Sunday, May 10, 2009

Makua Laiana

Our halau often practices singing "Hawai'i Aloha," which is sort of an anthem in Hawaii, sung while standing (sometimes even holding hands) at the conclusion of public events. Our occasional hula shows also end with the singing of this uplifting tune.

The history of "Hawai'i Aloha" is pretty interesting because it involves a very rare thing: an American missionary who actually respected the native culture. The Reverend Lorenzo Lyons, a Congregationalist minister from Massachusetts, made a point of learning the Hawaiian language. He became fluent and even composed poetry and hymns in Hawaiian.

His rather sizable congregation on Hawai'i Island felt great affection and respect for him. They called him "Makua Laiana, haku mele o ka 'รค'ina mauna" (Father Lyons, lyric poet of the mountain country).

King Kamehameha IV, who reigned from 1855 to 1863, really liked the tune of the Scots hymn "I Left It All With Jesus." The king asked Rev. Lyons to compose a song in Hawaiian to fit the tune. The result was "Hawai'i Aloha." Click here to see the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (Bruddah Iz) sing and play this beautiful song.

Rev. Lyons lived on the slopes of Mauna Kea at Waimea on the Big Island from 1832 until his death in 1886. He converted thousands of Hawaiians to Christianity and built a total of 14 churches to accommodate them all. He also translated hundreds of Christian hymns from English to Hawaiian and published a hymn book which he supplied to churches throughout the Islands.

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