Punahou Sessions: ‘Aloha ʻOe’

For this penultimate Punahou Sessions, Luanna Farden ’56 McKenney performs, “Aloha ’Oe,” a love song written in 1878 by Queen Lili‘uokalani, the last Hawaiian sovereign to govern Hawai‘i. Lili‘uokalani composed the song after seeing the affection and love between two people in Maunawili, Ko’olaupoko, O’ahu. It’s often regarded as her farewell song to Hawai‘i, after the Islands were annexed by the United States in 1898.

McKenney is no stranger to Hawaiian music. For over 35 years, she performed with Puamana, which was started by her aunt, Irmgard Farden Aluli, one of Hawai‘i’s most prolific composers, whose catalog includes Ka Lei o Punahou. “She taught us all the songs that are for certain families here in these Islands, so that when they come to the parties and we see them enter the door, we can serenade them!” McKenney says.

“Auntie” Irmgard is said to only rival Lili‘uokalani for the number of songs she composed in her lifetime.

For this performance, McKenney chose a Puamana dress that evokes the memory of the monarchy years and of Lili‘uokalani. A braided shell necklace and a lei po‘o (created by the gifted craftsperson Betty Ikehara, who has been making lei for over 40 years) put the finishing touches on the traditional costume.

Although “Aloha ’Oe” has arguably become Hawai‘i’s most well-known song, McKenney suggests that the Lili‘uokalani considered it less of a farewell, and more of a love song.

Proudly swept the rain by the cliffs
As it glided through the trees
Still following ever the bud
The ʻāhihi lehua of the vale

Farewell to thee, farewell to thee
The charming one who dwells in the shaded bowers
One fond embrace,
Ere I depart
Until we meet again

Photo by Allen Murabayashi
Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Related Posts:
See past Punahou Sessions
The Gift of Ka‘aumoana

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