Canonizing the Ko‘ihonua

Kīpukaohā‘ao Moanauli


"Kulu" na Kīpuka Moanauli




Ua kūkula ‘ia he wa‘a e māua ‘o ko‘u kaikaina, a kapa ‘ia ‘o ia ma ka inoa ‘o Kulu. He Hawai‘i maoli ‘o ia ke nānā aku, ‘oiai he Hawai‘i nā ‘ano lā‘au o kona kino -- ‘o ka hau ‘oe, ‘o ka wauke ‘oe, ‘o ke kukui ‘oe -- a he Hawai‘i nō ho‘i kona pe‘a ho‘okahi i uluna ‘ia ka lauhala. Ma muli o kēia ho‘opa‘a ‘ia ‘ana o nā mea like ‘ole he ‘ōiwi o kēia pae ‘aina, ‘a‘ole nō paha e nānā nui ‘ia ke ‘ano ‘ē o ke kaula nāna e ho‘opa‘a, a me ke kolū welai ‘ūpī ‘ia i nā ku‘ina like ‘ole.

My sister and I have built a double-hulled canoe.  More accurately, we have built a model of a double-hulled canoe and named her Kulu. She is a mere "drop," a "trickle," compared to her life-sized predecessors (Pukui and Elbert, 181), but with hulls, mast, outrigger booms, and spar made of woods native to Hawai‘i, and with a sail woven from traditional sail material -- dried, stripped leaves of pandanus -- she is strikingly Hawaiian in appearance. One barely notices the postal twine with which she is lashed or the hot glue that leaks from joints too delicate for twine. Yet there they remain, once observed, to be contemplated as both foreign and fitting, as anachronisms from Long’s Drugs and Ace Hardware assimilated into a framework that originates in the distant past of Hawai‘i and the Pacific.

Not unimportant in this deliberation of a very tangible, physically observable manifestation of issues still facing kānaka Hawai‘i is the fact that Kulu is a model. Mali‘a paha, mea ‘ole kēia ala o ka no‘ono‘o ‘ana o nā kūpuna o kākou, e nā Hawai‘i. He kino wa‘a kona; he holo kona e like nō me ka wa‘a ma‘a mau, a no laiila, he wa‘a nō paha ‘o ia, i loko nō o kona ‘ano he wa‘a li‘ili‘i o ke kino, ‘eā? She is patterned after beings of authenticity that were built and maneuvered by our ancestors, and after the descendants of those canoes that traverse the Pacific today. But she is a smaller, more simply constructed version of the originals, giving both her builders and her viewers a more accessible focal point in our efforts to comprehend the often unimaginable project of a full-sized wa‘a kaulua. Consequently, she becomes a model for our further contemplation of ka ua mea ‘o ka wa‘a.

Kulu and her contemporaries function on at least two levels for a people aware that thirty years ago the culture of Hawaiian double-hulled canoes was facing almost certain extinction. As wa‘a, Kulu retains her practical function as a mode of transportation. As cultural artifact, though, she is also a vehicle of wa‘a culture and a means of its transmission. I ola hou a i māama ho‘i ‘ia ka wa‘a Hawai‘i, a, i ‘ole ka huli wale ‘ana ke po‘i mai ka mana o ka po‘e ‘ē, ‘o ia nō ‘oe ‘o ke kai e‘e e hao ana i ka ‘āina, ‘o ka education and cultural translation nō paha kahi ala e hele ai. Just as the canoe has become a venue for demonstrating Hawaiian culture and knowledge, so too has Hawaiian language taken on the role of culture in performance as a language used to assert one’s Hawaiian identity, a language with which to study culture as well as practice it.

I share the view that modeling and education are not enough. If anything is to survive as more than a novelty, it must not be learned about, but learned, and practiced, in and for itself.  After all, it is not only "the migrant academic’s desire to museumize a culture left behind," as Gayatri Spivak observes in her preface to Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps (xxiv). It is also an observable tendency of native academics and students of their own culture to favor preservation over perpetuation, explanation over expression. Yet it is just as important to practice culture without explanation -- to speak without translation, to sail without demonstration. Such expression is the only proof we have of the viability and survival of, for present lack of a better term, culture.

