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Halau I Ka Wekiu - Wahine to Dance at Merrie Monarch about Uluhaimalama

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This is a story about a Queen, a Garden, and the people who loved them both…

The story begins on October 11, 1894.  Actually, the real story begins a few years earlier with the political and emotional turmoil created by the events leading up to the unlawful overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation.  On January 17, 1893, with rebel armed forces and United States marines patrolling the streets, Queen Lili'uokalani, fearing for the safety of her people, signed over her authority to govern her people to the provisional government of the United States.  Confident that justice would prevail when the case for restoration of the Nation was made to then-president Grover Cleveland in Washington, D.C., the Queen urged her people to remain steadfast and do nothing that would lead to violence.  The editor of the newspaper, the "Evening Bulletin" urged Hawaiians to "go your quiet, peaceful way….Nothing has annoyed them so much as your dignified behavior…" "Those who write of the present conflict will be made – or unmade – by the verdict of the future…Act then so that your conduct will bear the fierce light of the scrutiny of the future…Now is the time for men to show their true natures, whatever they may be."

Although in November the overthrow was officially denounced by President Cleveland, the leaders of the Provisional Government refused to give up control.  They hired spies to report on acts of "disloyalty."  Hawaiians were forbidden to gather and many were forced to take oaths of allegiance to the new government.  The people of Honolulu were kept under constant surveillance.  In response, resourceful Hawaiians developed a method of communicating by using newly composed songs and messages with hidden meanings.  They spoke to each other using these hidden meanings, or kaona.

During this fear-filled time, sensing that her people needed reassurance and a sign of hope, the Queen gave a piece of her own land in Pauoa Valley on `Auwaiolimu Street to her people as a garden, and it was announced in Hawaiian newspapers that the planting of the garden would be done according to ancient ceremonies.  Here is what happened on that historic day, October 11, 1894:

Queen Lili'uokalani named the garden, Uluhaimalama which has the allegorical meaning, "As the plants grow up out of the dark earth into the light, so shall light come to the nation."  In order to avoid scrutiny and protect her people, the Queen and members of her household came to Uluhaimalama the night before the planting ceremonies were scheduled and at the entrance, planted a bed of small shrubs the design of which spelled Uluhaimalama.

The next morning, scores of Hawaiians came to the garden, each wearing a blue ribbon with "Uuhaimalama" lettered on it.  There was an expectant air of celebration and the ceremony was organized to look like a typical garden party, with groups strolling leisurely on the road and on the hill across from the garden to avoid the appearance of a gathering in protest.  Suspicious government police lined the roadways, but as they couldn't detect anything out of the ordinary, they allowed the event to proceed.  Throughout the day sacred trees were planted, first the lehua, symbolic of Her Majesty because its flowers were loved by the gods.  Other trees and flowers were planted in a circle around the lehua, symbolizing the encircling love of the people for their Queen, the hala polapola because it was the Queen's favorite lei, the kukui to bring light to the government, the pilimai so that "the love of your people clings fast to you, O heavenly One; cling fast to your land, your people, your throne, O our Queen!"[1]  With each planting, chants were intoned, calling on spiritual powers and kÅ«puna, affirming the Hawaiians' connection to their `aina and dedication to their beloved Queen.

Perhaps the most moving and momentous part of the day happened near the end, as described by Kathleen Dickens Mellon in "An Island Kingdom Passes":  "When the encircling trees and flowers had all been planted there came next an emotional ceremony rooted in remote antiquity.  A small mound of earth had been prepared on top of which a simple stone, symbolic of the creation of Mother Earth, was placed while the chanter intoned: ‘The land is the only living thing.  Men are mortal.  The land is the Mother that never dies.'  And as the rich earth was patted with loving hands around the base of the stone the people sang, softly, Mele Aloha `Aina (Song of the Land We Love)."  This song, now known as Kaulana Nā Pua (Famous are the Flowers) or the stone eating song was composed by Ellen Wright Prendergast in response to a government threat that Hawaiians failing to take the oath of allegiance to the new government would be "forced to eat stones."

"The last planting took place at midnight under the full moon.  It was the sacred night of hua on which all things planted would grow and flourish.  Bananas, rich in symbolic meaning, were set reverently in the moist earth while those in attendance chanted in unison:

 

E ke maia planted on this Holy Night of Hua

Be ye fruitful for our Kingdom, our People

Fruitful for our Throne

Our Heavenly One.

 

The Time of Stormy Days is past

The Time of Light is near

With Light will come freedom of body and spirit

Happiness in living as lived Our Ancestors.

 

Here are the torches of Iwikaukaua

Ancestor of the Heavenly One

Lighted here tonight and for Time Without End

For Our Heavenly One

For Her Heirs forever."[2]

 

In 1917, in the wake of the emotion evoked upon the Queen's death, oral history has it that representatives of the U.S. government, in an effort to quell any lasting support for the monarchy, uprooted the plantings at Uluhaimalama and turned it into a cemetery.  Inadvertently, by making it a resting place for our kÅ«puna, it was made an even more sacred place for Hawaiians.

The planting at Uluhaimalama must be remembered.  The garden stands as a powerful symbol of so much: a tribute to the love Hawaiians have for their land and their Queen; of hope and their pride in their culture and its ancient ways; their strong resistance to the illegal takeover of their nation; and the belief in the vital principle of pono – that what is good, right and just will prevail.  It also stands as affirmation that our kÅ«puna did not stand by idly, apathetically, while their nation was taken from them.  They took action in a proud and uniquely Hawaiian way.  All of this is memorialized in the stone eating song, but it is also remembered in this place, a part of the ‘aina where the event actually occurred. We must remember and learn from our past so that this travesty is never again allowed to happen.

Each month, the haumana of Hālau I Ka WÄ“kiu, under the direction of Nā Kumu Hula, Karl Veto Baker and Michael Lanakila Casupang, take care of Uluhaimalama, as part of their community service kuleana.  Since 2005 the hālau has been mowing the grass and raking the leaves every month, starting when the grass was more than four feet high.  In 2009, with the help of a grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a water meter was installed, and - once life sustaining ola was available - a re-planting ceremony was held on October 11, with many of the original plants restored to the Garden.   Every month more trees and flowers are planted, so that her former beauty is being returned and flourishes.  Different groups are invited to help with the cleanup and the planting so that the word of this iconic place and the moving event that occurred there spreads.

To help tell the story of Uluhaimalama and as part of their strong commitment to the Hawaiian culture, Baker and Casupang, recording under the name, "KUmZ", wrote and recorded a song for the Garden, which can be found on their recently released cd, On the Summit.  "Queen Lili`uokalani's other gardens have songs written about them," says Baker, "because she means so much to the Hawaiian people, it was important to us that Uluhaimalama have one as well…"

 


[1] Mana. M/M (personal communication, May 31, 1895). Letter to Queen Lili`uokalani, translated by J. Achiu, June 1978 from Hawai`i State Archives M-3, Box 7, folder 71, #12498.

[2] Mellon, K.D. (1958), An Island Kingdom Passes.  New York, NY: Hastings House Publishers.