In our last installment, I reflected on W.S. Merwinʻs poem “One Valley” as a primary source document telling a contemporary story of the Pe‘ahi Stream Valley. Since then, I’ve begun to see our “Pe’ahi Stories” project as a journey both poetic and historical. Poetic texts, songs, chants are all records of life at a particular moment in time, and contain clues, names, even emotions that are often deeply connected to place. They play an important role alongside oral histories, formal studies, and lend tenure documents.
The ethnohistorical study of our ahupuaʻa and moku, completed by Kepā and Onaona Maly (Kumu Pono Associates), has continued to bear gifts worth sharing with our neighbors and broader community. One of the shining documents referenced in this 305-page study is a gorgeous mele (chant) that contains rich descriptions of the physical and ecological qualities of our area of Maui, as it existed 242 years ago–before the land and the people witnessed the traumas of deforestation and stream diversion, and residents were displaced from the land that fed them.
In Kepā and Onaona’s introduction to a section called “Ōlelo a me nā Mele Ho‘ohiwahiwa” they write:
Hawaiians have always commemorated their relationship with their living environment through ‘ōlelo no‘eau – ‘ōlelo a‘o (poetical and instructive sayings), mele (chants), and later through songs. The sayings and mele celebrate all facets of life and death. In such lines were found named places, descriptions of resources, and events on the land or in people’s lives. Our review of historical Hawaiian language narratives has revealed few specific citations for the place name, Pe‘ahi. There are a number of poetical references to place names in and neighboring Pe‘ahi. In the selected narratives, we have used underlining to identify place names, winds, rains, and noted resources.
One of the most significant texts penned by historian [Samuel Mānaiakalani] Kamakau (in One of the most significant texts penned by historian [Samuel Mānaiakalani] Kamakau (in Nupepa Kuokoa, Pepeluari 23, 1867:1), in which lands and natural resources of the windward region of Maui are described, is known as the mele (chant) of Keaulumoku, composed in ca. 1780. The mele is attributed to kahuna or seer, Ke-a-ulu-moku. In it we find place names, descriptions of rains, winds, sites and resources of note at various localities of windward Maui. Kamakau (translated 1961) wrote:
“…Ke-a-ulu-moku was another celebrated man of Ka-lani-‘opu‘u’s day. His father was the great chief Ka-ua-kahi-akua-nui, son of Lono-maka‘i-honua and Kaha-po‘ohiwi, but his mother belonged to Naohaku in Kohala. He was celebrated as a composer of war chants, chants of praise, love chants, prophetic chants, and genealogical chants. When he went back to Hawaii with Ka-lani-‘opu‘u he was homesick for the two Hamakua districts of Maui where he had lived with Kamehameha-nui and Ka-hekili. His love for the place found expression in the following lines:
Aloha wale o‘u maku—a la—e o‘u
Aloha wale o‘u makua
Mai na ‘aina Hamakua,
He mau ‘aina Hamakua elua,
No‘u mua kaikua‘ana i noho ai.
He ala pali na‘u he mau ali‘i ia,
O ka hanai ana komo ke aloha,
Lele hewa au i he mau kaikua‘ana—e
‘A‘ole—he mau mea ‘e wale no o laua
He ua i pono—e—pono ia ua.
A he ua i halaka, he mahala,
Pehi hewa i ka nahele
Kua‘oa kanikani i ka pua lehua.
Ua lehua, he lehua hala,
Ua i ka lehua o Kailua.
Lehua maka konunu i ka wai,
Halana makapehu wale no kie ia,
Pehu, ua mae ka maka mua o ka hinalo ho‘i.
Ho‘i ka ua ma Haneho‘i,
Ma ka lae o Pu‘umaile i Hoalua,
Ma kahakua o Pu‘ukoa‘e,
Ma ke alo pali o Huelo.
Ua poha’ Kaumealani,
U a ko ia e ka pua nui
Hukia aku la lilo i kai
Lilo aku la ua i ka moana,
He maka o Hawini ia ua,
He ua ‘alo ma ka lae,
Nihi pali nihi lae,
Nihi i ka lae o Mokupapa.
Hele wale ka ua a kipa wale,
Ka ua pe‘e hala huna kai o—
Huna ke kupa i ka hala mua a kau.
U-u-e ua wahia e ka ua o ka ho‘oilo.
E ke kuawa kahi o ke kau
Nana i ho‘oko’o nei ka pua!
Aui ka pua noho laolao i ke ka,
Aui e noho e na pua polo pe‘a;
Pala ka‘ao, ka‘ao ka pola,
Loli helele‘i ahu ilalo;
Loli ka‘ao ka hala me ka hinalo.
