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[Photo: Helen Roberts meeting with a mele informant at her cottage near Waimea, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, in 1923. SP 209936.]

Hoʻoheno kēia no ka pua o Maleka

Happy Mele Monday!

“I have seen Mrs. Helen H. Roberts, and have additional evidence regarding her skill in recording…she impresses me as an efficient woman, whose pleasing personality would insure [sic] cooperation from the natives and from others interested in the work.” – Herbert E. Gregory

Enduring countless setbacks, financial hurdles, language barriers, and even physical illness, Helen Roberts (1888–1985) remained steadfast in her commitment to the role of gathering and preserving ancient mele for future generations. With Native Hawaiian scholar and activist Thomas Maunupau (1891–1956) as her interpreter, she successfully gathered nearly seven hundred compositions and two hundred audio recordings from informants on the islands of Hawaiʻi, Kauaʻi, and Oʻahu within a year’s time.

As we come to the conclusion of the Welo Hou: Building Connections to the Roberts Mele Collection project, we feature a mele inoa written in honor of Helen Roberts and her extraordinary work in establishing this mele collection. Because of her commitment to excellence and the generosity of the informants who shared their knowledge, this invaluable mele resource continues to serve as a bridge between the voices of the past and the community of the present.

(Mele translation by Mary Kawena Pukui)

Hoʻoheno kēia no ka pua o Maleka,
This song praises the flower of America.

A he pua no ka hauʻoki o Kaleponi,
The flower from the icy cold of California,

Ua poni ʻia ʻoe e ka hōkū kaʻahele,
You are anointed by the touring star,

No ka ʻimi ʻana i ka nane huna o Hawaiʻi,
Searching for the hidden riddles of Hawaiʻi.

Nā mele nani o ke au iō kilokilo.
The beautiful chants of long ago.

ʻIke maka i ka nani o Kauaʻi,
The beauty of Kauaʻi is seen,

ʻĀina kaulana i ka mālie,
Land famous for its calm,

Uliuli, lipolipo nā kualono,
Dark, lush, is the forest region,

I ka hoʻopulu ʻia e ka ua liʻiliʻi,
Moistened by the fine rain,

Hoʻopulu pē ʻia e ka ua Kilihune.
By the Kilihune rain.

Aloha aʻe au i kuʻu hoa,
I love my companion,

ʻO kēia ʻāina malihini.
From this foreign land.

Nāu i noelo me ke akamai,
You search for wisdom,

Me ke kīkā uila hoʻolele leo.
With the machine that picks up the voice.

[Source: Lovell, Minnie. Nā Leo Hawaiʻi Kahiko: The Master Chanters of Hawaiʻi. Mountain Apple Company, 2006, audio CD.]

Mele are an invaluable primary resource for Hawaiian scholarship and cultural connection. The Welo Hou: Building Connections to the Roberts Mele Collection project, funded in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, will improve the digitization, indexing, and accessibility of a unique and treasured collection of mele dating from pre-Western contact to the early 1900s. This pilot project will serve as a model for improved access to and increased engagement with the Bishop Museum Library & Archives’ other mele collections.

Welo Hou, or to unfurl once again, aims to provide more opportunities for researchers of all levels of Hawaiian language and cultural fluency to access the Roberts Collection with ease, and honors the connections between Hawaiian voices of the past and our community of the present.

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