Waikiki

NA MELE
Keauhou

 

Young trio Keauhou stand framed by red velvet curtains, white columns and koa furniture – a recreation of a bygone era, when Waikiki was about opulence and old-world splendor. While these young men have no firsthand experience of this era, when they sing, their ringing falsetto sounds right at home. Composed of Zachary Lum (vocals and guitar), Jonah Kahanuola Solatorio (vocals and ‘ukulele), and Nicholas Lum (vocals and bass), the name Keauhou translates as “the new or renewed generation,” fitting for a group that plays traditional Hawaiian music from the early to mid-20th century with a modern approach. The program features original songs from the group, such as “Hanohano Haʻiku,” “Kahiko Kapalama,” and “Aloha Maunalua” as well as a special guest performance from mentor and musical legend Robert Cazimero.

 




NA MELE
Halekulani’s House Without A Key

 

NA MELE goes on location to document a traditional, cherished Hawaiian experience. Halekulani has a special place in the hearts of Hawaii’s people and everyone who has spent time there. PBS Hawai‘i captures a late afternoon at the hotel’s House Without a Key with hula dancers Kanoe Miller and Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, and the musical trio Pa‘ahana (Pakala Fernandes, Kaipo Kukahiko and Douglas Po‘oloa Tolentino).

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Eddie and Myrna Kamae

 

In honor of the late Eddie Kamae, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in June 2011.

 

Eddie Kamae, legendary Hawaii musician and a seminal figure in the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance of the 1970s, shares early life lessons and musical experiences and how these helped shape his long-running career. Eddie and Myrna talk about some of the most interesting people they have met over their 20+ year journey making documentaries, and reveal how their meeting was love at first sound.

 

Original air date: Tues., July 26, 2011

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, January 11 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, January 15 at 4:00 pm.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

EDDIE: Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you.”

 

MYRNA: And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.

 

Celebrated musician and filmmaker, Eddie Kamae, and producing partner and wife, Myrna; next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Life partners in work and marriage for almost a half century, Eddie and Myrna Kamae have earned national acclaim for preserving on film some of Hawai‘i’s unique cultural treasures. The Kamaes credit many individuals, whose gifts of knowledge and generous support have culminated in the establishment of their Hawaiian Legacy Foundation.

 

[SINGING]

 

Eddie Kamae has distinguished himself as a singer, musician, composer, author, and film director. As a key figure in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, Eddie was already famous for his virtuoso playing of the ukulele, when he joined forces in 1959 with the legendary singer and slack key guitar master, Gabby Pahinui, along with bassist Joe Marshall and steel guitarist David “Feet” Rogers, to form The Sons of Hawaii. Edward Leilani Kamae was born in Honolulu in 1927 to a family comprised of ten children. Eddie’s musical path was influenced in part by his father, Samuel Hoapili Kamae. Eddie Kamae’s mother, Alice Ululani Opunui, explained her kindness towards strangers, telling Eddie that, “All these things we do for each other, we feed them more than food; we’re feeding the soul”. It’s a philosophy that has informed the work of Eddie and Myrna Kamae throughout the decades.

 

EDDIE: There was this boy sleeping in the park, and so my mother tell me, You go get him and bring him here. So I go there, I go—I woke him up. Mister, mister. Yeah. Come, come, my mother wants to see you. So he picked up his things, and he came to the house.

 

How old was he?

 

EDDIE: In his teens. And so, he came to the house, and my mother said, “You don’t sleep there anymore, you sleep here”. Now, we all sleep in the living room, you know, so he’s going sleep next to us now. We get nine brothers now, you know. I go, “Oh, wow”. But that’s the way it was. He stayed with us all that time. As the years went by, one day the father came by. And the father wanted to take his son home, but he didn’t want to go. See, he wanted to stay with my mother because he felt my mother adopted him. He said he didn’t want to go, so the father don’t want to leave. So my father went out and told the father, Go, leave. So the father left, and that was the end of the father, and he stayed with me and brothers, and my mother at our place.

 

What was his name?

 

EDDIE: Peter; Peter Woo.

 

And what happened to him? What became of Peter Woo?

 

EDDIE: Well, I think he got married and settled down somewhere. See, my mother, she just loves people. No matter who they are.

 

Was your dad like that too?

 

EDDIE: My father was strictly a man that minds his own business.

 

But he would allow your mom to bring in—

 

EDDIE: Oh, yes.