As long as Hawaiians are still (re-)learning our cultural practices and knowledge base, every expression we associate with that culture will be at once an assertion of validity, a learning tool, and a personal creation. All aspects, though, are further complicated by the question of non-Hawaiian influence, which, after 200 years of exposure, is no longer "foreign" to a majority of Hawaiians. ‘Ae, he haole nō ho‘i kekahi mana‘o, a ‘a‘ole nō e mālie ka na‘au i ka no‘ono‘o ‘ana. Eia kā, ua hele nō a ma‘a i ka ‘ai kīkona ‘ia a nā manu. Eia ho‘i, ma muli o ka ho‘olaha ‘ia a laha ka lolo uila, ka mīkina holoi lole, a me ka hale kū‘ai, ‘a‘ole nō kākou ma‘a i ke ‘ano o ka nohona o ko kākou mau kūpuna. Ua lilo paha ia i mea ‘ ē i ka hapanui o ka po‘e Hawai‘i o kēia au. We find ourselves rebuilding our strength in language, literature, and cultural practices, but we are also increasingly aware of that which time and colonization have made distant and strange to us. We find ourselves in the situation of the tribals in Mahasweta Devi’s "Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha" in which communication between the urbanized Indian and the ancestral soul of the tribals of Pertha is impossible, despite the fact that both speak Hindi. Puran, the product of generations of integration with non-tribals and non-Indians, contemplates the impossibility of communication between himself and the completely isolated people of Pirtha and decides that:

If the town had moved as far as Pirtha, if tribals and non-tribals had lived together for two or three generations, then perhaps the memories of earlier times, the ancient glory-sagas, would have gradually become blurred in the mind. That hasn’t happened in Pirtha. (146)

We, however, must resist the temptation to draw such an easy and emotive parallel between our own cultural insecurities and the complete lack, not of communication, but of its mere possibility, that Devi describes. As she persistently reminds us, this utter hopelessness is embodied in the pterodactyl that brings Puran out of his city home.  This ancient creature, like the tribals who shelter it for a time:

is prehistoric. Modern man, the journalist, does not know anything about it. There is no point of communication with the pterodactyl. The pterodactyl cannot say what message it has brought. The journalist, the representative of the mainstream people, has no point of contact with the tribals. Their roads have run parallel.  (xxii)

I include these quotations here to emphasize the very parallelism that Devi has made essential to her work. Our awareness of the parallel roads traveled by Puran and Pirtha comes to its climax as his eyes meet that of the pterodactyl and each realizes the impossibility of mutual understanding. It is a non-communication that is further emphasized when Puran leaves Bikhia, resigned to the fact that "there is no meeting-point between them. The ways are parallel from the distant past" (182-3).

The pterodactyl seems at first to offer the possibility of communication, a point at which Puran and Bikhia, modern man and tribal, can meet and prove that their paths only appear parallel because the angle between them is so slight. A window is opened; the pterodactyl brings Puran out of the city and to Purtha; the ancestral soul embodied in the prehistoric shadow approaches him and attempts to communicate a message through its eyes. But that is as far as it goes. Puran cannot receive the message, and the connection is broken, the window closed. He returns to his truly parallel life in the city.

The parallel existence of Puran and Pirtha is, as yet, unknown to Hawaiians who continue to develop along concentric circles that expand and condense around a shared piko, a common center. Eia nō ka ‘āina e kū ana he piko no kākou e nā mamo a Hāloa. Ma laila nō kākou e pili ai, he kāne a he wahine, he kupuna a he mo‘opuna, he kumu a he haumāna.  Ma laila ho‘i e pili ai ko hi‘ikua me ko hi‘ialo, i ola pono nā iwi o nā kūpuna ma o kā lākou mau keiki o ka hānai ‘ana.  This could, of course, be a naive and arrogant assertion made simply because this particular writer has yet to encounter her own pterodactyl. Koe aku ia.

