Nhsc-v1-180

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nhsc-v1-180

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comes from a prayer to Laka, the goddess of the hula, a deity still invoked by many practitioners of Hawaiian dance. 14/

'O Laka 'oe,
(You are Laka, )


'O ka wahine noho i ka lipo,
(Woman resting in the dark color,
[as in the deep sea or forest])


I ka uluwehi palai nei la e.
(In the lushness of the palai fern here.)


E ho'i. Ho'oulu 'ia.
(Return. Let there be growth/inspiration.)


The first thing to note is that the prayer has words. From a traditional Hawaiian viewpoint, the Western concept of silent prayer denies the god-given human privilege of using words. The prayer is also chanted, which makes the words purposefully more subtle, thus very personal, a feature enhanced by the inclusion of extra sounds such as la and e. The language in this short excerpt is not much different from ordinary speech, except for the use of a passive in the last line, a feature that does not appear in the English translation, but which makes the language more formal from a Hawaiian perspective.

There is considerable use of word power in these lines, although the only obvious one in the above translation is the term ho'oulu meaning "to cause growth" and also poetically, "to inspire." Word power is also evident in the word uluwehi (lushness), which contains the sound ulu connected to ho'oulu. There is also the word noho (rest upon, sit), which is used in Hawaiian culture to refer to the inspiration of gods accomplished traditionally by their coning to noho upon one's shoulders around the head where one's essential humanity is located. The whole prayer is further complicated by the actual wearing of lei (or wehi, "ornament," as in uluwehi) palai fern upon the shoulders (the place of inspiration), on the head (the place of basic humanity), on the feet (the source of the movement of the dance), and on the hands (which will interact with the words of the dance, although not always in a direct and blatant one-to-one relationship). The palai is traditionally thought of as a form that Laka can assume and it grows in the dark lushness of the forest (that is, lipo). The lei actually brings the goddess into physical union with the dancer, not as a form of worship but as a joint effort of the dancer and a spirit member of the Hawaiian people (Laka), to honor those for whom the dance is being presented. All this symbolism in Hawaiian thinking should help and strengthen the dancer, and will be greatest in a subtle chant, enabling the dancer to keep everything just under the surface for the dancer as well as the audience.

The three examples given above are very simple ones because Hawaiian chants are very long and can contain hundreds of lines. There are also sagas with chanted dialogues, short stories, and books written in a European genre (much like Americans attempting Japanese haiku poetry in English), and of course many songs. Hawaiian love songs are especially interesting as there is strong emphasis on subtle description and personal response referring to places visited, occurrence of minor or major events, humorous occasions, and infinitum. The song can be so personalized that only the composer and honored recipient can fully understand the camouflaged meaning (kaona) of the song, although there is also a surface meaning that is poetic and enjoyable in itself.

-p180-

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