Music to da Ears

Liddo Bitta Tita

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Story by Kathy Collins | Illustration by Matt Foster

Listen to this column read aloud in pidgin:

no ka oi illustration by matt foster

By now, I guess you pau read about all da bes’ places fo’ grind on Maui, maybe even had a chance fo’ check out some a da rest’rants fo’ yo’self. An’ make sure you pick up da nex’ issue of MNKO, July-August, ‘cause dat one going show some of Maui’s bes’ beaches. You know, all dis “Bes’ of Maui” talk wen’ get me t’inkin’ about what it takes fo’ be Da Bes’.

Fo’ almos’ 150 years, people been sayin’ — an’ singin’ — Maui no ka ‘oi (Maui fo’ sure da bes’). Back in da day, mele pana (place songs) was all da rage, an’ had plenny songs written about ev’ry Hawaiian island, talkin’ about how hanohano (glorious) or kilakila (majestic) each island was. But only Maui get da nerve fo’ say we not jus’ da bes’, we da bes’, fo’ sure. Dass ‘cause dass da truth.

Da phrase wen’ come from couple, t’ree mele pana written by two rev’rends, so must be true, ‘cause da rev’rends no would lie. Da Rev’rend S. Pa‘aluhi, who was at Ka‘ahumanu Church in Wailuku in da 1860s, was da firs’ fo’ put ‘em in one song. Aftah him, da Rev’rend Samuel Kapu Sr. wen’ write da mos’ populah Maui song, “Maui No Ka ‘Oi.” One a da reasons da song wen’ catch on so good was da tune. Da Rev’rend Kapu wen’ use da melody from da old Amera-can kids’ song “My Boat Is Sailing,” which he wen learn from da New England missionaries, an’ he wen’ write Hawaiian words fo’ go wit’ da tune. Almos’ hundred years aftah dat, da famous steel guitah guy Jerry Byrd wen’ record one instra-mentoh version called “Maui Chimes.” In grade school music class, they nevah teach us da Hawaiian words, but we wen’ learn how fo’ play “Maui Chimes” on da ‘ukulele, an’ dey wen’ give us English words fo’ sing along:

Da ‘ukuleles, da ‘ukuleles are sounding gently
ovah da watah.
Da ‘ukuleles, da ‘ukuleles are sounding gently
ovah da sea. . . .

Get one noddah song called “Maui No Ka ‘Oi,” written by Harry Owens in 1937. Dis one get English words already:

Land of sweet contentment, land of hope an’
promise, Maui, my Valley Isle. . . .

In da island lore, there’s a story told;
A princess fair an’ a kane [man] bold
Sailed da oceans one by one
Till dey found da House of da Sun.

Dey called it home an’ dey offered a prayer
In t’anks to da gods who had brought dem there.
Da name dey gave to dis land of joy
Is Maui, Maui no ka ‘oi.

See, Maui No Ka ‘Oi, dass not jus’ da name of dis magazine, or one tourist industry catch phrase. Fo’ old-time Mauians, born an’ raised, “Maui no ka ‘oi” is one way of life. From small kid time, we was taught dat when you no ka ‘oi, you get special kuleana.

Kuleana get plenny meanings: rights, priva-lege, ra-sponsa-bility. Our kupuna (elders) wen’ make sure dat we knew how lucky we was fo’ live ovah here, an’ fo’ be proud fo’ be one Maui girl or boy. An’, main t’ing, when you live in da place dass da bes’, you gotta be da bes’. You gotta do yo’ part fo’ make Maui da bes’, no do nottin’ fo’ make Maui shame.

Guys from da oddah islands, dey t’ink we braggin’ when we say, “Maui no ka ‘oi,” but we not. We jus’ tellin’ da truth about da place we love, an’ we ra-minding ourselfs about our kuleana. Like da guy Waltah Brennan used to say on TV, no brag, jus’ fack.

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