A BIBLIOGRAPHIC SURVEY OF COLLECTIONS OF HAWAIIAN
The publication in 1983 of Olelo Noeau:
Hawaiian Porverbs and Poetical Sayings, collected,
translated, and annotated by Mary Kawena (Wiggin) Pukui, is
the occasion for suverying what has been done in regard to
the orally transmitted, traditional sayings of
Hawaiians.1 But first what
about the book and Mrs. Pukui? This fifty-year collection
was begun in 1910 when she was fifteen years old, a girl
whose Hawaiian mother and Caucasian father encouraged her to
be bilingual and bicultural, a bridge between Hawaiians and
The 2942 items in this volume do not exhaust the number
Mrs. Pukui knows. Even a random checking of her own earlier
publications and those to which she contibuted show that one
can readily add items that she somehow overlooked. Although
she does not cite her published and manuscript sources she
has obviously drawn on them, as my comparison will reveal.
Also included in the volume are items that, to my knowledge,
have not been recorded before and may represent sayings
limited to a small community. Mrs. Pukui, after giving the
Hawaiian of each saying, follows it with an often free
English translation that, while losing some of the qualities
of Hawaiian style and structure, makes the saying
comprehensible. When she has added a commentary it varies
from a single word or phrase to a whole column.
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As Mrs. Pukui will be 90 years old in 1985 and has been
hospitalized for the last ten years she was unable to assist
the Bernice P. Bishop Museum staff members in preparing the
book for publication, but they have done an excellent and
beautiful job to honor a former staff member. They have
given each saying a number and listed it by the first letter
of the first Hawaiian word. Included are a preface, a note
about those who inspired Mrs. Pukui, a long biography, a
selected bibliography of her publications, a list of her
awards and doctorates, and six indexes. The indexes enable
one, with a little practice, to locate a particular proverb
or the sayings related to particular topics, persons, or
places. A predominantly English topical index is followed by
those on real and legendary place names, personal names of
gods and people, common names (usually in Hawaiian but with
English cross-references) of birds, fishes and other aquatic
animals, and plants. Each index cites the numbers of the
items to be consulted.
There is such a variety of types of traditional
expression that my list only hints at the richness. There
are figurative and nonfigurative proverbs consisting of one
or more parts or sentences; some are in the form of
statements, others are questions, and some are declarative
statements to which questions have been added. There are
quotation proverbs, dialogue proverbs, and proverbs derived
from riddling matches or representing answers to riddles.
There are proverbial boasts, taunts, mottoes, curses (and
replies), oaths, prophecies, warnings, insults, omens,
blessings, challenges, commands, rallying calls, dream
interpretations, weather signs, characteristics of persons
born in certain months, and hundreds of poetical phrases (as
well as derogatory ones) about people, places, winds, rains,
seas, and much more! There is much punning and
personification, but the various compositional structures
and elements of style remain to be analyzed.
This was not Mrs. Pukuis first collection of
proverbs to be published. In 1923 Laura Green (who had
encouraged the fifteen-year-old girl to write down all she
knew about Hawaiian life), published Hawaiian Stories and
Wise Sayings. Of the 77 sayings quoted, most of them
probably from Mrs. Pukui, 68 reappear in this latest book,
with clarification of one or two words or interpretations
that had earlier puzzled the two friends.
In 1940 E. S. Craighill Handy whom Mrs. Pukui had
assisted in the field in gathering information and then of
translating, published The Hawaiian Planter, to which
Mrs. Pukui contributed at least a half dozen proverbs and
traditional sayings about plants. In 1958 the two published
a monograph on the family system of Kau, the district
on Hawaii where Mrs. Pukui was born. In a chapter
devoted to traditional manners and etiquette in relation to
the social order (pp. 160-206), Mrs. Pukui wrote that she
wished to present the traditional Kau attitudes and
practices "in such a way as to give a lively sense of
relationship and the home; of status and obligations; of kapu, manners and etiquette." "It has seemed," she
added, "... that a simple and effective means of conveying a
sense of these intricacies and actualities in the doings of
a lively people would be by interspersing the descriptive
matter and our comments with sayings and expressions
relating to the topics under discussion." She illustrated
her points with 153 proverbs, traditional phrases, and
single words in Hawaiian, with English translations. This
chapter fleshes out the meanings and usages of those sayings
which were listed in the 1923 volume and reappear in that
In 1959 she and Samuel H. Elbert published a
Hawaiian-English dictionary which encompasses, as did all
later revisions, a number of proverbs and phrases, literally
translated and sometimes interpreted, that Mrs. Pukui
provided to illustrate words. Not all of them are in the
1983 collection. In 1960, Jane L. Winne and Mrs. Pukui
produced a small collection of sayings for children. And in
1972 E. S. C. Handy and E. G. Handy with Mrs. Pukuis
collaboration published Native Planters in Old Hawaii:
Their Life, Lore, and Environment, a continuation of The Hawaiian Planter. Among the numerous sayings from
earlier publications and manuscripts by Hawaiians and others
were a considerable number contributed by Mrs. Pukui. Many
are in the 1983 collection.
