Queen Lili‘uokalani, the last ruling monarch of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, reigned from 1891 to 1893. She was a talented songwriter who wrote more than 160 songs and chants during her lifetime. Her songs were inspired by important places she lived or visited; in them she reflected on the natural beauty of her surroundings. They also speak often of love, and greatly portray her appreciation to the land.
Nestled below Mount Olomana, the fertile wet land of Maunawili is the backdrop for Lili‘uokalani’s composition “Aloha ‘Oe” (“Farewell To Thee”). In the 19th century, people traveled by horseback from Honolulu to the windward side through Nu‘uanu Valley and over the Nu‘uanu Pali, or by way of Waimānalo through Maunawili, which is what the royal party
did on several occasions.
At Maunawili, Lili‘uokalani often visited the estate of the Boyds, a prominent Hawaiian-British family. It was during one such visit in 1878 that the then-princess was inspired by an affectionate farewell between Colonel James Boyd of her party and a young woman from Maunawili.
On the journey back to Honolulu, Lili‘uokalani formulated the words and melody of “Aloha ‘Oe” in her head. With the lyrics “one fond embrace, until we meet again,” it would become one of Hawai‘i’s most famous songs.
During her eight-month imprisonment at ‘Iolani Palace, Lili‘uokalani penned “Ku‘u Pua I Paoakalani,” an ode to her principal estate, Paoakalani, in Waikīkī. It was built on her lands in the district of Hamohamo, which ran inland from Kalākaua Avenue to what is now the Ala Wai Canal. (On a present-day map, that’s approximately between Lili‘uokalani and ‘Ōhua Avenues, near Paoakalani Street.)
“Hamohamo is justly considered to be the most lifegiving and healthy district in the whole extent of the island of O‘ahu,” she wrote in her memoir, Hawai‘i’s Story By Hawai‘i’s Queen. “There is something unexplainable and peculiar in the atmosphere of that place, which seldom fails to bring back the glow of health to the patient, no matter what disease suffering.”
Lili‘uokalani had much affection for her land at Hamohamo, which is forever etched in her song: “‘Ike mau i ka nani o nā pua, O ka uka o Uluhaimalama, ‘a‘ole na‘e ho‘i e like, me ku‘u pua i ka la‘i o Paoakalani.” (“I’ve often seen those beauteous flowers that grew at Uluhaimalama, but none of those could be compared to my flowers that blooms in the fields of Paoakalani.”)
“Nani Nā Pua Ko‘olau” is a love song composed by Lili‘uokalani in 1860 at the age of 22. The romantic song, which she published in both Hawaiian and English, describes the beautiful flowers of Ko‘olau and the search for the “fairest of all fair ones”—the ‘ōhi‘a lehua. “The lehua flower whose ardent sweetness, overpowers the wanderer over the lea, and I cry ‘Where are you, my loved one,’ my spirit wants to be with you,” the song yearns.
Lili‘uokalani’s life at the time included suitors from William Lunalilo to John Dominis, whose proposal she accepted the same year she wrote the song. (She married Dominis two years later.) This tribute to nature and the desire to find a lehua blossom mirrors the longing between two lovers, and the bliss felt when reunited.
Lower Nu‘uanu Valley
Lili‘uokalani composed the hula “Tutu” (“Grandmother”) for a benefit program at Kaumakapili Church, where she served as president under King Kalākaua’s benevolent organization, Hooulu Lahui. She managed Hooulu Lahui’s operations in “the lower part of Honolulu, Kaumakapili, extending as far as Ma‘ema‘e, and embracing the district beyond Palama,” according to her memoir.
“Tutu” was sung and danced by seven young girls as the grandchildren and Maria Heleluhe as the endearing tutu who loses her glasses often and forgets they are on her head. Lili‘uokalani accompanied on guitar.
“There lives at Ka‘ala‘ala‘a my aged, dear old grandmother,” the hula begins. “Her days were full of numbers that she lived in this world of care.” Ka‘ala‘ala‘a is in Lower Nu‘uanu and was likely chosen by Lili‘uokalani for its connection to her charity. But Nu‘uanu Valley also holds great significance to the Hawaiian people: It’s where the first man, Wākea, was born, and where the gods built the first heiau, a traditional temple.
Royal residences were not uncommon in Kapālama. The area was farmed by Kamehameha I to provide for his people, and the land was handed down to his descendants. In 1884, Lili‘uokalani, then a princess, was excited to buy a piece of property next to Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani’s Kapālama residence. She spent months upgrading her new home and planting gardens that included roses.
After moving in, she wrote the song “Nohea I Mu‘olaulani” to praise the estate she affectionately named Mu‘olaulani, which means “innumerable royal buds.” Mu‘olaulani is now the approximate site of Mayor Wright Homes between King Street and Vineyard Boulevard.
A prolific composer, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i penned more than 160 songs and chants that are still celebrated today.
Queen Lili‘uokalani’s songs were inspired by important places she lived or visited and reflect on the natural beauty of her surroundings.
Lili‘uokalani composed her most famous song on the horseback ride home from a visit to Maunawili.
The songs and chants Lili‘uokalani wrote during her lifetime often speak of love and convey her appreciation for the land.