on my mind . . . mele lāhui


This is a composite of front-page excerpts from the newspaper Ka Makaainana between March 25 and April 15, 1895. At the top of column 1 in each issue is a mele. And therein lies the story of the concert presentation that Kūlia i ka Pūnāwai (Kumu Hula Association of Southern California) will be presenting one week from tomorrow–on Feb. 15, 2015, at Soka University Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo, California.

Ka Makaainana was one of several newspapers in print in that period. Among the newspapers, it was one of the most vociferous in its staunch support of Queen Liliʻuokalani and fierce opposition to the government of the rogue Republic of Hawaii. When supporters of the queen staged an armed rebellion on January 5, 1895, the government ordered the newspaper shut down. In the weeks following the rebellion, many of the Queenʻs supporters were arrested. The Queen herself was arrested on January 16, swiftly tried by a military tribunal on charges of treason, and sentenced to imprisonment in ʻIolani Palace.  Ka Makaainana resumed publication with its first issue on March 18, 1895.

The positioning of mele at the top of column 1 on page 1 is remarkable, for two reasons. First, these mele exemplify how, for Hawaiian people, mele was a mode of political discourse. We already have examples, such as the song known as “Kaulana Nā Pua,”  of political content being delivered in mele, and published in newspapers. But Ka Makaainana in this period made a particular statement of mele as political discourse by placing these mele, over several months, at the top of page 1 of its newspaper!

Second, a close look at the mele. Noenoe Silva wrote about these mele in her book Aloha Betrayed (2004). Most of the mele were published anonymously; some had only initials, and some had pseudonyms. But through a paper trail across several different types of sources, we can connect the mele on April 1 to Queen Liliʻuokalani. Mind you–this is precisely when she was imprisoned in ʻIolani Palace!

Historians love to relate the story of the Queen receiving news during her imprisonment via deliveries of flowers cleverly wrapped in newspapers. But here, at last, is the other side of the exchange–the Queen having supporters smuggle out mele which were being published in Ka Makaainana. Of the series of mele appearing in Ka Makaainana from March and into the summer months, Noenoe Silva has written, “The mele acted as conversations between people who were physically unable to talk to each other.”

We read, on March 18, the poetic expression of a supporter who pledges his or her support to the Queen. On the following week, another supporter declares his or her support. On April 1, the first mele begins, “Iaʻu e nanea ma Wakinekona” [as I was relaxing at Washington Place]. It is Liliʻuokalani, relating the story of her arrest, and sharing her emotions at seeing Diamond Head from her window.

Queen Liliʻuokalani authored at least four additional mele that were published in Ka Makaainana during this period. Together, all of the mele tell a stirring story of people whose hope in their Queen never diminishes. This is the story we are bringing to the stage next week, and releasing on CD as well.

Punawai concert poster



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