Sacred Texts  Pacific  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

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

p. 126


During the performance of a hula the halau and all the people there assembled are under a tabu, the imposition of which was accomplished by the opening prayer that had been offered before the altar. This was a serious matter, and laid everyone present under the most formal obligations to commit no breach of divine etiquette; it even forbade the most innocent remarks and expressions of emotion. But when the performers, wearied of the strait-jacket, determined to unbend and indulge in social amenities, to lounge, gossip, and sing informal songs, to quaff a social bowl of awa, or to indulge in an informal dance, they secured the opportunity for this interlude by suspending the tabu. This was accomplished by the utterance of a pule hoo-noa, a tabu-lifting prayer. If the entire force of the tabu was not thus removed, it was at least so greatly mitigated that the ordinary conversations of life might be carried on without offense. The pule was uttered by the kumu or some person who represented the whole company:

Pule Hoo-noa

Lehua a i-luna,
Lehua i-lalo,
A wawae,
A Ka-ulua, b
5 A o Haumea, c
Kou makua-kane, d
Manu o Kaáe; e
O Pe-káu, f
10 O Pé-ka-naná. g


Click to enlarge



p. 127

Papa pau.
Pau a’e iluna;
O Ku-mauna,
A me Laka,
15 A me Ku.
Ku i ka wao,
A me Hina,
Hina mele-lani.
A ua pan;
20 Pau kakou;
A ua noa;
Noa ke kahua;


Power to Remove Tabu

Bloom of lehua on altar piled,
Bloom of lehua below,
Bloom of lehua at altar's base,
In the month Ka-ulna.
5 Present here is Haumea,
And the father of thee,
And the goddess of eloquent speech;
Gather, now gather,
Ye ranks of gods,
10 And ye ranks of men,
Complete in array.
The heavenly service is done,
Service of Ku of the mount,
Service of Laka,
15 And the great god Ku,
Ku of the wilds,
And of Hina,
Hina, the heavenly singer.
Now it is done,
20 Our work is done;
The tabu is lifted,
Free is the place,

Here also is another pule hoo-noa, a prayer-song addressed to Laka, an intercession for the lifting of the tabu. It will be noticed that the request is implied, not explicitly stated. All heads are lifted, all eyes are directed heavenward or to the altar, and the hands with a noiseless motion keep time as the voices of the company, led by the kumu, in solemn cantillation, utter the following prayer:

p. 128

Pule Hoo-noa no Laka

Pupu we’u-we’u a e, Láka e,
O kona we’u-we’u e ku-wá; b
O Ku-ka-ohia-Laká, c e;
Laua me Ku-pulu-pulu; d
5 Ka Lehua me ke Koa lau-lii;
O ka Lama me Moku-halii,
Kú-i-kú-i e me ka Hala-pepe;
Lakou me Lau-ka-ie-ie.
Ka Palaí me Maile-lau-lii.
10 Noa, noa i kou kuahu;
Noa, noa ia oe, Láka;
Pa-pá-lúa noa!


Tabu-lifting Prayer (to Laka)

Oh wildwood bouquet, O Láka!
Set her greenwood leaves in order due;
And Ku, god of Ohia-La-ká,
He and Ku, the shaggy.
5 Lehua with small-leafed Koa,
And Lama and Moku-hali’i,
Kú-i-kú-i and Hála-pé-pé;
And with these leafy I-e-i-e,
Fern and small-leafed Maile.
10 Free, the altar is free!
Free through you, Laka,
Doubly free!

But even now, when the tabu has been removed and the assembly is supposed to have assumed an informal character, before they may indulge themselves in informalities, there remains to be chanted a dismissing prayer, pule hooku’u, in which all voices, must join:

p. 129

Pule Hooku’u

Ku ka makaia a ka huaka’i moe ipo; a
Ku au, hele;
Noho oe, aloha!
Aloha na hale o makou i makamaka-ole,
5 Ke alanui hele mauka o Huli-wale, b la;
E huli a’e ana i ka makana,
I ke alana ole e kanaenae aku ia oe.
Eia ke kanaenae, o ka leo.


Dismissing Prayer

Doomed sacrifice I in the love-quest,
I stand [loin-girt] c for the journey;
To you who remain, farewell!
Farewell to our homes forsaken.
5 On the road beyond In-decision,
I turn me about--
Turn me about, for lack of a gift,
An offering, intercession, for thee--
My sole intercession, the voice.

