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Unwritten Literature of Hawaii, by Nathaniel B. Emerson, [1909], at

p. 49


The costume of the hula dancer was much the same for both sexes, its chief article a simple short skirt about the waist, the pa-ú. (Pl. I.)

When the time has come for a dance, the halau becomes one common dressing room. At a signal from the kumu the work begins. The putting on of each article of costume is accompanied by a special song.

First come the ku-pe’e, anklets of whale teeth, bone, shell-work, dog-teeth, fiber-stuffs, and what not. While all stoop in unison they chant the song of the anklet:

Mele Ku-pe’e

Aala kupukupu a ka uka o Kane-hoa. b
E ho-a! c
Hoa na lima o ka makani, he Wai-kaloa. d
He Wai-kaloa ka makani anu Lihue.
5 Alina e lehua i kau ka opua--
Ku’u pua,
Ku’u pua i’ini e ku-i a lei.
Ina ia oe ke lei ’a mai la.



Fragrant the grasses of high Kane-hoa.
Bind on the anklets, bind!
Bind with finger deft as the wind
That cools the air of this bower.
5 Lehua bloom pales at my flower,
O sweetheart of mine,
Bud that I'd pluck and wear in my wreath,
If thou wert but a flower!

The short skirt, pa-ú, was the most important piece of attire worn by the Hawaiian female. As an article of daily wear it represented many stages of evolution beyond the primitive fig-leaf, being fabricated from a great variety of materials furnished by the garden of

p. 50

nature. In its simplest terms the pa-ú was a mere fringe of vegetable fibers. When placed as the shield of modesty about the loins of a woman of rank, or when used as the full-dress costume of a dancing girl on a ceremonious occasion, it took on more elaborate forms, and was frequently of tapa, a fabric the finest specimens of which would not have shamed the wardrobe of an empress.

In the costuming of the hula girl the same variety obtained as in the dress of a woman of rank. Sometimes her pa-ú would be only a close-set fringe of ribbons stripped from the bark of the hibiscus (hau), the ti leaf or banana fiber, or a fine rush, strung upon a thong to encircle the waist. In its most elaborate and formal style the pa-ú consisted of a strip of fine tapa, several yards long and of width to reach nearly to the knees. It was often delicately tinted or printed. as to its outer part, with stamped figures. The part of the tapa skirt thus printed, like the outer, decorative one in a set of tapa bed-sheets, was termed the kilohana.

The pa-ú worn by the danseuse, when of tapa, was often of such volume as to balloon like the skirt of a coryphée. To put it on was quite an art, and on that account, if not on the score of modesty, a portion of the halau was screened off and devoted to the use of the females as a dressing room, being known as the unu-lau-koa, and to this place they repaired as soon as the kumu gave the signal for dressing.

The hula pa-ú of the women was worn in addition to that of daily life; the hula pa-ú of the men, a less pretentious affair, was worn outside the malo, and in addition to it.

The method of girding on the pa-ú was peculiar. Beginning at the right hip--some say the left--a free end was allowed to hang quite to the knee; then, passing across the back, rounding the left hip, and returning by way of the abdomen to the starting point, another circuit of the waist was accomplished; and, a reverse being made, the garment was secured by passing the bight of the tapa beneath the hanging folds of the pa-ú from below upward until it slightly protruded above the border of the garment at the waist. This second end was thus brought to hang down the hip alongside of the first free end; an arrangement that produced a most decorative effect.

The Hawaiians, in their fondness for giving personal names to inanimate objects, named the two free ends (apua) of the pa-ú respectively ku-kápu-úla-ka-láni and Léle-a-mahu’i.

According to another method, which was simpler and more commonly employed, the piece was folded sidewise and, being gathered into pleats, a cord was inserted the length of the fold. The cord was passed about the waist, knotted at the hip, and thus held the garment secure.

p. 51

While the girls are making their simple toilet and donning their unique, but scanty, costume, the kumu, aided by others, soothes the impatience of the audience and stimulates their imagination by cantillating a mele that sets forth in grandiloquent imagery the praise of the pa-ú.