O ka hala o ka ‘ohi‘a lana i ka wai
I ka‘i ke kahawai o Kakipi,
Ilina iluna o ka mau‘u kuku’,
I ka pua po‘o o ka mau‘u pu‘uko‘a
I kahi a maua e hele ai,
Me ku‘u wahine i ka ua hala o Kulo—li,
A ‘oia loli ke ala iho ma ka lau,
Lauhala—e a ke ‘o‘i‘o‘ina ‘oe i Ko’olahale,
‘Ike aku i ka mahina hiki‘alo‘alo
One ku a ki‘i i ke kaha o Malama.
Malamalama ke one kea ke hele ia,
Kipa ke alanui mauka o Waiakuna,
Me he kuna kuhe la ke oho o ke kukui,
I ka ho‘olu‘u lupekolo ia e ke hau
A lipo a‘ele‘ele i ka waokoa.
He‘ele‘ele ko ke kukui noho malu,
He lena ho‘i ka lau o kekahi kukui
O ke kukui aku i waho i ka la,
I ka ua ia e ka ua ‘ulalena.
Affectionate longing, affectionate longing,
Affection for my (foster) parents, my parents
Affection for my parents [page 112]
Who belong to Hamakua,
The two districts of Hamakua,
Where my elder brothers live.
My hillside trails are theirs to rule,
They nurtured me until I loved them;
I find myself with other elder brothers
Who are not the same to me.
Let the rain fall, for rain is good.
It patters down, it pelts down,
It crushes the forest growth,
It sprinkles musically on the lehua.
The lehua trees blossom, the yellow lehua,
When the rain comes to the lehua of Kailua.
The lehua petals are heavy with raindrops,
Heavy, heavy and full-blown.
They know not the pangs of thirst
That wilt the first-blown pandanus bloom
The rain returns by way of Haneho‘i,
Along the brow of Pu‘umaile to Hoalua,
Over the ridge of Pu‘ukoa‘e,
Before the face of the cliff of Huelo.
There it pours down on Kaumealani,
The rain that brings out the full-blown flowers
And draws them close down to the shore.
The rain goes out to sea,
It falls on Hawini like teardrops,
It passes along over the capes,
It creeps by the cliffs and capes, [page 113]
Creeps by the cape of Mokupapa.
The rain comes uninvited,
The rain that hides in the hala groves below
Whose fine drops water the ti plants.
The native-born hides the first hala fruit of summer*
And weeps over the stormy rains of winter.
Oh! for the light summer showers
That brought forth the blossoms!
The blossoms droop with stem half-broken,
The blossoms hang wilted and uncared-for;
The fruit clusters, ripened above,
Mildew and fall in heaps to the ground;
Both fruit and flowers are mildewed.
The hala fruit and the mountain apples drop in the stream
And are washed down in the stream of Kakipi,
Washed up on thorny weeds,
Up on the flowers of coarse grasses
Where we two have wandered,
My wife and I, to the rain-wet hala grove of Kuloli
Fragrant among the leaves
The hala leaves over the resting place of Koʻohale,
Where we watched for the belated moon
To rise over the cinder cone of Malama
The white sands are plainly to be seen if we wish to go there
Over the upland trail of Waiakuna
Winding like the fresh-water eel.
The kukui leaves look dark like the kukui, gobey [kuna the eel] fish,
When overshadowed by the twining hau trees
Deep in the dusky koa forest.
Dark are the leaves of the kukui in the shade,
The leaves are pale yellowish green
In the full light of the sun,
Watered by the rainbow-tinted rain…
[Kamakau 1961:page 115]
*The yellow drupe of the pandanus (hala) fruit is cut and made into a lei to wear about the neck. One such lei is usually kept dry and not allowed to mildew in order to be used to exorcise evil spirits.
In reading this poetic longing for home at the two districts of Hāmākua, Maui (Hāmākualoa and Hāmākuapoko) we can imagine what the landscape once was like, what plants were growing there, the qualities of the rains and winds. In a time before photography, mele–chanted aloud and passed down orally–was a way to record and share memories of the elements present in a beloved place.
In the Pe‘ahi Stream Valley, just a short hike from the Merwins’ home, there are beautiful groves of hala (Pandanus) trees, their yellow drupes falling in the rain. The kukui trees we see now on the land–about 30 feet tall and growing–might be the offspring of those Keaulumoku saw and memorialized in his mele. Although this landscape has drastically changed over the last two centuries, there are still remnants of another time in the places that bulldozers could not reach. Dormant seeds from a time before machines still lay under the soil, awaiting their moment to reach for the sun.
This program is made possible in part by funding from Hawaiʻi Council of the Humanities through the Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this series, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.