Hawaii’s most valued song: Kaulana Na Pua

Lands on the Island of Oahu

Lands on the Island of Oahu

Carol Forsloff—He was elegant and eloquent, as he smiled graciously and said, “I tell you this not to make you angry,” then proceeded to offer a history lesson that brought the audience to quiet grief and frustration, knowing the complications for the United States and Hawaii that his story offered us.

David Keanu Sai, a Professor at the University of Hawaii, presented his overview of “The Continuity of the Hawaiian Kingdom as an Independent State,” from what he said is a political perspective.  His Hawaiian lineage comes from his great grandfather who was born in 1880 in the Kingdom of Hawaii.  He is also a second cousin to the actor, Keanu Reeves.  This preliminary sketch of Sai’s biography allowed his listeners to appreciate both his stature in the Hawaiian community and his ability to present information in an entertaining fashion, perhaps with that genetic association with Reeves.

Sai began his presentation by saying, “Know your geneaology.  Know where you come from.”  This concept, which Sai received from his grandmother, whom he said virtually raised him and was a great influence on his life, was the driving force for his investigation of Hawaiian political history.  He learned much of what it is to be Hawaiian from information developed through his own genealogical research.

The political landscape of Hawaii has complexities outlined by Sai as coming from misconceptions about the political history of what was once known as the Sandwich Islands.  Sai outlined that history, noting that Hawaii had once been part of the British Empire that declared Hawaii as an independent state in the mid-19th century.  It was subsequently recognized as an independent state by other nations.  In 1840 the form of government was a constitutional monarchy, with the Anglo-French proclamation of Hawaii’s status as an independent state made on November 28, 1843, which was recognized by the United States as well.  This independence was reaffirmed when Hawaii’s neutrality was established on May 16, 1854 during the Crimean War.

Despite Hawaii’s status as an independent State, the United States military, that wanted to use the lands as a military post, overthrew the government of Hawaii in 1893.  This was accomplished by only 13 people because the Hawaiians at the time did not understand exactly what was happening to them.  The U.S. admitted the overthrow and promised to restore Hawaii’s independence.  Yet, as Sai pointed out, “there is a presumption of continuity that the State continued to exist despite the change in government.”  He cited an expert, Dr. Crawford as saying that occupation of a country, under international law, does not affect the continuity of the State, even where there exists no government claiming to represent the occupied State.

The legal foundation for the presumption of continuity of the State of Hawaii was further established by Larsen vs Hawaii, a case that concluded at the turn of the 21st century.

Despite the legal status of Hawaii as an independent state, and the promises made by the United States when the government overthrow occurred that the government would be restored, Hawaii was annexed and declared officially a territory, with the official declaration signed by President McKinley.

The overthrow of Hawaii, Sai told his audience, was similar to Germany’s war of aggression against Luxembourg.

Sai’s conclusion offered this summary, even as he observed the complexities and hostilities that may occur both internally and externally in returning the government of Hawaii as it was at the time of the overthrow.  He said this is the legal-political situation from which the State’s status should be observed and respected. “Hawaii today remains a sovereign but occupied State.” To meet these concerns, scholars at the University are at odds on what changes, if any, should be made in Hawaii’s status in relationship to the United States, with research that continues on the subject.

In the context of Sai’s narrative was the mention of what he considers an important song, one that has almost a spiritual as well as political statement.  It is a song well known by many Hawaiians, although many may not know the context of it, or its words and their meaning and when and why it was written, as the following information provides.

Source: Na Mele o Hawai`i Nei by Elbert & Mahoe – Written Jan. 1893, published in 1895, this himeni opposed the annexation of Hawai`i to the United States. The original title was Mele `Ai Pohaku or The Stone-eating Song, and was also known as Mele Aloha `Aina or the Patriot’s Song. This song was composed as Ellen Wright Prendergast was sitting in the garden of her father’s house in Kapalama. Members of the Royal Hawaiian Band visited her and voiced their unhappiness at the takeover of the Hawaiian Kingdom. They begged her to put their feelings of rebellion to music.


Kaulana Nâ Pua (Famous Are The Flowers) – Ellen Keho`ohiwaokalani Wright Prendergast
Kaulana nâ pua a`o Hawai`i
Kûpa`a ma hope o ka `âina
Hiki mai ka `elele o ka loko `ino
Palapala `ânunu me ka pâkaha
Pane mai Hawai`i moku o Keawe
Kôkua nâ Hono a`o Pi`ilani
Kâko`o mai Kaua`i o Mano
Pa`apû me ke one Kâkuhihewa
`A`ole a`e kau i ka pûlima
Ma luna o ka pepa o ka `ênemi
Ho`ohui `âina kû`ai hewa
I ka pono sivila a`o ke kanaka
`A`ole mâkou a`e minamina
I ka pu`u kâlâ o ke aupuni
Ua lawa mâkou i ka pôhaku
I ka `ai kamaha`o o ka `âina
Ma hope mâkou o Lili`ulani
A loa`a ê ka pono o ka `âina
*(A kau hou `ia e ke kalaunu)
Ha`ina `ia mai ana ka puana
Ka po`e i aloha i ka `âina
*Alternate Stanza

(English translation)

Famous are the children of Hawai`iEver loyal to the landWhen the evil-hearted messenger comesWith his greedy document of extortion Hawai`i, land of Keawe answersPi`ilani’s bays helpMano’s Kaua`i lends supportAnd so do the sands of Kakuhihewa No one will fix a signatureTo the paper of the enemyWith its sin of annexationAnd sale of native civil rights We do not valueThe government’s sums of moneyWe are satisfied with the stonesAstonishing food of the land

We back Lili`ulaniWho has won the rights of the land*(She will be crowned again)Tell the storyOf the people who love their land*Alternate Stanza



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