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

p. 250


The account of the Hawaiian hulas would be incomplete if without mention of the hula ku’i. This was an invention, or introduction, of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Its formal, public, appearance dates from the coronation ceremonies of the late King Kalakaua, 1883, when it filled an important place in the programme. Of the 262 hula performances listed for exhibition, some 30 were of the hula ku’i. This is perhaps the most democratic of the hulas, and from the date of its introduction it sprang at once into public favor. Not many years ago one could witness its extemporaneous performance by nonprofessionals at many an entertainment and festive gathering. Even the school-children took it up and might frequently be seen innocently footing its measures on the streets. (Pl. xxiv.)

The steps and motions of the hula ku’i to the eyes of the author resemble those of some Spanish dances. The rhythm is in common, or double, time. One observes the following motions:

Figure A.--1. A step obliquely forward with the left foot, arms pointing the same way, body inclining to the right. 2. The ball of the left foot (still advanced) gently pressed on the floor; the heel swings back and forth, describing an arc of some 30 or 40 degrees. 3. The left foot is set firmly in the last position, the body inclining to it as the base of support; the right foot is advanced obliquely, and 4, performs the heel-swinging motions above described, arms pointing obliquely to the right.

Figure B.--Hands pressed to the waist, fingers directed forward, thumbs backward, elbows well away from the body; left foot advanced as in figure A, 1, body inclining to the right. 2. The left foot performs the heel-waving motions, as above. 3. Hands in same position, right foot advanced as previously described. 4. The right foot performs the swinging motions previously described--the body inclined to the left.

Figure C.--In this figure, while the hands are pressed as before against the waist, with the elbows thrown well away from the body, the performer sways the pelvis and central axis of the trunk in a circular or elliptical orbit, a movement, which, carried to the extreme, is termed ami.

There are other figures and modifications, which the ingenuity and fancy of performers have introduced into this dance; but this account must suffice.


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p. 251

Given a demand for a pas seul, some pleasing dance combining grace with dexterity, a shake of the foot, a twist of the body, and a wave of the hands, the hula ku’i filled the bill to perfection. The very fact that it belonged by name to the genus hula, giving it, as it were, the smack of forbidden fruit, only added to its attractiveness. It became all the rage among dancing folk, attaining such a vogue as almost to cause a panic among the tribunes and censors of society. Even to one who cares nothing for the hula per se, save as it might be a spectacle out of old Hawaii, or a setting for an old-time song, the innocent grace and Delsartian flexibility of this solo dance, which one can not find in its Keltic or African congeners, associate it in mind with the joy and light-heartedness of man's Arcadian period.

The instruments generally used in the musical accompaniment of the hula ku’i are the guitar, the uku-lelea the taro-patch fiddle, or the mandolin; the piano also lends itself effectively for this purpose; or a combination of these may be used.

The songs that are sung to this dance as a rule belong naturally to later productions of the Hawaiian muse, or to modifications of old poetical compositions. The following mele was originally a name-song (mele-inoa). It was appropriated by the late Princess Kino-iki; and by her it was passed on to Kalani-ana-ole, a fact which should not prejudice our appreciation of its beauty.


I aloha i ke ko a ka wai,
I ka i mai, e, anu kaua.
Ua anu ha pua o ka laina, b
Ka wahine noho anu o ke kula.
5 A luna au a o Poli-ahu; c
Ahu wale kai a o Wai-lua.
Lua-ole ka hana a ka makani,
A ke Kiu-ke’e d a o na pali,
Pa iho i ke kai a o Puna--
10 Ko Puna mea ma’a mau ia.
Pau ai ko’u lihi hoihoi
I ka wai awili me he kai.
Ke ono hou nei ku’u pu’u
I ha wai hu’iliu’i o ka uka,

p. 252

15 Wai hone i ke kumu o ka pali,
I malu i ka lau kui-kui. a
Ke kuhi nei au a he pono
Ka ilima lei a ke aloha,
Au i kau nui aku ai,
20 I ka nani oi a oia pua.



