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

p. 248


The so-called hula o-niu is not to be classed with the regular dances of the halau. It was rather a popular sport, in which men and women capered about in an informal dance while the players engaged in a competitive game of top-spinning. The instrument of sport was made from the lower pointed half of an oval coconut shell, or from the corresponding part of a small gourd. The sport was conducted in the presence of a mixed gathering of people amid the enthusiasm and boisterous effervescence which betting always greatly stimulated in Hawaii.

The players were divided into two sides of equal number, and each player had before him a plank, slightly hollowed in the center--like the board on which the Hawaiians pounded their poi--to be used as the bed for spinning his top. The naked hand, unaided by whip or string, was used to impart to the rude top a spinning motion and at the same time the necessary projectile force--a balancing of forces that called for nice adjustment, lest the whirling thing reel too far to one side or run wild and fly its smooth bed. Victory was declared and the wager given to the player whose top spun the longest.

The feature that most interests us is the singing, or cantillation, of the oli. In a dance and game of this sort, which the author's inform-ant witnessed at Kahuku, Oahu, in 1844, one contestant on each side, in turn, cantillated an oli during the performance of the game and the dance.


Ke pohá nei; u’ína la!
Kani óle-oléi, hau-walaau!
Ke wawa Pu’u-hina-hina; a
Kani ka aka, he-hene na pali,
5 Na pali o Ka-iwi-ku’i. b
Hanohano, makana i ka Wai-opua. c
Malihini ka hale, ua hiki mai;
Kani ka pahu a Lohiau,
A Lohiau-ipo d i Haena la.
10 Enaena ke aloha, ke hiki mai;

p. 249

Auau i ka wai a Kanaloa a
Naná kaua ia Lima-huli, b e.
E huli oe a loaa pono
Ka ia nei o-niu.



The rustle and hum of spinning top,
Wild laughter and babel of sound--
Hear the roar of the waves at Pu’u-hina!
Bursts of derision echoed from cliffs,
5 The cliffs of Ka-iwi-ku’i;
And the day is stirred by a breeze.
The house swarms with women and men.
List! the drum-beat of Lohiau,
Lohiau, the lover, prince of Haena--
10 Love glows like an oven at his coming;
Then to bathe in the lake of the God.
Let us look at the vale Lima-huli, look!
Now turn we and study the spinning--
That trick we must catch to be winning.

This fragment from antiquity, as the local coloring indicates, finds its setting at Haena, the home of the famous mythological Prince Lohiau, of whom Pele became enamored in her spirit journey. Study of the mele suggests the occasion to have been the feast that was given in celebration of Lohiau's restoration to life and health through the persevering incantations of Hiiaka, Pele's beloved sister. The feast was also Lohiau's farewell to his friends at Haena. At its conclusion Hiiaka started with her charge on the journey which ended with the tragic death of Lohiau at the brink of the volcano. Pele in her jealousy poured out her fire and consumed the man whom she had loved.


248:a Pu’u-hina-hina. A precipitous place on the coast near Haena.

248:b Ka-iwi-ku’i. A high cliff against which the waves dash.

248:c Wai-opua. The name of a pleasant breeze.

248:d Lohiau-ipo. The epithet ipo, sweetheart, dear one, was often affixed to the name of Lohiau, in token, no doubt, of his being distinguished as the object of Pele's passionate regard.

249:a Kanaloa. There is a deep basin of clear water, almost fluorescent in its sparkle, in one of the arched caves of Haena, which is called the water of Kanaloa--the name of the great God. This is a favorite bathing place.

249:b Limu-huli. The name of a beautiful valley that lies back of Haena.

Next: XXXIX.--The Hula Ku’i