In 1974 when an enlarged and revised edition of Place
Names of Hawaii by Mrs. Pukui, Samuel Elbert, and Esther
Mookini was issued, Elbert added an important appendix (pp.
235-280) on many facets of the subject. Of particular
relevance here in this essay is a major section on
"Connotative values of place names" (pp. 266-277) where Dr.
Elbert discussed, with numerous examples in Hawaiian, with
English translations, palce names in sayings, narratives,
chants, and songs. In general the appendix contributes
significantly to understanding and appreciating the place
names that appear in the Pukui collection.
Among the earlier writers from whose works Mrs. Pukui
obviously drew for her massive collection was the Frenchman
Jules Remy, who in 1859 was probably the first to present to
the outside world a few Hawaiian proverbs and other sayings.
Moreover, he quoted three or four proverbs and several
traditional phrases in Hawaiian, with translations, and in
the context of the information given him on Hawaii in 1853
by his "vieu sauvage" named Kanuha or Kamiki. The elderly
informant, who had known Captain Cook, had been a runner for
King Alpai (who died around 1752) and a courier for
his successor King Kalaniopuu (who died around
1780). Both kings were Kamehamehas close kinsmen. In
1868 W. T. Brigham published an English translation of
To illustrate the power of the priests, the kahunas,
Remys informant quoted (I give only Brighams
translation): "The priests man is inviolable, the
chiefs man is the prey of death." Pukui No. 224, with
a slightly different translation, interprets it as a warning
not to antagonize an influential mans friend; anyone
as important as a kahuna would do his best to protect his
own servant. Some of a kings rights were illustrated
in the saying: "O luna, o lalo, (o), kai, o uka, o ka hao
pae, ko ke lii, All above, all below, the sea, the
land, and the iron cast upon the shore, all belong to the
king."2 Pukui (No. 2504),
with a slightly different translation, attributes the saying
to Kamehameha but it may be older. In a variant (No. 2505)
"iron" is replaced by "whale" (valued for its teeth). An
example will illustrate how interpretations change. The
phrase "the hewn stones of Umi," Remy found, applied
literally to the stone ruins of this ancient chiefs
heiaus, or temples. Pukui (No. 2289) does not mention this
but says that the phrase refers to the girls in the
chiefs household who, although well cared for, could
not, any more than stones, go about freely from place to
place. Chief Umi-a-Liloa is known to have had six and
perhaps seven wives.
The Reverend Lorrin Andrews' Hawaiian dictionary in 1865
has at least one proverb to illustrate a word. For oia, "always," he quoted "He oia ka mea hawawa i
ka heenalu hai ka papa. The awkward person always breaks
the board in riding on the surf. "The Hawaiian of Pukui No.
204 is more concise: "Hawawa ka hee nalu haki ka
papa, When the surfrider is unskilled, the board is
broken." The commentary is that "an unskilled worker bungles
instead of being a help. There is also a sexual connotation:
When the man is unskilled, the woman is dissatisfied."
During the nineteenth century, several Hawaiian scholars,
who wrote for Hawaiian-language newspapers about Hawaiian
history and culture, employed many traditional sayings and
thus helped keep them current, or spread them, among
Hawaiians and those foreigners who read these newspapers.
The serialization of these contributions in the newspapers
led to the proverb (Pukui No. 1101) reffering to anything
put off until later: "To be continued, according to the
newspaper." Although English translations of selections
sometimes appeared in island magazines, the entire works of
most of the scholars were not translated into English and
published until the twentieth century.
The full text of this
article is published in De
Proverbio - Issue 9:1999 & Issue
electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.
Dickey (1928:17-18) quoted a chant: "This is Hilo of the
drenching rain, the unending rain of Hilo./ The lehua
dripping rain of Panaewa./ Then Hamakua." To the
string-figure chanter this meant that for the young couple
"the disapproval of their relatives fell from their ears as
lehua flowers in a beating rain." Hamakua is the metaphor
for the obstacles the lovers encountered and overcame.