How pleasing, when borne by the tide,
One says, you and I are a-cold.
The buds of the center are chilled
Of the woman who shivers on shore.
5 I stood on the height Poli-ahu;
The ocean enrobed Wai-lua.
Ah, strange are the pranks of the wind,
The Kiu-ke’e wind of the pali!
It smites now the ocean at Puna--
10 That's always the fashion at Puna.
Gone, gone is the last of my love,
At this mixture of brine in my drink!
My mouth is a-thirst for a draught
Of the cold mountain-water,
15 That plays at the foot of the cliff,
In the shade of the kui-kui tree.
I thought our love-flower, ilima--
Oft worn as a garland by you--
Still held its color most true.
20 You'd exchange its beauty for rue!


Kaulana mai nei Pua Lanakila;
Olali oe o ke aupuni hui,
Nana i koké aku ke kahua,
Na ale o ka Pakipika.
5 Lilo i mea ole na enemi;
Punwai hao-kila, he manao paa;
Na Ka nupepa la i hoike mai.
Ua kau Lanakila i ka hanohano,
O ka u’i mapela la o Aina-hau;
10 O ko’u hoa ia la e pili ai--
I hoa kaana i ka puuwai,
I na kohi kelekele i ka Pu’ukolu.
Ina ilaila Pua Komela,
Ka u’i kaulana o Aina-pua!
15 O ka pua o ka Lehua me ka Ilima
I lei kahiko no ko’u kino,
Ka Palai lau-lii me ka Maile,
Ke ala e hoene i kou poli.

p. 253



Fame trumpets your conquests each day,
Brave Lily Victoria!
Your scepter finds new hearts to sway,
Subdues the Pacific's wild waves,
5 Your foes are left stranded ashore,
Firm heart as of steel!
Dame Rumor tells us with glee
Your fortunes wax evermore,
Beauty of Aina-hau,
10 Comrade dear to my heart.
And what of the hyacinth maid,
Nymph of the Flowery Land?
I choose the lehua, ilima,
As my wreath and emblem of love,
15 The small-leafed fern and the maile--
What fragrance exhales from thy breast!

The story that might explain this modern lyric belongs to the gossip of half a century ago. The action hinges about one who is styled Pua Lanakila--literally Flower of Victory. Now there is no flower, indigenous or imported, known by this name to the Hawaiians. It is an allegorical invention of the poet. A study of the name and of its interpretation, Victory, at once suggested to me the probability that it was meant for the Princess Victoria Kamamalu.

As I interpret the story, the lover seems at first to be in a condition of unstable equilibrium, but finally concludes to cleave to the flowers of the soil, the lehua and the ilima (verse 15), the palai and the maile (verse 17), the meaning of which is clear.


251:a The uku-lele and the taro-patch fiddle are stringed instruments resembling in general appearance the fiddle. They seem to have been introduced into these islands by the Portuguese immigrants who have come in within the last twenty-five years. As with the guitar, the four strings of the uku-lele or the five strings of the taro-patch fiddle are plucked with the finger or thumb.

251:b Na pua o ka laina. The intent of this expression, which seems to have an erotic meaning, may perhaps be inferred from its literal rendering in the translation. It requires a tropical imagination to follow a Hawaiian poem.

251:c Poli-ahu. A place or region on Mauna-kea.

251:d Kiu-ke’e. The name of a wind felt at Nawiliwili, Kauai. The local names for winds differed on the various islands and were multiplied almost without measure; as given in the mythical story of Kama-pua’a, or in the semihistoric tale of Kú-a-Paka’a, they taxed the memories of raconteurs.

252:a Kui-kui. The older name-form of the tree (Aleurites triloba), popularly known by some as the candle-nut tree, from the fact that its oily nuts were used in making torches. Kukui, or tutui, is the name now applied to the tree, also to a torch or lamp. The Samoan language still retains the archaic name tuitui. This is one of the few instances in which the original etymology of a word is retained in Hawaiian poetry.

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