The Sources of Our Songs

moku o keawe

This coming week I have the honor and privilege of leading a group of students around the island exploring the meaning and history of Hawaiian mele and the places they are about. In four days we will visit four different areas of the island and learn a song or two that tells a story about that place’s history. As the students will be learning during the week, I hope to learn too. We will have special guests joining us in each region who will share with us their mana`o about the mele we will be learning. Our journey will start in our home, Waimea. We will start with two songs that are well known and closely tied to the history of Waimea, “Hole Waimea and “Waika.” These songs are modern interpretations of chants that date back to the time of Kamehameha and the famous warriors of the Waimea area. In addition, Hole Waimea is the school song of Hawai`i Preparatory Academy where I teach, and today is now chanted with a borrowed verse from Waika. These two songs are closely intertwined and represent the binding histories of the past and present. The second part of our journey in Waimea will focus on “Waiomina” which tells the story of the famous adventure of three paniolo to Cheyenne, Wyoming to compete in the Frontier Days World Championship roping competition where Ikua Purdy won first place and set the world record. We will visit the Paniolo Hall of Fame located at Pukalani Stables where paniolo historian Dr. Billy Bergin will talk to us about paniolo culture and specifically the unique saddle making history of Waimea.

On day two we will travel up the Hamakua Coast to visit two waterfalls, `Akaka Falls and Waianuenue. At our stop at `Akaka Falls we will learn about the beautiful mele “`Akaka Falls” and the legend of `Akaka. From there we will go into Hilo town and admire the beauty of Hilo Bay through the mele “Kuhio Bay”. This song is a great vehicle to learn about the many beautiful places found in Hilo such as Waiakea, Moku Ola and Waianuenue. Here we have the honor of being led by a Hawaiian Studies professor from UH-Hilo who will share with us about the stories of this song and the special meaning of these different areas in Hilo.

Our third day will take us down to the Kohala Coast to the Kalahuipua`a fishponds at Mauna Lani where Hawaiian Kahu, historian, storyteller and musician Reverend Danny Akaka will lead us through the history and stories of the area with the mele “Keawaiki” which was written there. This is truly a special opportunity as Danny is a treasure trove of information and history. I look forward to learning more about this mele and its composition as it has always been one of my favorites by the great Gabby Pahinui.

After our visit at Kalahuipua`a, we will take a short hike over to Paniau beach which is located at the southern end of Puako Bay. I am hoping that Danny can grace us with the his beautiful singing voice and `ukulele playing and play for us the song “Paniau”. This is one of the great mele of Hawaiian music and unfortunately very rarely heard or known today, Danny being one of the few blessed with the knowledge of the history of its composition and skill is singing and playing it. Hearing him sing this mele is chicken skin indeed!

Finally on our last day we will travel to South Kona and visit Pu`u Honua o Honaunau. Through the educational waiver program so graciously offered by our National Park Service we will be allowed free access to the park so the students can enjoy the importance of the historical area. While the recent storm did remove sand from certain parts of the beach making access to the Heiau limited, we will still have the opportunity to view Hale o Keawe from a distance and enjoy its majestic power. I am hoping to be joined at the park by Hawaiian musician Bula Ka`iliwai who recorded the mele “Honaunau Paka”.

This is another song that is rarely heard today, yet to me is an example of the beauty and meaning of Hawaiian musical poetry. Of course this mele holds a special place in my heart as I grew up in Honaunau and spent many many days of my youth in and around Pu`u Honua o Honaunau swimming, fishing and enjoying its beautiful grounds. In fact, it was in the powerful tide pools of Keawewai that I almost lost my life at a young age when I was swept out to sea by a powerful surge of waves only to be rescued by a Hawaiian man who risked his own life swimming out into large surf to save me.

So I am truly looking forward to this experience, to not only share my knowledge and love of Hawaiian music with the students, but to learn along with them from our special guests. The mele of Hawai`i is a vehicle for us to learn more about the land and the special characteristics of the places all around us. It is my hope that in this journey we can then turn inward and learn more about ourselves and to ho`analu….go beyond the known boundaries of what who think we are and discover more.

HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries

Me and da boys waikoloa                     smitty in hilo

On June 9th, 2012 I was standing deep in the jungle on the eastern end of Hawai`i Island.  In the silence of the moment I looked up and saw a falling star streak across the sky.  In the still of one of the remotest places in the world, where I had not heard a sound for hours, in the distance a dog barked.  I knew my friend had arrived safely on the other side.

I first saw Braddah Smitty at the Broiler in Waimea after I had returned home from college.  I walked into the bar area and saw a well built Hawaiian man in a palaka shirt singing music that reminded me of the time from my childhood.  It was that peculiar singing so unique to the people of Hawai`i and the odd rhythmic strumming of the guitar.  This was the sound I had longed to hear.  It had been locked in my memory from the braddahs under the tree at Napo`opo`o Beach and from the gatherings in the backyards of South Kona.  I needed to know who he was, I needed to know how this sound is created, I needed to know how I could find my way onto a seat at this jam session.

Over the next 5 years I had the privilege and honor to get to know Braddah Smitty, to get to know how this sound was created and finally onto a seat at the greatest jam session I ever got to know. What happened is what I have come to know as HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. This phrase was given to me by a keeper of the knowledge of the Hawaiian way. What my experiences in playing music has taught me is that there is a place beyond what is known.  There is something existing, not beneath the surface, but further past the limits of what we think we know.

I would like to explore these boundaries.  Through the stories shared with me, through the things I have seen and through the knowledge passed to me, it is my time and I would like to share.  I would like to use this blog to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries.  It was in that moment standing in the dark amongst the trees around me and the damp grass beneath my feet that I was confronted with his spirit.  And what he told me will stay with me forever.  I knew it was my time, it was time to HO`ANALU….