 

—people to eat and share.

 

EDDIE: He won’t stop that. He was part Cherokee Indian. He just come and go. But he always told all of us, “What I want from you, you are to respect the elders, no matter who they are. If they’re hungry, you feed them”. And always, he said, “And you help them”. [SINGING]

 

How did you learn to play the ukulele?

 

EDDIE: Well, my brother Joe. My oldest brother was a bus driver, found a ukulele on the bus, brought it home. My brother Joe would tune the instrument and play, so I liked to listen to that sound that he was doing. Well, he put the instrument down, so I figured, I watched him while he was playing the chord progressions. And so, when he go to work, so I go get the ukulele, I sit next to the radio, I turn on the radio, whatever music is, I just strum away, just feel like I’m playing with the music. But I’m just enjoying myself. Those days, yeah. That’s what got me involved in music. See?

 

Do you think you were good, right from the beginning?

 

EDDIE: Well, I thought so, myself.

 

[CHUCKLE] And you were actually playing songs from the beginning?

 

EDDIE: Yes. I just listened to the music. See, it was music by—well, I love Spanish music, yeah, because it was Xavier Cugat. His music. And I love one song that he plays all the time, and I followed him.   So it was titled “Porque?” See? And I loved the song, so I just followed him. But the rhythm section is what I liked. See, I just listen to the rhythm, and I just play the rhythm. The feeling of it, you know. So, then my father would take me to the jam session, Charley’s Cab, right on King Street right across the Hawaiian Electric building. So they had this taxi stand there, so my father would take me over there on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s where all the entertainers would come and sing, and play music. So I go over there and play my ukulele. And what I liked about the whole idea, people throw money on the stage, and the musicians pick it up and put it in my pocket. I liked that. [CHUCKLE]

 

Good incentive.

 

EDDIE: Oh, yes. So I just play, and my father just smile, he’s happy. So then he takes me back the next day. Then I can see that in him, until one day he asked me, “You should play and sing Hawaiian music”. And I told my father, “It’s too simple”. I wasn’t interested. But he never asked me again, but it’s the only thing he ever asked me. So when he passed away, that’s how I got into Hawaiian music, listening to Gabby, sitting down and playing with him. That was it.

 

What about Hawaiian music is too simple?

 

EDDIE: Well, it was. What I heard was simple. Chord progression is just totally simple. So Gabby, I heard him play, I like. Gabby had that personality. Well, he was a great musician. Also, that I found that was interesting, he had a voice that would carry a tune, you know. But secondly, he can get funny at the same time. And thirdly, he can get naughty.

 

Naughty, meaning …

 

EDDIE: Yeah. He just telling people, “Shut up”. And I couldn’t believe it. I said, “This is Hawaiian music; now what is this?” I didn’t know that. But the people out there are laughing. And Gabby and go, “Oh, shut up”, because they’re demanding that he sing this song and that song, and he has his own forte. But that’s the way he is. But if he see the old folks, or somebody that have money, that’s who he’s gonna sing for. The guy gonna buy him a drink. Marshall sings along with Gabby. You know, Marshall. And because he went to Kamehameha School, so he knew the language. So he would harmonize with Gabby. But there are times Gabby sings the wrong lyrics, and Marshall, he look at my steel player and me, he go, “What’s wrong with that monkey?” So he calls Gabby monkey every time. And Gabby wink at us, and he go sing something that’s not right. And Marshall turn to us, he said, “There goes that monkey again”.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: So they had this routine of kidding one another, you know. I said to myself, “By golly, this is interesting”.

 

While performing Hawaiian music with the Sons of Hawaii, Eddie began his quest to find the sources of Hawaiian musical traditions. In that process, he sought the help of two key cultural resources; Pilahi Paki and Mary Kawena Pukui. Both women were generous with their encouragement, and with their knowledge.

 

MYRNA: Kawena Pukui was really central in Eddie’s life for guidance. He’d always go to her. Even before I met Eddie in the early 60s, he had this strong bond with Kawena, and she would guide him. And he would come back and bring music he’d found with, maybe, one verse, and nobody knew the rest of it. And he could hand it to Kawena, and she would write the rest of the verses for him. She just had this incredible memory, and just loved to do things with Eddie that would then be remembered by everyone.

 

EDDIE: She always tells me, “It’s out there”.

 

Go find it?

