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Mamo, Chief of the Small Mountain Birds

Cover Image: Masthead of Hoiliili Havaii published in March 1859.

Aloha Nūhou Monday!

Zepherin Teauotalani is more commonly known today as Kepelino, and for the classic work, “Kepelino’s Traditions of Hawaii.” From 1858 to 1860, Zepherin Teauotalani produced another groundbreaking work describing Hawaiian birds published under the title, “He Vahi Huli-toa Manu Havaii,” in Hoiliili Havaii.1 The following is Mary Kawena Pukui’s translation of his entry for mamo.2

Image: Z. Teauotalani. “XXIII. Ta Mamo tini-oti, te’Lii o na manu liilii o ta uta.” Hoiliili Havaii, March 1859, p. 17.


The Excellent Mamo, Chief of Small, Mountain Birds.

The mamo is as large as the ʻiʻiwi and the ʻōʻō. Its beak is reddish yellow, it is long like that of an ʻiʻiwi and is curved in the same way. Its head is held upright; its eyes a yellowish color like those of the ʻiʻiwi alokele’s or moho. Its feathers are a bright yellow; there is a small reddish spot on the top of the head and on the rump near the tail. Its legs are as long as those of an ʻiʻiwi bird, and yellow like the color of its beak. Its toes are divided and its claws are yellow. The feathers of the neck are yellow and fluffy and it looks as though it is wearing a lei.

This bird has a proud appearance, as though with pride and hautiness. Say, if you should see it up in a tree, showing off its beauty, glancing about here and there in contempt of the ʻōʻō, ʻiʻiwi and others that approach it, it will send them away and beat them off when they flit about on its tree. It sits there on the food that is on the tree. When the mamo spies an ʻōʻō or any other bird on its tree, it will send the other away with great anger. Strange birds are afraid to go near and fly off elsewhere.

The honey of the lehua blossom is the mamo’s food and also the gum of trees, such as the gum of the ʻōlapa, kāwaʻu, ʻōpiko, and others and the honey of banana blossoms. The mamo is a very clever bird and very cunning. If it spies a man in the undergrowths under a tree, it vanishes and does not return to that tree. If the man hides himself completely, the mamo will seek him and look for his foot prints. If it sees the foot prints, it will fly off. If there is no foot print and the man is well concealed, then it will be caught by the bird catchers.

Mamo means a handsome all yellow bird like the under wing feathers of the ʻōʻō. This bird is found only on Hawaiʻi and not on any other island of the group. Because this bird dwells in a forest of tall trees, it is numbered among the land birds and is called the chief of birds of the tall upland forests, whose feathers are used for lei making. Because it knows nothing of fishing, it is called a bird tht sucks honey of the lehua blossoms. Its cry is a whistling and warbling.

(Hoiliili Havaii, 3/1859, p. 22)

1This series is republished at least twice after 1860. Once in Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, from 5/2/1863–6/13/11863, under the title, “Ka Moolelo o na Manu.” The second time in Nupepa Puka La Ka Lei Momi, from 7/21/1893–8/8/1893 (until koloa), under the title “He Wahi Hoomanao no na Manu o ka Lewa.”

2Bishop Museum HEN Notes, Vol. 1, p. 1144.

Image: Drepanis pacifica. Hand-colored lithograph of two mamo birds (Drepanis pacifica), 1891. Drawn and lithographed by Frederick William Frohawk, Bishop Museum Archives. SP 201556

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This post is part of He Aupuni Palapala: Preserving and Digitizing the Hawaiian Language Newspapers, a partnership between Bishop Museum and Awaiaulu with assistance from Kamehameha Schools. Mahalo nui loa to Hawaii Tourism Authority for their support. Learn more about this project here.

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