Noho ana ka Wahine

Kīhei de Silva


Photo: KS archives
Bernice Pauahi Bishop and her hānai sister Lili‘u Pākī, ca. 1859. The oldest version of Lili‘uokalani’s song "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" was composed nine years later when the women were 28 and 21 years old.
Visit the Kamehameha Schools’ alumni website to hear a soundclip of the shorter version of the mele as sung every year at KS Founder’s Day Services >>

The mele we think we know best are often those that surprise us the most. I call them iceberg mele.  What we think we know is only the proverbial tip. "Alekoki" is a good example.  Beneath the short, all-too-familiar Kodak Hula Show version lurks a rarely performed, 18-verse lover’s lament. So, too, with the popular four-verse version of "No ke Ano Ahiahi." Although it is often understood as a celebration of Lunalilo’s voyage to America (Lunalilo, in fact, never visited Maleka), it actually describes, in 13 carefully crafted verses, a surreptitious onshore romance between the prince and a certain Pua Rose.

Kamehameha students and alumni are more than ma‘a -- or so we think -- to the three-verse plus chorus version of "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" with which we’ve honored Bernice Pauahi Bishop at a century’s worth of Founder’s Day ceremonies.

The text and translation of the mele, composed by "Queen Lili‘uokalani" [1], are printed without exegesis in the school’s yearly Founder’s Day program booklet, but after a bit of googling, I discovered a Jay Junker explanation that tells us the piece was "composed in 1868 in Mana, on the island of Hawai‘i and recounts a visit by the Princess to that area" [2].

Junker’s info is borne out by Nona Beamer and Van Ohumukini’s manuscript collection of Lili‘u’s songs in which the music for "Pauahi ‘o Ka Lani" is labeled: "Liliu, Mana, 1868" [3]. This version, said to have been taken "directly from her own notebook," is almost identical to the Founder’s Day text: three verses with hui.

The only discrepancy between these two versions occurs in the last line of the mele. We sing: "I ke one hānau i ka home i ke kaona."  Beamer and Ohumukini say: "I ke one hanau, / I ka home kaona." The first can be translated: "To the birth sands in the home in the town," and the second: "To the birth sands, / In the town home." Since the difference in meaning is negligible, my guess is that the extra words fit the music better and were added somewhere along the way (by Lili‘u herself or by Kamehameha’s early choral instructors?) in order to render the line more singable.

The two-syllabled "i ke" and its genesis might make for an interesting research and resolution project, especially since three syllables are probably needed to completely smooth out the phrase and circumvent our long-standing mispronunciation of "i ke kaona" as "i kē ka‘ona."  If "i ke" is already a late addition, should we consider replacing the words with a more metrically appropriate alternative? "I nēia home kaona" (In this town home) is a possibility that springs immediately to mind.

I leave the "i ke" discussion, however, to better musical minds than my own. What really piques my interest is a much larger-scale discrepancy that turned up when I examined Lili‘u’s HI.M.5:38 manuscript version of "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" in the Bishop Museum Archives. This version (it, too, is notated "Lili‘u, Mana, 1868") contains an extra pair of verses (not syllables) as well as an unfamiliar chant-name for our Princess.

I see no reason to question the authenticity of this longer version of the mele; it appears in Lili‘u’s own collection in one of her own handwritten songbooks. It probably predates the Beamer-Ohumukini text and represents an earlier, more narrative stage in the evolution of our Founder’s Day text. My guess is that HI.M.5:38 is the actual 1868 text, that it was subsequently revised by Lili‘u to reflect Pauahi’s changing role in a changing Hawai‘i, and that its original "Mana, 1868" notation was retained in this later edition [4]. "Pauahi ‘o Kalani," in this early form, strikes me as a mele for Pauahi the ali‘i, not for Pauahi the founder.

So the song we think we know so well is probably not the original. The longer, probably older version of the mele rests beneath the water line of our "Pauahi ‘o Kalani." It’s not quite an iceberg, not enough to sink a ship, but it’s certainly an object worthy of careful attention.  The complete HI.M.5:38 text is given below without corrections or orthographic updates of any kind. I have, however, italicized the "new" old material for ease of identification:

Noho ana ka wahine
I ke anu o Mana
Mahalo i ka nani
Nohea o ka nahele

E ola o Kalani
Pauahi okalani nui
A kau i ka pua aneane
E ola o kalani
Kauwaiokalani nui
E ola loa no a kau i ka wekiu

I walea ka noho na
I na manu kui pua
Hoolauna lililehua
Awili pua awapuhi

Lilinoe Poliahu
Waiau Kahoupokane
Na kupua kamaaina
O nei kuahiwi

Ua ike ina paia
Aala o Puna
Ua lei na maile
O Panaewa hoi

Hoi ana no nae
Ke aloha i na kini
O ke one hanau
I ka home kaona.


Although I haven’t given enough time to HI.M.5:38 to be able to provide a comprehensive analysis of the text, I will advance the following thoughts-in-progress. 