 

EDDIE: Yes. “Ho‘omau, Eddie, ho‘omau”. Continue on. So I just look at the music, and I look at the lyrics, I find no problem. So then, I can play it and sing it.

 

And you couldn’t hear those songs anywhere else, you had to—

 

EDDIE: No.

 

—bring them back.

 

EDDIE: Yes; yes.

 

What’s the difference between the old songs, and the songs that had become popular in their place?

 

EDDIE: There’s no difference. The old people had their own way of presenting the music. But as time go by, change will come. Kawena told me that. She always tell me, “Just do it, it’s important.” So I had a chance to focus on what I want to do, and I just do it.

 

You know, Hawaiian composers then and now, there’s a lot of double entendre, there are a lot of hidden meanings, layers.

 

EDDIE: Yes.

 

Can you always tell what the song is about?

 

EDDIE: Oh, if my tutu’s laugh at me, I know already.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: I know they know the other side of it, the translation, and I don’t want to hear it. Yeah. But that’s the way it is. Sometimes they all they just laugh. So when they do that, I stop singing. So I know they know what the meaning is about. See? That’s Hawaiian music. Now you don’t see a lot of the elderly people around to tell you that, see, but I love to listen, I love to talk with the elderly people. I like too when they say, “Come here”, and they have a piece of paper. “You sing this song, because my papa would always sing this song to my mama”. See? She say, “Sing this”. So now, I gotta trace it, because I have all this research material and books that I kept before, so I can trace it and get it down, get the lyrics, and I know what it is, because she told me. And I wish that there were more like that. This is something personal with families.

 

Alongside her husband Eddie, Myrna Kamae has produced award winning albums of traditional Hawaiian music featuring the Sons of Hawaii, and ten cultural documentaries for their Hawaiian Legacy series. A native of Mapleton, Utah, Myrna Harmer was in Hawaii in 1965 to help a friend open a new restaurant on Maui. Eddie, coincidentally, was in town visiting his mother in the hospital, and he was invited to a party at a friend’s beach house. The gathering included Myrna, who was captivated by Eddie’s music.

 

EDDIE: Well, Myrna just stared at me.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

She liked you, huh? [CHUCKLE]

 

MYRNA: Well, I didn’t move for two hours. I’d never really heard authentic Hawaiian music.

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: And here is Eddie, with his little Martin ukulele, and playing with Raymond Kane, that beautiful slack key guitar. And I just walked up to the door, and stood there. Because I did have a background of music; my family all were musical. But in Hawaii, I hadn’t ever really heard the authentic sound. And it was astonishing to me, to hear this sound. And with the waves in the background. It was just beautiful. And it was Christmas Day.

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: And then, that evening, Eddie and his cousin came up to where I was working. I had gone to Maui, to Lahaina, to help them take over a restaurant called Pineapple Hill. And so, the person who was the manager said to Eddie, “Why don’t you and your cousin come up, you know, to the restaurant”.

 

Had you met? Had you just listened to the music, or had you met?

 

MYRNA: Well—

 

EDDIE: Not yet.

 

MYRNA: Not yet.

 

Okay.

 

MYRNA: I think I fell in love with the music first.

 

EDDIE: [CHUCKLE]

 

But you noticed her watching.

 

EDDIE: Well, no, but I look at everybody.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh, okay. So now, something happened this night. So how did it happen, and when did it happen?

 

MYRNA: Well, I remember that Eddie was standing back, in the back with he and his cousin, Hale Kaniho. And I wanted to go into town, and I had a trail bike that I usually would ride, but I thought, Gee, most of the times, things closed in Lahaina in those days really early. But I really wanted to go somewhere. So I just said, “I’m taking my trail bike, going into town; if anybody is going into town, I’ll take a ride with you, but you gotta bring me back”. And Eddie goes, “Oh, I’ll take you”. And so, I grabbed a bottle of Chianti wine out of the storeroom, and we went down, let his cousin off, and then we looked for a place. Anyway, they had a rock wall then, and Eddie was a lot different then. He had gabardine trousers, and—

 

EDDIE: [CHUCKLE]

 

MYRNA: —these silk shirts, and beautiful, beautiful clothes. And of course, I had, you know, cut-off Levi’s and a sweatshirt, and that kind of thing. Anyway, so I said, “I’m gonna jump over the wall; will you follow me?” And he said, “Yes”. And I thought, “Oh, yeah, sure”. [CHUCKLE] So we climbed over the wall, and we opened the bottle of wine. And we were looking out, and my goodness, this gorgeous Maui Moon—

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: —is coming down into the ocean.