For the publication of the official guide to the Eight Festival of Pacific Arts, held in New Caledonia in October-November 2000, each of the twenty-four participating delegations from islands across the Pacific was asked to respond to the Festival’s theme: Paroles d’hier, paroles d’aujourd‘hui, paroles de demain; Words of yesterday, words of today, words of tomorrow. The response from Kalani Akana, the head of Hawai‘i’s delegation, reflects a sense of enduring continuity that many Hawaiians strive to maintain. "We had a problem with the theme because of the way it was presented as each word being separate. We see it as one thing; we think it’s important for us to pass on the words of yesterday" (Chinula, 19). If indeed the words of yesterday are also those of today and tomorrow, then surely parallel lines cannot be drawn between the voices of the pas and those who revoice their words today. But what of contemporary voices of creation? How do we map a point of communication between the postal twine that ties Kulu’s pe‘a to her mast and the traditional lauhala of that same sail?

As we make the shift from wa‘a to words, let us turn our attention to the literary counterparts of Kulu -- mele composed in Hawaiian. Just as Kulu is a record of both the basic elements of traditional canoe hewing and building, and a record of our growing contemporary understanding of wa‘a kaulua, so too do effective mele reiterate elements of ancient compositions while recording the experiences and contemplations of their composers.  Perhaps one of the most accessible expressions of the skillful weaving of past and present is the adoption of then foreign concepts and objects as poetic images by haku mele of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when cannons and adzes were full of meaning for Hawaiians and when the cultural distinctions between the two were at once undeniable and insignificant.

In 1922, "Mele Puhi Pū Ko‘i Honua" was published in Ka Hōkū o Hawai‘i, one of many Hawaiian language newspapers in circulation at the time. Though the composer is unknown, the composition is easily seen as a rewriting of the traditional ko‘ihonua, genealogy chant, that casts its progenitor as "ka pū ‘ai kanaka a Lono," "the man-eating cannon of Lono" (3). Its achievement lies in both the effective synthesis of the cannon as a Pele-like figure -- that which does the work of both destruction and creation -- as well as the voicing of that image in a manner that allows ancestral and contemporary mana‘o, tradition and creation, to exist in the same space, to converge and communicate, even through the uncompromising image of the cannon.

I nānā kākou i kēia ‘ano mele, ‘o ia ho‘i ke ko‘ihonua, i ‘ike kākou ē ‘o nā ‘ōlelo o kēia au ‘o ka ‘ōlelo ho‘i o na kūpuna. E like me ka mana‘o o kekahi, nani nō ia ua hapa mai nei nā Hawai‘i i mau lāhui like ‘ole, i me aha ho‘i ka haku ‘ana i mele me ke ‘ole o ia mana‘o haole, ‘oiai ‘a‘ole he Hawai‘i piha ka hapanui o kākou, a he haole ka nohona kekahi. A eia nō ka haku mele o nei ko‘ihonua e hō‘ike ana i ia mana‘o ho‘okahi nō. Nineteenth century Hawaiian scholar Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau writes, "‘o ke mele ko‘ihonua nō ho‘i, ua pili nō i nā kūpuna ali‘i a me nā mo‘o kū‘auhau ali‘i, e hō‘īke ana i ke ‘ano o kona ali‘i ki‘eki‘e a me kona mau kūpuna" (237). Because genealogy chants like "Mele Puni Pū" "refer to the chiefly ancestors and their royal lines, in order to confirm the high status of the chant’s honoree and his ancestors," textual waving of established lineages with those newly asserted becomes essential to the function and power of each ko‘ihonua. Kamakau recognizes this practice and cites the ko‘ihonua of Kuali‘i, Peleiholani, and Kamahano as compositions built in part on the renowned genealogies of Kumulipo, Palikū, and Hāloa (237). "Mele Puhi Pū," though, does not limit its content to ancestral sources of mana. By inclusion of the cannon as the primary instrument of "pua‘i moku," "splitting up islands," this chant at once invites the haole into its genealogy and adopts it according only to the terms of the ko‘ihonua genre and of the Hawaiian people it represents. The cannon does not take on a life of its own. Rather, it gives life to Kaha‘ipi‘ilani, the "gurgler" of islands, and to Kaha‘inuiamano, the progenitor of further parents.

The very title of the newer mele forces us to consider the power that cannon bestows on ko‘ihonua. The explosive force of the former acts, in title and text, as an enhancement of the foundational ko‘ihonua and its practical metaphor -- the ko‘i (adze) that is set to work on the honua, the earth.