Oli Pa-ú

Kakua pa-ú, ahu na kikepa! a
I ka pa-ú noenoe i hooluu’a,
I hookakua ia a paa iluna o ka imu. b
Ku ka hu’a c o ka pali o ka wai kapu,
5 He kuina d pa-ú pali e no Kupe-hau,
I holo a paa ia, paa e Hono-kane. f

Málama o lilo i ka pa-ú.
Holo iho la ke ála ka Manú g i na pali;
Pali ku kahakó haka a-í,
10 I ke keiki pa-ú pali a Kau-kini, h
I hoonu’anu’a iluna o ka Auwana. i

p. 52

Akahi ke ana, ka luhi i ka pa-ú:
Ka ho-oio i ke kapa-wai,
I na kikepa wai o Apua, a
15 I hopu ’a i ka ua noe holo poo-poo,
Me he pa-ú elehiwa wale i na pali.

Ohiohi ka pali, ki ka liko o ka lama,
Mama ula b ia ka malua ula,
I hopu a omau ia e ka maino.
20 I c ka malo o Umi ku huná mai.
Ike’a ai na maawe wai oloná, d
E makili ia nei i Waihilau. e
Holo ke oloná, paa ke kapa.

Hu’a lepo ole ka pa-ú;
25 Nani ka o-iwi ma ka maka kilo-hana. f
Makalii ka ohe, g paa ke kapa.

Opua ke ahi i na pali,
I hookau kalena ia e ka makani,
I kaomi pohaku ia i Wai-manu,
30 I na alá h ki-óla-óla.
I na alá, i alá lele
Ia Kane-poha-ka’a. i

Paa ia Wai-manu, j o-oki Wai-pi’o;
Lalau o Ha’i i ka ohe,
35 In Koa’e-kea, k
I kahuihi ia ia ohe laulii, in ohe.
Oki’a a moku, mo’ ke kihi, l

p. 53

Mo’ ke kihi, ka maláma ka Hoaka, a
I apahu ia a poe,
40 O awili b o Malu-ó.

He pola ia no ka pa-ú;
E hii ana e Ka-holo-kua-iwa,
Ke amo la e Pa-wili-wili
I ka pa-ú poo kau-poku-- c
45 Kau poku a hana ke no,
Kau iluna o Hala’a-wili,
I owili hana haawe.

Ku-ka’a, olo-ka’a wahie;
Ka’a ka opeope, ula ka pali; d
50 Uwá kamalii, hookani ka pihe,
Hookani ka a’o, e a hana pilo ka leo,
I ka mahalo i ka pa-ú,
I ka pa-ú wai-lehua a Hi’i-lawe f iluna,
Pi’o anuenue a ka ua e us nei.

This is a typical Hawaiian poem of the better sort, keyed in a highly imaginative strain. The multitude of specific allusions to topographical names make it difficult to translate it intelligently to

p. 54

a foreign mind. The poetical units are often so devised that each new division takes its clue from the last word of the previous verse, on the principle of "follow your leader," a capital feature in Hawaiian poetry.


Pa-ú Song

Gird on the pa-ú, garment tucked in one side,
Skirt lacelike and beauteous in staining,
That is wrapped and made fast about the oven.
Bubbly as foam of falling water it stands,
5 Quintuple skirt, sheer as the cliff Kupe-hau.
One journeyed to work on it at Honokane.

Have a care the pa-ú is not filched.
Scent from the robe Manú climbs the valley walls--
Abysses profound, heights twisting the neck.
10 A child is this steep thing of the cliff Kau-kini,
A swelling cloud on the peak of Auwana.