 

EDDIE: Sunset. It was totally round, orange, just slowly going down. And we just looked at that. That’s the most interesting sunset I’ve ever seen.

 

MYRNA: Actually, it was the Moon going down.

 

EDDIE: Oh, whatever it is.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] Well, the short side of the story of how our families felt was, we decided that we wouldn’t tell anybody, and just go get married. And then, we would tell them after. And that worked quite well. Except, a few people were upset, ‘cause they wanted to have a party. [CHUCKLE]

 

But you were accepted, you were accepted.

 

EDDIE: Yes.

 

And in fact, you got rave reviews from Mary Kawena Pukui, right?

 

EDDIE: Yes.

 

Didn’t she say something really good when she met you?

 

EDDIE: Kawena told me, she said, “I want to meet your wife”. So when I brought Myrna, she and I discussed my subject what I was doing, and she noticed Myrna was down on the floor taking notes and writing, see? So then time to go, so Myrna bid her farewell first. So when I came around to bid her farewell, goodnight, and she told me, “Eddie, if you have any pilikia with your wife, you’re wrong”.

 

[CHUCKLE] You’re wrong. [CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: I go, “Oh, no”.

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE]

 

EDDIE: Yeah, now I know she knows, see?

 

What’s the connection between you two? How do you make it work?

 

EDDIE: Well, Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you”. So when I got into every project, whether it’s filmmaking, songs, whatever it is, she was always there to handle the situation, so I didn’t have to worry about the work, the paperwork and all of that things, the business side. She handle that, so I don’t have to worry.

 

And that was a role you wanted?

 

MYRNA: Well, I played that role, but I also got to do some of the other things that were fun. To go out on shoots, to write songs with Eddie. So, it was a lot of fun too. And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.

 

In 1970, Kawena Pukui encouraged Eddie and Myrna Kamae to visit the Big Island, to find the songwriter of Waipio Valley, Sam Lia Kalaiaina. He later became the subject of their first documentary film. One of the last Hawaiian poets to compose using flower images to represent hidden meanings in his songs, Sam Lia was already eighty-nine years old, and one of the few living cultural practitioners who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

EDDIE: And when I went up to the house, here was Sam Lia sitting down. It just seemed like he was waiting for me. I said, “My father is in Waipio too”. See? And then he told me many stories. And one of the most interesting story I heard, when he said, “I was playing music with the boys”. See? And I said, “What?” “I was playing music with the boys, then in come running, running in was Prince Kuhio. So we all about ready to stand up, but he sit down, so we couldn’t stand up. So I look at him, and he just smiled. So we played music, entertain him”. But he said, “I just write my thoughts down, what I saw, what he does, and what he’s gonna do. So I just label it down.” Yeah. So then … and then he tell me, “Here, you sing this”. So he had wrote a song for Prince Kuhio.

 

MYRNA: He did say to Eddie that he had been waiting for him.

 

EDDIE: Yes. Yes.

 

Did he mean, waiting for the right person to share with?

 

EDDIE: There’s no more like him. He’s so generous. If it’s your birthday, he writes you a song. Those days, money is just not the thing. It was what you give. [SINGING]

 

Luther Makekau was one of the most colorful and cantankerous characters profiled by the Kamaes. Luther was a chanter and singer, poet and philosopher. He was already into his ninth decade, when the Kamaes went in search of his story.

 

EDDIE: Here was a man, intelligent, but all he wants to do is just drink and have a ball. And Luther said, “I met a man in a bar”. I said, “And what it was like?” He says, “Well, we’re drinking. See? So, I’m drinking, he drinking. So then I told him I own acres and acres of land here on the Big Island.

 

MYRNA: Is that Luther told the guy?

 

EDDIE: Yeah.

 

MYRNA: Oh; okay.