Helen Roberts records several interpretations of the connection between the adze and the poetic genre in which it appears as metaphor. Among these is John Wise’s opinion that "the derived meaning" of the term ko‘ihonua is "that of clearing the ground or stripping a tree of all but its trunk" (60). The metaphor he sets up, then, posits genealogy as a tree trunk relieved of its extraneous branches and set forth in direct certainty. Eia na‘e, na wai e ‘ole ka hihia o nā mo‘okū‘auhau ali‘i? He po‘olua kekahi kamāli‘i; he lawe hānai kekahi, hānau kahi na ka maka‘āinana, kapa ‘ia kekahi ma ka inoa like o kona kua‘ana hele loa. No laila, kohu ‘ole ka mo‘okū‘auhau Hawai‘i kahiko me ka lā‘au kā mā‘ohe‘ohe.  ‘A‘ole nō kā paha i kāpae wale ‘ia nā lālā hihi o ka mo‘okū‘auhau ma ke ‘ano he pule mau a Kūka‘ōhi‘aolaka. This interpretation strikes me as way too reductive; it ignores the endless branching and converging of Hawaiian genealogies, a complexity apparent even in Malo’s earlier description of intertwined ko‘ihonua. Instead, I propose we view mele ko‘ihonua as a kind of literary adze, as ko‘i themselves. Applied to the Hawaiian social and ecological environment, they carve the land and the place of kānaka upon it. They turn both earth and imagination, shaping our surroundings and conceptions, preparing both fertile resources for new growth.

This generative adze takes form both as a genre of mele and as a chiefly metaphor in the individual texts themselves. The land and heavens are shaken, ascended, opened, and made to rumble at the ko‘i of the ali‘i, or, in the case of "Mele Puhi Pū," at the roaring of his cannon. Such violent acts of creation and re-creation are expected of a cannon, but perhaps not of its ‘ōiwi predecessor, the ko‘i. Compare, however, the most enthusiastic lines of "Meli Puhi Pū" with a similar selection from the 674-line "He Inoa no Kuali‘i" and we find that the connection between the establishment of an ali‘i genealogy and the physical carving out of the land is not new, and it is not born of the violence of the cannon alone. The force of the ko‘i is just as strong.


    He Inoa no Kuali‘i  

He alii pii aku, koi aku, wehe aku,
A loaa i ka lani paa ka ke alii   


       Mele Puhi Pū Ko‘i Honua

Kani ‘owā, nina me he hikili ku‘i lani ala
Ku‘i ke ‘a‘ā, kihā, kani i nā moku   


The physical rigor of Kuali‘i, the ali‘i of the first excerpt, as a shaping, carving tool is built up in preceding lines. As ko‘i, he makes lehu, many small particles, out of one fruit, then gathers the pieces of his destruction/creation; he jumps and skips (lele) across the surface of both heaven and earth in his reshaping of each. The adze-like nature of this ali‘i culminates in the two lines cited above, where he is identified as the "alii pii aku, koi aku, wehe aku." He ascends (pi‘i) and opens (wehe) the heavens once closed to him. It is the intermediary action of the koi, though, that deserves additional attention.  Recorded at a time when ‘okina (‘) and kahakō (-) were not used with complete consistency, this line presents us with three possible spellings -- and meanings -- of the word originally printed as koi. The ambiguity resides in the triple concept koi/ko‘i/kōī‘A‘ole pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho‘okahi; ‘a‘ole ho‘i paha ka ‘ike i ka pela ho‘okahi ‘ana! Hawaiian composers, though, took advantage of this possibility for ambiguity, turning it into a creator of, rather than an obstacle to, comprehensible interpretation. The ali‘i of "He Inoa no Kuali‘i," then, is an insistent, persuasive chief (koi), an adze-like shaper of land and people (ko‘i), and a chief with a forceful presence, one who strings his people together like flowers in a lei (kōī) (Pukui & Elbert, 160). In each of these incarnations, he retains his power as a tool, and as a means of causing concepts to become reality, even at the expense of the unaltered environment. How else were Kulu’s hulls formed by the modern ko‘i (City Mill’s 1/2 inch flat chisel) and the transformation of natural hau branches.