Wondrous the care and toll to make the pa-ú!
What haste to finish, when put a-soak
In the side-glancing stream of Apua!
15 Caught by the rain-scud that searches the glen,
The tinted gown illumines the pali--

The sheeny steep shot with buds of lama--
Outshining the comely malua-ula,
Which one may seize and gird with a strong hand.
20 Leaf of ti for his malo, Umi a stood covered.

Look at the oloná fibers inwrought,
Like the trickling brooklets of Wai-hilau.
The oloná fibers knit with strength
This dainty immaculate web, the pa-ú,
25 And the filmy weft of the kilo-hana.
With the small bamboo the tapa is finished.

A fire seems to bud on the pali.
When the tapa is spread out to dry,
Pressed down with stones at Wai-manu--
30 Stones that are shifted about and about,
Stones that are tossed here and there,
Like work of the hail-thrower Kane.

At Wai-manu finished, ’tis cut at Wai-pi’o;
Ha’i takes the bamboo Ko-a’e-kea;

p. 55

35 Deftly wields the knife of small-leafed bamboo;
A bamboo choice and fit for the work.
Cut, cut through, cut off the corners;
Cut round, like crescent moon of Hoaka;
Cut in scallops this shift that makes tabu:
40 A fringe is this for the pa-ú.

’Tis lifted by Ka-holo-ku-iwa,
’Tis borne by Pa-wili-wili;
A pa-ú narrow at top like a house,
That's hung on the roof-tree till morning,

45 Hung on the roof-tree Ha-la’a-wili.
Make a handle fitting the shoulder;
Lash it fast, rolled tight like a log.
The bundle falls, red shows the pali;
The children shout, they scream in derision.
50 The a’o bird shrieks itself hoarse
In wonder at the pa-ú--
Pa-ú with a sheen like Hi’i-lawe falls,
Bowed like the rainbow arch
Of the rain that's now falling.

The girls of the olapa, their work in the tiring-room completed, lift their voices in a spirited song, and with a lively motion pass out into the hall to bloom before the waiting assembly in the halau in all the glory of their natural charms and adornments:


Ku ka punohu ula i ka moana;
Hele ke ehu-kai, uhi i ka aina;
Olapa ka uila, noho i Kahiki.
Uina, nakolo,
5 Uwá ka pihe,
Lau a kánaka ka hula.
E Laka, e!


Tiring Song

The rainbow stands red o’er the ocean;
Mist crawls from the sea and covers the land;
Far as Kahiki flashes the lightning;
A reverberant roar,
5 A shout of applause
From the four hundred.
I appeal to thee, Laka!

p. 56

The answering song, led by the kumu, is in the same flamboyant strain:


Lele Mahu’ilani a a luna,
Lewa ia Kauna-lewa! b



Lift Mahu’ilani on high,
Thy palms Kauna-lewa a-waving!

After the ceremony of the pa-ú came that of the lei, a wreath to crown the head and another for the neck and shoulders. It was not the custom in the old times to overwhelm the body with floral decorations and to blur the outlines of the figure to the point of disfigurement; nor was every flower that blows acceptable as an offering. The gods were jealous and nice in their tastes, pleased only with flowers indigenous to the soil--the ilima (pl. VI), the lehua, the maile, the ie-ie, and the like (see pp. 19, 20). The ceremony was quickly accomplished. As the company knotted the garlands about head or neck, they sang:

Oli Lei

Ke lei mai la o Ka-ula i ke kai, e!
Ke malamalama o Niihau, ua malie.
A maile, pa ka Inu-wai.
Ke inu mai la na hala o Naue i ke kai.
5 No Naue, ka hala, no Puna ka wahine. c
No ka lua no i Kilauea.


Wreath Song

Ka-ula wears the ocean as a wreath;
Nii-hau shines forth in the calm.
After the calm blows the wind Inu-wai;
Naue's palms then drink in the salt.
5 From Naue the palm, from Puna the woman--
Aye, from the pit, Kilauea.

Tradition tells a pathetic story (p. 212) in narrating an incident touching the occasion on which this song first was sung.


