On Mele: The Heart of Hula
Hawaiian scholar Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman wrote the mele “Eia Kaleponi (Here is California).” Here she explains some of her mana’o (intent or ideas) and breaks down the meanings of the text.
“Eia Kaleponi (Here is California).”
by Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman
Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman
Eia Kaleponi, he ‘aina one ula
He ‘aina kipa no na kupa i ‘auana
He ‘aina malu no ka po’e e ‘imi i ke ola
He ‘aina no ka nohona pumehana
He ‘aina no ka ho’ola i na hanauna
He ‘aina no ka ho’oulu i ka lahui ‘oiwi
He ‘aina haole no na kupuna
He ‘aina hanau no na pua
He ‘aina hau o Kaleponi i ka ‘olu, he ola no makou e.
Here is California, a vast land
A land that has welcomed those who have wandered
A land that has sheltered those seeking to make a living
A land that has provided a warmth and comfort
A land that nourishes the generations
A land that supports the growth of the Hawaiian community
A foreign land for our elders
A birthland for our children
California is a peaceful and sheltering land that nurtures us all.
Mana’o: This mele was composed in February of 1998, when I collaborated with the ‘Anahau o Kaleponi Hawaiian Civic Club in presenting the program “‘Ohana: We are Family” at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, CSU-Long Beach.
I wanted the mele to reflect what I hoped the program would accomplish, namely, to demonstrate the strength of cultural vitality I witnessed flourishing in California. In the few years I lived in Santa Barbara and attended cultural events throughout the southern California region, I talked story with many people, formally and informally, about living in California but maintaining cultural ties to Hawai’i. What was coming through was a sense of resentment at being considered “second-class.” People in California seemed to have bought into an inferiority complex emphasized by folks in Hawai’i saying, “Oh, you folks so good — for mainland!” Well, what I saw in the mid-1990s was a vital community celebrating their experiences of embracing Hawaiian culture but also acknowledging that their lives in California were enriched by that dimension as well.
So I wanted a way to express that living in California was positive, and that claiming a California residence could be done with pride. And then I realized that even more was at stake: since two generations have now been born and raised in California, it was important to celebrate that. It was important to stop feeling obliged to apologize for living in California. Our children are now being born there. It is their ‘aina hanau (birthland).
From there, the mele flowed. It talks about California being a strange land for the ancestors who came over in search of life opportunities. It talks about California being able to sustain those folks who decided to put down roots. And it talks about California being an environment that supports continued growth and development of the Hawaiian community.
The mele has been embraced by kumu hula who are members of Kulia I ka Punawai, Kumu Hula Association of Southern California. Keali’i Ceballos used it as a mele ka’i entrance chant in Merrie Monarch in 1998; Puanani Edgar has used it in E Hula Mau in 2000; Kawika Viloria included it on his first compact disc, released in 2000; and Punawai used it in their performance at Ka ‘Aha Hula o Halauola World Conference on Hula in 2001. There is a composed tune for this mele. However, I also encourage anyone for whom the words have meaning to feel free to use a tune that has meaning for them.
Dr. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman is Associate Professor of Music and American Culture and Director of Asian/Pacific-American Studies at the University of Michigan.