Hamakua is where fishermen, holding their fishing gourds
between their teeth, climbed down the steep cliffs to the
sea on hazardous rope ladders. Pukui Nos. 438-440 are
descriptive phrases of the jagged Hamakua landscape. About
Hilo rain there are phrases like "Hilo of the endless rain"
(No. 462) which also refers to a talker: "Hilo of the
constant rain, where it never clears up" (No. 998), and
"Hilo of the pouring rain" (No. 1001). No. 1585 is "The lehua-shedding rain of Panaewa," a phrase
"famed in chants of old."
In 1928 seven issues of the short-lived magazine Aloha, which printed both the English and the
Hawaiian of each article, had an unsigned collection of 79
sayings in Hawaiian, with English translations but no
comments. Over sixty of them are in the Pukui collection.
The Aloha collection would have effectively scotched
the notion that Hawaiians have no true proverbs. The only
proverbial phrase included is "Returned to the breakers like
the moi." The moi, a threadfish, is found in
the foam, and the saying refers to a person who leaves home
but eventually returns (Pukui No. 1026).
That the translator did not know that the wiliwili is a
flowering tree is evident in the translation of "Pua ka
wiliwili nanahu ka mano, pua ka wahine majkai nanahu ke
kanawai. When the wiliwili jumps up and down, the shark
bites; when beautiful woman cavorts, the law bites." Pukui
No. 2701 is "When the wiliwili tree blooms, the
sharks bite; when a pretty woman blossoms, the law bites."
The commentary: "A beautiful woman attracts young
men--sharks--who become fierce rivals over her. The law
prevents the rivalry from getting out of hand--it can
bite. It is said that when the wiliwili trees are in bloom the sharks bite, because it is their
Some proverbs have originated from real situations about
which popular stories have also developed. (And existing
proverbs have given rise to new stories based on them.) Aloha magazine has not only what is now a proverb,
namely, "A ka Lae o Kalaau, pau ka pono a Kikina, At
the point of Kalaau end the teachings of Thurston," but the
story about the girl who, on leaving the school taught by
the Reverend Thurston, sang, as the ship passed Kalaau
Point on Molokai, what became the saying in order to
announce that now the virtues taught her a school were
forgotten and she would have her fling in Honolulu. See also
Pukui No. 97.
A proverb in which the speaker can insert the name of his
own locality or generalize it without naming a place is
illustrated by variants in the Aloha and the Pukui
collections. Aloha has "Ua ka ua i Puuohaloa, ihea
oe, When the rain fell at Puuohaloa where were you?" The
generalized form (No. 1156) is "Ihea oe i ka wa a
ke ua e loku ma, Where were you when the rain was
pouring?" This is the reply to a person who wants food from
a neighbor but did not help when the earth was being
prepared for planting; if the person had been lazy he
received nothing, but if he had been away he would be given
The Aloha collection has an incomplete saying in
Hawaiian but an expanded translation. "Mai walaau, Be
silent lest the wind roar." The Hawaiian term merely means
"Dont speak," or "Be quiet." The translation suggests
that the collector had in mind the same proverb as Pukui No.
274: "E hamau o makani mai auanei, Hush, lest
the wind arise." The commentary explains that it warns
people to be quiet or trouble will come, and the saying is
derived from the silence enjoined on pearl-oyster gatherers
at Pearl Harbor who believed that if anyone spoke a gust of
wind would ruffle the water and the oysters would
The full text of this
article is published in De
Proverbio - Issue 9:1999 & Issue
electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.
"Hawaiian riddling," she stated, "involves a different
technique from the proverb. Although one art doubtless plays
into the hands of the other, it is doubtful whether one is a
direct development of the other. Proverbial sayings use
popular allusions in riddling fashion, but riddling seems
rather to derive from the discipline of learning in the
hands of the ruling classes. It is an expert rather than a
She then discussed, in general, the nature of the expert
art of riddling, which, it may be added, she had dealt with
more concretely in an article "Hawaiian Riddling" in the American Anthropologist (1922). There Beckwith
described the contests of wit
(hoopaapaa) between trained experts
in objective knowledge and manipulation of language. A
contestants repertoire included more than the ability
to ask or answer very complex riddles, for the rules were
strict in judging his wit and knowledge and his life and
fortune might depend on the outcome. Some of the
riddlers challenges and exclamations during contests
have become proverbial sayings. Pukui No. 11, for example,
commands the contestant to speak up and tell what he has
come for: "A word in reply; open the mouth and speak, for a
listener is here." Pukui No. 1856 is the exclamation by one
who cannot guess the answer to a riddle or match his
opponents pun: "Kuailo!" He means "I give up." His
opponent, if he does not wish to give the answer, replies,
"Maggots move, death!"