•  The name Kauwaiokalani (used in place of Pauahiokalani) in the fifth line of the chorus can also be read as Kauaiokalani and Kauwaeokalani -- depending on how we interpret the flourishes and squiggles of the handwritten original. None of the possibilities lends itself to easy translation, and none of them (to my knowledge) shows up in other mele for Pauahi. Kauwaiokalani has clearly dropped out of our poetic vocabulary for the Princess, and we would do her much honor by working to understand the epithet and return it to the voices of her children.

•  The first of the unfamiliar verses -- "I walea ka nohona" -- adds further information and ambience to the song’s opening description of Pauahi’s sojourn in the cool, beautiful uplands of Mānā.  She enjoys the relaxed, affectionate lifestyle of her companions (nā manu kui pua) and she is made welcome by her līlīlehua hosts  (probably the John Parker family whose estate, Mānāhale, was a favorite stopping-place for visiting ali‘i). The metaphors of the verse -- birds, flower stringing, lehua-chill, and ‘awapuhi-weaving -- speak of invigorating, easy-going relationships that might have offered Pauahi a pleasant respite from the duties and obligations of her Honolulu home. The wild ginger reference also adds a subtle note of regret to the otherwise idyllic scene. We are reminded of the saying, "‘Awapuhi lau pala wale -- ginger leaves yellow quickly -- good things pass all too soon."

•  Where the first of the new verses gives Pauahi human companionship, the second affiliates her with the sister-deities of Maunakea: with Poli‘ahu of the snows, Lilinoe of the mists, Waiau of the lake, and Kahoupokāne of the thunder and lightning. The four are described here as "na kupua kamaaina o nei kuahiwi" (the resident demi-goddesses of this mountain), and their benevolent presence in the heights above Mānā lends mana to Pauahi’s own circle of sisterly companions -- among them, of course, her own hānai younger sister, Lili‘u.  As Poli‘ahu presides over her circle, so -- we infer -- does Pauahi preside over her own.

•  S.N. Hale‘ole’s novel Laieikawai (published in book form just three years before "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" was composed) describes Poliahu as a "kupua" being, gives her the epithet "ka wahine noho mauna," and lists her snow-clad attendants as Lilinoe, Waiaie (Waiau), and Kahoupokāne. Because Lili‘u’s mele employs the same descriptive term (kupua), assigns similar poetic language to Pauahi (noho ana ka wahine i ke anu o Mānā), and lists the same three attendants, I find myself wondering if Lili‘u is channeling Hale‘ole.  Is she making a deliberate connection between Pauahi and Poliahu with the idea of investing the princess with the rank and dignity of the snow goddess? We know that Pauahi is frequently linked with Kaiona, the goddess of O‘ahu’s highest mountain peak (she is "Ka Wahine Hele Lā o Kaiona"). Lili‘u, I suspect, is trying to establish a similar association between Pauahi and the goddess of Hawai‘i Island’s highest peak. Hale‘ole’s publication, I think, may have contributed to this effort.

Unlike the two "Alekoki," the long and short versions of "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" are not at emotional odds with each other. And unlike the two "No ke Ano Ahiahi," our Founder’s Day mele is not a sanitized version of a steamy predecessor. The differences between our texts are the result, I think, of a narrowing of intent and focus in response to Pauahi’s evolving role in her change-beleaguered nation.

Lili‘u’s original mele is celebratory and expansive. It places Pauahi at the center of a vast circle of joyful relationships. She is there in the cool, invigorating heights of Mānā, in the perfumed hala bowers of Puna, and in the maile-draped forests of Pana‘ewa.  She is surrounded, in all she does, by birds, flowers, fragrances, friends, hosts, benevolent goddesses, and -- at the outer reaches of this pōhai aloha -- by the beloved town-dwellers who await her return.

The newer, stripped-down version of "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" is more intent on contrast and choice, on delivering a lesson and making a point.  It is more dramatic and less joyful, more a eulogy than a travelogue.  Pauahi is still in Mānā, Puna, and Pana‘ewa, but the lively clutter of people, flowers, and walea activities is almost painfully absent.  Gone, too, are the kupua sisters of her non-Christian past. They are all TMI for the new piece: too much information.

Instead, the new version provides us with clear-cut symbols of majesty, rank, and solitude -- Mānā and Pana‘ewa-Puna, mountain and forest, cold and fragrance. These speak powerfully of Pauahi’s birthright as ali‘i nui. She is a chiefess of the highest station, the "last" Kamehameha, a princess in every sense. Against these symbols, Lili‘u juxtaposes a single, powerful image: the throngs of Honolulu town. Responsibility is thus stacked against privilege, compassion against pedigree, aloha against noho anu, the press of humanity against cool heights and perfumed bowers. Pauahi has every right to dwell permanently on high, but the revised mele tells us no, no way. Instead, Pauahi eschews her birthright and chooses to return to town and people. She chooses to serve rather than rule.

