The Gospel Roots of "Hawai'i Aloha"
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The Gospel Roots of "Hawai'i Aloha"

"Sweet are the notes he has woven in song."

In Memoriam James McGranahan

"The Heavenly Father listens to the words rather than the tune."

—Ka Makua Laiana quoted in The Friend

Though many assume that the Reverend Lorenzo Lyons (1807–1886), known as Makua Laiana, wrote both the words and music of the iconic "Hawai'i Aloha," the song actually has two sources. While the Hawaiian lyrics were written by Lyons, a naturalized Hawaiian citizen, the popular tune was penned by American gospel hymn writer, James McGranahan (1840–1907).1

Lyrics by Lorenzo Lyons

The author of the lyrics, Lorenzo Lyons, (Figure 1) arrived in Hawai'i on the whaling ship Averick on July 16, 1832, sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in the Fifth Company of Protestant missionaries. A prolific writer of Hawaiian language hymns, Lyons has been called the "Dr. Watts of Hawai'i," comparing him to the Nonconformist minister, the Rev. Dr. Isaac Watts, considered by many to be the father of English hymnody. Indeed, it was [End Page 5]

Figure 1. Lorenzo Lyons, also known as Makua Laiana, wrote the words for "Hawai'i Aloha." Public Domain, Portraits of American Protestant Missionaries to Hawaii (1901).
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Figure 1.

Lorenzo Lyons, also known as Makua Laiana, wrote the words for "Hawai'i Aloha." Public Domain, Portraits of American Protestant Missionaries to Hawaii (1901).

[End Page 6] a comparison that even Lyons did not dismiss. In his 1861 Waimea Mission report, Lyons wrote of Watts:

Some brother advised me to wait till a Hawaiian Watts should arise & give us thrilling strains of Hawaiian poetry—I waited till a Spirit seemed to pass by—perhaps it was that of the inimitable Watts himself—& whispered as it were in my ear that there was no Watts before me—nor will there be one after me, go on & do the best you can, have not the pride of thinking or attempting to equal me. In obedience to this whisper real or imaginary I have been going on with the work.2

With several hundred hymns written, translated or composed by Lyons, it is not surprising that he is given credit for both the words and the tune for "Hawai'i Aloha." Noted Hawaiian scholar, Samuel Hoyt Elbert, in Na Mele o Hawaii Nei: 101 Hawaiian Songs, wrote of "Hawai'i Aloha": "This is one of the many songs composed by the Reverend Lorenzo Lyons, known as Makua Laiana, who had a church for many years at Wai-mea, Hawaii. He died in 1886. A variant title for the song is Ku'u One Hānau. The song is so popular with Hawaiians that the melody is used in other songs."3 Elbert, making no distinction between the words and the tune, credits only Lyons.

Given that the song, "Hawai'i Aloha," was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 1998, it may seem strange today that Lyons did not include his most popular song in any of the hymnals he produced. Fortunately, the words to "Hawai'i Aloha" were preserved in the Hawaiian-language newspapers in the decades following his death. On December 11, 1886, a little more than two months after the death of Lyons, the Rev. Enoka Semaia Timoteo, pastor of the Waialua Hawaiian Church, wrote in Ka Nupepa Kuokoa:

Eia iho malalo nei ka olelo o ka Himeni mua i hakuia e ka Makua Rev. L. Laiana, mamua o kona hala ana. [Here below are the words of the foremost hymn composed by the Rev. Father L. Laiana, before his passing away.]

                                               1.            E Hawaii-e, kuu one hanau-e            Kuu Home kulaiwi nei            Olino au i na pono lani ou            E Hawaii aloha-e [End Page 7]

Hui.      E hauoli e na opio o Hawaii nei                     Oli-e, oli-e            Mai na aheahe makani e pa mai nei            Mau ke aloha no Hawaii.

                                               2.            E hai mai i kou mau kini lani-e            Kou mau kupa aloha e Hawaii            Na mea olino kamahao no luna mai            E Hawaii aloha-eHui.      E hauoli &c.

                                               3.            Na ke Akua e malama mai ia oe            Kou mau kualono aloha nei            Kou mau kahawai olinolino ou            Kou mau mala...


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