The Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele goes to sleep to dream of the perfect lover, and in her nine-day slumber in a little cottage thatched with leaves in a room redolent with the scent of the hana, she dreams of her appearance to her chosen consort:
“Pele's spirit now put on the body of strong healthful youth. Nor was there any blemish in her beauty and symmetry from head to foot. She was anointed with all the fragrant oils of Puna. Her dress was the splendid garland of the red lehua flower and maile leaf and the fern from the dwelling-places of the gods. The tender vines of the deep woods veiled this queen of the crater. In glorious young womanhood she went to the halau. The dark body of a great mist enveloped her.” (Pele’s Long Sleep)
What a gorgeous image of power, danger, beauty, and fragrance! Although many people associate the beautiful fragrances of Hawai’i with carefree times and vacations, I often think of the mysterious legendary past of Old Hawai’i, when the gods walked the islands and could appear to the mortals. Some of the mysterious beauty of this ancient Hawai’i is captured, I believe, in two gorgeous pikake-oriented fragrances.
Eau de Naphé is a floral scent with orange blossom and a “sumptuous bouquet of white flowers”. The Comptoire Sud Pacifique website says that the notes include elemi essential oil, Brazil orange, bergamot, jasmine, orange blossom, ylang ylang, white musk, and cedar. To me this smells very good, very simple, but very good, and superevocative and nostalgic. Although I know it’s gauche to always say what scents remind one of, this totally brings back memories of my honeymoon on the big island of Hawai’i. It smells a bit like a Capri-sun squeezy aluminum juice thingy, a bit—well actually a lot—like jasmine tea, a bit like henna. the white flowers are there, but to me they smell less like orange blossom, more like Hawaiian Jasmine, or Pikake, which I love. I guess the ‘elemi’ which Wikipedia calls a resin of “a pale yellow substance, of honeylike consistency,” is what is giving it its citrus notes. Wikipedia says that “Aromatic elemi oil is steam distilled from the resin. It is a fragrant resin with a sharp pine and lemon-like scent.” Well, viva la elemi, I say, if that’s what’s giving this fragrance its uniquely unrecognizable citrus opening.
I wear this--or Pacifica’s Waikiki Pikake—when I want to remember a time in my life when I was completely happy and carefree, but also, filled with an almost transcendent joy in being part of a beutiflu part of the world with so much history. Just the smell of Hawaiian jasmine done right brings me to that joyful place, so I will always keep this on my shelf. Where CSP’s Eau de Naphé is a high-octane floral, Waikiki Pikake is a resinous sandalwood that pulls the jasmine in closer to the skin, and even, I think, adds a darker tobacco note to the composition. Both are very beautiful in their own right, and both are worth owning for a quick vacation to the tropics.
Pacifica’s blurb on the inspriation for Waikiki Pikake reads as follows:
“in Hawaiian, pikake means both peacock and jasmine. The pikake flower was named by Hawaii's beloved Princess Kaiulani, who adorned herself in necklaces of the sweetly scented white flowers and compared its exotic beauty to the peacocks that roamed her garden. Another native of the islands, Hawaiian sandalwood, or`iliahi, is mythic in status. Hawaii was once known as the "Sandalwood Mountains" since the highly regarded sandalwood trees forested the islands. This blend is an homage to the lush wooded and flowered paradise that was old Hawaii.”
It strikes me as sad that the lush sandalwood forests to which Brooke refers no longer exist in Hawa’i', although there seems to be a potential for their revival. They, like many of the great Mysore sandalwood forests of the Subcontinent, are lost, reachable only in our imaginations and through the magical conjuring of scent.
One of my favorite books about Hawai'i. Beautiful and disturbing.