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              The first half of the chant is of Kaʻu and I have often heard it chanted there. The chiefs of Kaʻu played a game of leaping into heaped-up earth at Kaumaea-lele-kawa and then brushing off their perspiration soaked bodies with ilima branches and went to Paiaheʻe to surf. The game of leaping onto heaped-up earth to see how one could skim down its side without raising a cloud of dust was typical of that district only. Because of this brushing off the bodies with ilima branches the saying “Kahilihili lau ilima” (Brush off with ilima leaves) came into being and was used to signify a very sketchy bath.

            There was a good surf at Paiahaʻa called Kuaʻana. The natives who went down there used to shout boastfully-
“O Kuaʻana ka nalu, o Paiahaʻa ka aina” or “Kuaʻana is indeed the surf and Paiahaʻa the land!” There the dust that still clung to their skin was washed off in the sea.

           East of Paiahaʻa is Kamilo, a place that was divided into two parts, Kamilo-pae-alii (chief-landing-current) and Kamilo-pae-kana (Man-landing-current). The former is rocky and rough, the latter, a sandy beach. When a chief drowned at sea, the current brought his body to Ka-milo-pae-alii when only those of chiefly blood were permitted to take his corpse. A commoner’s drowned body washed up the Ka-milo-pae-kanaka, where it was accessible to anybody.

            When a Kaʻu native left home for Puna, the type of message to be sent back by the traveler was pre-arranged with the family at home. Upon reaching Puna, he went to Hala-aniani, where the current draws out and then around to Kamilo-pae-kanaka. Here he took a cluster of hala, attached the message and dropped it into the sea. The message might be his malo, a cord knotted a certain way, a lei, a flower or perhaps a ti leaf tied in some particular manner. These messages were eagerly awaited at home-not without anxiety, for there were often robbers in the forests of ʻOlaʻa and Puna. His loved ones were glad when such a message came, for it meant his safety, but they could not in turn, reply with a message because the current drew in and not out. Messages usually came to Kamilo-pae-kanaka.

(Excerpt and mele translation provided by Mary Kawena Pukui)

 

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Mele are an invaluable primary resource for Hawaiian scholarship and cultural connection. The Welo Hou: Building Connections to the Roberts Mele Collection project, funded in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, will improve the digitization, indexing, and accessibility of a unique and treasured collection of mele dating from pre-Western contact to the early 1900s. This pilot project will serve as a model for improved access to and increased engagement with the Bishop Museum Library & Archives’ other mele collections.

Welo Hou, or to unfurl once again, aims to provide more opportunities for researchers of all levels of Hawaiian language and cultural fluency to access the Roberts Collection with ease, and honors the connections between Hawaiian voices of the past and our community of the present.


This project is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services NG-04-17-0218-17