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KS Cultural Consultant Manu Boyd KSK’80 shares reflections of the cherished mele hula “Welina Oʻahu” written by Robert Cazimero KSK ’67, Wayne Chang KSK ’69 and Leināʻala Kalama Heine.

‘Welina Oʻahu’ – A celebration of favorite island lei

Nov. 9, 2021

Contributed by Communications Staff

In this Kūkahekahe, KS Cultural Consultant Manu Boyd KSK’80 shares reflections of the cherished mele hula “Welina Oʻahu” as well as snippets of an interview with one of the mele’s composers and his own kumu, Robert Uluwehi Cazimero.

The 1976 “Brothers Cazimero Volume II” album release introduced a new mele hula celebrating island lei associated with Oʻahu to the island radio airwaves. A year later, the Brothers Caz held their first May Day concert at the Waikīkī Shell, starting a 30-year legacy of mele, hula and moʻolelo. The lyrics of “Welina Oʻahu” were written by Robert Cazimero KSK’67, Wayne Chang KSK’69 and Leināʻala Kalama Heine, and the haku mele (composer) trio wove people, places, and pua into their mele, evoking unforgettable and deeply personal imagery. With Robert’s classic melody and Roland’s guitar work, “Welina Oʻahu” was performed at that very first May Day concert, and has now been performed for decades throughout Hawai‘i nei and around the world.

In a recent interview, Robert revealed that this mele was composed in the mid 1970’s at his family home in Kalihi on Palena Street near the Kalihi-Moanalua Congregational Church. And while this mele has become beloved around the globe, it’s been somewhat different for a kumu hula who had just started his own life journey.

“I never liked this song. It has taken me a long time to appreciate it. I was so embarrassed that so many people loved this mele,” Robert shared.  “I had just started learning ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi at that time. I have always thought I could have done better. But it’s amazing that so many memories and dear friends are in this mele, many who are no longer here. It makes me miss them and love them more. Through mo‘olelo and mele, they live on forever, and we do too.”

Verse by verse, Robert shares some of the “hāʻupu,” or fond memories embedded in this mele.

Welina Oʻahu me ka lei ‘ilima
Pua lihi ‘alani, ka heke o nā pua

Greetings to Oʻahu with its regal adornment, lei ‘ilima
With orange petals, it is the finest of all pua

“Aunty Verna Wilson (makuahine of Kumu Hula Thaddeus Wilson) was a good pal of all of us,” Robert reflects. “She wore ‘ilima all the time. Her beautiful clothes as she “ta-la-la’d” the evening were never complete without strands of golden ‘ilima.” (‘Ilima is the official lei of Oʻahu).

Holoholo ma ke ala i Maunalua
Uluwehi nā pua sweet tuberose
(often pronounced “tubarose”)
Travelling along the road to Maunalua
The beauty of sweet tuberose blossoms are seen

He recalls, “Roland and I didn’t record this second verse, and I don’t remember why. But ʻAla shared that her mother, a lei maker, would go out to Kuliʻouʻou to pick up tuberose for her lei stand. This verse is for Aunty Becky Kalama.”

Aia lā ka pua kenikeni
E māpu mai ana no Koʻolaupoko

Behold, the “ten cents flower” (pua kenikeni)
Perfuming the moku of Ko’olaupoko

“The fragrance of Aunty Honey Kaʻīlioʻs house at Pākole, Kahalu‘u was crazy wonderful,” Robert said. “Her sisters (Lam Ho‘ohana) and mother would pick their pua kenikeni and bring them to Pākole. We knew her very well for years. She was also a student of our kumu, Maiki Aiu Lake.”

Ku‘i ana ka lāʻau i ke kōnane
Auē, hiki nō! Inu ke ‘ala pīkake

Broken branches strike the pīkake in the moonlight
Alas, it’s as if you can drink in the fragrance of these favorite blossoms!

“I’d like to think that this pīkake verse is for me, but really it is for my Mama’s sister, Aunty Helen Kīlauanu. Good friends with Aunty Vickie Rodrigues, they would play music and make lei pīkake that grew in her yard. I talk about hitting the branches in the moonlight. My Mom did that to encourage the flowers to bloom. They did.”

I luna kaulana ‘o Pūowaina
Melia mau loa ka waiho‘olu‘u

Pūowaina above Honolulu is well-known
For the everlasting colorful display of plumeria

“This verse is for the multi-colored plumeria of Papakōlea that our Kumu Maiki always said was the favorite pua of hula dancers. This verse is for a good friend and fellow dancer, Lokelani Hew Len. And also, for Maiki,” Robert said.

I kēia ahiahi i haku mai ai
‘O ‘oe ka‘u i hā‘upu aʻe nei

Tonight, a mele was woven by three
You are mine to fondly remember

“ʻOe” in the second line of the last paukū means “you.” But for this verse, I purposefully didn’t ask my kumu Robert who the dear one is referenced here. We don’t need to know or understand every detail of mele Hawai‘i. We can use our imagination, memories, inspirations and aloha to hear “Welina Oʻahu” over and over again, thinking of loved ones who are “hilo paʻa” in your heart.

For me, this “Welina Oʻahu” reminds me that the making, sharing, and wearing of flower lei is a festive, meaningful and important Hawaiian loina or custom deeply interwoven with other forms of creation and memory, including haku mele. ‘Ilima, tuberose, pua kenikeni, pīkake, pua melia – e lei i ka lei ē!

E ka ʻohana Kamehameha, visit our Kaʻiwakīloumoku website for more about mele like “Welina Oʻahu” including Mele Hoʻoheno, a series of interviews with composers and musicians conducted by Manu Boyd.

A graphic featuring the three original performers of “Welina Oʻahu”: From left to right, composers Robert Cazimero KSK'67 and Leināʻala Kalama Heine, and Robert’s brother, Roland Cazimero KSK'68. Not shown here is Wayne Keahi Chang KSK'69, the third composer, who was a frequent guest performer.

ʻIlima flower

Tuberose flower

Puakenikeni flower

Pikake flower

Plumeria flower


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