The same kind of vigor and island-shaping is what drives "Mele Puhi Pū," although its power to birth and carve land is channeled through an even more modern version of Kuali‘i’s ko‘i -- the once foreign cannon, now adopted as an incarnation of Kaha‘ipi‘ilani himself. This is the puhi pū that, unlike its handheld counterpart, smokes, vibrates, and rumbles; its "fire explodes, expands, and shakes the islands." Fittingly, the mele ko‘ihonua it inspires does the same. In sharp contrast to the mele of the quiet ko‘i, the tool that "opened" the heavens through the physical strength and perseverance of its wielder, the work of the cannon is thunderous. From start to finish, the mele delivers a cacophony of kīhā, hānō, ke‘u, and ‘owā -- belching, rasping, croaking, and roaring -- to define the exertions of the chief and his tool. From ko‘okōhi to ku‘ilani, nākulukulu to kani hālulu, this mele provides us with the long and varied list of groans and rumbles that is only reinforced by the ubiquitous consonance of the explosive "k."

Like the hot-glue and twine joining the ‘ōiwi elements of Kulu into a decidedly Hawaiian canoe model, the cannon image of "Mele Puhi Pū" is so well chosen, so skillfully sealed in a framework of Hawaiian literary and philosophical concepts, that it escapes the fate of the proverbial sore thumb. Nīnau pinepine ‘ia kēia, pehea kākou e wehewehe pono ai i nā mana‘o a me nā hana o kēia au ma ke mele Hawai‘i. Ma nēia mele nō paha e loa‘a ai kekahi pane o ia nīnau nui a ka lehulehu, inā maliu aku kākou i ka ‘ōlelo a ke kūpuna hi‘ikua. One reason for the integration that renders practically invisible the foreign origin of the cannon and its unusual presence in a ko‘ihonua is perhaps the tradition of conceit, of bizarre, larger-than-life imagery characteristic of Hawaiian poetry, especially of those compositions dealing with creation, generation, and procreation. In its function as a genealogy chant and in its textual birth of islands and parents, "Mele Puhi Pū" descries and encourages all three concepts of emerging life. When viewed, even cursorily, in this capacity, the puhi pū becomes a symbol of the "rising, sounding, [...] prolonging, vibrating" male that likewise causes the shaking of islands and the birth of moku, though on a more personal scale. Kawena Pukui describes the practice of discussing, inviting, and finding humor in sex through "euphemism, allusion, and metaphor" as not only common to both Hawaiian speech and poetry, but also regarded as fun and intelligent (Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, 85.) Indeed, mele show us images of the male as eel, ship, even crowbar! The very adze on which the idea and execution of mele ko‘ihonua are based is a decidedly male object. "Mele Puhi Pū," then, follows not only the method and tone of earlier ko‘ihonua but also the practice of exaggerated sexual metaphor the Hawaiian audience is known to appreciate.  Pēlā e maopopo ai ka lehulehu he Hawai‘i nō kēia mana‘o i loko nō o ke ‘ano ‘ē o ke kino nāna e hō‘ike ana i ia mana‘o.

Yet, even cloaking the cannon in poetry and tradition does not completely disguise its nature. The "pū ‘ai kanaka a Lono" is still cannon, like that appropriated by Kamehameha and named Lopaka; it is still an odd wrinkle in the conceptual smoothness that we might expect from a ko‘ihonua. Because of the presence of this cannon in what we would probably assume to be the Hawaiian poetic form least open to outside influence, because of its function as a pulukaumaka -- a tiny particle that, once noticed, becomes the object of fixation -- it seem helpful to return briefly to Devi’s pterodactyl, not simply as a point of comparison, but as a means of better understanding or relationships with these oddities.

