SONGS: Pua Melekule


Magnolia blossom. Sheet music first published in 1892, bundled together with “Ka Ipo Lei Manu.” Plain cover, but a historianʻs dream:  both songs clearly marked with the term “hula kui.”

“Pua Melekule” is very much on my mind and tongue these days. At the mass concert next month  by Kūlia i ka Pūnāwai (Kumu Hula Association of Southern California) at Soka University Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo (plug plug), this is the number that all kumu hula will dance together. And I am the lead singer for them in concert, as well as on the (forthcoming) CD. But clearly I have been living with this song for awhile, so itʻs time to set down an evidence trail.

First: there are actually two different mele named “Pua Melekule.” You can find both in the 1895 volume Buke Mele Lahui: 

  1. on p. 82, it is titled “Pua Melekule (1)” and attributed to “K.H.”
  2. on p. 110, it is titled “Pua Melekule (2)” and attributed to “J.H.”

Unfortunately the sheet music does not given us any information on authorship. The mele itself in the sheet music is the mele on p. 110 of Buke Mele Lahui. And here is the score:

page_3  page_5


Now to make things interesting, Liliʻuokalaniʻs 1897 manuscript of He Buke Mele Hawaii includes this song on p. 134. The title is “Fond Delight,” and there is only an English translation of the lyrics–by her. (photocopied from typescript in Hawaii State Archives). This translation corresponds to the mele on p. 82 of Buke Mele Lahui.

Liliu 1897 p134

If you read music, you can see that the tune is NOT IDENTICAL between the two sources. However, the tune is SIMILAR. This is in keeping with practices of oral tradition, as songs got passed around. Even within the span of only 5 years, singers have brought varying approaches to singing these mele (plural, because there are two different mele texts).

The mele and musical score was also published by Charles E. King in his Book of Hawaiian Melodies–but ONLY in the 1916 and 1917 editions. And if I had a copy of the score from either book, I would include it here. Perhaps someone can photocopy it and post?

Now, recordings. Curious. I could only locate 3 recordings:

1. Ainahau Trio, on the album Breeze (Poki SP-9005), published 1975; and track reissued on the album Hana Hou (Ginger Recores GS-3002), published 1979


2. Bill Kaiwa, on the album Pure Hawaiian (Pua P-1002), published 1993

Pua P-1002

3. Keao Costa, on the album Whee-Ha! Hawaiian Falsetto Stylings (Mountain Apple MACD-2045), published 1997

Mountain Apple MACD-2045

I combed Malcolm Rockwellʻs magisterial discography Hawaiian & Hawaiian Guitar Records, 1891-1960 (published 2007) hunting for earlier recordings (I thought surely there would be some 78rpm recordings!), but came up empty handed. Perhaps some among you, Dear Readers, can come up with some other recordings. But I am at the limit of the sources at hand at the moment.

And here is what they sing:

  1. ʻAinahau Trio:  they sing the mele [lyrics] on p. 110 of Buke Mele Lahui and in the 1892 sheet music, but only sing verses 1, 2, 3, 4, and haina–following the sheet music lyrics.
  2. Bill Kaiwa: he sings the mele [lyrics] on p. 110 of Buke Mele Lahui and in the 1892 sheet music. He sings all 9 verses!! There are, however, occasional word differences from both  the sheet music and Buke Mele Lahui.
  3. Keao Costa:  he sings the mele [lyrics] on p. 82 of Buke Mele Lahui, and he sings all 7 verses

What we are doing in the concert and on the CD, both titled “Kaulana Nā Pua,” is the mele on p. 82 of Buke Mele Lahui, following the tune in Liliʻuokalaniʻs manuscript, and, in true hula fashion, each verse repeated and NO instrumental breaks anywhere. (On our recording, Josh Changʻs lovely “flailing” flamenco-style strumming thankfully replaces my own poor excuse for backyard strumming.)

I shall leave it to others to pursue interpretations of the occasion/s for which this mele may have been composed or performed. What I do know is that it was popular enough to be published very early in the history of sheet music publishing in Hawaiʻi, and that it delighted Liliʻuokalani sufficiently for her to include her own transcription of the tune to her own flowery translation of the mele. There.

One last story. The photo above of the sheet music is from a copy I own. I had the extraordinary fortune to win it in an ebay auction back around the year 2000 or so. The auction was timed to end at approximately 9:30pm east coast time. I had stayed in my office working late that day; determined to win this auction, I sat in my office until 9:30, not wanting to chance being outbid as I was driving home! (There were several other collectors on ebay at the time whose pockets were far deeper than mine.) Well, my competitors must have been on vacation. Truly and cosmically karma that this sheet music would come into my hands, because no one else bid on it, and I got it for the opening bid of $25.00.  Mahalo ke Akua!

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