Thursday, June 7, 2007

No Arguing Over Poi

Even though my English vocabulary must have been fairly large by the time I was speaking Hawaiian, I wasn't thinking in English. It's hard for me to believe that, but I know it's true because I have numerous memories from the next few months of trying to think in English and falling back on Hawaiian.

My Hawaiian friends didn't know that at first. They thought I was just holding back.

I started singing the songs Lani sang. I wouldn't sing when he did, because I thought that adding my voice would spoil it. But afterward I would repeat the songs. One day I surprised them by singing a song Lani had not sung for days, and which they hadn't heard me sing before. Lono asked how I could remember so well. I said, I didn't know, I just could. I told them I could remember every single one of the songs, by the sound of it, without always knowing what the words meant.

They asked me what was the first song I recalled. I said I remembered a song from before I met them. When I agreed to sing it for them I'm sure at that moment they were both thinking they were finally going to hear me speaking English. Instead I sang the entire 19 lines of the Kaulilua song that I had heard once when I was 5 or 6 months old, nearly two years earlier.

The Smithsonian Folkways series has a tape and a CD called Hawaiian Drum Dance Chants (at the link you can hear excerpts). It has archival recordings of numerous old performances. There are 25 tracks on the tape. Tracks 10, 11, 18, 20, and 22 (110, 111, 118, 120, and 122 on the CD) present different versions of the same Kaulilua song. The liner notes include the words and two translations one from 1935 and one from 1952, both by Mary Kawena Pukui (mistakenly called Pukai in several places on the CD information page). A version of this is what I had remembered phonetically:

1. Kaulīlua i ke anu Wai'ale'ale
2. O ka maka hālalo ka lehua makanoe
3. O ka lihilihi kukū iā no 'Aipō
4. O ka hulu a'a 'ia o Haua'iliki
5. A i pēhia e ua 'eha ka nahele
6. O māui e ka pua 'uwe 'eha i ke anu
7. O ke kūkuna wai lehua a'o Mokihana
8. Ua hana 'ia e ka pono a ua pololei
9. Ua hā'ina 'ia aku nō 'iā 'oe
10. O ke ola no 'ia o kia'i loko.
11. Ki'ei Ka'ula nānā i ka makani
12. Ho'olono ka halulu o ka Mālua Kele
13. Ki'ei hālō Maka'iki'ole
14. Kāmau ka 'ea i ka Hālauaola
15. He kula lima 'ia no Wāwaenoho
16. Ma ke pūko'a hakahaka iā i Wa'ahila
17. Ka momoku a ka unu Unulau o Lehua
18. A lehulehu ke ka pono le'a ka ha'awina
19. Ke ala mai nei o ka puka o ka hale.
[some versions have "Ka hauna" replacing "Ke ala"]

Here's the 1935 translation:

1. Doubly cold it is at Wai'ale'ale
2. Where the stunted lehua blossoms grow
3. They are the fringed flowers of 'Aipō
4. Like the bright feathers that cover Haua'iliki
5. Pelted by the rain, the forest is bruised
6. Crushed are the flowers, they weep with the cold
7. In the sunshine that shines on the waters of Mokihana
8. All things are done and done well
9. I have told you before
10. This is the way that the keeper of the pond made his livelihood.
11. Best watch within and toward Ka'ula
12. Question each breeze, note each rumor, even the whisper of Mālua Kele
13. Search high, search low, unobserved
14. Here is life, it is breath from the body
15. A fond caress by a hand most constant
16. Like fissured groves of coral
17. Stand the ragged clumps of lehua
18. Many are the houses, easy the life, you have your share of love
19. Humanity stands at your door, yes, indeed.

I can hardly quibble with Mary Kawena Pukui (she literally wrote the Hawaiian Dictionary, along with Samuel H. Elbert) but Lani and Lono would have. I know because when I asked them at lunch to explain what the song meant (it made no sense to me then, and very little now, even looking at two translations) they broke out into what bordered on a shouting match over the meaning of the key line, number 10.

When I embedded the excerpt of the song back at the Early Music Memories post, I ended with line 10. The song naturally falls into two halves and that middle line is the transition. It receives dramatic emphasis. It has to be important.

It was at this point that I learned that Lono was Christian and that he had a Christian interpretation for line 10. He said it was a reference to Jesus. That's who the keeper of the pond was, really.

Lani was not Christian. He was traditional. He said the song had an underground meaning. It was all about how the Hawaiian culture and the power of the people had been undermined, but would ultimately be restored. He interpreted 'pond' of the 10th line as being about the inner soul of the people, that still lives on, because it has a keeper, in the guardianship of those who are preserving it.

Mary Kawena Pukui said it's about a ruling-class love affair.

At each of Lani and Lono's lunches, held on the grass on Stoneman Field, there was always a covered pot of poi. When the argument between Lani and Lono got too much for me, I took the lid off the pot and waved my hand at it. They both quieted down, because when the poi is exposed you have to be civilized, the ancestors are listening. So I was told. Anyway, the argument stopped.

By the way, I had no idea at that time what a Christian, or a non-Christian, might be. Neither meant anything more to me than a lehua blossom, which so far as I knew then, I'd never seen.

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