As a surprising image, one slightly out of place to an eye attuned to recognizing differences, the cannon of "Mele Puhi Pū" invites the same kind of communication between divergent cultural paths as does the pterodactyl. The Cannon, too, carries a message for those willing to receive it. However, the situation of Puran’s transplant into Pirtha offers him no means of understanding or even communicating meaningfully with its people and customs. He knows that he and the pterodactyl "belong to two worlds and there is no communication point. There was a message in the pterodactyl, whether it was a fact or not, and we couldn’t grasp it" (Devi, 195). The message of the puhi pū, though, is not yet beyond our reach; it is not so ancient nor are we so far removed from the circumstances of its synthesis that no point of discussion can be found. Instead, it reveals a means of finding an understanding of its parent images in even further removed ko‘ihonua, magnifying the force and creative/destructive power of the ancient creature so that our modern senses, numbed by the engines and explosions of our contemporary life, can detect it. The magnification at once informs our reading of older ko‘ihonua like "He Mele no Kuali‘i" and causes us to contemplate the original in terms of a foreign-born explosive machine; it practically drips of effective intertextuality.

In the era of Kuali‘i, the ko‘i was conceivably the most versatile, most effective tool for carving and shaping. It was not a weapon like its smoking, thundering descendant.  It could be used to form earth, wood, even stone, to fit the craftsman’s desire and need. Even after metals were introduced to Hawaiians, the ko‘i retained its status as tool of choice. William Brigham’s notes on the use of Hawaiian artifacts relates his observation of an "old canoe-maker [using] for the rough shaping and excavating an ordinary foreign steel adze, but for the finishing touches he dropped the foreign tool and returned to the adze of his ancestors" to achieve the final, desired form (Young, 53). E ka makamaka heluhelu, hiki ke ‘ike ‘ia ‘ē ‘a‘ole he ha‘alele wale aku nō ka loea kālai i kāna o ke a‘o ‘ana a me ka mālama ‘ana, e la‘a ke ko‘i o kāna mau kumu. Eia kā ho‘i ka haku mele e waiho ana i ke ko‘i o ka honua, e koho pū ana i ka puhi pū o nā malihini! What, then, would inspire the poetic craftsman to abandon the image of the ko‘i in his construction of a mele in the genre named after that versatile, skillfully handled tool?


E nānā paha kākou i nā lā mua i kani hālulu ai ia mea he puhi pū mai kahi pae a kahi pae o Hawai‘i nei, a na ka lima nō ho‘i o ka Hawai‘i.  An easy and helpful parallel can be made between this haku mele’s enhancement of symbolic ko‘i with equally symbolic pū kuniahi and Kamehameha’s decision to adopt a very real cannon as his main weapon during the war that ultimately led to the union of all the Hawaiian islands under his rule in 1810. Kamehameha began his campaign of political union at the eastern end of the archipelago, slowly gaining control of parts of Hawai‘i Island, but finding it difficult to overtake ali‘i of Ka‘ū and Maui, whose warriors matched Kamehameha’s own men in skill and number. Kamakau writes that Kamehameha began looking to the haole and their technology as a means of boosting the strength of his army. So when the ship Eleanor landed at Honua‘ula, carrying ammunition, a group of haole men, and the cannon later named Lopaka, Kamehameha immediately set about acquiring the weapon, as well as its supplies and operators. And, as Kamakau writes, "‘O kēia mau makemake ho‘i o Kamehameha, ‘o ia nō kekahi mau kumu i hikiwawe ai ka ho‘ohui ‘ia ‘ana o nā aupuni ma lalo o ke aupuni ho‘okahi ma lalo o Kamehameha" (99) -- it was this desire of Kamehameha that expedited the union of Hawai‘i’s regional systems of government under a single kingdom led by Kamehameha. In fact, soon after Lopaka’s adoption into the army of the future na‘i aupuni, it was employed in the battle at ‘Īao Valley in Maui. The result -- the utter destruction of Maui’s army at the hands of Kamehameha and his inescapable cannon.

