Tale of ‘Pakaa Lanakila’

It took Jon Magnussen, B.K. Cabigon and Sam ‘Ohu Gon III about two months to translate a musical performance from English to Hawaiian.

The performance, called “Pakaa Lanakila!,” translated as Pakaa, the Winner, takes inspiration from the centuries old tale, ‘The Wind Gourd of Laamaomao,” Magnussen, a composer with Chamber Music Hawaii, said.

The tale chronicles the life of a Kauai boy who receives an ancestral gourd, that gives him the power to control the wind, he said.

Magnussen, a professor at the University of Hawaii West Oahu, first composed the performance in English. But he wanted to pay homage to the story’s Hawaiian roots, so he decided to create a Hawaiian language version.

“The challenge there was that because it’s a musical piece, there are specific ways the language and music interact,” he said. “So we had to get that right in Hawaiian, so the music would flow correctly. Composing the music was a different animal than translating the words.”

On April 14, the Hawaiian version of “Pakaa Lanakila!,” performed by Chamber Music Hawaii’s Spring Wind Quintet, will debut at the Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center.

“It’s important to me that this story becomes known to new audiences,” Magnussen said. “And whether you speak Hawaiian or English, this is a great example of the wonderful literature of Hawaii.”

The performance is debuting in Kauai because of its ties to the island, Magnussen, who grew up on Kauai, said.

“The boy grew up between Kapaa and Kealia,” he said. “I knew exactly where that is.”

The performance focuses on the boy’s life on Kauai, Magnussen added.

“There’s a moment in the story where he is frustrated because he feels he’s big enough to go fishing with the fishing fleet, but his mom holds him back,” he said.

The boy finally joins the fleet, and ends up challenging the “big muscled men” to a paddling race,” Magnussen said.

“They leave him in their dust, but pretty soon, they see a speck of dust on the horizon,” he said. “The boy catches up with them and wins the race.”

Cabigon, a Hawaiian-language story teller, will be narrating the performance. He will be accompanied by a flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon, Magnussen said.

The performance also has an educational aspect, he added.

A CD of the performance, as well as a bi-lingual teacher’s workbook, was created to give teachers in both ‘olelo Hawai’i and English-language classrooms access to music education resources.

“Music is such an important part of the fabric of our society,” Magnussen said. “We hope the teacher’s workbook will encourage teachers to bring art, music and literature into the classroom.”

A PowerPoint presentation with the English translations will be at the KCC performance, so English speakers won’t be left out, he said.

“But I hope that the beauty of the Hawaiian language will inspire people to learn it,” he said.

The performance starts at 6:30 p.m. April 14. Admission is free.


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