E Kalani e — E hookuu ae ia makou i na hana kanawai, i ka noho kauwa kuapaa ana malalo o na haku o ka lewa.
O Heavenly One—release us from the burden of the law that keeps us slaves under masters from the sky.

He Hoʻopiʻi i Ulana ʻia me ke Aloha
A Petition Woven with Aloha

Historically, Hawaiians from Niʻihau produced some of the finest mats in the archipelago. Known as moena Niʻihau or moena makaloa, these mats, made from the makaloa sedge (Cyperus laevigatus), were valued for their suppleness and pāwehe, colored geometric designs. Moena makaloa were one of the prized items traditionally offered to the chiefly classes both as ritualized tribute and payment of tax.

The evolution of the Kingdom to meet global standards brought a change in Hawaiʻi’s economic base. Moena makaloa were no longer an accepted form of currency. By 1850, the government fully adopted a monetary tax system. With the burden of taxes ever increasing, master weaver Kalaiokamalino created this unique moena makaloa for King William Lunalilo in 1873. Putting aside the modern pen and ink, Kalai purposely chooses instead to weave her words of protest into this moena, a physical reminder of a system no longer in use. While this mat is undeniably honorific in form, it is also an entreaty: she is petitioning her king to return to the values and practices of the past.

Makaloa mat, 02570, BM Ethnology CollectionMarques Marzan | Bishop Museum

02570 Moena Makaloa Makaloa plaited mat Makaloa sedge (Cyperus laevigatus) Hawaiian National Government Collection, 1891

King William Charles LunaliloBishop Museum

King William Charles Lunalilo (the intended recipient of the moena makaloa), March 3, 1873.

Makaloa plant, Waikōloa, HawaiʻiMarques Marzan | Bishop Museum

Makaloa (Cyperus laevigatus) in Waikoloa ponds at ‘Anaeho‘omalu, North Kona, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The leaves of this native sedge were used to make mats of the finest quality. As this was a practice of Niʻihau weavers, when they married and settled off island, they took this tradition with them. Known areas where makaloa was used include: Kauaʻi and in Mokulēʻia, Oʻahu.

 

He moena pawehe makana
A Patterned Mat

What is the message woven into the mat?

An article in the May 2, 1874 edition of the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, explained the background behind the creation of the mat and transcribed its message. On the mat, the message starts in the lower left hand corner so the lines are read from the bottom, up. On the panel hanging above, the letters are shown in high contrast to make them easier to decipher.

Hawaiian Transcription:

Ma ka Poakahi aku nei, ua haawi makana ia mai e Mr. G. S. Gay o Niihau i ka Moi Kalakaua, he moena pawehe nani i ulanaia e ko Niihau kaikamahine maamaalea ia hana he ulana, oia o Kalai. Ua ulanaia keia moena me ke akahele no ka Moi i make ka manao ana, aka, ua hala e kela, a nolaila, ua ili iho ka hooko ana no ka Moi hou. Ua hana akamai maoli ia no, oiai, ua ulana pu ia na huaolelo malalo iho maloko o kona mau maka moena. He 11 na malama o ka ulana ia ana ai, a i ka umi nae o ka malama, make kana kane mare, a ua hoopaa loa aku oia i ko laua luhi. I kuai ia mai ia G. S. Gay i lilo ai. Eia iho na olelo i ulanaia maluna ona:

—Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, May 2, 1874

No ka hanai ana o Kamehameha i na ’lii a pau i ka aina, a i ku ai ahupuaa, [a]i kalana, ai okana, ai moku, ai mokupun[i], oia hoi ka Kamehameha oihana i ka wa i lanakila ai o Kamehameha maluna o kona Aupuni. Hoonoho aku la oia i na’lii a pau maluna o ka aina; kela ano keia ano o na alii a pau ana i hoonoho ai maluna o ka aina. Like hoi ka malu o na’lii a me na makaainana malalo o ke kanawai hookahi; ‘“Hele ka Luahine a moe i ke ala;, hele ka elemakule a moe i ke ala”’ ku ka pu ko a hina ilalo, ku ka pu maia a hina ilalo;—ninau ka Moi ma ka hoohuahualau i na elele: ‘“Heaha la ke ano o ka Luahiluahi[n]e a me ka Elemakuleelemakule?—[He] pu ko, [he] pu maia? Hai mai la na Elele i ke ano o ka luahine a me ka elemakule, o ko Kamehameha Kumukanawai no ia–oia no kona maluhia. No ka mea o kahe hoailona maluhia no ia o kona aupuni. O ka luahine [a] me ka elemakule oia no na hua kumukanawai. [Aole] e hao ia. Ka maluhia nui no ia o ko Hawaii nei Pae Aina i ka wa i puka mai ai. Noloko mai o ka pu[u]wai i puka mai ai o ke aloha i kona lahuikanaka i puka mai ai. Nolai[a]la kau ae la ia i kona kanawai Mamalahoa i mea e luku hou ole aku ai i kona enemi.

