Songs Of The Sea: Rolling Down To Old Maui

Songs Of The Sea puts the spotlight on some of history’s most enduring sea shanties that are connected to rum. Many shanties had a mournful tone to them and depicted harsh conditions at sea, which is an attitude that Rolling Down to Old Maui reflects. 

Context 

Originating in the 19th century, Rolling Down To Old Maui is a whaling song that refers to sailors hunting Kamchatka bowhead and sperm whales. They whalers are hunting near Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, where the whales were known to gather at certain times of the year. 

The song captures the hunting habits of the whalers across different seasons. In March, they fished for Kamchatka whales and in November they got ready to sail to the subtropical Southern Seas to hunt for sperm whales. This is mentioned in the lyrics, which say that the whalers are saying goodbye to the cold of the North and excited to experience the heat of the South. 

There’s an underlying tone of hardship within Rolling Down to Old Maui. The whalers are freezing in the North and need rum to warm themselves up. But they can look forward to drinking with the women in Maui and getting momentary relief. 

Lyrics

It’s a damn tough life full of toil and strife

We whalemen undergo

And we don’t give a damn when the day is done

How hard the winds did blow

For we’re homeward bound from the Arctic ground

With a good ship, taut and free

And we don’t give a damn when we drink our rum

With the girls of Old Maui

Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys

Rolling down to Old Maui

We’re homeward bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui

Once more we sail with a northerly gale

Through the ice and wind and rain

Them native maids, them tropical glades,

We soon shall see again.

Six hellish months have passed away

One the cold Kamchatka Sea,

But now we’re bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui

Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys

Rolling down to Old Maui

We’re homeward bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui

Once more we sail with a northerly gale

Towards our island home

Our mainmast sprung, our whaling done,

And we ain’t got far to roam

Our stuns’l bones is carried away

What care we for that sound?

A living gale is after us,

Thank God we’re homeward bound

Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys

Rolling down to Old Maui

We’re homeward bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui

How soft the breeze through the island trees, 

Now the ice is far astern

Them native maids, them tropical glades 

Is a-waiting our return

Even now their soft brown eyes look out

Hoping some fine day to see

Our baggy sails runnin’ ‘fore the gales

Rolling down to Old Maui

Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys

Rolling down to Old Maui

We’re homeward bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui

One thought on “Songs Of The Sea: Rolling Down To Old Maui

  1. Pingback: Songs Of The Sea: Can Of Grog – The Rum Ration

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