A mystery: “Nanea kō maka i ka leʻaleʻa”

A popular song of the “swipehouse” variety, about eyes sparkling mischievously. Recorded over the past 60 years by quite a few notable artists in the Hawaiian music firmament.

Tonight I went hunting for a source for the lyrics. And to my surprise, there was no clarity to be had, only questions and more questions.

I look in my index of published songbooks. “Nanea kou maka” appears only once, in a 1974 volume published in Japan. There are six verses, listed in the following order:

  1. Nanea kou maka
  2. Puliki kou lima
  3. Eia mai au
  4. I loko aku wau
  5. Ko ohinu aku wau
  6. Haʻina

Bishop Museum Archives has this mele in the collection of Vivienne Huapala Mader. Alas, I am not in Honolulu, so I cannot run up to Kalihi. The song is not published in Kimo Alama Keaulanaʻs two volumes of Puke Mele; it is not in He Mele Aloha, and it is not in Chikao Toriyamaʻs magisterial Hawaiian Mele 1001 tome.

I head online to Huapala Hawaiian Music and Hula Archive (huapala.org). I always caution everyone to use information from Huapala.org carefully. While the compilers labor mightily to provide a valuable service, the fact is that disparities appear from time to time between information on the site and information in other sources. So, caveat emptor! Huapala.org has “Nanea ko maka” — with five verses, as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. Puliki ko lima
  4. Ma loko aku au
  5. Haʻina

Furthermore, Huapala.org credits the source of this song as “Recorded by Charles Davis, Translation by Vicki ʻIʻi.” I have 13 albums by Charles K. L. Davis in my iTunes Library. “Nanea kō maka” is not on any of those albums. Perhaps I am missing the album that has “Nanea kō maka”?

So I go looking through my iTunes library to listen to how the song got recorded. And the mystery only deepened.

Pua Almeida recorded 6 verses (Waikiki 45-586) in the late 1950s or early 1960s, in the following order:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Koohinu
  5. Puliki ko lima
  6. Haʻina

Leinaʻala Haili recorded 5 verses on her album Leinaala (Makaha M-2022) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. I loko aku au
  3. Eia mai au
  4. Puliki ko lima
  5. Haʻina

Sonny Chillingworth recorded 4 verses on the album Ka ʻAina o Hawaii (Lehua SL-2040):

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

In the 1976, the Aloha Pumehana Serenaders, with Darrell Lupenui as the lead singer, recorded 6 verses on the album Hula Gems (Poki SP-9013) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Ko hinu
  5. Puliki ko lima
  6. Haʻina

Melveen Leed recorded 4 verses on her 1980 album Melveen Leed with the Best of Slack Key (Lehua SL-7046) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

Sometime in the 1980s, Tony Conjugacion recorded 5 verses on his second album Hawaiian Hope (Kahanu KHR-1011), as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. Puliki ko lima
  4. Ma loko aku au
  5. Haʻina

In 2000, Mike Kaʻawa recorded 4 verses on his CD Hwn Boy (HBR-9001):

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. I loko aku au
  3. Eia mai au
  4. Haʻina

And most recently, Nate Kanae recorded these 4 verses on his CD from the Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

One thing is clear to me:  the fact that Pua Almeida recorded 6 verses before the Japanese songbook was published in 1974 is a compelling factoid for believing that the song has six verses, and not five or four.

The bigger mystery is what should the order of verses be? Puaʻs order is different from the Japanese songbook. But hey! Puaʻs order is identical to that of the Aloha Pumehana Serenaders. So maybe the Japanese songbook got it wrong? But Sonny Chillingworth and Melveen Leed both sang the “Puliki ko lima” verse second, which is where the songbook has it.

The “I loko aku au” verse also moves around on the recordings. It is variously the second, third, and fourth verse.

I suppose the next step is to compare and translate the text, and figure out what logic would place the “Puliki ko lima” verse second or fifth. Then figure out where “I loko aku au” should go. What a puzzle.

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