This fragment--two fragments, in fact, pieced together--belongs to the epic of Pele. As her little sister, Hiiaka, is about to start on her adventurous journey to bring the handsome Prince Lohiau from the distant island of Kauai she is overcome by a premonition of Pele's jealousy and vengeance, and she utters this intercession.

The formalities just described speak for themselves. They mark better than any comments can do the superstitious devotion of the old-timers to formalism, their remoteness from that free touch of social and artistic pleasure, the lack of which we moderns often lament in our own lives and sigh for as a lost art, conceiving it to have been once the possession of "the children of nature."

The author has already hinted at the form and character of the entertainments with which hula-folk sometimes beguiled their professional interludes. Fortunately the author is able to illustrate by means of a song the very form of entertainment they provided for themselves on such an occasion. The following mele, cantillated with an accompaniment of expressive gesture, is one that was actually given at an awa-drinking bout indulged in by hula-folk. The author has an account of its recital at Kahuku, island of Oahu, so late as the year 1849, during a circuit of that island made by King Kamehameha

p. 130

[paragraph continues] III. This mele is reckoned as belonging to the ordinary repertory of the hula; but to which particular form of the dance it was devoted has not been learned:


Ua ona o Kane i awa;
Ua kau ke kéha a i ka uluna;
Ua hi’o-lani b i ka moena.
Kipú mai la i ke kapa o ka noe.
5 Noe-noe na hokú o ka lani--
Imo-imo mai la i ka po a’e-a’e.
Mahana-lua c na kukui a Lanikaula, d
He kaula no Kane. e
Meha na pali o Wai-pi’o
10 I ke kani mau o Kiha-pú;
A ono ole ka awa a ke alii
I ke kani mau o Kiha-pú;
Moe ole kona po o ka Hooilo;
Uluhua, a uluhua.
15 I ka mea nana e huli a loaa
I kela kupua ino i ka pali,
Olali la, a olali.



Kane is drunken with awa:
His head is laid on the pillow;
His body stretched on the neat.
A trumpet sounds through the fog,
5 Dimmed are the stars in the sky;
When the night is clear, how they twinkle!
Lani-kaula's torches look double,
The torches that burn for Kane.
Ghostly and drear the walls of Waipio
10 At the endless blasts of Kiha-pú.
The king's awa fails to console him:
’Tis the all-night conching of Kiha-pú.
Broken his sleep the whole winter;
Downcast and sad, sad and downcast,
15 At loss to find a brave hunter
Shall steal the dunned conch from the cliff.
Look, how it gleams [through the fog]!

p. 131


Click to enlarge



Kane, the chief god of the Hawaiian pantheon, in company with other immortals, his boon companions, met in revelry on the heights bounding Wai-pi’o valley. With each potation of awa they sounded a blast upon their conch-shells, and the racket was almost continuous from the setting of the sun until drowsiness overcame them or the coming of day put an end to their revels.

The tumult of sound made it impossible for the priests to perform acceptably the offices of religion, and the pious king, Liloa, was distressed beyond measure. The whole valley was disturbed and troubled with forebodings at the suspension of divine worship.

The chief offender was Kane himself. The trumpet which he held to his lips was a conch of extraordinary size (pl. XIV) and credited with a divine origin and the possession of supernatural power; its note was heard above all the others. This shell, the famed Kiha-pú, had been stolen from the heiau of Paka’a-lána, Liloa's temple in Waipi’o valley, and after many adventures had come into the hands of god Kane, who used it, as we see, for the interruption of the very services that were intended for his honor.

The relief from this novel and unprecedented situation came from an unexpected quarter. King Liloa's awa-patches were found to be suffering from the nocturnal visits of a thief. A watch was set; the thief proved to be a dog, Puapua-lenalena, whose master was a confirmed awa-toper. When master and dog were brought into the presence of King Liloa, the shrewd monarch divined the remarkable character of the animal, and at his suggestion the dog was sent on the errand which resulted in the recovery by stealth of the famed conch Kiha-pú. As a result of his loss of the conch, Kane put an end to his revels, and the valley of Wai-pi’o again had peace.

This mele is an admirable specimen of Hawaiian poetry, and may be taken as representative of the best product of Hawaii's classical period. The language is elegant and concise, free from the redundancies that so often load down Hawaiian compositions. No one, it is thought, will deny to the subject-matter of this mele an unusual degree of interest.

