The “King’s Band” (later known as the Royal Hawaiian Band) had its beginning in 1836; it continues today. Founded by King Kamehameha III, it became a part of daily life by performing for the public, state occasions, funerals and marching in parades.
The band accompanied reigning monarchs of the time on frequent trips to the neighbor islands and brought their music to remote destinations of the kingdom, such as the Hansen’s Disease settlement at Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai.
“The King’s Band” members in 1848 signed contracts to serve in the band, noting they “agree to serve under the orders of William Merseburgh, the captain appointed by His Majesty … (and) to meet from time to time for the purpose of practicing and improvement in instrumental music.”
“We agree to play for the king and for the other officers of the government whenever called on by our captain for such reasonable compensation as he shall award, not less than one dollar nor more than three dollars per man for any time not to exceed one day.” (Hawaiian Star, September 22, 1906)
In the 1880s, the Royal Hawaiian Band played concerts twice a week in Queen Emma Square.
“One of our pleasant diversions was to go to and hear Captain Berger’s band play at Emma Square every Saturday afternoon. … we all went and sat in the carriage just outside the park. There was usually a crowd there, as it was very popular.” (Sutherland Journal)
After the 1893 overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani, the Provisional Government under Sanford B Dole demanded a loyalty oath of all employees, including the musicians of the Royal Hawaiian Band.
Under a revised name, ‘Government Band,’ the musicians refused to do so; the striking bandsmen persuaded Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast, a friend of Liliʻuokalani, to capture their feelings of anguish and pain in a song. (Nordyke, HJH)
She composed Kaulana Na Pua o Hawaii, also known as Kaulana Na Pua (“Famous are the Flowers (Children.)”)
The band was told they would end up eating rocks if they didn’t swear allegiance, a threat that inspired one of the song’s verses: “Ua lawa makou i ka pōhaku, I ka ai kamahao o ka ʻāina,” which translates, “We are satisfied with the rocks, The wondrous food of the land” (also giving the song the name Mele Ai Pōhaku: The Stone Eating Song.)
The song is rich in kaona, hidden meanings, and its sweet melody belies the passions embedded in it. The band members then organized into the “Pana Lāhui Hawaiʻi”, “The Hawaiian National Band”, which under the leadership of José Liborno went to the United States to drum up support for the Queen and for Hawaiʻi’s continuing independence. (RoyalHawaiianBand)
The “Mele Aloha ʻĀina” song first appeared in Hawaiʻi Holomua on March 25, 1893, under the title “He Inoa No Na Keiki O Ka Bana Lahui” (A Namesong for the Children of the National Band). (Stillman, HJH)
The credit line in the May 12, 1893 printing of the lyrics for “Kaulana Na Pua” also contains a date: February 10, 1893, barely one month after the overthrow of the monarchy. (Stillman, HJH)
The song was sung on February 1, 1894, the royalist anniversary of the resignation of Royal Hawaiian Band members who had relinquished their jobs rather than sign an oath of loyalty to the Republic of Hawaiʻi. (Nordyke, HJH)
The lyrics mention four sacred chiefs that represent the major islands of the Hawaiian chain: Keawe of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, Piʻilani of Maui, Mano of Kauaʻi and Kākuhihewa of Oʻahu. The words are treated with a spiritual tone of reverence and respect. (Nordyke, HJH)
“Kaulana Na Pua” serves as a voice for the native Hawaiians in their protest against loss of self-determination and sovereignty. The powerful and reverent song symbolizes a pride of culture and a plea for understanding. (Nordyke, HJH)
Today, the Royal Hawaiian Band is an agency of the City and County of Honolulu and is the only full-time municipal band in the United States.
The band performs and marches in over 300 concerts and parades each year including: city, state, and military functions; schools, community centers, shopping malls, retirement communities, graduations, and private events. Weekly public performances are held on Fridays at ʻIolani Palace and Sundays at the Kapiʻolani Park Bandstand.
The image shows Henri Berger standing in front of the Royal Hawaiian Band – 1889. I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.