 

EDDIE: See, what he wanted to do was drink on the guy all day, so he gotta impress him. So he goes, “Let’s go to my lawyer’s office”. And he walks, and the girls tell him, “He’s in”. So he goes over there, pound the door, and he works this thing out with the lawyer, see? He pound the door, he say, “Is my papers ready?” So the lawyer says, “Luther, it’ll be ready in one week”. Was the lawyer told me this story. He said, “Now I know what he going do, he’s going beg and drink on the guy all day”. And that’s what he did. He impressed the guy that he owns acres and acres of lands, now he going back and drink on the guy. One story the daughter told me. She said, “We went to his anniversary party”. You know, Luther’s. Top floor of the hotel there. And all of a sudden, the emcee says, “Will please Luther Makekau’s children please stand”. She said, “Eddie, I didn’t know I had thirty-nine half brothers and half sisters”. But that was Luther, see?

 

Different women, obviously.

 

EDDIE: Yeah; they all chased after him, see? That’s the way he is. He doesn’t bother, as long he got his bottle of booze, that’s what he loves, see. Yeah.

 

And he was a musician too, right?

 

EDDIE: Oh, he sings. Yeah, play. He sang falsetto with Sam Lia.

 

He was just an all-around character, wasn’t he?

 

EDDIE: Oh, yes. The old-timers by the theater, they tell me, “You know, Eddie, you know that guy, he tell us, Okay, you see that house over there? I want you guys to go over there, ‘cause I gonna move, so I want you guys move all the furnitures out.” [CHUCKLE] So while they were doing that, this other guy come by and says, “What are you fellows doing?” He said, “Well, Luther told me he’s moving, so we’re moving his things out”. The guy said, “This is my house”. And the guys that telling the story afterwards, they go, “That Luther, he almost got us into trouble”. [CHUCKLE] But who would do that? [CHUCKLE] He tell them move thing out, that’s not his house. Only Luther can think about that.

 

So it seems like you are always attracted to authenticity. You know, people being really who they are, in the place they are.

 

EDDIE: Yes. Well, that’s what I found about Luther. He had a way of doing things, and everything is his way he’s gonna do it. See? It’s amazing. Even the lawyers tell me that. “Eddie, that guy is always thinking.”

 

MYRNA: When Eddie first wanted to go out and do music, music research, we had saved twenty thousand dollars to put down on a new house. And he asked me if he could use that money to go out and do research, and I said yes. And it’s always been that way. You spend a lot of your own money. And then, Eddie has some really good friends that, when he got into the filmmaking business, they helped him be able to do it. Herb Cornell and his wife Jeannie came to one of our documentaries, and asked Jeanette Paulson, who’s head of the Hawaii International Film Festival those years, “You gotta help Myrna and Eddie, how can we do it?” A little bit later on, Herb, and Carol Fox, and Sam Cooke, and Kelvin Taketa, before he became the head of Hawaii Community Foundation, still at Nature Conservancy, they helped us do five films. And that was a major, major part of our work. And then, we actually formed a nonprofit called the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation, and we have a board of directors. People who love Eddie’s music, who love the work, they love the authentic, cultural continuity that we try to establish in the work. You look at the people that helped us make the films, and that you have to have a really wonderful production crew, and we’ve had, most of them from the beginning, like Rodney Ohtani, and Dennis Mahaffay has been a consultant through the whole thing.

 

So you never bought that new house?

 

MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] No. We’re still renting. [CHUCKLE]

 

Eddie and Myrna Kamae’s documentary titled “Those Who Came Before”, the musical journey of Eddie Kamae, honors Eddie’s teachers, Mary Kawena Pukui, Pilahi Paki, and Sam Lia, who inspired the Kamaes’ efforts to preserve Hawaii’s cultural heritage. The Kamaes, at the time of this taping in 2011, are hard at work in production on another documentary about the people of Kalaupapa called “Feeding the Soul”. Mahalo piha, Eddie and Myrna Kamae, for sharing your long story short, and thank you, for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

MYRNA: Eddie would take me to see Kawena Pukui. And the thing that she said to us that meant more than anything was, a lot of times along the way, you have some hard knocks. And when something specially hard happened, she would say, “You know, there’s always room in your heart for forgiveness.” And that’s helped a lot through the years, to be able to let things go, and to be able to continue on with the work.

 

 

FAMILY INGREDIENTS
Puerto Rico – Arroz con Gandules

 

Part foodie, part travelogue, part genealogy, Family Ingredients follows acclaimed Hawai‘i restaurateur and sustainability hero Ed Kenney, as he meets with different individuals in the Islands, and follows each person’s cherished food memory to its origin around the globe. He takes off to explore Okinawa, Tahiti, California, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing how cuisine can profoundly unite cultures, communities and families.

