Hawaiian Bahá’í’s Songs Popular Throughout the Pacific

“Mom, they are singing your songs in Oahu, Fiji, Samoa, Israel, everywhere!” 

Sui Ritte’s son ‘Aina is proud of his mother. Sui, a resident of Molokai, started to create melodies for Bahá’í prayers and writings about eight years ago, when her daughter Wai’olu was a baby. Today, her beautiful songs are being sung in Bahá’í gatherings throughout the Pacific Islands and as far away as the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa, Israel. 

Recently, a version of the first Hidden Word of Bahá’u’lláh in Arabic translated into ‘ōlelo Hawai’i, E Ka Mamo ʻUhane Ola! ʻO ka mua kēia o kaʻu kuauhā, which was put to music by Sui, was sung by a choir in the Bahá’í House of Worship in Apia, Samoa. [The video is available here. Hear Sui’s singing E Ka Mamo ʻUhane Ola here.]

“I grew up singing Christian songs in church,” said Sui. “When I became a Bahá’í, I realized we needed to put some of the Bahá’í prayers to music. When we started to get more translation of prayers and writings in ‘ōlelo Hawai’i, they just looked like a song to me already.”

 “To find the melody, I have to be in that right frame of mind, the right emotional state. Then I choose the prayer, read it, grab my ukulele, and start strumming until I hear some kind of melodic connection to whatever prayer or writing I’m looking at.”

So far, she has created melodies for such prayers as Aia anei ka Mea Wehe Hihia, koe ke Akua? (“Remover of Difficulties”) revealed by the Báb and ʻO ʻOe ke Akua hemolele a mana loa! (“Prayer of the Pacific”) revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. She has also composed a reggae version of the popular children’s prayer from ‘Abdu’l-Baha E ke Akua, e alakaʻi mai iaʻu (“O God guide me.”) [The text of these prayers and writings are available in ‘ōlelo Hawai’i and English here.]

Sui is one of hundreds of musicians from every part of the world who are writing Bahá’í songs in their local languages, often incorporating passages of the Bahá’í writings. This musical movement fulfills a longing of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council of the Bahá’í Faith, shared in a letter to Bahá’ís around the world in December 2011. They wrote, “We long to see…the emergence of captivating songs from every part of the world, in every language, that will impress upon the consciousness of the young the profound concepts enshrined in the Bahá’í teachings.” 

In this letter, they speak of the gradual emergence underway of “a world civilization so stupendous in character that it would be futile for us to attempt to imagine it today.” They go on to say that “new elements of culture will evolve over time as people hailing from every human group, inspired by the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, give expression to patterns of thought and action engendered by His teachings, in part through artistic and literary works.…” 

Although Sui is not comfortable in the spotlight, she shares her songs occasionally at Bahá’í gatherings, but also sings popular Hawaiian songs at family parties and community events, such as Lā Kūʻokoʻa, Hawaiian Independence Day. 

In the future, Sui hopes to create some new Bahá’í songs that are more upbeat, but time is at a premium. Sui lives with her family on Hawaiian homestead land at Ho’olehua on Molokai, where she is involved in several businesses.

“I make jewelry using native Hawaiian plants encapsulated in resin. That’s one way I can share the beauty of Hawaiian culture and hopefully educate people about the uniqueness of our native plants, a lot of which are endangered. I also grow some native plants here.” 

Picture of Sui infront of herJewelry display at an event.

Sui doesn’t have a lot of time for farming, but grows some of the family’s food. Her son Aina, an avid hunter and fisher, keeps the family supplied with meat and fish.

She and her husband Otto also operate a food business, OnoOno Molokai Sherbert LLC. 

“We are using more fruits grown on Molokai. We introduced a kalo flavor recently. Otto does most of the sales, but I create the recipes.” The treat has become a local favorite.

Recently, Sui and Otto tried something completely different, acting in the short film Kala, produced on Molokai. It premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival in October. [See the trailer here.]

Picture of Sui sitting in a chair holding her Ukulele

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