Aihea ‘o He‘eia

Kīhei de Silva



Photo: Kīhei de Silva

Ka ‘ohana de Silva collecting ‘ili‘ili at He‘eia Bay, November 1991.

Haku mele: Kīhei de Silva. November 1994.

Aihea ‘o He‘eia lā 
‘Ei‘a i ka poli. 
I ka nīnau ha‘aha‘a lā 
I ka pane kānalua. 
I ke alahele haiki kā 
I ke kū‘ono hale kimeki. 
‘Ei‘a ‘o He‘eia lā 
I ka nalu ha‘i mai. 
I ke kīkē ‘ili‘ili lā 
I ke kō loa a ke kai. 
I ka lima hana maiau lā 
I ke koho ‘ana i ka pono. 
Ha‘ina mai ka puana lā 
‘Ei‘a i ka poli.

Where is He‘eia?
It is right here in the heart.
It is in the humble asking
And in the uncertain answers.
It is on the narrow asphalt path
In a cove of cement houses.
He‘eia is right here
In the breaking waves.
It is in the clattering of ‘ili‘ili
In the long, drawn-out tugging of the sea.
It is in hands that work carefully
In choosing what is right.
Tell the summary:
It is right here in the heart.

Before I did any research on "Aia i He‘eia," I was under the impression that this was the He‘eia of Ko‘olaupoko, O‘ahu.  But I learned from Kawena Pukui’s notes that the once-famous surfing spot described in the mele is actually in Keauhou, Kona, Hawai‘i. 

When we first looked for He‘eia (on a trip with our keiki to the Kalākaua Invitational Hula Festival in November 1991), we drove through the Keauhou subdivision asking residents for directions to the bay. Nobody recognized the name; a few suggested that we might be looking for "Kānalua Bay, which is right next to the condominiums." Because kānalua means "doubtful, uncertain," we chuckled sadly to ourselves over the appropriateness of the response: the bay's location had become clouded in uncertainty.  We were sadder still when time ran out on us without our being able to find He‘eia. Our disappointment was best expressed by our traveling companion Kawai Cockett who said, "This is how places are lost; new people move in, and no one bothers to learn about what was here before."

A week later, on our family's yearly Thanksgiving trip to Kona, we returned to Keauhou and found the narrow asphalt path that leads from just outside the entrance of the Kanaloa Condominium Resort to the foot of He‘eia Bay. We discovered, much to our surprise, that He‘eia’s "beach" consists entirely of heaped-up pebbles that clatter hypnotically in the pull of the surf. We spent several relaxing hours there listening to the sound of wave-tugged pebbles and collecting a set of ‘ili‘ili for the hula "Aihea ‘o He‘eia" whose words were beginning to take shape in my mind. 

I finally finished "Aihea ‘o He‘eia" in 1994 on the eve of that year’s keiki trip to the Kalākaua competition. By then, the competitive appeal of the trip had taken a back seat to the educational rewards of visiting various Kona and Kohala sites and learning the history and hula of those places.

The highlight of our 1994 trip was a three hour visit to He‘eia where our students listened to stories of surfing and hōlua sledding, watched their hula aunties perform "Aia i He‘eia," discussed the importance of preserving the old names of places, received instruction in the careful gathering of their first set of ‘ili‘ili, and learned, with those pebbles, the first verses of our new song for their He‘eia experience. As you might guess, this He'eia Bay learning sequence is now a permanent part of all our Kona itineraries, keiki and adult.

"Aihea ‘o He‘eia," then, was written to help correct the kānalua that currently exists with regard to He‘eia. It was meant to give back to He‘eia its proper name; to alert our students to the dangers of misnaming (as evident, in this case, in the monumental insensitivity of naming a resort after the Hawaiian god Kanaloa); to teach the careful choosing of what is pono (in names, ‘ili‘ili, and all the rest); and to affirm the heart's capacity for holding and keeping alive the places and people we cherish. 

The language of the composition is meant to remind us of the Kalākaua chant for He‘eia and of the Lunalilo chant "‘Auhea ‘o Kalani" after which Kalākaua’s was probably patterned. Several of my images, moreover, are inspired by "Lei Hawai'i," Puakea Nogelmeier's mele for a Big Island trip made by our Papa ‘Ūniki 1994; the most pertinent of his lines are naturally those that refer to ‘ili‘ili gathering at He‘eia:

Kīkē le‘a ka ‘ili‘ili i kai o He‘eia 
A hamumu hou akula i ka hu‘a nalu miki ē 
Miki a‘ela ka lima hāhā hele 
E wae ana i ka pono e ho‘okohu ai

The pebbles clatter joyfully in the sea of He'eia
And murmur anew in the waves' frothy undertow
Nimble are the hands as they search everywhere
Selecting that which is suitable and pleasing. 

Finally, my almost exclusive use of the "Aia pattern" in "Aihea ‘o He‘eia" was prompted by the fact that the keiki of our November 1994 Kona trip had just begun to work on this pattern in their Saturday morning Hawaiian language class at Louie and Kia Lopez's home in Kailua, Oahu. I was intent on giving those ‘I‘iwi (the name of the class) as complete a He‘eia experience as possible -- one that involved history, hula, values, and language -- but I had no idea then that within three short years the composition would become as powerful a reminder of our ‘I‘iwi days with Louie as of our ‘I‘iwi trip to He‘eia. Louie died in March 1996. Like He‘eia, he is very much "right here, safe in the heart."

The essay above was written by Kīhei de Silva and published in his book He Aloha Moku o Keawe: A Collection of Songs for Hawai‘i, Island of Keawe, Honolulu, 1997, pps. 40-41. It is offered here, in slightly revised and updated form, with his express consent. He retains all rights to this essay; no part of it may be used or reproduced without his written permission.