 

Puerto Rico – Arroz con Gandules
Puerto Rican pride thrives in Hawaiʻi. Ed Kenney meets up with entertainer Tiara Hernandez, whose family grew up in Waikiki showrooms. They follow a culinary path to a country she’s never seen to learn more about her heritage.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Rose Galera

 

Rose Galera approaches cleaning as both a science and an art. Her early enthusiasm for keeping her environment safe and clean led her to a career in professional cleaning management and as a consultant and training specialist.

 

She is certified by the International Executive Housekeepers Association and has over 45 years of experience and expertise in the hospitality, medical, commercial, education and business cleaning arenas. She was also the first executive housekeeper of the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.

 

Her career in what she terms “cleanology” recognizes the science and technique necessary for proper sanitization. Her passion makes her a natural teacher, educating and training Hawaii’s students on proper cleaning etiquette.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 25 at 4:00 pm.

 

Rose Galera Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Mrs. Bennett taught me an awful lot. She taught me how to speak English, of course. You know, Haole, you know, and—

 

So, you were speaking what kind of English?

 

Well, broken English, Pidgin. I remember pronunciation from what I learned and everything in school, but then, she taught me about the finer things. She would entertain from time to time, so she taught me how to set tables. She taught me about silver, how to polish silver. She taught me about the finer things of dishes and china, and all. And I learned about all those things, and over the years, I appreciated that. I remember for my wedding, she gave me one of her silver platters. You know. But this was sterling, sterling silver, you know, which is, I know, expensive today. Not silver-plated, you know. So, I learned the different values of something that’s silver-plated versus sterling.

 

For five years during her middle and high school years, Rose Galera left her crowded Kalihi home to live with the Bennett family at Navy housing. Lessons that she learned from Mrs. Bennett were instrumental in a career in what she calls “cleanology”, a consulting career that has taken her around the world. Rose Galera, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Rosita Abarca Galera, who’s better known as Rose, developed a passion for cleaning at a young age. She grew up with eleven siblings in the 1930s and 40s, and her mother made sure every household member helped keep the house clean. Rose Galera discovered early on that she could earn money outside the home with the skills she learned from her mother, which led to her becoming a live-in nanny.

 

I was born on the Big Island, in Hilo. And actually, we left Hilo when I was about seven, eight years old. We came from the Big Island to Oahu by boat. It was quite interesting. Took a few days, and then when we got to Oahu, right away, we moved in with my grandparents. My grandparents um, we called them Ah Po. Ah Po in Chinese means Grandma. And my grandma was very small, and my grandpa was very big. So, we called them Small Ah Po and Big Ah Po. You know.

 

And where’s the Chinese from?

 

Actually, no, I guess it’s something that was just carried, you know, when they came from the Philippines, and the family just used that. Ah Po was easier; that time, we didn’t use the term grandma or grandpa.

 

When you say we, how big is we, the family who moved in with the Big and Small Ah Po?

 

I come from a family of twelve. We were just there for a short while, until we got a home, actually in what was called Kalihi Royal Homes. And what it is, was a community of actually, apartments. If I remember correctly, it was canec type built apartments, and in each building there was like four units.

 

What’s there now?

 

Actually, it’s where Kuhio Park Terrace area is.

 

Okay.

 

I loved that area. And we would walk. Our parents didn’t drive, and pick us up and drop us off. You know, we walked every day to school, walked to church, and that’s how I feel, that I’ve learned to become a survivor, you know, today, because of the upbringing that I had. Then I went to Kalakaua. From Fern School, I went to Kalakaua Intermediate, and then from Kalakaua Intermediate, I went to Farrington High School.

 

So, when you say you learned to be a survivor, what did you have to survive?

 

Well, because the family, you know, we were on welfare, and you know, we were very careful about how we ate, what we ate. We didn’t, you know, waste anything. My mother was very strict when it came to the home, keeping clean and everything. I was trained, every morning when you get up, you fix your bed, things are always straightened up. And in the old days, it doesn’t happen today, we washed our clothes, we starched our clothes, and we ironed our clothes.

