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Unwritten Literature of Hawaii, by Nathaniel B. Emerson, [1909], at

p. 42


The first duty of a visitor on being admitted to the halau while the tabu was on--that is, during the conduct of a regular hula--was to do reverence at the kuahu. The obligations of religion took precedence of all social etiquette. He reverently approaches the altar, to which all eyes are turned, and with outstretched hands pours out a supplication that breathes the aroma of ancient prayer:

Pule Kuahu (no Laka)

O Laka oe,
O ke akua i ke a’a-lii  a nui.
O Laka mai uka!
E Laka mai kai!
5 O hoo-ulu b o Lono,
O ka ilio nana e haehae ke aha,
O ka ie-ie ku i ka wao,
O ka maile hihi i ka nahele,
O ka lau ki-ele c ula o ke akua,
10 O na ku’i d o Hauoli,
O Ha’i-ka-malama, e
Wahine o Kina’u. f
Kapo ula g o Kina’u.
O Laka oe,
15 O ke akua i ke kuahu nei la, e!
E ho’i, e ho’i a noho i kou kuahu.
Hoo-ulu ia!


Altar-Prayer (to Laka)

Thou art Laka,
God of the deep-rooted a’a-lii.
O Laka from the mountains,
O Laka from the ocean!

p. 43

5 Let Lono bless the service,
Shutting the mouth of the dog,
That breaks the charm with his barking.
Bring the i-e that grows in the wilds.
The maile that twines in the thicket,
10 Red-beaked kiele, leaf of the goddess,
The joyous pulse of the dance
In honor of Ha’i-ka-malama,
Friend of Kina’u,
Red-robed friend of Kina’u.
15 Thou art Laka,
God of this altar here.
Return, return and reside at your altar!
Bring it good luck!

A single prayer may not suffice as the offering at Laka's altar. His repertory is full; the visitor begins anew, this time on a different tack:

Pule Kuahu (no Laka)

Ela ke kuko, ka li’a;
I ka manawa he hiamoe ko’u,
Hoala ana oe,
    Ooe o Halau-lani,
5   O Hoa-lani,
    O Puoho-lani,
Me he manu e hea ana i ka maha lehua
Ku moho kiekie la i-uka.
I-uka ho’i au me Laka
10 A Lea, a a Wahie-loa, b i ka nahelehele;
He hoa kaana ia no’u,
No kela kuahiwi, kualono hoi.
    E Laka, e Laka, e!
E maliu mai!
15 A maliu mai oe pono au,
A a’e mai oe pono au!


Altar-Prayer (to Laka)

This my wish, my burning desire,
That in the season of slumber
Thy spirit my soul may inspire,
5   Heaven-guest,
Bird from covert calling,
Where forest champions stand.
    There roamed I too with Laka,

p. 44

10 Of Lea and Loa a wilderness-child;
On ridge, in forest boon companion she
To the heart that throbbed in me.
    O Laka, O Laka,
Hark to my call!
15 You approach, it is well;
You possess me, I am blest!

In the translation of this pule the author has found it necessary to depart from the verse arrangement that obtains in the Hawaiian text.

The religious services of the halau, though inspired by one motive, were not tied to a single ritual or to one set of prayers. Prayer marked the beginning and the ending of every play--that is, of every dance--and of every important event in the programme of the halau; but there were many prayers from which the priest might select. After the prayer specially addressed to Laka the visitor might use a petition of more general scope. Such is the one now to be given:

He Pule Kuahu (ia Kane ame Kapo); a he Pule Hoolei

Kane, hiki a’e, he maláma a ia luna;
Ha’aha’a, he maláma ia lalo;
Oni-oni, b he maláma ia ka’u;
He wahine c lei, maláma ia Kapo;
5 E Kapo nui, hala-hala d a i’a;
E Kapo nui, hala-hala e a mea,
Ka alihi f luna, ka alihi lalo;
E ka poha-kú. g
Noho ana Kapo i ka ulu wehi-wehi;
10 Ku ana i Moo-helaia, h
Ka ohi’a-Ku iluna, o Mauna-loa.
Aloha mai Kaulana-a-ula i ia’u;
Eia ka ula la, he ula leo, j
He uku, he mohai, he alana,


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p. 45

15 He kanaenae na’u ia oe, e Kapo ku-lani.
E moe hauna-ike, e hea au, e o mai oe.
Aia la na lehua o Kaana, a
Ke kui ia mai la e na wahine a lawa
I lei no Kapo--
20 O Kapo, alii nui no ia moku,
Ki’e-ki’e, ha’a-ha’a;
Ka la o ka ike e ike aku ai:
He ike kumu, he ike lono,
He ike pu-awa b hiwa,
25 He ike a ke Akua, e!
E Kapo, ho’i!
E hoi a noho i kou kuahu.
Ho’ulu ia!
Ela ka wai, c la,
30 He wai e ola.
E ola nou, e!

Verses 9 to 15, inclusive, are almost identical in form with the first seven verses in the Mele Kuahu addressed to Laka, given on page 33.


An Altar-Prayer (to Kane and Kapo); also a Garland-Prayer, used while decorating the altar

Now, Kane, approach, illumine the altar;
Stoop, and enlighten mortals below;
Rejoice in the gifts I have brought.
Wreathed goddess fostered by Kapo--
5 Hail Kapo, of beauty resplendent!
Great Kapo, of sea and land,
The topmost stay of the net,
Its lower stay and anchoring line.
Kapo sits in her darksome covert;
10 On the terrace, at Mo’o-he-laia,
Stands the god-tree of Ku, on Mauna-loa.
God Kaulana-ula twigs now mine ear,
His whispered suggestion to me is
This payment, sacrifice, offering,
15 Tribute of praise to thee, O Kapo divine.
Inspiring spirit in sleep, answer my call.
Behold, of lehua bloom of Kaana
The women are stringing enough
To enwreath goddess Kapo;
20 Kapo, great queen of that island,
Of the high and the low.
The day of revealing shall see what it sees:

p. 46

A seeing of facts, a sifting of rumors,
An insight won by the black sacred awa,
25 A vision like that of a god!
O Kapo, return!
Return and abide in your altar!
Make it fruitful!
Lo, here is the water,
30 The water of life!
Hail, now, to thee!

The little god-folk, whom the ancients called Kini Akua--myriads of gods--and who made the wildwoods and wilderness their playground, must also be placated. They were a lawless set of imps; the elfins, brownies, and kobolds of our fairy world were not "up to them" in wanton deviltry. If there is to be any luck in the house, it can only be when they are dissuaded from outbreaking mischief.

The pule next given is a polite invitation to these little brown men of the woods to honor the occasion with their presence and to bring good luck at their coming. It is such a prayer as the visitor might choose to repeat at this time, or it might be used on other occasions, as at the consecration of the kuahu:

He Pule Kuahu (no Kini Akua)

E ulu, e ulu, Kini o ke Akua
Ulu Kane me Kanaloa!
Ulu Ohi’a-lau-koa, me ka Ie-ie!
A’e mai a noho i kou kuahu!
5 Eia ka wai ia, he wai e ola.
E ola no, e-e!


An Altar-Prayer (to the Kini Akua)

Gather, oh gather, ye hosts of godlings!
Come Kane with Kanaloa!
Come leafy Ohi’a and I-e!
Possess me and dwell in your altar!
5 Here's water, water of life!
Life, give us life!

The visitor, having satisfied his sense of what the occasion demands, changes his tone from that of cantillation to ordinary speech, and concludes his worship with a petition conceived in the spirit of the following prayer:

E ola ia’u, i ka malihini; a pela hoi na kamaaina, ke kumu, na haumana, ia oe, e Laka. E Laka ia Pohaku i ka wawae. E Laka i ke kupe’e. E Laka ia Luukia i ka pa-u; e Laka i ke kuhi; e Laka i ka leo; e Laka i ka lei. E Laka i ke ku ana imua o ke anaina.

p. 47


Thy blessing, O Laka, on me the stranger, and on the residents, teacher and pupils. O Laka, give grace to the feet of Pohaku; and to her bracelets and anklets; comeliness to the figure and skirt of Luukia. To (each one) give gesture and voice. O Laka, make beautiful the lei; inspire the dancers when they stand before the assembly.

At the close of this service of song and prayer the visitor will turn from the kuahu and exchange salutations and greetings with his friends in the halau.

The song-prayer "Now, Kane, approach, illumine the altar" (p. 45) calls for remark. It brings up again the question, previously discussed, whether there were not two distinct cults of worshipers, the one devoted to Laka, the other to Kapo. The following facts will throw light on the question. On either side of the approach to the altar stood, sentinel-like, a tall stem of hala-pepe, a graceful, slender column, its head of green sword-leaves and scarlet drupes making a beautiful picture. (See p. 24.) These are said to have been the special emblems of the goddess Kapo.

The following account of a conversation the author had with an old woman, whose youthful days were spent as a hula dancer, will also help to disentangle the subject and explain the relation of Kapo to the hula:

"Will you not recite again the prayer you just now uttered, and slowly, that it may be written down?" the author asked of her. "Many prayers for the kuahu have been collected, but this one differs from them all."

"We Hawaiians," she answered, "have been taught that, these matters are sacred (kapu) and must not be bandied about from month to mouth."

