Buke Mele Lāhui: The Book of National Songs

#119 in the Moʻolelo series

Most are familiar with the song “Kaulana nā Pua,” also known as “Mele ʻAi Pōhaku,” the “Stone eating song.” I mentioned it in the previous post, “10 Misconceptions about Hawaiian History – # 6-10.” The mele was written on behalf of the Royal Hawaiian Band, who were threatened with being fired for supporting the Queen, and speaks of native resistance to annexation:

ʻAʻole aʻe kau i ka pūlima 

Ma luna o ka pepa o ka ʻēnemi

Hoʻohui ʻāina kūʻai hewa

I ka pono sivila aʻo ke kanaka

No one will fix a signature

To the paper of the enemy

With its sin of annexation

And sale of native civil rights

by Ellen Wright Prendergast

But relatively few know that mele lāhui were not a song or two, but a genre of Hawaiian music and there is an entire book full of such mele. Leilani Basham, professor of Contemporary Hawaiian Culture at UH West Oʻahu, wrote her dissertation on this book and these mele. But I have to confess I havenʻt read the dissertation, since it’s one of the first to be written in Hawaiian (and my Hawaiian is not at that level!). She did publish in Hūlili journal and writes:

Through these descriptions and definitions of the Lāhui Hawaiʻi [seen in part in mele], we gain a better understanding of who we are as the Lāhui Hawaiʻi. It is important that we understand and frame our identity by and from our own perspective, in and on our own terms. It is imperative that our modern identities be founded on our traditional ones – on our genealogies, our histories, our cultural practices and our right to independence and self-governance.

Leilani Basham, “Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi: He Moʻolelo, He ʻĀina, He Loina, a He Ea Kākou,” Hūlili, vol. 6 (2010).

Many other mele exist and in this post I merely give a glimpse of these with my very rough translation. One is called:


Kaulana mai nei Daimana Hila,
O ka pu raifela kani alapine;

Pane mai Wilikoki me ka nahe-

“Imua kakou a e na hoa,
E hopu i ka pu paa I ka lima
E moe a ilalo me ka eleu
Kapae ka makau me ka hopo
Makia ke aloha o ka aina,
E koe oukou a e wiwo ole,
I ola Hawaii a mau loa;”

Pane mai Wilikoki me ka wa
lohia:”Aole kakou a e lanakila,
Aole pukuniahi me a’u

Buke Mele Lahui

This song speaks of the “quick sounding rifles” at Diamond Head, where Robert Kalanihiapo Wilcox smuggled the weapons used for the counter-revolution, and his rallying cry to his comrades-in-arms, in a way reminiscent of Kamehameha’s speech at the battle of Kepaniwai (Imua e nā pokiʻi). He tells them to set aside their fear and anxiety (Kapae ka makau me ka hopo
hopo) and remain fearless (wiwo ole could also possible be translated as disobedient?) so the “life” (sovereignty?) of Hawaiʻi can perpetuate (E koe oukou a e wiwo ole I ola Hawaii a mau loa).

Another mele praises Liliʻuokalani as the lei of Hawaiʻi:


Hooheno neia nou e Liliulani;
Ke Kuini i poniia no Hawaii,

He lei nani oe na ka lahui,
O ka hulu o-o e memele nei

by “W. Olepau,” which may be the real name, but is more likely a reference to the loyalty her subjects have for her, which is “[a]ole Pau” – not ended or never ending.

Yet another mele, “Hoʻonanea A Hoʻokuene Liliu” speaks of Waipa (Parker perhaps?) in this case, the police captain of the Provisional Government (P.G. or Pi Gi) and his “hewa:”

O ka hana ia a Waipa,
Kapena makai o ka Pi Gi,

Eia ko hewa la e Kalani,
No kou aloha i ka lahui

by Haimoeipo

Basham concludes that:

it is not that the lāhui possesses these things, but that we are these things – we are our genealogies, our songs, our land, our cultural practices and our political independence. In this modern era, out identity is being questioned and defined in both courtroom and legislative contexts, so these framings and definitions of the Lāhui Hawaiʻi are vitally important to our understandings of who we are as a people.

Basham, 2010.


Filed under Education

2 responses to “Buke Mele Lāhui: The Book of National Songs

  1. Keoki Kiili

    supa, mahalo nui for sharing. are you aware that henri berger, was the bandmaster for the royal hawaiian band until his death and is buried in hawaii. he was sent to hawaii from kaiser wilhelm of austria. hawaiian music has been influenced by his knowledge and wisdom. we have a deep connection to austria and germany today in hula, lomilomi, hooponopono and more. see http://www.halemua.de website. aloha and vielen dank for sharing youir mana’o and mana of our ancestors. aloha keoki


    • umi

      Yes! My great-grandfather was in the band around 1910 – Iʻm not sure if he was under Berger or not, but this gives me the idea for another post! mahalo nui!


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