Hear me, my love
A few weeks ago, I took my grandmother to a gig my mother was playing. As she often does, my grandmother stood up to sing a song or two. In the last few years, however, she has become very selective about what she will still sing. One song that has stuck with her all these years is “E Maliu Mai,” by Aunty Irmgard Farden Aluli.
E maliu mai, e kuʻu ipo, me ke aloha pumehana – Listen to my call, my beloved, with warm affection (Aunty Irmgard Farden Aluli)
Even though I had heard her sing it several times, on this particular day it made me cry. Maybe it was seeing my two young daughters (2 & 4) watch wide-eyed as their kupuna wahine kuakahi (great-grandmother) sang softly into the microphone under the shade of a massive monkeypod tree. But really, I think it was the feeling in the music – the tugging on the heart strings that Aunty Irmgard wanted us to feel, that she felt when she wrote this love song.
E maliu mai, e kuʻu ipo, me ke aloha lei makamae – Listen to my call, my beloved, like a never fading lei
Funnily enough, Aunty Irmgard said she didn’t even really know what the words she chose meant, but they just came out of her along with the rest of this beautiful love song: “…I was composing the words in Hawaiian. It was something because I don’t speak Hawaiian. I didn’t even know what “e mailu mai” meant, but I kept adding phrases, whatever came to mind” (Haʻilono Mele Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 7 July, 1977)
Koʻu ʻiʻini, naʻu ʻoe, me kou leo nahenahe – My desire is that you become mine, with your sweet and gentle voice
Her statement should give one pause. She may have thought she “didn’t speak Hawaiian,” but someone who writes a song this elegant and emotionally complex possesses skills in the language that they don’t even realize are there. Her young life must have been steeped in music, poetry, and some level of spoken Hawaiian that she absorbed without even realizing, then was able to draw upon as her own artistry developed. When she called her aunt to check on the lyrics and meaning for “E Maliu Mai,” they only changed two of the words she had come up with. Kupanaha nō (unreal).
And though she did not realize it, Aunty Irmgard was drawing upon a long tradition when she chose the words “e maliu mai.” It was a phrase many before her had used:
E Laka e, e maliu mai oe, e maliu mai oe, i pono au (Mele Kuahu, translation mine) – O Laka, hear my call, look upon me favorably, that I might be well
E ka Lani ē, e maliu mai i ka leo – O Chief, hear [my] plea (Holoʻae begins his plea to Kalaniʻōpuʻu in the story of Kekūhaupiʻo)
E maliu mai oe e ke aloha, – Listen to me, my sweetheart
Kuu dear love o ka po lai, – My dear love of the tranquil night
Buenos once more e ke hoa, – Well wishes once more, my companion
Koʻu time huli hoi keia. – This is my time to return
(Lanihuli, Buke Mele Hoonanea)
Ia Kahalaomapuana e uwe ana no kona mau kaikuaana, ia manawa kona noi anaʻku ia Aiwohikupua, e hoihoi ia ia me kona mau kaikaaana; aka, aole no he maliu mai o Aiwohikupua. (S.N. Haleole, Ke Kaao o Laieikawai, 1863) – While Kahalaomapuana was crying for her older sisters, at that time she asked Aiwohikupua to return her to them, but Aiwohikupuna did not heed her request.
Nui nā leo hoʻomalimali – Many were the flattering voices
A ka ʻili puakea mai ʻo Maleka, – Of the fair-skinned of America
ʻAʻole naʻe he maliu aku. – But [he] didn’t pay heed (From a mele for Nāwahī by H. S. Nāhuina, 1896)
All this and MUCH more formed the backdrop that made “e maliu mai” come out of Aunty Irmgard. This example of collective knowledge giving rise to creativity should give us much inspiration as we move forward – faith that when we do all we can to surround ourselves with ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi it forms a fertile soil from which many beautiful things can grow.
Sure, we might not be like this prolific composer of hundreds of mele, with native speakers at her fingertips and the natural gift of music bestowed upon her at birth. But we can make like her and maliu the creative voice inside of us and we will be and do just what we need to and at just the right time. The collective knowledge we surround ourselves with will come out in what we do.
So every chance I get, I listen to my grandmother sing. And I speak and read and listen to as much ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as I can fit into my busy-parent-of-two life. It never feels like enough, but I try my best to create spaces in my life for it, in hopes that it will create a rich soil in which good things can take root and grow. With that thought in mind, here are some modern examples:
Ei nei, e maliu nō ʻoe i kou naʻau, o pilikia mai auaneʻi! – You you, listen to your intuition, lest you get into trouble!
ʻEā, e maliu aku ʻolua i ka leo o Pāpā! – Hey, you two listen to Daddy!
E ola ka ʻōlelo o ka ʻāina!