Aina Laa, and Contest Results

The time has come to announce the winner of my contest from several weeks ago. The goal was to guess the significance of the phrase AINA LAA, which I liked so much I put it on my California license plates:


First the answer. More properly written ‘Aina la‘a, the words translate straightforwardly to “sacred land.” Obviously, I cherish Kaua‘i, and as a hiker who loves to roam the mountains and valleys, I have a deep connection to the land. But like I said, there’s a deeper meaning, and there were some clues in the post to find it.

Significantly, there was a progression of thought in the various plates I showed, jumping from Kalalau to ‘Aina La‘a, so the two are linked. You’ll notice I chose the picture of Yosemite, another beautiful and characteristic valley in California. And if you go full circle to my first idea about a song that reminds me of Kaua‘i, you would be on the right path if you tried to think of songs about Kalalau.

If you’re googling, the first to come up is “O Kalalau” by the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau (including Bruddah Iz), so that’s a good candidate. Problem is, that’s not the song I’m thinking of—actually, I didn’t know about the song until I wrote this post. I can’t find the lyrics to that song, but in searching for them, you might come across another song that includes the line: O Kalalau, he ‘?ina la‘a.

It’s the song “Koke‘e” by Dennis Kamakahi, and appropriately enough, it sings of beautiful places on Kaua’i and expresses the hope of returning to Kaua‘i, “nevermore to say goodbye.” Bingo! Since this beautiful song is not easy to find online, I’m going to do my part and reproduce the lyrics and link to all the renditions I can find. Maybe when people see the license plate and google it, they’ll find this post.

First the lyrics from, a website of “Hawaiian music and hula archives presented for perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture:”

Upu a‘e, he mana‘o
I ka wekiu o Koke‘e
I ka nani, o ka ‘aina
O ka noe po‘ai‘ai

  ‘O Kalalau, he ‘aina la‘a
  I ka ua li‘i li‘i
  ‘O Waimea, ku‘u lei aloha
  Never more to say goodbye

Ho‘i mai ana i kahikina
I ka la welawela
I ke kai hawanawana
I Po‘ipu ma Koloa

Mele au, no ka beauty
I ka uka, ‘iu‘iu
I Koke’e ua ‘ike au
I ka noe po‘ai‘ai

A thought recurs
To the summit of Koke‘e
In the beauty of the land
Of the encircling rain

  Kalalau is a sacred land
  In the drizzling rain
  Waimea is my beloved wreath
  Never more to say goodbye

Returning to the east
In the doubly hot sun
To the whispering sea
At Po‘ipu in Koloa

I sing for the beauty
In the lofty uplands
At Koke‘e I saw
The encircling mist

Copyright 1983 Naukilo Publishing Co.; Source:

Here are the two best renditions I found on the internet. This is Papalua, a Hawaiian duo in New York City, but they don’t seem to be playing together much anymore:

And this is M?kena, here’s a link tot their music online if the player below doesn’t work:

AND THE WINNER IS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bill Eisenhauer!

He did not find the answer I was looking for, but he was the first to answer, got the translation right, and gave a very plausible explanation that I liked almost as well. I’ll be contacting you for your mailing address and sending you some Kaua’i chocolate that I brought back from my trip—I don’t think you can mail order it yet.

Congratulations to Bill, and thanks to all who left comments.

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© 2023.


  1. Funny, I had just checked yesterday or so to see if there were any new submissions or if the contest had gone final. Glad to hear that I came somewhat close.

    Very envious of your recent visit since a visit for us isn’t in the cards this year. I’m sure you have ample blogging fodder which we can now look forward to.

  2. A very belated thank you for the chocolate. My wife enjoyed it on my behalf. Thanks for challenging me and giving me an opportunity to think about Kauai.

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