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49:a Kupukupu. Said to be a fragrant grass.

49:b Kane-hoa. Said to be a hill at Kaupo, Maui. Another person says it is a hill at Lihue, on Oahu. The same name is often repeated.

49:c Hó-a. To bind. An instance of word-repetition, common in Hawaiian poetry.

49:d Wai-kaloa. A cool wind that blows at Lihue, Kauai.

49:e Alina. A scar, or other mark of disfigurement, a moral blemish. In ancient times lovers inflicted injuries on themselves to prove devotion.

51:a Kikepa. The bias, the one-sided slant given the pa-ú by tucking it in at one side, as previously described.

51:b Imu. An oven; an allusion to the heat and passion of the part covered by the pa-ú.

51:c Hu’a. Foam; figurative of the fringe at the border of the pa-ú.

51:d Kuina. A term applied to the five sheets that were stitched together (kui) to make a set of bed-clothes. Five turns also, It is said, complete a pa-ú.

51:e Pali no Kupe-hau. Throughout the poem the pa-ú is compared to a pali, a mountain wall. Kupe-hau is a precipitous part of Wai-pi’o valley.

51:f Hono-kane. A valley near Wai-pi’o. Here it is personified and said to do the work on the pa-ú.

51:g Manú. A proper name given to this pa-ú.

51:h Kau-kini. The name of a hill back of Lahaina-luna, the traditional residence of a kahuna named Lua-hoo-moe, whose two sons were celebrated for their manly beauty. Ole-pau, the king of the island Maui, ordered his retainer, Lua-hoo-moe, to fetch for his eating some young u-a’u, a sea-bird that nests and rears its young in the mountains. These young birds are esteemed a delicacy. The kahuna, who was a bird-hunter, truthfully told the king that it was not the season for the young birds; the parent birds were haunting the ocean. At this some of the king's boon companions, moved by ill-will, charged the king's mountain retainer with suppressing the truth, and in proof they brought some tough old birds caught at sea and had them served for the kings table. Thereupon the king, not discovering the fraud, ordered that Lua-hoo-moe should be put to death by fire. The following verses were communicated to the author as apropos of Kau-kini, evidently the name of a man:

Ike ia Kau-kini, he lawaia manu.
He upena ku’u i ka noe, i Poha-kahi,
Ua hoopulu ia i ka ohu ka kikepa;
Ke na’i la i ka luna a Kea-auwana;
Ka uahi i ke ka-peku e hei ai ka manu o Pu-o-alii.
O ke alii wale no ka’u i makemake
Ali’a la, ha’o, e!


Behold Kau-kini, a fisher of birds:
Net spread in the mist of Poha-kahi,
That is soaked by file sidling fog.
It strives on the crest of Koa-auwana.
Smoke traps the birds of Pu-o-alii.
It's only the king that I wish:
But stay now--I doubt.

51:i Auwana. Said to be an eminence on the flank of Haleakala, back of Ulupalakua.

52:a Apua. A place on Hawaii, on Maui, on Oahu, on Kauai. and on Molokai.

52:b Mama ula ia ka malua ula. The malua-ula was a variety of tapa that was stained with hili kukui (the root-bark of the kukui tree). The ripe kukui nut was chewed into a paste and mingled with this stain. Mama ula refers to this chewing. The malua ula is mentioned as a foil to the pa-ú, being a cheap tapa.

52:c A contracted form of ti or ki, the plant or, as in this case, the leaf of the ti, the Dracæna (pl. v). Liloa, the father of Umi, used it to cover himself after his amour with the mother of Umi, having given his malo in pledge to the woman. Umi may have used this same leaf as a substitute for the malo while in the wilderness of Laupahoehoe, hiding away from his brother, King Hakau.

52:d Oloná. A strong vegetable fiber sometimes added to tapa to give it strength. The fibers of olona in the fabric of the pa-ú are compared to the runnels and brooklets of Waihilau.

