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

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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. p. 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 hua a 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.

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 olóhe. Soon the porkling chosen to be the ai-lólo 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 have gone up into the


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p. 33

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 heard, 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 lehua, 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 Kuahu

Noho ana Laka i ka ulu wehi-wehi,
Ku ana iluna i Mo’o-helaia, a
Ohia-Ku b iluna o Mauna-loa. c
Aloha mai Kaulana-ula d ia’u.
5 Eia ka ula la, he ula leo, e
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.

p. 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 kuahu, the joyful service continues:

Mele Kuahu

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 kuahu. 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.

p. 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 début. The song chosen must rise to the dignity of the occasion. Let us listen to the song that enthralls the audience seated in the rush-strown lanai, that we may judge of its worthiness.

He Mele-Inoa (no Naihe) a

Ka nalu nui, a ku ka nalu mai Kona,
Ka malo a ka mahiehie, b
Ka onaulu-loa, c a lele ka’u malo.

p. 36

O kakai a malo hoaka, b
5 O ka malo kai, c malo o ke alii.
E ku, e hume a paa i ka malo.

E ka’ika’i d ka la i ka papa o Halepó; e
A pae o Halepó i ka nalu.
Ho-e’e i ka nalu mai Kahiki; f
10 He nalu Wakea, g nalu ho’ohua. h
Haki opu’u i ka nalu, haki kua-pá. j

Ea mai ka makakai k he’e-nalu,
Kai he’e kakala l o ka moku,
Kai-ká o ka nalu nui,
15 Ka hu’a o ka nalu o Hiki-au. m
Kai he’e-nalu i ke awakea.

Ku ka puna, ke ko’a i-uka.
Ka makahá o ka nalu o Kuhihewa. n
Ua o ia, o nohá ka papa!
20 Nohá 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.

*     *     *     *     *


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!

p. 37

Let the sun guide the board Halepó,
Till Halepó lifts on the swell.
It mounts the swell that rolls from Kahiki,
10 From Wakea's age onrolling.
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-au 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 skin of the surf-man;
Undrenched the skin of the expert;
Wave-feathers fan the wave-rider.
25 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.


32:a 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.

33:a 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.

33:b Ohia-Ku. Full name ohia-ku-makua; a variety of the this, 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.)

33:c Mauna-loa. Said to be the mountain of that name on Molokai, not that on Hawaii.

33:d 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.

33:e Ula leo. A singing or trilling sound, a tinnitus aurium, a sign that the deity Kaulana-ula was making some communication to the one who heard it.

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

35:a Naihe. A man of strong character, but not a high chief. He was born 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.

35:b Mahiehie. A term conferring dignity and distinction.

35:c Onaulu-loa. A roller of great length and endurance, one that reaches the shore, in contrast to a kakala.

36:a Kakai. An archaic word meaning forty.

36:b Hoaka. 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.

36:c Malo kai. The ocean is sometimes poetically termed the malo or pa-ú of the naked swimmer, or bather. It covers his nakedness.

36:d Ka’ika’i. To lead or to carry; a tropical use of the word. The sun is described as leading the board.

36:e Hale-pó. 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.

36:f Kahiki. Tahiti, or any foreign country; a term of grandiloquence.

36:g Wakea. A mythical name, coming early in Hawaiian genealogies; here used in exaggeration to show the age of the roller.

36:h Ho’ohua. Applied to a roller, one that rolls on and swells higher.

36:i Opu’u. Said of a roller that completes its run to shore.

36:j Kua-pá, Said of a roller as above that dies at the shore.

36:k Maka-kai. The springing-up of the surf after an interval of quiet.

36:l Kakála. Rough, heaped up, one wave overriding another, a chop sea.

36:m Hiki-aú. Said to be the name of a temple.

36:n Kuhihewa. Full name Ka-kuhi-hewa, a distinguished king of Oahu.

36:o O ia. Meaning that the board dug its nose into the reef or sand.

Next: VI.--The Password--The Song of Admission