ʻŪlei: The Hawaiian word of the week
Kuʻu sweet pua ʻūlei
You know, us Hawaiians, we are such flower fanatics. Beautiful and fragrant, pua are fashioned into lei and both are metaphors for children – kā kākou mau kama lei hiʻialo – our beloved children we carry on our fronts – kā kākou mau pua hiwahiwa hiʻikua – our precious children we carry on our backs.
In the early 1800s, the sweet and fragrant pink lokelani (Rosa damascena) was introduced to Hawaiʻi, likely by a sailors from New England or one of the early missionary women. Flower fans that our kūpuna were, they loved it. They planted it like mad (especially in Lahaina) and started to write songs for it. It became so popular that it was designated the official flower of Maui in 1923. Funnily enough, when the other islands followed suit, after the advent of May Day, they all got native flowers assigned to them (Yes, the pua kukui of Molokaʻi counts!).
Kuana Torres Kahele sports FABULOUS lei lokelani for the cover of his album “Piilani Maui; Music For The Hawaiian Islands, Vol. 3”
With this long history of lei-making and flower-loving, our aloha extends from the tender native blossoms of our islands to many types of foreign blooms, especially those with a lovely fragrance. While I am a fan of the modern mele that honor sweetly scented newcomers, I am also aware that our connection to our native flora needs nurturing too. How come nobody has written a song praising the sweet scent of the ʻūlei blossom?! After all, it is our native rose! Didn’t realize we had one, did you?
Because our native habitats have suffered such terrible degradation in the last 200 years, native plants are much farther away from most of us than they used to be. But at one time, ʻūlei was very close to us. It’s dense, hard wood was made into ʻōʻō (digging sticks), ihe (spears), iʻe kuku (kapa beaters), ʻauamo (carrying poles), ʻūkēkē (musical bows) and more. The mele ʻŪlei Pahu I Ka Moku talks about long poles made from ʻūlei wood that were used to push the waʻa out over the mud flats of Waimea, Kauaʻi when Captain Cook’s ship was anchored offshore. Its sweet fruits could be used to make a beautiful purple dye for kapa and were eaten in times of low food supply.
Supposedly the flowers of the ʻūlei were also made into lei, probably along with its pretty green leaves (the pua are a little lahilahi all alone). I would like to see a big fat lei wili made with ʻūlei! And what about a mele praising the scent of its blossoms? Or better yet, one for its hard strong wood that was used to hoʻowali ʻuala (soften the earth for sweet potato planting)? Tihihihi
O ka wai kau no ia o Keʻanae; o ka ʻūlei hoʻowali ʻuwala ia o Kula – It is the pool on the height of Keʻanae; it is the ʻūlei digging stick for the potato [patch] of Kula (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau)
The full story from ʻŌlelo Noʻeau: “A handsome young man of Kula and a beautiful young woman of Keʻanae, on Maui, were attracted to each other. She boasted of her own womanly perfection by referring to her body as the pool on the heights of Keʻanae. Not to be outdone, he looked down at himself and boasted of his manhood as the digging stick of Kula.” Now that is mele worthy. Hehehe.
Look at all the uses of ʻūlei! Sorry lokelani, but all you do is noho nani mai (sit and look pretty). Sure you might have flashy pink colors and a super ʻauliʻi (cute, dainty) appearance, but can you give me a digging stick? Just sayin. And can you imagine an ʻūlei with a trunk big enough to carve an ʻōʻō? The plants we see today are usually brambling bushes, but they did grow into trees back in the day (dryforest species are notoriously slow-growing).
PC: Kim & Forest Starr, Auwahi Maui (Their shots of native plants are awesome!)
All kolohe jokes aside, the ʻūlei goes deep into our history. It is the land dwelling entity that guards the umaumalei fish in the ocean. You know how us ladies at Kealopiko love us some Kumulipo action. For this second half of Kū season, we bring you two different designs to honor this illustrious pair. Below is the latest arrival – the women’s umaumalei boatneck. The ʻūlei tops are coming soon, no laila e hoʻomanawanui i ka ʻono! Oh, and please let us know if you haku a mele for this fabulous plant.
Justine Kamelamela sports the new umaumalei boatneck, soon to be available on the shop!
He lei ko ka uka, he lei ko ke kai – The uplands have a lei, the sea has a lei
E ola ka ʻōlelo o ka ʻāina!