In conclusion, I have indicated in connection with the
publication in 1983 of Mary Kawena Pukuis collection
of 2942 sayings, the earlier major sources and types of
sources in which Hawaiian proverbs and other traditional
sayings have been published and which have served in part as
sources for Mrs. Pukui. From these sources and her
collection I have quoted examples of the different
circumstances in which the sayings were employed and the
meanings, sometimes changing over time, given to them. A few
sayings have also been examined that were puzzling because
of a distorted or incomplete Hawaiian text, poor
translation, lack of knowledge of Hawaiian culture and
environment, or forgotten meaning. Hawaiians applied their
old proverbs to the changing culture initiated by the
arrival of Westerners, and also developed new sayings that
reflected aspects of this alien way of life.
Of the sayings that have been collected, somethings is
known about their content and usage but the systematic
linguistic and stylistic analysis of the different forms and
structures of these sayings has scarcely begun. There is
much to be done in research on the sayings of this highly
verbal and poetic people.
Permission to publish this article
granted by Proverbium (Editor: Prof. Wolfgang Mieder,
University of Vermont, USA).
Previously published in Proverbium 2 (1985), pp.
1 The full citation of this and other works mentioned in
my paper is given in my Bibliography.
2 Early writers did not use diacritical marks; later
writers used some; the usage in the Pukui collection is as
accurate as can now be determined. In quoting these writers
directly I have followed their usage. Some writers
italicized Hawaiian words, others italicized some, and still
others did not bother. In quoting I have followed what they
did. Many Hawaiian words are now in unabridged dictionaries
and have become part of the English language, thanks to
Professor Samuel H. Elbert. In my own comments on sources I
have not italicized these words. When writers quoted
proverbs and other sayings in the Hawaiian language I have
italicized them in order to set them off from the English
1865 A Dictionary of the Hawaiian
Language. Honolulu, H. M. Whitney.
1882 "Hawaiian Proverbs." Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1882. Honolulu, Thos. G.
1928 "Na Olelo Noeau Hawaii. Old Hawaiian
Sayings with English Translations." Aloha: An
English and Hawaiian News Magazine. Vol. I, Nos. 1-7,
June 15, 1928-Sept. 15, 1928. Honolulu, Aloha Publishing
Beckwith, Martha Warren
1919 The Hawaiian Romance of Laieikawai with Introduction and Translation. Translated from the
Hawaiian text of S. N. Haleole, Honolulu, 1863. Thirty-third Annual Report of the Bureau of
American Ethnology, pp. 285-666. Washington,
D. C. See also HALEOLE.
1922 "Hawaiian Riddling." American Anthropologist, Vol. 24, No. 3, July-Sept., 1922,
1932 "Hawaiian Riddles and Proverbs." The Friend, Vol. 102, Feb., 1932, pp. 332-333.
Bringham, W. T. See REMY, 1868.
Dickey, Lyle A.
1928 String Figures from Hawaii. Including Some from New Hebrides and Gilbert Islands.
Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 54, Honolulu.
Emerson, Joseph S.
1924 Hawaiian String Games. Folklore Publications of Vassar College. No. 5.
Poughkeepsie, Vassar College.
Emerson, Nathaniel B.
1909 Unwritten Literature of Hawaii. The Sacred Songs of the Hula. Bureau of American
Ethnology, Bulletin 38. Washington, D. C. Repr.
Rutland, Vt. And Tokyo, Japan, Charles E. Tuttle Co.,
1915 Pele and Hiiaka. A Myth of Hawaii. Honolulu, Honolyulu Star-Bulletin, Ltd. Repr. Rutland,
Vt. And Tokyo, Japan, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1978.
1878- An Account of the Polynesian Race. Its Origin and 1885 Migrations and the Ancient History of
the Hawaiian People to the Times of Kamehameha I. London,
Trubner & Co. Vol. 1, 1878; Vol. 2. 1880; Vol. 3,
1885. Repr. Rutland, Vt. And Tokyo, Japan, Charles E.
Tuttle Co., 1969. Three volumes in one, with Supplement of Index compiled by John F. G. Stokes
and a Brief Memoir of Judge Fornander prepared by W. D.
Alexander, repr. From Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special
Publication, 4, Honolulu.
1916- Fornander Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folklore. With 1919
Translations Edited and Illustrated with Notes by Thomas
G. Thrum. Bernice P. Bishop Memoirs, Vois. IV, V, VI,
Green, Laura S.
1923- Hawaiian Stories and Wise Sayings. Collected and Translated by Laura S.
