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

p. 132


The hula niau-kani was one of the classic dances of the halau, and took its name from the musical instrument that was its accompaniment. This was a simple, almost extemporaneous, contrivance, constructed, like the jew's-harp, on the principle of a reed instrument. It was made of two parts, a broad piece of bamboo with a longitudinal slit at one end and a thin narrow piece of the same material, the reed, which was held firmly against the fenestra on the concave side of part number one. The convexity of the instrument was pressed against the lips and the sound was produced by projecting the breath through the slit in a speaking or singing tone in such a way as to cause vibrations in the reed. The manner of constructing and operating this reed instrument is suggestive of the jew's-harp. It is asserted by those who should know that the niau-kani was an instrument of purely Hawaiian invention.

The performer did not depend simply upon the musical tone, but rather upon the modification it produced in the utterances that were strained through it. It would certainly require a quick ear, much practice, and a thorough acquaintance with the peculiarities of Hawaiian mele to enable one to distinguish the words of a song after being transformed by passage through the niau-kani.

As late as about thirty or forty years ago the niau-kani was often seen in the hands of the native Hawaiian youth, who used it as a means of romantic conversations and flirtation. Since the coming in of the Portuguese and their importation of the uku-lele, the taro-patch-fiddle, and other cheap stringed instruments, the niau-kani has left the field to them and disappeared.

The author's informant saw the niau-kani dance performed some years ago at Moana-lua, near Honolulu, and again on the island of Kauai. The dance in each case was the same. The kumu, aided by a pupil, stood and played on the niau-kani, straining the cantillations through the reed-protected aperture, while the olapa, girls, kept time to the music with the movements of their dancing.

p. 133

E pi’i ka wai ka nahele,
U'ina, nakolo i na Molo-kama; a
Ka ua lele mawaho o Mamala-hoa.
He manao no ko’u e ike
5 I na pua ohi’a o Kupa-koili, b
I hoa kaunu no Manu’a-kepa; c
Ua like laua me Naha-moku. d
Anapa i ke kai o Mono-lau. e
Lalau ka lima a noa ia ia la,
10 I hoa pili no Lani-huli. f
E huli oe i ku’u makemake,
A loa’a i Kau-ka-opua. g
Elua no pua kau
A la manao i makemake ai.
15 Hoohihi oe a hihi
I lei kohu no neia kino.
Ahea oe hiki mai?
A kau ka La i na pali; h
Ka huli a ka makani Wai-a-ma’o, i
20 Makemake e iki ia ka Hala-mapu-ana,
Ka wai halana i Wai-pá. j



Up to the streams in the wildwood,
Where rush the falls Molo-kama,
While the rain sweeps past Mala-hoa,
I had a passion to visit
5 The forest of bloom at Koili,

p. 134

To give love-caress to Manu’a,
And her neighbor Maha-moku,
And see the waters flash at Mono-lau;
My hand would quiet their rage,
10 Would sidle and touch Lani-huli.
Grant me but this one entreaty,
Well meet ’neath the omens above.
Two flowers there are that bloom
In your garden of being;
15 Entwine them into a garland,
Fit emblem and crown of our love.
And what the hour of your coining?
When stands the Sun o’er the pali,
When turns the breeze of the land,
20 To breathe the perfume of hala,
While the currents swirl at War-pá.

This mele is the language of passion, a song in which the lover frankly pours into the ear of his inamorata the story of his love up to the time of his last enthrallment. Verses 11, 12, and 17 are the language of the woman. The scene is laid in the rainy valley of Hanalei, Kauai, a broad and deep basin, to the finishing of which the elements have contributed their share. The rush and roar of the waters that unite to form the river Wai-oli, from their wild tumbling in the falls of Molo-kama till they pass the river's mouth and mingle with the flashing waves of the ocean at Mono-lau, Anapa i ke kai o Mono-lau (verse 8), are emblematic of the man's passion and his finest for satisfaction.


133:a NOTE.--The proper names belong to localities along the course of the Wai-oli stream.

Molokama (more often given as Na Molo-kama). The name applied to a succession of falls made by the stream far up in the mountains. The author has here used a versifier's privilege, compressing this long word into somewhat less refractory shape.

133:b Kupa-koili. A grove of mountain-apples, ohia ai, that stand on the bank of the stream not far from the public road.

133:c Manu’a-kepa. A sandy, grass-covered meadow on the opposite side of the river from Kupa-koili.

133:d Maha-moku. A sandy beach near the mouth of the river, on the same bank as Manu’a-kepa.

133:e Monu-lau. That part of the bay into which the river flows, that is used as an anchorage for vessels.

133:f Lani-huli. The side of the valley Kilauea of Wai-oli toward which the river makes a bend before it enters the ocean.

133:g Kau-ka-opua. Originally a phrase meaning "the cloud-omen hangs," has come to be used as the proper name of a place. It is an instance of a form of personification often employed by the Hawaiians, in which words having a specific meaning--such, for instance, as our "jack-in-the-box"--have come to be used as a noun for the sake of the meaning wrapped up in the etymology. This figure of speech is, no doubt, common to all languages, markedly so in the Hawaiian. It may be further illustrated by the Hebrew name Ichahod--"his glory has departed."

133:h A kau ka La, i na pali. When stands the sun o’er the pali, evening or late in the afternoon. On this part of Kauai the sun sets behind the mountains.

133:i Wai-a-ma’o. The land-breeze, which sometimes springs up at night.

133:j Wai-pú. A spot on the bank of the stream where grew a pandanus tree, hala, styled Ka-hala-mapu-ana, the hala-breathing-out-its-Fragrance.

Next: XX.--The Hula Ohe