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Princess Liliʻuokalani in London in 1887, while attending Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Her necklace is of the lei ʻōpuʻu kaimana style, which refers to either one solitaire gem or a set of dainty gems crafted into a single gem cluster. Photo by Walery, Courtesy of Hawai’i State Archives.

Kūkahekahe: ‘Nohea i Muʻolaulani’ na Lili‘uokalani

Sept. 1, 2022

Contributed by Manu Boyd KSK ‘80

This special Kūkahekahe by Cultural Consultant Manu Boyd KSK’80 celebrates the Sept. 2, 1838 lā hānau (birthdate) of Queen Liliʻuokalani by recalling one of her homes in Kapālama, Oʻahu, known as Muʻolaulani.

Long before “Muʻolaulani” was associated with today’s Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center on Hālona Street in Kapālama, this royal name graced the Queen’s former residence which was located less than a mile down the street a century earlier. On King Street, between what are now Desha and Pua lanes, Muʻolaulani was the name chosen in 1885 for the newly acquired property and home of then-Princess Liliʻuokalani.

In December 1884, part of the former estate of Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani (which was passed on to Simon Ka‘ai) was acquired at auction by Lili‘u for $8,000, a large sum in those days. The fairly new home was described as capacious and was expanded further by the purchase of an adjacent property, which was mainly lo‘i kalo.

After some minor improvements, Lili‘u moved into her new Pālama residence in March of 1885. In “Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen” (Hui Hānai, 2013), Liliʻuokalani wrote, “This is the day I am supposed to take possession of this house. I think that I shall call it Mu‘olaulani.” It is likely that Liliʻuokalani had Princess Ruth in mind when she decided to call her new home Muʻolaulani. Princess Ruth formerly owned large land parcels identified as both Kapālama and Pālama (lama wood enclosure). Keʻelikōlani was also referred to as both Muʻolaulani and Kamuʻolaulani in mid-nineteenth century mele published in Hawaiian language newspapers and its meaning is royal leaf buds, or innumerable royal buds.

In May of 1885, a large reception at Mu‘olaulani was likely the festive occasion where a new mele by Princess Lili‘uokalani was debuted. “Nohea i Mu‘olaulani,” meaning “Beautiful one at Muʻolaulani,” expresses the excitement and contentment of this ali‘i wahine, who six years later would become queen.

“He mea nui ke aloha” begins this elegant song: “Love is important.”

That love is further compared to a diamond necklace in the mele’s third line, which is often sung as “Mehe‘o ku‘u lei kaimana ala.” But it may be that “‘ōpu‘u lei kaimana” was the composer’s intention as “‘ōpuʻu” means bud, in reference to a solitaire diamond necklace.

The chorus of this simple, elegant, eight-line mele begins with “Kuʻu lei popohe i ka laʻi” (My adornment is shapely or in full form in the calm.) Considering that muʻo and ʻōpu‘u are references to buds, the use of “popohe” may allude to a kind of blossoming that she experienced. This kind of word play is often seen in high-level Hawaiian poetic texts.

Just weeks before Liliʻu’s purchase of the Pālama lands and residence, she expressed disappointment in what she received from her hānai sister Pauahi: diamond jewelry and lands at Kāhala, O‘ahu; Lumaha‘i, Kaua‘i; and Keālia, Hawai‘i. But it was the downtown Honolulu home that she and Pauahi grew up in that she really desired. Named Aikupika, Haleakalā (Hale‘akala), it was later transformed into the Arlington Hotel and located near what is now Bishop Square.

In 1889 after only four years of residence at Muʻolaulani Liliʻu moved back to the palatial residence ma uka of the ‘Iolani Palace, Washington Place, which was built by her long-deceased father-in-law. Her move was prompted by the passing of her mother-in-law, who for years had claimed Washington Place as her own, even in the early years of Liliʻu’s residence there with her husband. In the intervening years between her moving back to Washington Place, Liliʻu and her mother-in-law had developed a warmer relationship which they enjoyed into their later years.

The Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center building on Halona Street bears the name Muʻolaulani today. It is mentioned in a late twentieth century mele inoa by Mālia Craver and Val Kepelino, “Pu‘uhonua Nani,”recorded on Peter Ahia’s “Peter Sings” album.

You can enjoy a recording of “Nohea i Muʻolaulani” by the Brothers Cazimero from their 1978 album Hoʻāla here.

Nohea i Mu‘olaulani
Princess Lili‘uokalani, May 1885

He mea nui ke aloha
Ke hiki mai i oʻu nei
Meheʻo ku‘u lei kaimana ala
(Me he ‘ōpuʻu lei kaimana ala)
Kāhiko no kuʻu kino

Ku‘u lei popohe i ka la‘i
Nohea i Muʻolaulani
Ka beauty lā, he mau ia
No nā kau a kau

Love is a great thing
When it comes to me
Like a diamond necklace
Adorning my body

My lei takes full form in the calm
Beautiful/handsome one at Muʻolaulani
The beauty will endure
From season to season

To read more of Queen Liliʻuokalani’s recollections, read “Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen” (Hui Hānai, 2013) and “The Diaries of Queen Liliʻuokalani of Hawaiʻi, 1885-1900” (Hui Hānai, 2020).

To learn more about the Kapālama residences of Queen Liliʻuokalani and Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani, read this “Journal of Hawaiian History” article by researcher Ralph Thomas Kam.

Princess Liliʻuokalani and Queen Kapiʻolani attending Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. Liliʻuokalani would have been living at Muʻolaulani at this time.

kūkahekahe,queen liliʻuokalani

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