Nolaila lanakila [a]e la ka lahuikanaka malalo o ke kanawai hookahi i olelo ia, [he] mamalahoaMamalahoa, o ia no ka maluhia nui o kona aupuni, a me ka hanohano, hai na hoala no ke aupuni kahiko, no ia Kameha[meha] Ekahi. E ala ae kakou e kamailio i na kumu nui i emi ai ka lahui Hawaii, a me ka pii ana o ka l[a]hui mua i ka wa kahiko ia Kamehameha no ke noi ana a na makaainana i ka Moi e hoololi i ka auhau maluna o na holoholona, bipi, lio, hoki, miula, hipa. Aole loa e koe kekahi o ia ano—

E Kalani e:—E hookuu ae ia [mkou ia] makou i na hana kanawai, i ka noho kauwa kuapaa ana malalo o na haku o ka lewa.

Na[’]u na Kala[i].

English Translation:

Last Monday, Mr. G. S. Gay of Niihau gave King Kalakaua a beautifully designed mat plaited by Kalai, Niihauʻs most skillful woman in that particular art. The mat was carefully plaited as it was intended for the late King but he is gone and so the gift is given to the present one. It is made with great skill for words are plaited into the meshes. It took eleven months to make. On the tenth month, the worker’s husband died and she finished the article they had both labored on. It was sold to Mr. G. S. Gay and that was how the latter obtained it. These were the words plaited into it—
Kamehameha provided for all the chiefs of the land thus establishing the ahupuaa, kalana, okana, land sections and islands. That was what Kamehameha did when he stood at the head of his government. He placed the chiefs over the lands; all kinds of chiefs settled on the land. Chiefs and commoners shared the peace under the one law, ‘Let the aged sleep on the highway unharmed; let the sugar canes grow till they fall over; let the bananas grow till they fall over.’ The King questioned his messengers to find out what they thought, ‘What are the old women and the old men like? Are they like the sugar cane and banana stalks?’ They told him what they were like. That was Kamehameha’s Constitution–his peace. Peace was the symbol of his kingdom; the old women and old men, his Constitution. There was no ruthless seizing. It brought peace to the Hawaiian Islands when it was issued. It was issued because of his love of the people. Therefore he laid down his Mamalahoa law that there be no more destruction of his foes.

Therefore the people became free under the one law called the Mamalahoa, the giver of the greatest peace in his kingdom, an honor that has come to us from an old kingdom, that of Kamehameha I. Let us rise to study the great cause for the decrease of the Hawaiian people, [a large populationthe first people] in the olden days under Kamehameha, and to ask the King to change the taxes on animals, cattle, horses, asses, mules, and sheep and let none of them remain.

O Heavenly One—release us from the burden of the law that keeps us slaves under masters from the sky.
By me, Kalai.

Tax assessor payment receipt, 1864Bishop Museum

Palapala Hookaa a ka Lunaauhau, Tax Assessor Payment Receipt, 1864.
Paid by Kahalepouli [David Piikoi] for 3 horses and 1 dog, totaling $4.

The message in the mat was a protest against tax bills like this, which had to be paid in cash. Many communities outside the city centers had difficulties paying these taxes as cash monies weren’t their primary means of sustaining their lifestyle.

O ka hoailona maluhia no ia o kona aupuni. O ka luahine a me ka elemakule, oia no na hua kumukanawai. –Kalai[okamalino], 1873–1874
Peace was the symbol of his kingdom. The old women and old men, his constitution.

–All translations by Mary Kawena Pukui

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