Rolling Down to Old Maui

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"Rolling Down to Old Maui" (or Mohee) (Roud 2005) is a traditional sea song. It expresses the anticipation of the crew of a whaling vessel of its return to Maui after a season of whaling in the Kamchatka Sea.[1]


Although the words have been found in records going back to the mid 19th century, there is some dispute about the accuracy and provenance of the melody. The words of Rolling Down to Old Mohee have been found in a copybook of a sailor called George Piper, who was on a whaling ship between 1866-1872.[2] Similar lyrics were recorded by Joanna Colcord in her collection in 1924, where she stated that the melody had been forgotten.[3]

Other references point to a version recorded in the journal of the whaling ship Atkins Adams from 1855.[4]

The tune strongly resembles that of the popular 18th-century song "Miller of Dee" and could be derived from it.


It's a damn tough life full of toil and strife
We whalermen undergo.
And we don't give a damn when the gale is done
How hard the winds did blow.
'cause we're homeward bound from the Arctic ground
With a good ship, taut and free
And we won'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
Towards our island home.
Our mainmast sprung, our whaling done,
And we ain't got far to roam.
Six hellish months have passed away
On the cold Kamchatka Sea,
But now we're 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 coconut fronds, them tropical lands
We soon shall see again.
Our stu'n's'l bones/booms is carried away
What care we for that sound?
A living gale is after us,
Thank God we're homeward bound.


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 big brown eyes look out
Hoping some fine day to see
Our baggy sails runnin' 'fore the gales
Rolling down to old Maui.


(The following verse is seen in some collections and performances of the song, but is not universal:)
And now we're anchored in the bay
With the Kanakas all around
With chants and soft aloha oes
They greet us homeward bound.
And now ashore we'll have good fun
We'll paint them beaches red
Awaking in the arms of a wahine
With a big fat aching head.



It has been performed and recorded by several singers and bands, including The Dreadnoughts, Kimber's Men, Todd Rundgren, Stan Rogers, The Longest Johns and Jon Boden. Its melody has also been used, in its entirety as well as in part, as the basis for many other folk songs and song parodies, such as "The Light-Ship" by Leslie Fish and "Falling Down on New Jersey" by Mitchell Burnside-Clapp.


  • Nelson-Burn, Lesley, "Rolling Down to Old Maui", Folk Music, Contemplator, retrieved 12 June 2006.
  • Oak Ash & Thorn, archived from the original on 27 May 2006, retrieved 12 June 2006.
  1. ^ Whales, Ice, and Men (Bockstoce, 1995, p. 45).
  2. ^ James Revell Carr (13 November 2014). Hawaiian Music in Motion: Mariners, Missionaries, and Minstrels. University of Illinois Press. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-0-252-09652-5.
  3. ^ Colcord, Joanna (1924). Roll and Go: Songs of American Sailormen. Bobbs-Merrill.
  4. ^ Gale Huntington (1970). Songs the whalemen sang. Dover Publications.

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