Da' Hawaii Club Web Site: Hawaiian Music Lyrics: The Power of  Words in Hawaiian Songs



The Power of Words in Hawaiian Songs

Traditional Hawaiians recognize the power of words.  Words, phrases and metaphors are, therefore, selected with deliberate care; expressed with great emotion and repetition, they are capable of acquiring more power called mana (a spiritual power or life force, akin to chi or ki in Asian cultures or prana in India). 

The mana of a prayer, chant, song or hula lies in its emotionality and its intended, but often concealed, references to a person, place or thing.  Hawaiians have the uncanny ability as lyricists to weave deep meanings into poetic patterns of words that dance to the beat of the hula. 

Kaona [pronounced: kao' nah] is the term used to describe the subtext -- the  hidden or veiled meaning --  which adds to the power and effect of the words.  It is the double entendre of Hawaiian music, chant and prose, written in a language of poetry, romance and at times, sassiness.

It  is often expressed in richly poetic nature imagery, which serve as backdrops to express great depths of feeling, as in Keali`i Reichel's Kawaipunahele.

Scroll down to the bottom of this page to learn about 
the kaona of the song, Kawaipunahele.

Words with double (or triple) meanings are often used to bring good -- or bad -- fortune.  

Kaulana N Pua, for example, is not about famous flowers, as the literal translation would indicate. Instead, it was written in 1893 to protest the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili`uokalani, and it remains a symbol of resistance within the Hawaiian sovereignty movement today.

Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo`ole's Somewhere Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World hit medley appears to be totally lighthearted and mainstream. So much so that it is a favorite among the music movers and shakers in the movie, television and advertising industries. For IZ and others in Hawai`i, the subtext reflected pro-sovereignty leanings, as it alluded to the still-unfulfilled promise to restore Hawai`i's political sovereignty, stripped away in 1898 when Hawai`i was annexed by the United States government. 

Some songs appear to be innocent enough on the surface. For example, Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai by Aunty Edith Kanaka`ole is about  the joys of going to the ocean and picking limu (seaweed) -- at least on the surface. The veiled meanings are far more graphic and intimate.  Another example is  the innocuously titled  Noho Paipai ("Rocking Chair Hula"); it is more about erotic shenanigans than about soothing the little one.

Less uptight and more rascal (kolohe), Hawaiian songwriters are masters of sexual innuendo. Ah, it's no wonder the old folks would look sideways and wink at each other, stifling giggles that sometimes gave way to bus' out laughter!

Hawaiian songwriters show us that there are gentle ways to describe a lover by their skillful of metaphors, capable of conveying multiple levels of meaning. 

In short, learning Hawaiian allows a greater insight into the song via the subtleties and delicate nuances of the language.  The vividness of the word pictures of the people and the places are enhanced, giving the listener the means to visit and more fully experience that time and place via the mind's eye.

It is my hope that the translations of the Hawaiian lyrics into English will add meaningfulness to the songs and hula for the members of the club. Hardly an expert, I've also included my best efforts in phonetic syllabication of the sometimes challenging pronunciation of Hawaiian words. 

As Hawaiian culture proponents, we are grateful for the club's enthusiastic participation in the perpetuation of Hawaiian music, dance, and language, while having the time of our lives! 

Looking forward to many years together of celebrating life with Hawaiian songs and the hula with Da' Hawai`i Club, this is my sincere wish:

With their meaningful and heartfelt singing and dancing, the members of Da' Hawai`i Club -- and especially the dancers, singers and musicians of  Hlau o N Kpuna who "practice, practice, practice" while having go-o-o-od fun -- will fully absorb all that good, life-giving mana

~Aunty D

2002 Aunty D
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