Jose Libornio, Filipino Bandmaster of the Hawaiian National Band

Few may remember him now especially in the Hawaiian and Filipino communities but in his time, he was one of the most respected people in the Hawaiian Islands.

Maestro Jose Sabas Libornio Ibarra was born in Santa Ana, Manila at the time that colonized by Spain. He originally was supposed to be part of the Manila Symphony Orchestra but due to the racism by the white Spaniards of that time, he left for Hawaiʻi.

Eventually he found himself in Hawai’i where he became part of the Royal Hawaiian Band and worked directly under Maestro Henry Berger. He was decorated by both King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani.

In February of 1893, he and other Royal Hawaiian Band members refused to take the oath to the Provisional Government. The ones who refused, formed a new bang, the Hawaiian National Band or Bana Lahui Hawaii. He became its bandmaster and he and the band continued to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the Provisional and later Republic of Hawai’i. Supposedly Henry Berger discouraged this and told them that they would be eating stones.

The refusal of him and others to take the oath became the inspiration for the lyrics of the mele, “Mele ‘Ai Pohaku”, by Eleanor Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast. Prendergast was a friend of Libornio and Liborio and two other Hawaiians talked about their financial predicament to her while still asserting that they will “never take the oath to the haoles”. It is believed that she composed it as a chant or may have used a melody from another song. But Libornio was so moved he created an entirely new melody.

That song became “He Inoa No Ka Keiki O Ka Bana Lahui: He Lei No Ka Lahui Hawaii” as the name implies, a song for the band. The band then traveled to the US where the song became popular especially among the Hawaiians in the diaspora. Around the time of the 1895 Uprising against the Republic, the song title changed to “Kaulana Na Pua”.

But in Hawaiʻi, which was a separate country with its own copyright laws, Libornio maintained Prendergast because the lyrics were her own. She was the haku mele after all. Libornio wrote other nationalist songs including a march for Queen Liliʻuokalani.

In the aftermath of the Uprising, the Republic of Hawaiʻi began to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens as well as deporting non-citizens who were found to have “royalist sympathies”. As a result of his band activities and his status as a non-citizen, he was a target for deportation by the Republic. Libornio moved to Peru but continued to wear the Hawaiian Kingdom medals, which can be seen in his official photo. Before leaving for Peru, fearing that Americans might copyright the song due to its popularity, Libornio submitted it to the US Library of Congress in 1895 as the “Aloha Aina” song.

Libornio continued to have a profound musical career in Peru and the “The Marcha de Banderas”, a composition he wrote, is still played during the raising of the Peruvian flag and considered the second national anthem of Peru. In many ways, “Kaulana Nā Pua” has also become a secondary national anthem for Hawaiʻi.

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