 

An iron; I haven’t seen one of those in a while. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. And actually, before becoming a nanny for the Bennetts, I ironed for about a year for a family, and I was at that time beginning of intermediate, for a family where she had girls. And it was all starched clothes, so they would bring the bag of clothes to me, I would sprinkle it up, roll it up, put it into the refrigerator for a little while, and then I would start ironing. So, I was good at ironing; you know, ironing clothes, and she would pay me ten cents apiece. And that was one of the first job I had as a youngster, because my mom taught us how to wash the clothes, how to hang the clothes, how to starch the clothes, how to sprinkle.

 

And you said she was particular about it.

 

Oh, my mom was very—yeah, she was a housewife; she didn’t work. But she made sure that we were trained. And my father, ‘cause he was working at Hickam Air Force Base, and I would be the one making his lunch every morning so that he could take it to work. And I remember boiling eggs all the time, you know. And actually, because of those kinds of training, I’ve learned how to do things on my own, and how to take care of yourself.

 

It sounds like with all those kids, you still knew that you had a place there, and you had a role to play, and everybody cooperated.

 

We got along. You know. There was no time to fight or anything because, you know, we were busy with taking care of things around the house, taking care of each other. You know, our beds, we would share. You know, three of us in a room, you know, because we had a big family. But yeah, through those growing up years, it really made me strong. And then, when I was going to Kalakaua Intermediate, a friend of mine said, Rose, do you want to babysitting job? And I said, Okay. And so, she said, Go see these people and go for an interview. So, I went to the Bennetts’ home, and I got the job with Mrs. Bennett.

 

Who are the Bennetts?

 

Mrs. Bennett and Commander Bennet actually lived in Navy housing. And that’s where a lot of us who were in middle school or intermediate school then, the girls, we used to all go do babysitting work and what have you. But I got a regular job with Mr. Bennett.

 

Now, did you walk all the way to Navy housing?

 

No; I from school, I would get the bus, and then get off at Navy housing there.

 

How far away is that?

 

Actually, from Kalakaua Intermediate then, not too bad, not too far. And then, it came to a point where I ended up living with the Bennetts. Because Mrs. Bennett felt that it might be better, so I lived with the Bennetts for a little over five years.

 

And what did you do for them?

 

Actually, I would go to school, and after school, I would go home. I’d go home to the Bennetts’, and at that time, there was two children, Peggy and Barbie. And they were about three and four years old, five years old. I would take them to the park, play with them a little bit, then bring them home, and then made sure they took a bath and everything. And then, Mrs. Bennett by that time would have had dinner ready, and then we would have dinner, and then I’d put the girls to bed. This was about maybe oh, before eight o’clock. Then I would do my little homeworks that I had, and then go to bed. Then in the morning, I would get up and then go to school. And she paid me at that time, I always remembered, sixty dollars a month. You know. And that was good money then.

 

That was big money those days.

 

That was good money then. Yes.

 

Rose Galera married her schoolmate, Manuel Galera, instead of finishing high school. She and Manuel had five children over the next nine years, while both worked at different jobs. After eighteen years of marriage, Rose divorced Manuel. But their story was not over; she remarried him fifteen years later.

 

You’re one of the few people around who got married, divorced, and then years later, you married the same person. Tell us about that.

 

Well … this was in the 70s, and I ended up with a good job working for the Army. And you know, you get to meet other people as well. I was more involved than my husband was. I loved my husband dearly; we were high school sweethearts. And so, when we went through the divorce in 1972, we agreed, but our goal was, even though we would be divorced, we would make sure we would take care of the kids, the children.

 

But why did you get divorced, if …

 

Actually, it was me; I think I grew out of the marriage. And then, I met a friend, you know, but I didn’t remarry again or anything. I lived for about maybe eight years with who was, I thought, another mentor. And he was a boss at one time when I worked with the Youth Activity Center. But he taught me about the work life and everything, and he was like a psychiatrist to me. You know. And I lived with him for a little while, about eight years. But he was the one that encouraged me. Rose, go see your family on weekends, that’s okay, Manuel’s there, no problem. That was my husband. And so, I had good relationships with both sides. And one of the things my husband and I said, we want to take care of the kids, we want to make sure they’re okay, their schooling and everything. So, you know, Junior graduated and Darrel graduated, went to University. Carla graduated, and she went into actually beauty school. And then there’s Jeffrey; Jeffrey’s my baby, fifty years old baby. Manuel and I then, in about the 1980s, we got together again, and we lived a little while together, and then we said, Let’s get married again. So, we went through again a second church marriage. I was able to get married in the church again, because I didn’t remarry, and even though we had a divorce. So, it was at Our Lady of Good Counsel, where I go to regularly every day, that we remarried again. And the nice thing about that wedding was, my children were all, you know, part of the package and everything.

