Nā Ali‘i Puolani


Dennis Kamakahi shared the text and translation of this mele with us in Novermber 1995 when we asked permission for our keiki to sing it as their ka‘i and ho‘i for "Maui ‘o Kama" at the King David Kalākaua Invitational Hula Competition in Kona, Hawai‘i. The songsheet he gave us also included a short explanation: "This song is written for my great, great, great grandmother, Kupanihi, who descended from the great chief Maweke of Tahiti and from the chiefs mentioned in this song. My Hawaiian name, Kahekili-mamao-i-ka-lani-keha, is derived from my ancestor Kahekili-nui-‘ahumanu, the great chief of Maui."

Kamakahi's mele combines time-honored Maui epithets, an abridged genealogy of Maui chiefs, and a rousing, march-like melody to remind us of Maui's glorious past. No three-minute song can provide us with the 400 hundred years of history encompassed by Ka‘ulaheanui I (c.1390) and Kalanikūpule (1760-1795), the first and last of Kamakahi's ali‘i puolani. But what this song does is whet our appetite and rouse our interest. Once we are hooked into humming his tune, we canʻt help but learn his roll call of chiefs. Once that list is learned, we start gathering up biographical details and filling in the gaps of person and place. Soon, Maui-born or not, we find ourselves singing Kamakahi's praises with the enthusiasm of died-in-the-wool patriots. Maui-born or not, the song stirs in us an immediate, first-hand appreciation for the nearly lost histories of all our great, great, great grandmothers. Puolani means "to place on high"; that is exactly the effect of "Nā Ali‘i Puolani" -- the song gives us longer arms with which to touch and elevate a storied past that would otherwise fade completely into the dust of night. Ola. 

Ola ka inoa o Pi‘ilani

I pūlama ‘ia e nā ‘ōiwi

Kaulana nā keiki o ka ‘āina

I ka wā kahiko hanohano

E Ka‘ulaheanui

E Kekaulike

E Kamehamehanui o Pākaikai

E Kahekili

E Kalanikūpule

Nā pua lei o Maui o Kama

E ō e Maui nō e ka ‘oi

Nani wale ka ua kea o Hāna

Nā kuahiwi a‘o Lahaina

Kilakila o Haleakalā i ka la‘i

Me Kepaniwaia‘o‘īao

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana

O nā ali‘i puolani

E ola mau i ku‘u mana‘o

No Kupanihi he inoa.

Click the play button to listen to our teens sing "Nā Ali‘i Puolani.


Nā ali‘i puolani: the chiefs placed on high. Many Maui chiefs are named in this song; many are skipped over. If we started with Ka‘ulaheanui I (the father of Kāka‘e, the first Maui chief to be buried at ‘Īao), it would take us five generations to arrive at Pi‘ilani and nine more to get to Kalanikūpule (the chief defeated by Kamehameha at ‘Īao in 1790). The complete list is given here (those ali'i named by Kamakahi are recorded in bold face): Ka‘ulahea I, Kāka‘alaneo and Kāka‘e (brothers), Kahekili I, Kawaukaohele, Pi‘ilani, Kihaapi‘ilani, Kamalālāwalu, Kauhiakama, Kalanikaumakaowākea, Lonohonuakini, Ka‘ulahea II, Kekaulike, Kamehamehanui and Kahekili II (brothers), Kalanikūpule.

Pākaikai: a place in Waialua, Moloka‘i. As an infant, Kamehamehanui was hidden at Pākaikai and raised exclusively on cooked kalo greens (lū‘au). For this reason, he was also called Kamehamehanui-‘ai-lū‘au: Kamehamehanui-eater-of-kalo-greens. 

Maui nō ka ‘oi: Maui is certainly the best. This oft-repeated boast is virtually de riguer in Maui compositions of the early- and mid-twentieth centuries. The Reverend S. Pa‘aluhi, a pastor at Ka‘ahumanu Church in Wailuku who was writing songs in the 1870s and '80s, can perhaps be credited with the first use of the phrase in a modern style mele. A fragment of a song he wrote in honor of J.W. Kalua begins with the lines,"‘O Maui nui o Kama ka ‘oi / Nā kualono nani / Nā kuahiwi kilakila." The Reverend Samuel Kapū Sr., Pa‘aluhi‘s younger counterpart, later borrowed from this mele to create two of Maui's most popular bragging songs, "Malu i ke Ao," and "Maui nō ka ‘Oi."  The Reverend Dennis Kamakahi, writing 100 years later, is still so much a part of this tradition that he relies -- consciously or not -- on almost the same vocabulary of pride and praise.

Ka ua kea o Hāna: the white rain of Hāna. Mary Kawena Pukui identifies the Uakea as a proper noun; the name of a specific misty rain that blows into Hāna from the sea. 

Kepaniwaio‘īao (Ke-paniwai-o-‘Īao): The Dammed Waters of ‘Īao. Kamehameha invaded Maui in 1790 and defeated the army of Kalanikūpule at ‘Īao Valley. Although most of the Maui chiefs were able to escape, their warriors were massacred by Kamehameha's cannon-assisted forces. The bodies of the Maui dead fell into ‘Īao Stream, dammed-up the water, and caused it to run red for days. The battle was then named for this dammed-up stream: Kepaniwaio'īao. Although the battle marked the beginning of the end of Mau‘i's sovereignty, its name became a rallying-cry for Maui patriots who argued that Kepaniwai led, in fact, to a greater triumph for Maui: the marriage of Kamehameha to Keōpūolani, Maui's highest-ranking chiefess, and the founding of a Kamehameha dynasty whose status came not from the watered down line of Hawai‘i Island chiefs but from the far-superior lineage of Pi‘ilani and Kama. Like "Maui nō ka ‘oi," the epithet "Kepaniwaia‘o‘īao" appears regularly in songs written by Maui patriots of the past and present.

[The information above has been excerpted from the workbook that each haumāna of HMI takes with her on her 9th grade trip to Maui. That workbook is authored by Kīhei de Silva. The text and translation to "Nā Ali‘i Puolani" is that given to Māpuana and Kīhei by Dennis Kamakahi; the orthographic editing of this text is Kīhei's.]

The name of Pi‘ilani lives

Cherished by the native sons

Famous are the children of the land

In glorious ancient times

O Ka‘ulaheanui

O Kekaulike

O Kamehamehanui of Pākaikai

O Kahekili

O Kalanikūpule

The beloved children of Maui of Kamalālāwalu

Respond, O Maui, the best

So beautiful is the white rain of Hāna

And the mountains of Lahaina

Majestic is Haleakalā in the calm

With Kepaniwai of ‘Īao

Tell of the refrain,

Of the exalted chiefs,

Live forever in my memory

For Kupanihi, a dedication.

Maui Main  |  Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3