52:e Wai-hilau. Name applied to the water that drips in a cave in Puna. It is also the name of a stream in Wai-pi’o valley, Hawaii.

52:f Kilo-hana. The name given the outside, ornamented, sheet of a set (kuina) of five tapas used as bed-clothing. It was also applied to that part of a pa-ú which was decorated with figures. The word comes from kilohi, to examine critically, and hana, to work and therefore means an ornamental work.

52:g Ohe. Bamboo. In this case the stamp, made from bamboo, used to print the tapa.

52:h Alá. The hard, dark basalt of which the Hawaiian ko’i, adz, is made; any pebble, or small water-worn stone, such as would be used to hold in place the pa-ú while spread out to dry.

52:i Kane-poha-ka’a. Kane-the-hail-sender. The great god Kane was also conceived of as Kane-hekili, the thunderer; Kane-lulu-honua, the earthquake-sender, etc.

52:j Wai-manu and Wai-pi’o are neighboring valleys.

52:k Ko-a’e-kea. A land in Wai-pi’o valley.

52:l Mo’ ke kihi. Mo’ is a contracted form of moku.

53:a Hoaka. The name of the moon in its second day, or of the second day of the Hawaiian month; a crescent.

53:b O awili a Malu-ó. The most direct and evident sense of the word awili is to wrap. It probably means the wrapping of the pa-ú about the loins; or it may mean the movable, shifty action of the pa-ú caused by the lively actions of the dancer. The expression Malu-ó may be taken from the utterance of the king's ilamuku (constable or sheriff) or other official, who, in proclaiming a tabu, held an idol in his arms and at the same time called out Kapu, o-o! The meaning is that the pa-ú, when wrapped about the woman's loins, laid a tabu on the woman. The old Hawaiian consulted on the meaning of this passage quoted the following, which illustrates the fondness of his people for endless repetitions and play upon words:

Awiliwili i ka hale 1 o ka lauwili, e.
He lauwili ka makani, he Kaua-ula, 2
I hoapaapa i ka hale o ka lauwili, e:


Unstable the house of the shifty man,
Pickle as the wind Kaua-ula.
Treachery lurks in the house of Unstable.

53:c Kaupoka. A variant of the usual form, which is kaupaku, the ridgepole of a house, its apex. The pa-ú when worn takes the shape of a grass house, which has the form of a haystack.

53:d Ula ka pali. Red shows the pali, i. e., the side hill. This is a euphemism for some accident by which the pa-ú has been displaced, and an exposure of the person has taken place, as a result of which the boys scream and even the sea-bird, the a’o, shrieks itself hoarse.

53:e A’o. A sea-bird, whose raucous voice is heard in the air at night at certain seasons.

53:f Hi’i-lawe. A celebrated waterfall in Wai-pi’o valley, Hawaii.

53:1 Primitive meaning, house; second, the body as the house of the soul.

53:2 Kaua-ula. A strong wind that shifted from one point to another, and that blew, often with great violence, at Lahaina, Maui. The above triplet was often quoted by the chiefs of olden time apropos of a person who was fickle in love or residence,. As the old book has it, "The double-minded man Is unstable in all his ways," (O ke kanáka lolilua ka manao lauwili kona mau aoao a pau.)

54:a Umi. It was Liloa, the father of Umi, who covered himself with a ti leaf instead of a malo after the amour that resulted in the birth of Umi. His malo he had given as a pledge to the woman who became the mother of Umi.

55:a Lau (archaic). Four hundred.

56:a Mahu’ilani. A poetical name for the right hand; this the olopa, the dancing girls, lifted in extension as they entered the halau from the dressing room. The left hand was termed Kaohi-lani.

56:b Kauna-lewa. The name of a celebrated grove of coconuts at Kekaha, Kauai, near the residence of the late Mr. Knudsen.

56:c Wahine. The woman, Pele.

Next: IX.--The Hula Ala’a-Papa