SONGS: Hiilawe [Hi‘ilawe]

Dear Readers, it has been a month since my last post. I have not been idle; like so many others, I am struggling to stay afloat in the riptides . . . Like so many others, I mourned Whitney Houstonʻs untimely passing; like so many others, I was thrilled to wiyetness Adeleʻs triumphant return to the microphone. All the while I continue to make progress on my discographical adventures . . . and promise stories to come. But in the meantime, here is an offering on a well-known song, “Hiʻilawe.”

The song is legendary, and for many fans, the renown of the song rests on the legendary recordings by Gabby Pahinui. His 1947 recording of the song has appeared on numerous anthologies and compilations within the past 20 years.

Letʻs look at some of the earliest sources of the song. Several months ago, one of the members of the amazing team of folks working on the Ho‘olaupa‘i newspaper digitization project posted an exciting find on Facebook: a letter dated April 13, 1906, and published in the newspaper Ke Aloha Aina on April 21, 1906, with the lyrics to “Hiilawe Song.”

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Although the letter writer is one “O. K. Poniaulani,” at the end of the song is the statement: “This mele is composed by Samʻl Kalainaina in the year 1892.”

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1906 was not the first year that this mele appeared in print. This mele appeared in a songbook titled Songs of Hawaii, compiled by A. R. “Sonny” Cunha and published by Bergstrom Music in 1902. And even more fascinating: the mele appears not once, but twice in that songbook, set to two different tunes, with attributions to two different authors.

Bishop Museum Ethnomusicologist Betty Tatar first called attention to finding “Hiilawe” in this songbook, and mentioned this in the entry on “Hi“ilawe” on pages 125-6 of George Kanaheleʻs encyclopedic volume Hawaiian Music and Musicians (1979). Nerdy student that I was, I went to UH Hamilton Library and Bishop Museum Library (at that time), and looked up these songbooks. Sure enough–two different melodies, two different author attributions; both arrangements copyrighted 1902.

In the course of a series of IM conversations two years ago with Bill Wynne, he located in Google Books a copy of Cunhaʻs 1914 compilation titled Famous Songs of Hawaii, which I had reported in one of my earliest articles (1987) to be an expanded edition of Cunhaʻs 1902 volume. I quickly logged onto Google Books, found the volume, and enjoyed a hearty laugh. The copy in Google Books was from Harvard College Music Library. Just inside the binding cover was the “Date Due” slip. The last five date stamps were 1985-1987. The borrower was none other than me, back when I was a graduate student!! I was indexing the songbooks back then, and my analysis of the songbook contents is what was written up in that 1987 article.

Click on the link I inserted in the last paragraph, and you, too, can see Harvardʻs copy of Cunhaʻs 1914 songbook. Youʻll find “Halialaulani” by Mrs. Kuakini on page 36, and “Ke Aloha Poina Ole” by Miss Martha K. Maui on page 39. Both songs are arranged by Sonny Cunha, and you can see for yourself the copyright notices dated 1902, registered to Bergstrom Music Co. of Honolulu, T.H.

A comment on the author attributions: it was then (and still is now) the convention in U.S. copyright registration of songs to privilege the author of the music over the author of the lyrics. So the attributions to Mrs. Kuakini and Miss Martha K. Maui must be read as crediting these two women with tunes that are, indeed, distinctly different from each other. The letter writer to the newspaper Ke Aloha Aina confirmed that the author of the mele lyrics is Samuel Kalainaina–an attribution that did not have a precisely understood location on the page in the context of common practice in copyright registration.

“Halialaulani” on page 36 has 26 lines in the mele. “Ke Aloha Poina Ole” on page 39 has 14 lines. Those 14 links correspond to lines 1-14 in “Halialaulani,” notwithstanding variants among minor grammatical particles. In the 1906 printing in Ke Aloha Aina, the mele has 26 lines, and they correspond with “Halialaulani.”

So here we have it, Dear Readers, another excursion through multiple sources of documentation that confirm a thriving practice–that a mele can have more than one tune, and that interest in at least these two tunes warranted their being notated, arranged and published in a songbook that carried these songs across oceans and continents, and the mele was sufficiently beloved to survive in performance and memory and resurface four decades later on a sound recording that is now canonized, lionized–and treasured.

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One Response to SONGS: Hiilawe [Hi‘ilawe]

  1. John Troutman says:

    Just came across this post, Amy– great stuff! Personal and so informative!

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