Last February I attended the annual Maui media luncheon, when various tourist representatives inform mainland travel writers of great story ideas over a sumptuous lunch at a top restaurant. When the group came to Portland, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Candy Aluli, who does public relations for resorts on Maui.
As we chatted, I learned that she was a California girl who came to Maui and fell in love with a local boy. His mother, as it turned out, was one of the legends of Hawaiian music, Imgard Aluli. I was familiar with one of her most famous compositions, "Puamana."
Candy told me that before her wedding, her new Hawaiian family taught her to hula to that song. On her wedding day, Candy danced solo, as a tribute to her new mother-in-law. Irmgard, who was considered the most prolific Hawaiian song writer since Queen Liliu'okalani, passed away in 2001 at age 89.
I remembered that Candy told me that Irmgard was of the generation of Hawaiians who were not allowed to learn their native language. Her command of the language was rudimentary, at best. So Irmgard would compose the music and develop the idea of the song in English. Then she would ask a girlfriend, who knew Hawaiian pretty well, to write the lyrics in Hawaiian.
After the lunch, Candy said she'd email me some background information about Irmgard's most famous compositions, "Puamana" and "Laupahoehoe Boy." Fast forward 10 months to when my hula class started learning the dance for "Puamana." I suddenly remembered that Candy was going to send me some information. I had never followed up and it had slipped her mind. I gave her a call and reminded her. The result was my receipt today of a couple of charming stories that Irmgard herself had written.
By the way, Laupahoehoe is a town on the north shore of the Big Island that gets its name from a type of lava that has a braided appearance.
And Irmgard's girlfriend who knew Hawaiian? It turns out that her friend was the foremost authority on the Hawaiian language, Mary Kawena Pukui, who with Samuel Elbert wrote the definitive Hawaiian dictionary.
Here are Irmgard's stories. Thank you, Candy!
Background on the “Laupahoehoe Hula” (Boy from Laupahoehoe), in Irmgard’s words. (Composed in the 1970s. Lyrics by Mary Kawena Pukui; music by Irmgard Farden Aluli. Mary Kawena Pukui collaborated with Irmgard on a number of songs, providing the Hawaiian lyrics and translations, as Irmgard was not fluent in the Hawaiian language):
At the time, I was living in Punalu’u (Oahu). While doing my housework one day, the word “Laupahoehoe” flashed across my mind, and along with it a beat for a hula. I mentioned it on a later occasion to Kawena. I said, “Do you think it would do well for a song?” She said, “Oh, yes, it should!” Well, then I forgot about it.
About a month later, again I was doing housework and the word “Laupahoehoe” flashed across my mind, and this time it really was bothering me. I dropped the housework, got on the phone, and called Kawena. I said, “You know, Kawena, that word “Laupahoehoe” is bothering me. I think we’d better write our song.” She said, “Fine. But you know I have never been to Laupahoehoe. Have you?” I said, “No.” She said, “Well then I think what you’d better do is get some information about Laupahoehoe, then call me and I’ll write the lyrics.” This was all by telephone. I was in Punalu’u. She was in Honolulu.
So I gathered the information, and gave it to her over the telephone. She wrote the words, then she phones me back, gives me the Hawaiian lyrics and the translations. I take them, set them down in front of me. I look at the words. The music comes very easily. In about 15, 20 minutes I finished the song. I called her back and played it over the phone. So this song was composed entirely by telephone.”
Background on “Puamana” in Irmgard’s words. (Composed in 1937. Hawaiian lyrics by Charles K. Farden; music by Irmgard Farden Aluli.)
My father [Charles Farden] had bought a piece of property [situated oceanfront on Front Street in Lahaina], and on the deed appeared the name “Puamana.” Dad, knowing the Hawaiian language well, said, “Well, that is a good name for our place.” He built our home, which was a large six bedroom, two bath home, and he called it “Puamana.” That name was chiseled into the stone wall leading to the house. We moved into Puamana in 1916. I was four years old. One of the things I remember so well is that my father took the nine of us children and gave each of us a sprouting coconut tree. He had some holes dug along the stone wall near the ocean. And he said, “Children, each one of you are to plant your coconut tree, and as that tree grows, so will you grow.” Well, we planted them. Later, there were two more children and the youngest two were taken by mother and dad, each given a sprouting coconut and they were planted. Now the trees are tall, bending toward the ocean, and they are still on the land of Puamana, though the home is no longer there. This home was such a happy one for me. Later, I wrote a song about it, and in it I mention the coconut trees.
It was in 1937 that I composed “Puamana.” I was home on a visit (I was teaching on Moloka’i), and suddenly—I was just sitting at the piano playing—and this tune came. I said to my sister Emma [Emma Farden Sharpe, who later became a beloved kumu hula on Maui], “Come, do a few steps of the hula to this song that I am just composing.” She asked, “What song is it?” I said, “It’s going to be for Puamana” with no hesitation, although I didn’t even know that yet—I hadn’t planned it. But it must have been the love for this place that brought this all about. I got the tune, and my sisters gathered ‘round with their instruments—we had the bass, the piano, the ‘ukulele, the guitar. And we started to hum it in harmony. Then Dad came home for lunch. I said (before he even had a chance to eat), “Dad, come sit down and help us with Hawaiian words for this song for Puamana.” As we threw him phrases, he would translate them into Hawaiian. Because we had planted those coconut trees as youngsters and watched them grow over the years, I had to include them in the second verse of the song.
Puamana has since become the “family song” for the Fardens, and although Irmgard composed more than 200 songs in her lifetime, it is “Puamana”--telling the story of her beloved childhood home in Lahaina--that is always sung and danced at every family occasion (including her funeral).