[Footnote 57: Hatoa. As previously explained, in this connection halau has a meaning similar to our word "school," or "academy," a place where some art was taught, as wrestling, boxing, or the hula.]

Mele Kahea

Li'u-li'u aloha ia'u, Ka uka o Kohola-lele, Ka nahele mauka o Ka-papala [58] la. Komo, e komo aku hoi an maloko. 5 Mai ho'ohewahewa mai oe ia'u; oau no ia, Ke ka-nae-nae a ka mea hele, He leo, e-e, A he leo wale no, e-e! Eia ka pu'u nui owaho nei la, 10 He ua, lie ino, he anu, he ko'e-ko'e. E ku'u aloha, e, Maloko aku au.



Long, long have I tarried with love In the uplands of Kohola-lele, The wildwood above Ka-papala. To enter, permit me to enter, I pray; 5 Refuse me not recognition; I am he, A traveler offering mead of praise, Just a voice, Only a human voice. Oh, what I suffer out here, 10 Rain, storm, cold, and wet. O sweetheart of mine, Let me come in to you.

[Footnote 58: Ka-popala. A verdant region on the southeastern flank of Mauua-Loa.]

Hear now the answer chanted by voices from within:

Mele Komo

Aloha na hale o makou i maka-maka ole, Ke alanui hele mauka o Pu'u-kahea la, e-e! Ka-he-a! E Kahea aku ka pono e komo mai oe iloko nei. Eia ka pu'u nui o waho nei, he anu.

[Page 40]


Song of Welcome

What love to our cottage-homes, now vacant, As one climbs the mount of Entreaty! We call, We voice the welcome, invite you to enter. The hill of Affliction out there is the cold.

Another fragment that was sometimes used as a password is the following bit of song taken from the story of Hiiaka, sister of Pele. She is journeying with the beautiful Hopoe to feteh prince Lohiau to the court of Pele. They have come by a steep and narrow path to the brink of the Wai-lua river, Kauai, at this point spanned by a single plank. But the bridge is gone, removed by an ill-tempered naiad (witch) said to have come from Kahiki, whose name, Wai-lua, is the same as that of the stream. Hiiaka calls out, demanding that the plank be restored to its place. Wai-lua does not recognize the deity in Hiiaka and, sullen, makes no response. At this the goddess puts forth her strength, and Wai-lua, stripped of her power and reduced to her true station, that of a mo'o, a reptile, seeks refuge in the caverns beneath the river. Hiiaka betters the condition of the crossing by sowing it with stepping stones. The stones remain in evidence to this day.

Mele Kahea

Kunihi ka mauna i ka la'i e, O Wai-ale-ale[59] la i Wai-lua, Huki a'e la i ka lani Ka papa au-wai o ka Wai-kini; 5 Alai ia a'e la e Nou-nou, Nalo ka Ipu-ha'a, Ka laula mauka o Kapa'a, e! Mai pa'a i ka leo! He ole ka hea mai, e!



Steep stands the mountain in calm, Profile of Wai-ale-ale at Wai-lua. Gone the stream-spanning plank of Wai-kini, Filched away by Nou-nou; 5 Shut off the view of the hill Ipu-ha'a, And the upland expanse of Ka-pa'a. Give voice and make answer. Dead silence—no voice in reply.

In later, in historic times, this visitor, whom we have kept long waiting at the door, might have voiced his appeal in the passionate words of this comparatively modern song:

[Footnote 59: Wai-ale-ale (Leaping-water). The central mountain-mass of Kauai.] [Page 41]

Mele Kahea[60]

Ka uka holo-kia ahi-manu o La'a,[61] I po-ele i ka uahi, noe ka nahele, Nohe-nohea i ka makani luhau-pua. He pua oni ke kanaka— 5 He mea laha ole la oe. Mai kaua e hea nei; E hea i ke kanaka e komo maloko, B hanai ai a hewa[62] ka wa'ha. Eia no ka uku la, o ka wa'a.[63]



In the uplands, the darting flame-bird of La'a, While smoke and mist blur the woodland, Is keen for the breath of frost-bitten flowers. A fickle flower is man— 5 A trick this not native to you. Come thou with her who is calling to thee; A call to the man to come in And eat till the mouth is awry. Lo, this the reward—the canoe.

[Footnote 60: This utterance of passion is said to have been, the composition of the Princess-Kamamalu, as an address to Prince William Lunalilo, to whom she was at one time affianced and would have married, but that King Lihohho (Kamehameha IV) would not allow the marriage. Thereby hangs a tragedy.]

[Footnote 61: La'a. The region in Hawaii now known as Ola'a was originally called La'a. The particle o has become fused with the word.]

[Footnote 62: Hewa ka waha. This expression, here tortured, into "(till) the mouth awry," is difficult of translation. A skilled Hawaiian scholar suggests, it may mean to change one from, an enemy to a friend by stopping his mouth with food.]

[Footnote 63: Wa'a. Literally a canoe. This is a euphemism for the human body, a gift often too freely granted. It will be noted that in the answering mele komo, the song of admission, the reward promised is more modestly measured—"Simply the voice."]

The answer to this appeal for admission was in these words:

Mele Komo

E hea i ke kanaka e komo maloko, E hanai ai a hewa waha; Eia no ka uku la, o ka leo, A he leo wale no, e!



Call to the man to come in, And eat till the mouth is estopt; And this the reward, the voice, Simply the voice.

The cantillation of the mele komo: in answer to the visitor's petition, meant not only the opening to him of the halau door, but also his welcome to the life of the halau as a heart-guest of honor, trebly welcome as the bringer of fresh tidings from the outside world. [Page 42]


The first duty of a visitor on being admitted to the halau while the tabu was on—that is, during the conduct of a regular hula—was to do reverence at the kuahu. The obligations of religion took precedence of all social etiquette. He reverently approaches the altar, to which all eyes are turned, and with outstretched hands pours out a supplication that breathes the aroma of ancient prayer:

Pule Kuahu (no Laka)

O Laka oe, O ke akua i ke a'a-lii[64] nui. E Laka mai uka! E Laka mai kai! 5 O hoo-ulu[65] o Lono, O ka ilio nana e haehae ke aha, O ka ie-le ku i ka wao, O ka maile hihi i ka nahele, O ka lau ki-ele[66] ula o ke akua, 10 O na ku'i[67] o Hauoli, O Ha'i-ka-malama,[68] Wahine o Kina'u.[69] Kapo ula[70] o Kina'u. O Laka oe, 15 O ke akua i ke kuahu nei la, e! E ho'i, e ho'i a nolao i kou kuahu. Hoo-ulu ia!

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse