Unwritten Literature of Hawaii, by Nathaniel B. Emerson, , at sacred-texts.com
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PAHU HULA, HULA DRUM
The hula pahu was so named from the pahu, a or drum, that was its chief instrument of musical accompaniment (pl. X).
It is not often that the story of an institution can be so closely fitted to the landmarks of history as in the case of this hula; and this comes about through our knowledge of the history of the pahu itself. Tradition, direct and reliable, informs us that the credit of introducing the big drum belongs to La’a. This chief flourished between five and six centuries ago, and from having spent most of his life in the lands to the south, which the ancient Hawaiians called Kahiki, was himself generally styled La’a-mai-Kahiki (La’a-from-Kahiki). The young man was of a volatile disposition, given to pleasure, and it is evident that the big drum he brought with him to Hawaii on one of his voyages from Kahiki was in his eyes by no means the least important piece of baggage that freighted his canoes. On nearing the land he waked the echoes with the stirring tones of his drum, which so astonished the people that they followed him from point to point along the coast and heaped favors upon him whenever he came ashore.
La’a was an enthusiastic patron of the hula and is said to have made a tour of the islands, in which he instructed the natives in new forms of this seductive pastime, one of which was the hula ka-eke.
There is reason to believe, it seems, that the original use of the pahu way in connection with the services of the temple, and that its adaptation to the halau was simply a transference from one to another religious use.
The hula pahu was preeminently a performance of formal and dignified character, not such as would be extemporized for the amusement of an irreverent company. Like all the formal hulas, it was tabu, by which the Hawaiians meant that it was a religious service, or so closely associated with the notion of worship as to make it an irreverence to trifle with it. For this reason as well as for its intrinsic dignity its performance was reserved for the most distinguished guests and the most notable occasions.
Both classes of actors took part in the performance of the hula pahu, the olapa contributing the mele as they stood and went through the motions of the dance, while the hoopaa maintained the kneeling position and operated the big drum with the left hand. While his left hand was thus engaged, the musician with a thong held in his
right hand struck a tiny drum, the pu-niu, that was conveniently strapped to the thigh of the same side. As its name signifies, the pu-niu was made from coconut shell, being headed with fish-skin.
The harmonious and rhythmic timing of these two instruments called for strict attention on the part of the performer. The pahu, having a tone of lower pitch and greater volume than the other, was naturally sounded at longer intervals, while the pu-niu delivered its, sharp crisp tones in closer order.
Maui ka pua, uwe éha i ke anu,
I ke kukuna la-wai o Mokihana. d
Ua hana ia aka ka pono a ua pololei;
Ua hai ’na ia aku no ia oe:
10 O ke ola no ia.
20 Loaa kou haawina--o ke aloha,
Ike hauna i mai nei ka puka o ka hale.
Bruised all her petals, and moaning in cold
Mokihana's sun, his wat’ry beams.
I have acted in good faith and honor,
My complaint is only to you--
10 A matter that touches my life.
Best watch within and toward Ka-ula;
Question each breeze, note every rumor,
Even the whisper of Malua-kele.
Search high and search low, unobservant.
15 There is life in the breath from her body,
Fond caress by a hand not inconstant.
Like fissured groves of coral
Stand the ragged clumps of lehua.
Many the houses, easy the life.
20 You have your portion--of love;
Humanity smells at the door.
The imagery of this poem is peculiarly obscure and the meaning difficult of translation. The allusions are so local and special that their meaning does not carry to a distance.
Wai-aleale is the central mountain mass of Kauai, about 6,000 feet high. Its summit, a cold, fog-swept wilderness of swamp and lake beset with dwarfish growths of lehua, is used as the symbol of a woman, impulsively kind, yet in turn passionate and disdainful. The physical attributes of the mountain are ascribed to her, its spells of frosty coldness, its gloom and distance, its fickleness of weather, the repellant hirsuteness of the stunted vegetation that fringes the central swamp--these things are described as symbols of her temper, character, and physical make-up. The bloom and herbage of the wilderness, much pelted by the storm, are figures to represent her physical charms. But spite of all these faults and imperfections, a perennial fragrance, as of mokihana, clings to her person, and she is the object of devoted love, capable of weaving the spell of fascination about her victims.
This poem furnishes a good example of a peculiarity that often is an obstacle to the understanding of Hawaiian poetry. It is the breaking up of the composition into a number of parts that have but a loose seeming connection the one with the other.
103:a Full form, pahu-hula.
105:a Lehua makanoe. The lehua trees that grow on the top of Wai-aleale, the mountain mass of Kauai, are of peculiar form, low, stunted, and so furzy as to be almost thorny, kuku, as mentioned in the next line.
105:b Ai-po. A swamp that occupies the summit basin of the mountain, in and about which the thorny lehua trees above mentioned stand as a fringe.
105:c Hau-a-iliki. A word made up of hau, dew or frost, and iliki, to smite. The a is merely a connective.
105:d Mokihana. The name of a region on the flank of Wai-aleale, also a plant that grows there, whose berry is fragrant and is used in making wreaths.
105:e Ka-ula. A small rocky island visible from Kauai.
105:f Malua-kele. A wind.
105:g Halau. The shed or house which sheltered the canoe, wa’a, which latter, as we have seen, was often used figuratively to mean the human body, especially the body of a woman. Kamau ke ea i ka halau might be translated "persistent the breath from her body." "There's kames o’ hinny ’tween my luve's lips."
105:h Wawae-noho. Literally the foot that abides; it is the name of a place. Here it is to be understood as meaning constancy. It is an instance in which the concrete stands for the abstract.
105:i Hauna. An odor. In this connection it means the odor that hangs about a human habitation. The hidden allusion, it is needless to say, is to sexual attractiveness.