Monday, July 21, 2014

Just in Time for Summer ~ The Lawn Sprinker song written by a Queen

Liliuokalani outside (her house) Washington Place

Ka Wiliwili Wai  (Twisting Water)

As I have written many time on this blog, Queen Liliuokalani (1838 - 1917) was a wonderful music composer, as were all four of her siblings.  One summer, as Queen Lili’uokalani was sitting on her lanai at Washington Place in Honolulu, she saw something new next door.  Her neighbor, Dr. McKibben had a newfangled lawn sprinkler!  The Queen watched the sprinkler spinning for a long time, and composed this tune.  This story was told to her lady in waiting, Mrs. Pukui.  I know I have been mesmerized by lawn sprinklers, and I can see this story in my mind's eye every time I hear this music. 

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that the Queen married my first cousin 4 generations removed, John Owen Dominis (1832 - 1891) .  His parents built the house, Washington Place, in Honolulu, in the 1840s.  Many members of his mother's family, some of her sisters (but not her sister, Catherine, my 4th great grandmother who had died young before this time) sent the building materials from Boston for this house, which still stands. So this story is not just fun, it contains a lot of family history, too!

Music, photographs, and the history of household labor saving devices were all used to put this family history story together.  It took me a long time to find the book of Liliuokalani's music (see below).  I finally found it at the Iolani Palace gift shop in Honolulu.  Sometimes historic sites have hard to find books like this, or can order them for you. If you know one of your ancestors or family members composed music it can sometimes be difficult to find that music.  I'm still looking for any books or sheet music by my ancestor Caleb Rand Bill (1833 - 1902), the music professor from Salem, Massachusetts.

Queen Liliuokalani's music is very popular around the world. One of her compositions, Aloha 'Oe, has been recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley, to Disney, to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.  You might not think you've heard it, but if the tune played you would immediately recognize Aloha 'Oe. After I received my copy of The Queen's Songbook, I was happy to see that she wrote music about many ordinary things, love, friendship, her garden and... lawn sprinklers. 

E ka wiliwiliwai

O lawn sprinkler
Ko`iawe i ka la`i
Circling quietly
A heaha kau hana
What are you doing
E naue mâlie nei
As you silently revolve?

Ei nei, ei nei
Say there, say there
’E poahi mai nei
You revolving object
Ahea, ahea
When, oh when
`Oe kaohi mai
Will you slow down

O kîpau o ia la
Unusually active
Ua nihinihi
Sending out sprays like rain
Ku`u iki iho ho`i
Lessen your speed
I inu aku au
That I may drink

You can hear the Galliard String Quartet play Ka Wiliwili Wai at this link (I have this CD “Songs of Liliuokalani” and it has some of the best recordings of her music):

This music was also recorded by Yo Yo Ma on his CD “Obrigado Brazil”

If you prefer to hear it played on Hawaiian slack key guitar, here is a link to the song played by Atta Isaacs, Al Ka’ailau and Norman Isaacs at Spotify:

The Queen's Songbook, by Her Majesty Queen Lili'uokalani, Honolulu: Hui Hanai, 1999

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Copyright © 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo 

1 comment:

  1. While my family was in Hawaii I picked up every book that was about her to tell my family that you were related. I don't think they were very interested. But, I find it fascinating!