"Mele Puhi Pū" was composed thirty years after Lopaka’s debut, but through the magic of intertextuality, the obstacle of time falls away and there is in immedaite communication point to be found somewhere between Kamehameha, Kaha‘ipi‘ilani, and ourselves, the recipients of an ancient message. By 1922, the date of publication of "Mele Puhi Pū" in the newspaper Ka Hōkū o Hawai‘i, the integrated government formed by Kamehameha out of various island aupuni had been monarchialized, constitutionalized, overthrown, illegally annexed, and made into a territory of the United States. The Native Hawaiian population established and maintained by ali‘i like Kuali‘i had been decimated by the arrival of foreign disease, plummeting from an estimated 800,000 in the pre-contact era to 241,888 as of the 1831-1832 census, and was now diverging into a continually declining population of pure Hawaiians and a slowly rising population of part Hawaiians (Stannard, 54). The people themselves were dispossessed of their ancestral lands, removed, like their queen, for positions of political power, and gradually made into a minority in the own homeland. The dual function of the ko‘ihonua, then -- that meant to increase and maintain both political and genealogical mana for kānaka Hawai‘i -- was being repeatedly thwarted by outside forces. 

Hawaiians found themselves in a situation in which the power of the ko‘i was no longer enough to shape their world and allow the land to ko‘i, "protrude" (Pukui and Elbert, 160). For at least the second time in Hawaiian history, the cannon is appropriated, its explosive power harnessed by ‘ōiwi and unleashed to augment the mana of Hawaiian genealogical and political institutions. The cannon becomes the new ko‘i and the mele puhi pū the new ko‘ihonua. At the same time, the ko‘ihonua and its message are carried through the image of the cannon. This rewriting, then, is a response to the cannons of the U.S. pointed at ‘Iolani Palace as the 1893 Committee of Safety overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom. It is a response, as well, to the explosive decimation of the Hawaiian population by disease. And in a contemporary context, it can even be adopted as a response to the threat against programs established to benefit Native Hawaiians. Our ko‘ihonua, our genealogies, are our "cannons," our greatest defense and our most powerful offense, a point around which we rally and at which we find connections with our past and future. At one juncture in his record of Kamehameha’s life, Kamakau describes the cannon Lopaka as "ka pu‘uhonua o ko Kamehameha ‘ao‘ao," the spot of safety and refuge for Kamehameha’s side (106). It is in the regenerative force of the pū kuniahi that we find solace and hope, as well as the power to clear the land, physically and figuratively, and to shape its future for the pono of Hawai‘i.

The effect of the imaginative but integrated image of the cannon is similar to that of Kulu’s modern lashings and gluings -- more so than to that of Devi’s intriguing but isolated pterodactyl.  Like Kulu’s binding agents, the cannon and other synthesized images in Hawaiian poetry perform the ultimate function of unexpectedly tying disparate entities together. The result is a creature born of two worlds that is still strikingly Hawaiian. At the same time, though, neither puhi pū nor kaula is swallowed up by its Hawaiian framework; the integration is not quite complete. This leaves us worrying over their presence and allows us to interpret further meaning from the juxtaposition that presence creates. 

To me, this is the epitome of joining tradition and creation, custom and innovation. It recognizes the divergence of our paths from those of our kūpuna and validates the multiple voices of today. But t also focuses our attention on the point at which the two paths converge, preventing them from becoming parallel existences, preventing the words for our kūpuna from going the way of the pterodactyl. For a culture in which past, present, and future continually overlap, for a now-bicultural people who find in our "indigenous past" the values and expressions that "unite everyone and reinforce the idea of continuous connection," keeping the communication lines open between ourselves and our ancestral soul is vital to the well-being of both ‘ike and lāhui (Chinula, 19). E mālama kākou iā lākou nā kūpuna hi‘ikua, o lilo aku i ke ala polohiwa a Kanaloa, a lilo pū aku ka pono o kākou nā Hawai‘i.


Works Cited

Chinula, Tione, "Hawai‘i, Breaking Down Stereotypes." Pacific Voices. Noumea, New Caledonia: COFAP 2000.

Devi, Mahasweta. Imaginary Maps. Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak, trans. New York: Routledge, 1995.

"He Inoa no Kuali‘i." Na Mele Aimoku.  Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society, 2001.

Kamakau, Samuel Mānaiakalani. Ke Kumu Aupuni. Puakea Nogelmeier, ed. Honolulu: ‘Ahahui ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, 1996.

"Mele Puhi Pū Ko‘ihonua." Lā Ho‘olilo: Event Program. Translated by Kalani Akana. Honolulu:  Ka Pā Hula Hawai‘i, 1998.

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© Kīpukaohā‘ao Moanauli 2005