He lei poina ‘ole ke keiki – A beloved child is a lei never forgotten

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Hawaiians use proverbs to teach kuana ʻike Hawaiʻi or the Hawaiian way of thinking. In this proverb, “He lei poina ʻole ke keiki” speaks of a child that is so beloved, she is never forgotten. Aunty Diana Puakini Aki is indeed a beloved child of Hawaiʻi who will never be forgotten.

As a child growing up in Miloliʻi, I would observe after a kūpuna had passed how the elders in the village would gather specific flowers, shells and items that recognized and honored the life of the deceased. The first item was the liko. The liko represents foundation, the beginning stages of the life of a lehua. The liko teaches us to remember the beginnings. Aunty Diana was ahead of her time. An incredible singer and amazing storyteller. She learned how to sing the old songs the “old way” from her aunties in Miloliʻi, Tutu Melekule, Lokelani and Ukuliʻi. She would imitate these voices until she mastered them and then she would adopt her own style of singing and the “Songbird of Miloliʻi was born.

The second item was the Hala which are used to represent the passing from one realm into the next. Hala in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi means “to pass.” It is used in funerals to promote passing from this physical realm into the next where Aunty Diana will be reunited with her loved ones, her husband Fidelis and her Creator.

The third item was the wood roses which are used to represent an everlasting impression. The wood rose grows on a vine and starts off as a soft yellow flower, bright and bold, and when it reaches maturity, it turns into wood and can last forever if properly maintained. Just like her songs, the impression is everlasting. Aunty Diana touched thousands of lives throughout Hawaiʻi and the world, and her music will be forever considered amongst the classics of Hawaiian music.

The fourth item is the ocean shells which represent our kūpuna. When a shell washes ashore, it is evidence of what grew in it and its design, color and shape reflect the kind of life and environment it lived in. As we reflect on the many of our kūpuna who have done great things and have passed, we add Aunty Diana to those rare treasures of the vast ocean of kūpuna of who’s knowledge we can access because of the imprint that they have made on their shell of life.

Illustration: "Kalihi" album cover
Diana Aki’s “Kalihi” album. – Illustration: Courtesy of Songbird Productions

The fifth item is the bright colored tropical flowers which represent growth. When kūpuna like Aunty Diana plant seeds in our communities, they grow into a new generation of new bright and bold colored flowers that reflect the beauty of knowledge and DNA that she passes down. Today, a new generation of musicians emulate Aunty Diana and her style of Hawaiian music that all of us were so privileged to be able to hear, feel and experience.

Finally is the ʻupena or fishing net. The significance of the ʻupena are in the maka or the eye of the net, the fish it traps, and the nutrition it delivers. The eye of our kūpuna reminds us that we are a product of them and the lens of which we view the world must come from a foundational perspective. The fish that are caught in the ʻupena represent the nutritional qualities of our kūpuna that we want to intellectually digest and remember forever.

He Lei Poina ‘Ole Ke Keiki
A beloved child is a lei never forgotten. A hui hou, Aunty Diana Aki. You will always be remembered.

Enjoy this video that captures Aunty Diana in Miloli‘i in the mid 1980s. vimeo.com/40483435