"Aye, but the time of the tabus has passed. Then, too, in a sense having been initiated into hula matters, there can be no impropriety in my dealing with them in a kindly spirit."

"No harm, of course, will come to you, a haole (foreigner). The question is how it will affect us."

"Tell me, were there two different classes of worshipers, one class devoted to the worship of Laka and another class devoted to the worship of Kapo?"

"No," she answered, "Kapo and Laka were one in spirit, though their names were two."

"Haumea was the mother of Kapo. Who was her father?"

"Yes, Haumea was the mother, and Kua-ha-ilo a was the father."

"How about Laka?"

p. 48

"Laka was the daughter of Kapo. Yet as a patron of the hula Laka stands first; she was worshiped at an earlier date than Kapo; but they are really one."

Further questioning brought out the explanation that Laka was not begotten in ordinary generation; she was a sort of emanation from Kapo. It was as if the goddess should sneeze and a deity should issue with the breath from her nostrils; or should wink, and thereby beget spiritual offspring from the eye, or as if a spirit should issue forth at some movement of the ear or mouth.

When the old woman's scruples had been laid to rest, she repeated slowly for the author's benefit the pule given on pages 45 and 46, "Now, Kane, approach," * * * of which the first eight lines and much of the last part, to him, were new.


42:a A’a-lii. A deep-rooted tree, sacred to Laka or to Kapo.

42:b Hoo-ulu. Literally to make grow; secondarily, to inspire, to prosper, to bring good luck. This is the meaning most in mind in modern times, since the hula has become a commercial venture.

42:c Ki-ele. A flowering plant native to the Hawaiian woods, also cultivated, sacred to Laka, and perhaps to Kapo. The leaves are said to be pointed and curved like the beak of the bird i-iwi, and the flower has the gorgeous yellow-red color of that bird.

42:d It has been proposed to amend this verse by substituting akua for ku’i, thus making the idea the gods of the hula.

42:e Ha’i-ka-malama. An epithet applied to Laka.

42:f Kina’u. Said to mean Hiiaka, the sister of Pele.

42:g Kapo ula. Red, ula, was the favorite color of Kapo. The kahuna anaana, high priests of sorcery, of the black art, and of murder, to whom Kapo was at times procuress, made themselves known as such by the display of a red flag and the wearing of a red malo.

43:a Lea. The same as Laia, or probably Haumea.

43:b Wahie loa. This must be a mistake. Laka the son of Wahie-loa was a great voyager. His canoe (kau-méli-éli) was built for him by the gods. In it he sailed to the South to rescue his father's bones from the witch who had murdered him. This Laka had his home at Kipahulu, Maui, and is not to be confounded with Laka, goddess of the hula.

44:a Maláma. Accented on the penult, as here, the word means to enlighten or a light (same in second verse). In the third and fourth verses the accent is changed to the first syllable, and the word here means to preserve, to foster. These words furnish an example of poetical word-repetition.

44:b Onioni. To squirm, to dodge, to move. The meaning here seems to be to move with delight.

44:c Wahine lei. A reference to Laka, the child of Kapo, who was symbolized by a block of wood on the altar. (See p. 23.)

44:d Hala-hala a i’a. Said to he a certain kind of fish that was ornamented about its tail-end with a band of bright color; therefore an object of admiration and desire.

44:e Hala-hala a mea. The ending mea is perhaps taken from the last half of the proper name Hau-mea who was Kapo's mother. It belongs to the land, in contrast to the sea, and seems to be intended to intensify and extend the meaning of the term previously used. The passage is difficult. Expert Hawaiians profess their inability to fathom its meaning.

44:f Alihi luna. The line or "stretching cord," that runs the length of a net at its top, the a lalo being the corresponding line at the bottom of the net. The exact significance of the language complimentary to Kapo can not be phrased compactly.

44:g Poha-kú. The line that runs up and down at the end of a long net, by which it may be anchored.

44:h Moo-helaia. See note a, p. 33.

44:i Kaulana-a-ula. See note d, p. 33.

44:j Ula leo. See note c, p. 33.

45:a Kaana. A place on Mauna-loa, Molokai, where the lehua greatly flourished. The body of Kapo, it is said, now lies there in appearance a rock. The same claim is made for a rock at Wailua, Hana, Maui.

45:b Pu-awa hiwa (hiwa, black). A kind of strong awa. The gentle exhilaration, as well a the deep sleep, of awa were benefits ascribed to the gods. Awa was an essential to most complete sacrifices.

45:c Wai. Literally water, refers to the bowl of awa, replenished each day, which set on the altar of the goddess.

47:a Kua-ha-ilo. A god of the kahuna anaana; meaning literally to breed maggots in the back.

Next: VIII.--Costume of the Hula Dancer