Recently, while searching for a Hawaiian mele to share with you, I came across a lovely video of the Peter Moon Band (PMB) performing "Mauna Loa."
It’s vintage, quintessential Hawaiiana, so typical of the "no hurry" mindset I miss so much. The sweet, sublime harmonies draw out the emotions of the lilting melody, and I was so sipping ambrosial liquid from a coconut shell and walking along the beach at sunset with Tom Selleck, when a disturbing thought occurred to me: I had no idea what they were singing about.
I guess the common assumption is that most Hawaiian songs are about green mountains, tropical flowers, palm trees swaying in the breeze, and the rolling waves of the sea. Some of them probably are, but I found, much to my amusement and amazement, that this one wasn’t.
Listen to the song, let it transport you, then try to guess what it’s about. So deceptively sweet!
Apparently, this song is about a spurned lover, a man who’s married to a promiscuous woman with hips as wide as a ship. He’s giving her the final brush-off, comparing himself to the roach eaten hanky used to wipe her pointy shoes.
Hawaiians are famous for using a sly, centuries-old poetic device called kaona, or multi-layered metaphor. Innocuous images are often used to mask a not-so-innocent statement. There is much carnality and bawdiness in Hawaiian songs, and kaona allows the singer to convey double or triple entendre, with relative ease. Hence, the metaphor of the ship named "Mauna Loa," never returning to the same port.
Next time you hear a Hawaiian song mentioning rain or mist, take heed; these images are the poetic equivalent of lovemaking. *fans self*