The drama of the new version is not contrived. It hinges on that defining moment in Pauahi’s life when Lot Kamehameha, on his deathbed, turned to her and said, "I wish you to take my place, to be my successor." Pauahi declined "No, no, not me; don’t think of me, I do not need it ... There are others; there is your sister [Ruth Ke‘elikōlani], it is hers by right." Lot persisted, but when Pauahi would not change her mind, he refused to consider anyone else, and he died within the hour, successor unnamed [5].

Pauahi’s real-life refusal of the crown -- of permanent residence on the heights of Mānā -- occurred in 1872, four years after what I think is Lili‘u’s original "Pauahi ‘o Kalani." I can’t pin an 1872 date to the revised version of the mele, but the connection between Pauahi’s choice at Lot’s bedside and the choice-emphatic, rank-eschewing nature of the revised "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" strikes me as incontestable. 

George Kanahele, Pauahi’s most recent biographer, offers three possible reasons for her rejection of the king’s request -- 1) she did not need the stress; 2) the crown would add little to what she already possessed; 3) she valued her marriage too much to risk taking her political differences with Charles Reed Bishop into the "fishbowl" of palace life. Kanahele argues these points in convincing fashion, but he concludes his discussion with a far more insightful question:

Did she suspect by now that she had another kind of mission, one whose consequences would far transcend the mortality of the monarchy? [6]

In short, did Pauahi already have plans, however rudimentary, for establishing and endowing her Kamehameha Schools? Was her sense of transcendent mission, of greater service, already more important to her than birthright or political power? We don’t know for sure; we weren’t there. But Lili‘u was, and she had more than enough time left in her own life -- 45 years, in fact -- to consider the motivations and consequences of 1872 and to recast "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" accordingly.

The original mele commemorates the interconnected relationships of a coherent Hawaiian world. The recast version, our Founder’s Day mele, speaks of a more fragmented world of contrasts and forfeits. Where the old mele is a lei aloha of places and people strung on a thread of love, Lili‘u restructures her new mele as a one-two-three punch. Pauahi deserves this.  And she deserves this. But, instead, she chooses this. And because of Pauahi’s foresight and sacrifice, she has become the queen, not of our lost nation, but of our enduring hearts. Long may she reign.

I love both mele, and I am impressed no end with what I see as the process by which Lili‘u transformed the first into the second. Although each can stand alone as a composition of great skill and beauty, each also informs the other, and the pair, as a result, serves as a consummate example of Hawaiian poetic genius and leadership. The two mele remind us that their composer and subject, Lili‘u and Pauahi, were kama o ka huli nu‘u, kama o ka huliau. Children -- no, warriors of the turning tide.


1. If the 1868 date is correct, the mele was composed by Lili‘u during the reign of Lot Kamehameha; she would not become Queen for another twenty-three years.

2. Liner notes to Ozzie Kotani’s CD To Honor a Queen.

3. K.S. Extension Education Dept., Compositions By, For, and About Her Majesty Queen Liliuokalani, 1978.

4. The Beamer-Ohumikini and Founder’s Day texts of "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" are taken from "He Buke Mele Hawaii: Hawaiian Songs with Words and Music," a manuscript compiled by Lili‘u in 1897. This 1897 date is important to the argument that I advance in this essay -- specifically, that the original 1868 version of the mele was revised by Lili‘u sometime after 1872 in order to honor Pauahi as the visionary, crown-eschewing founder of Kamehameha Schools. Although the 1868 date is affixed to both the short "He Buke Mele Hawaii" manuscript and to a long HI.M.5:38 version of the song, I argue that "He Buke" actually contains the revised, post-1872 rendition.

Considerable confusion can arise from the misconception that Lili‘u had only one book of songs. In fact, she kept several. HI.M.5 ("The Mele Book of Liliuokalani") is housed in the Bishop Museum Archives. "He Buke Mele Hawaii: Hawaiian Songs with Words and Music" is housed in the State Archives. The latter is the source of most of the compositions in the 1999 Hui Hānai publication The Queen’s Songbook, and it is thought to have been the focus of Lili‘u’s desire, at the turn of the century, to "get this work out in good shape, so that my enemies may see that I am more intellectual than they want to give me credit for" (Songbook, xii).

Although "Pauahi ‘o Kalani" does not appear in the Hui Hānai release, it is identified there as a late 1860s composition (9) that "has been sung for many years at the Kamehameha Schools’ services honoring Mrs. Bishop as their founder. [The Founder’s Day] version differs slightly from the one in "He Buke Mele Hawaii." Because the song is so well known, it is not included in our collection" (21 n.41).

5. Lot’s request is recounted in a 1-7-1873 letter from Governor John Dominis to Charles Reed Bishop, and the story is told, as well, in a letter written to Bishop by Stephen Philips on December 7, 1872, a few hours after Lot’s death. Both letters appear in the Sixth Annual Report for the Hawaiian Historical Society for the Year 1898, 11-16. George Kanahele relies on the two letters -- Dominis’s in particular -- to recreate the deathbed scene in his biography Pauahi, The Kamehameha Legacy, 110-112.

6. Kanahele, Pauahi, 116.



© Kīhei de Silva 2006