Kanaka Wai Wai

Kanaka Wai Wai (traditional, Hawaii, from Chicken Skin Music, Ry Cooder)

when a fellow has the blues and feels discouraged

when he has nothing else but trouble all his life

when he’s always grumbled at, and never happy

living with a scolding, aggravating wife

if he’s sick and tired of life and takes to drinking,

do not pass him by, don not greet him with a frown

do not fail to lend a hand and try to help him

always lift him up and never knock him down.

if he stays out late at night because he’s worried

and because his home is not what it should be

have a smile for him whenever you should meet him

it will help him just the right way, don’t you see?

if he gambles when he’s in a town or city

tell him what he ought to do to gain the crown

lend a hand and do not fail to show him pity

always lift him up and never knock him down


if he cannot pay his debts and feels disgusted

if he’s blue and doesn’t have a word to say

let him know you are his friend and can be trusted

it would cheer this lonely fellow on his way

if he finds it’s hard for him to keep his family

let a kind word greet his ear when he’s around

don’t say anything at all to make against him

always lift him up and never knock him down

if he has no friends and everyone’s against him

if he’s failed at everything that he has tried

try to lift his load and help to bear his burdens

let him know that you are walking by his side

and if he feels that all is lost and he has fallen

try to place that poor man’s feet on solid ground

just remember he’s some mother’s precious darling

always lift him and never knock him down

I think this was translated from Hawaiian which accounts for the odd expressions. It’s quite beautiful, and has remained one of my favorite songs from Cooder’s library. A lot of his songs are renderings from the depression. The sentiments expressed here could only have come from a society that was coping with disaster. This outlook is deeply Christian from a simpler era. This person would be labelled as a bum, pure and simple, now. The behavior described would be labelled as ‘sucker’, ‘loser’, etc. I think it also describes a certain spirit that is important for a society to function well; that is a willingness to look beyond appearances and simply be kind.

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