loha ‘Oe,” the most beloved of all Hawaiian songs, was composed by Princess Lili‘uokalani in the late 1870s. Although Lili‘uokalani categorized “Aloha ‘Oe” as a love song, it is considered by most a song of farewell, due to its recurrent lyric theme. Little wonder that Henry Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band adopted the tune, famously playing it on the wharf at Honolulu Harbor as steamships departed the Paradise of the Pacific. “Aloha ‘Oe” may have been performed on the Mainland as early as 1883, by Berger and the RHB at the Triennial Conclave of the Knights Templar (Masons) in San Francisco. The song was first published by the Pacific Music Company in that California city the following year.
Comparisons of the melody to familiar hymns of the day are legion, and include Charles C. Converse’s “The Rock Beside the Sea” and George Root’s “There’s Music in the Air.” The published 1884 version of the chorus deviated from Lili‘uokalani’s manuscript in He Buke Mele Hawaii, presumably to avoid a direct paraphrase of the Root tune. A lesser-known attribution of the melody was given by the celebrated Austrian violinist, Fritz Kreisler, when he played a series of concerts in Honolulu in 1925. Kreisler—who made a living performing purportedly lost works by great masters (that he actually composed himself!)—suggested “Aloha ‘Oe” was an Austrian folksong, “Jetzt geh’n wir gleich nach Nussdorf ’raus”—We‘ll go to Nussdorf right away. He told a Honolulu audience Lili‘uokalani had commissioned an itinerant Austrian fiddler to write a national anthem; der Geigenspieler set down the folksong instead, thinking no one would recognize it. Kreisler’s remarks created quite a stir in Hawai‘i and Fritz was soon en route to Australia aboard the steamer Aorangi, embarking, no doubt, to the plaintive strains of “Jetzt geh’n wir gleich nach Sydney ’raus!”
The words and melody presented here were transcribed from Lili‘uokalani’s original autograph manuscript—located in the collection of the Hawai‘i State Archives—and differ significantly from the text and music of most printed editions, beginning with Henry Berger’s early arrangement found in the ca. 1880s collection Mele Hawaii up to the present day. Absent from these published arrangements is the chant-like recitation of the word “aloha” on a single pitch which begins the first phrase of the chorus. For an authoritative account of Lili‘uokalani’s life and career as a composer, see The Queen’s Songbook (Honolulu, 1999).
To download a printable PDF file of Aloha ‘Oe click here
1. Ha‘aheo ka ua i na pali
Ke nihi a‘e la i ka nahele,
E hahai ana paha i ka liko,
Pua ‘ahihi lehua o uka.
Aloha ‘oe, aloha ‘oe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo,
A fond embrace a ho‘i a‘e au,
Until we meet again.
2. ‘O ka hali‘a aloha i hiki mai,
Ke hone a‘e nei kuÿu manawa,
‘O ‘oe no ka‘u ipo aloha,
A loko e hana nei.
3. Maopopo ku‘u ‘ike i ka nani,
Na pua rose o Maunawili,
I laila hia‘ia na manu,
Miki‘ala i ka nani o ka liko.
Farewell to Thee
1. Proudly swept the rain by the cliffs
As on it glided through the trees,
Still foll’wing ever the “liko,”
The Ahihi Lehua of the Vale.
Farewell to thee, farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwells in
One fond embrace ’ere I depart,
Until we meet again.
2. Thus sweet memories come back to me,
Bringing fresh remembrance of the past,
Dearest, one, yes, thou art mine own,
From thee, true love shall ne’er depart.
3. I have seen and watched thy loveliness,
Thou sweet Rose of Maunawili,
And ’tis there the birds oft love to dwell
And sip the honey from thy lips.
Translated by Lili‘uokalani