There is a historic side to the story of the conch-shell Kiha-pú. Not many years ago the Hawaiian Museum contained an ethnological specimen of great interest, the conch-shell Kiha-pú. It was fringed, after the fashion of a witch-doll, with strings, beads, and wampum-like bits of mother-of-pearl, and had great repute as a kupua or luck-bringer. King Kalakaua, who affected a sentimental leaning to the notions of his mother's race, took possession of this famous "curio" and it disappeared from public view.


126:a Lehua. See plate XIII.

126:b Ka-ulua. The name of the third month of the Hawaiian year. corresponding to late January or February, a time when in the latitude of Hawaii nature does not refrain from leafing and flowering.

126:c Haumea. The name applied after her death and apotheosis to Papa, the wife of Wakea, and the ancestress of the Hawaiian race. (The Polynesian Race, A. Fornander, I, 205. London, 1878.)

126:d It is doubtful to whom the expression "makua-kane " refers, possibly to Wakea, the husband of Papa; and if so, very properly termed father, ancestor, of the people.

126:e Manu o Kaáe (Manu-o-Kaáe it might be written) is said to have been a goddess, one of the family of Pele, a sister of the sea nymph Moana-nui-ka-lehua, whose dominion was in the waters between Oahu and Kauai. She is said to have had the gift of eloquence.

126:f Pe-káu refers to the ranks and classes of the gods.

126:g Pé-ka-naná refers to men, their ranks and classes.

128:a Pupu we’u-we’u. A bouquet. The reference is to the wreaths and floral decorations that bedecked the altar, and that were not only offerings to the goddess, but symbols of the diverse forms in which she manifested herself. At the conclusion of a performance the players laid upon the altar the garlands they themselves had worn. These were in addition to those which were placed there before the play began.

128:b Ku-wá. It has cost much time and trouble to dig out the meaning of this word. The fundamental notion is that contained in its two parts, ku, to stand, and wa, an interval or space. the whole meaning to arrange or set in orderly intervals.

128:c La-ká. A Tahitian name for the tree which in Hawaii is called lehua, or ohia. In verse 3 the Hawaiian name ohia and the Tahitian Laká (accented on the final syllable, thus distinguishing it from the name of the goddess Láka, with which it has no discoverable connection) are combined in one form as an appellation of the god Ku--ku-ka-ohia-Laká. This is a notable instance of the survival of a word as a sacred epithet in a liturgy, which otherwise had been lost to the language.

128:d Ku-pulu-pulu. Ku, the fuzzy or shaggy, a deity much worshiped by canoe-makers, represented as having the figure of an old man with a long beard. In the sixth verse the full form of the god's name here given as Moku-ha-li’i would be Ku-moku-hali’i, the last part being an epithet applied to Ku working in another capacity. Moku-hali’i is the one who bedecks the island. His special emblem, as here implied, was the lama, a beautiful tree, whose wood was formerly used in making certain sacred inclosures. From this comes the proper name Palama, one of the districts of Honolulu.

128:e Kú-i-kú-i. The same as the tree now called ku-kú-i, the tree whose nuts were used as candles and flambeaus. The Samoan name of the same tree is tú-i-tú-i.

129:a A literal translation of the first line would be as follows: (Here) stands the doomed sacrifice for the journey in search of a bed-lover.

129:b Huli-wale. To turn about, here used as the name of a place, is evidently intended figuratively to stand for mental indecision.

129:c The bracketed phrase is not in the text of the original.

130:a Kéha is in elegant expression for the side of the head.

130:b Hi’o-lani, literally to turn the side to heaven, is a classic expression of refinement.

130:c Mahana-lua, literally to see double, was an accepted test of satisfactory drunkenness. It reminds the author of an expression he once heard used by the comedian Clarke in the play of Toddles. While in a maudlin state from liquor he spoke of the lighted candle that was in his hand as a "double-barreled candle."

130:d Lani-kaula was a prophet who lived on Molokai at a place that still bears his name. He had his residence in the midst of a grove of tine kukui trees, the remnants of which remain to this day. Torches made from the nuts of these trees were supposed to be of superior quality and they furnished the illumination for the revelries of Kane and his fellows.

130:e He kaula no Kane. A literal translation would be, a prophet of Kane.

Next: XIX.--The Hula Niau-kani