Green. Edited by Martha Warren Beckwith. (First Series)
Vassar College Field-work in Folklore. Publications of
the Folklore Foundation, Number 3. Poughkeepsie, Vassar
Haleole, S. N.
1863- Ka Moolelo i Laieikawai. Honolulu. Kuokoa 1865-1866; reprint by Solomon Meheula and
James Bolster (pamphlet). Honolulu, 1888. See also
Handy, E. S. Craighill
1940- The Hawaiian Planter, Vol. 1. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 161, Honolulu.
Handy, E. S. Craighill and Elizabeth Green Handy
1972- Native Planters in Old Hawaii:
Their Life, Lore, and Environment. With the
Collaboration of Mary Kawena Pukui. Bernice P. Bishop
Museum, Bulletin 233. Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press.
Handy, E. S. Craighill and Mary Kawena Pukui
1958- The Polynesian Family System in
Ka-u, Hawaii. With a Concluding Chapter
on the History and Ecology of Ka-u by Elizabeth
Green Handy. Wellington, N. Z.: The Polynesian Society
Inc. Repr. Rutland, Vt. And Tokyo, japan, Charles E.
Tuttle Co., 1972.
Hyde, C. M.
1883- "Note." Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for
1883. Honolulu, Thos. G. Thrum.
Ii, John Papa
1919- Fragments of Hawaiian History. Translated by Mary Kawena Pukui. Edited by Dorothy B.
Barrère. Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press.
Judd, Henry P.
1930- Hawaiian Proverbs and Riddles. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 77, Honolulu.
1933- "Riddles and Proverbs." In Ancient Hawaiian Civilization by E. S. .C. Handy et Alia, pp. 213-223. Honolulu, Kamehameha Schools
Press. Rev. ed. Rutland, Vt. And Tokyo, Japan, Charles E.
Tuttle Co., 1965.
Kamakau, Samuel Manaiakalani
1961- Ruling Chief of Hawaii. Honolulu,
Kamehameha Schools Press.
1964- Ka Poe Kahiko. The People of Old. Translated from the Newspaper Ke Au Okoa by Mary kawena Pukui. Arranged
and edited by Dorothy B. Barrère. Bernice P.
Bishop Museum, Special Publication 51. Honolulu, Bishop
1976- The Works of the People of Old. Ka Hana a ka Poe Kahiko. Translated from the
Newspaper Ke Au Okoa by Mary Kawena Pukui.
Arranged and edited by Dorothy B. Barrère. Bernice
P. Bishop Museum, Special Publication 61. Honolulu,
Bishop Museum Press.
1903- Hawaiian Antiquities (Moolelo
Hawaii). Translated from the Hawaiian By Dr. N. B.
Emerson, 1898; edited by W. D. Alexander. Honolulu,
Hawaiian Gazette Co., Ltd. Repr. Bernice P. Bishop
Museum, Special Publication 2, Second Edition, 1951.
Different pagination from 1903.
Malo, David and Others
1838- Ka Moolelo Hawayy (Hawaiian
History). Lahainaluna, Maui. See also TINKER.
Pukui, Mary Kawena
1983- Olelo Noeau: Hawaiian
Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Selected,
translated & annotated by Mary Kawena Pukui. Bernice
P. Bishop Museum, Sepcial Publication 71. Honolulu,
Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press. Pukui, Mary Kawena and
Samuel H. Elbert
1957- Hawaiian-English Dictionary. Honolulu,
University of Hawaii Press. After 1971 called Hawaiian
Dictionary. Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian.
Pukui, Mary Kawena, Samuel H. Elbert and Esther T.
1974- Place Names of Hawaii. Revised and
enlarged edition. Honolulu, The University Press of
1859- Récits dun Vieux Sauvage
pour servir à lhistoire ancienne de
Havaii. Chalons-sur-Marne, E. Laurent.
1868- Contributions of a Venerable Savage to the Ancient History of the Hawaiian
Islands. Translated from the French of M. Jules Remy
by William T. Brigham. Boston, A. A. Kingman.
Sheldon, H. L.
1883- "Some Hawaiian Proverbs." Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1883. Honolulu, Thos. G.
Sterling, E. P., compiler
1974- Index to Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii by S.
M. Kamakau. Department of Anthropology,
Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu.
Tinker, Reuben, trans.
1839- "Ka Moolelo Hawaii." Hawaiian Spectator, Vol. 2. Honolulu.
Winne, Jane Lathrop
1961- Olelo Noeau a ka Hawaii.
Folk Sayings from the Hawaiian. With Mary
Kawena Pukui. Honolulu.
Department of Anthropology
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822