Pua kalaunu ma ke kai o Honouliwai
Wahine 'ilikea i ka poli o Moloka'i
Nō ka heke
Nani wale nō nā wailele uka
'O Hina, 'o Haha, 'o Mo'oloa
Nā wai 'ekolu i ka uluwehiwehi
O Kamalō i ka mālie
Nani wale nō ka 'āina Hālawa
Home ho'okipa a ka malihini
'Āina uluwehi i ka noe ahiahi
Ua lawe mai e ka makani Ho'olua
From: Rev. Dennis Kamakahi
In 1974, I went to Moloka'i along with Eddie Kamae to talk to Pilipo's mother, Luahine Kawa'a about a song from Moloka'i that Eddie wanted to research.
That next day we left Hālawa Valley and we were heading back toward Kaunakakai from the East End when I happened to look up at the mountain cliffs of Kamalō and saw the white mist of Kamakou part to reveal 11 waterfalls cascading down the cliff's face. We stopped the car and I got my camera out and started shooting pictures of that wonderful site. As I began to shoot my photos, I could hear voices, like that of a church choir, starting to sing a beautiful melody. The mountain was singing to me. In those days, I used to carry my camera and tape recorder with me to record places and thoughts that were very inspiring to me.
The words began to flow in my mind. The white mist was like a fair-skinned woman revealing herself to her lover (me). So the song is not about a woman per se, it is about the white mist compared to a woman.
Fast forward to 2009. On September 09, 2009, my granddaughter Michele Hina'ea-kawahine'ilikea-o-ka-lani-kua-ka'a Toshiko Kamakahi was born. Months before her birth, I had a dream vision of her Hawaiian name which is how Hawaiian children were given their names by their kupuna. It had to come in a dream. Hina'ea was the goddess of the sunrise and sunset, a skilled kapa maker, and a great healer. She is one of the body forms or kinolau of the goddess Hina, goddess of the moon and the mother of the Island of Moloka'i.
Hina'ea-kawahine'ilikea-o-ka-lani-kua-ka'a means Hina'ea, the fair-skinned woman of the highest heavens.
Thus, the song written about the mist of Kamakou mountain has now become a human form. During my granddaughter Hina'ea's birth, my son David told me that the sun's rays peaked above the Ko'olau Mountains and filled the delivery room with light. I told him the ancestors were bringing Hina'ea's soul to earth. Thus, the song Wahine 'Ilikea is now my granddaughter's mele inoa or name song that I have given her, as her Tutukāne, as a makana from me. The Wahine 'Ilikea or white mist is now a living entity among us. A gift from Hina to love and cherish, now and forever.
I've sung Wahine 'Ilikea at parties so packed with people that you couldn't even wiggle your left toe. Yet the minute I play the opening chords and start singing, a hush gradually falls over the room. Every single time. Such is the power of this song.
How could I forget the first time I heard the song? It was one of two songs in Hawaiian on the "The Best of Ka'au Crater Boys" album. AND … it was the first time I remember hearing of the island Molokai. I loved the way they really used the glottal stop between the "a" and the "i." They really USED the 'okina. "MO-LO-KUH-EE." (Is it Molokai or Moloka'i? Ah … That's a controversial subject and a topic for a blog post some day.) The song danced and it made me want to move. It made me want to hula!
I love it every time I hear it. And I've heard it a lot because it's been covered by a lot of Hawaiian artists. But, without a doubt, my favorite version is by the man who wrote the lyrics and the music, Rev. Dennis Kamakahi. Nobody does it like he does. It's his story. It's his song. And, of course, he tells it best.
It was only years later, when I performed Wahine 'Ilikea live, that I witnessed firsthand the spell it casts on people. I've started to call it "The Look." A smile blossoms and sparks joy in people's faces. For real.
When I visited Hālawa Valley for the very first time, Pops led a cultural protocol — a traditional Hawaiian welcoming ceremony — for a group of visitors who had come to the island for a wedding. Part of their trip included a hike to Mo'o'ula Falls (Is it Moa'ula or Mo'o'ula? That's yet another blog post!). After the protocol, Pops asked me to get my 'ukulele and sing to help send them on their way.
I looked at their expectant faces and panicked. Were they thinking, "Who's this white guy?" or "Does he know what he's doing?" I couldn't think of single song to sing! And then I remembered Wahine 'Ilikea. We were on Molokai. We were in Hālawa. The song mentions both, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
I could see that they recognized the song at the opening chords. They had "The Look"! And as I sang the first words, a woman began a spontaneous hula. Others began to cry. It was the perfect song for the moment. It is always the perfect song.
Another time, Pops and I were driving from Hālawa to Kaunakakai. We stopped by the side of the road, and he pointed to a mountain and a rock formation along the top of it. "Do you see the lizard?" he asked me. Wow, it really did look like a giant lizard. He then told me a legend about the lizard (mo'o) that sleeps atop the mountain.
Pops is a brilliant storyteller, famous for sharing legends of Molokai. On that day, I was having a private audience with the master himself — my first lesson on the legends of the island! It was a special shared moment. I asked him where we were standing, to anchor it in my mind. When he said "Kamalō," I got chicken skin (goosebumps). I recognized the name from Wahine 'Ilikea. Kamalō and its mountains is the place where Uncle Dennis saw the white mist that he compares to a fair-skinned woman in the song. I will never forget the legend of the mo'o at Kamalō, now tied forever in my mind to Wahine 'Ilikea.
But wait! It gets even better!
While prepping for a talk that I was going to give in Chicago, I wrote to Uncle Dennis to ask his permission to sing the song. I also asked him to share his story of how he came to write the song, in his words. I was blown away to find out that he'd written it after visiting with Pops' family in Hālawa. The song was connected to my adopted family! It is part of my personal history now, too.
Wahine 'Ilikea has become an anthem for me, not just because it casts a spell on every audience, no matter how large and rowdy. It's become an anthem because it connects me to the island of Molokai. It connects me to the Hawaiian language. It connects me to my Pops and Hālawa Valley. Nānā i ke kumu (Look to the source).
I dare you to sing this song without smiling!
While it doesn't necessarily fall into the traditional "crooner's songbook," this song is one that a singer can really have a great time bringing to life. And, like so many of the crooner classics, the singer needs to execute a clean delivery of its lyrics — the most important part of a Hawaiian song.
This piece calls for a legato line. It needs to be sung in a smooth and continuous way instead of being broken into tiny segments. Each verse tells part of Rev. Dennis Kamakahi's story of a visit to Molokai. The singer's primary job is to bring those words out, and to tell the story faithfully. The song's success doesn't rely on vocal acrobatics. It doesn't place difficult vocal demands on the singer. The song moves by itself to its own gentle rhythm. Relaxing into the melody's simplicity is the key to making this song soar.
Uncle Dennis has given us a contemporary structure for a song (chorus-verse-chorus pattern) and yet it feels like a song written in old Hawai'i. The rich language coupled with its simple grace makes it timeless. And its contemporary structure makes it appealing to the modern Western ear.
I've heard the song performed with incredible multi-part harmonies. And I've heard it sung where folks repeat the last part of the line in echo of the singer. It's great for a kanikapila (backyard jam session). The end of each verse, as recorded by Uncle Dennis, follows a downward melodic slope, and I've taken the liberty of jumping up the octave. My "Croonerism" is the "Oh …" break in between the verses and the chorus.
Rev. Dennis Kamakahi has written the perfect song. Go ahead: Sing it without smiling. I dare you!