 

It all seems so calm, but it’s not really a situation that usually leads to calm.

 

No; Manny and I got along well. I would go over the weekend, help them cook, and we would celebrate all of the special type of holidays together; Christmas, New Year’s. You know, and I would always go over to help cook dinners and cook breakfast or things for them. We had a good relationship, and I think it had to do with the spiritual upbringing that we both had.

 

How does this spiritual belief help you in your daily life?

 

You know, I get angry sometimes, but then always is, you know, the prayers, daily prayers. I find myself always doing the sign of the cross as I’m driving, or when, you know, I’m walking, or when I’m talking. It really becomes a part of me. You know, and actually, it is important; you know, very, very important. The Lord has blessed me, I feel that, with family, with my children. I have actually three boys and one daughter. And they’re all busy now with their own lives and everything, but I’m glad that they’re all in good health, they’ve got good jobs.

 

While Rose Galera was raising her children, she continued to work outside the home, too. An opportunity to enter the cleaning profession came up during this time, and that’s when her career started to take off.

 

I looked back to when I was a nanny, you know, ‘cause I had experience there, learning how to clean and everything, and taking care of things. And then, I worked for the Army at the Schofield Barracks guest house, and I was at that time, a front desk clerk and a supervisor. But how I got that guest house job, which is people would come in and stay there; it’s like a little hotel. Because I was working for the Navy too, at the service station, but because I had what was called NAFE experience, you know, non-appropriated fund, I got hired at the Schofield guest house. Then from there, I got back into the cleaning aspects, because I became a housekeeping supervisor and an assistant manager at the guest house. Then when Hale Koa was built, and then they had announced the opening of the Hale Koa Hotel, I thought, Well, you know, I could do it there. It’s a four hundred sixty room hotel, and it was gonna be the first military hotel. But of course, I took advantage of the fact that I knew Commander Bennett and Mrs. Bennett. So, asked them, Could you write me a letter of reference? ‘Cause I was a housekeeper for them. And of course, Commander Bennett’s name, you know. And then, working at the guest house, I learned military regulations, Army regulations. So, Commander and Mrs. Bennett wrote the letter for me, and then I turned that in with my resume. And then, of course, with the guest house experience as well, and knowing Army regulations—

 

What does Army regulations tell you about housekeeping?

 

Actually, the Army regulations had to do with managing. When I went for the interview, I cited AR-230-1, AR-230-2, and it had to do with personnel, how you deal with personnel and management. They were very impressed, because they didn’t know the ARs.

 

So, I got hired to be the first executive housekeeper of the Army hotel. I knew about cleaning, but I didn’t know much about chemicals. So, through the magazines, I would read and keep track, and keep articles and everything. And I remember how I had vendors come to me, and these vendors selling chemicals. So, I pulled out some articles from the magazine, and I put it under my glass on my desk. And so, when they tried to sell me the chemicals, I would ask those vendors certain questions. What kind of agents are there, you know. And through that, I learned how to actually become very well versed in the chemical. And then, I got close to some vendors who also taught me, and then I always kept up with the trends and technology of cleaning. You know, reading up about it, working with vendors, learning what’s new in the field and everything.

 

I think you learned at a very early age just to keep learning, and keep reaching out. Plus, you had confidence, too, that you could do it. And you’ve cut a career for yourself that I don’t know if anybody else has in Hawaii. You’ve just taken cleaning to another level. And you call it Cleanology.

 

Well, actually, I became a member of the International Executive Housekeeping Association. At that time, it was called NEHA, National Executive Housekeepers Association. I became a member in ’74. Then I decided to go for certification, and this was at KCC. And after I got my certification, KCC asked me if I would do some training on certification, and I did. And so, with certification, you have to keep up with CEUs, you know, continuing education credits, every three years renew your certification. And I did that; I made sure I stayed on top of it, stayed on top of trends and technology of cleaning. And then, the leadership roles that I took helped me as well with NEHA, IEHA. I ran for the board, the association board.

 

The national board?

 

The National Board of Housekeeping Association. Got elected in 1980, and this was in New York City. And I thought, Ooh, wow, you know, I’m with all of these people who have college education, and I don’t have a college education. But I learned a lot from them, and they learned a lot from me. And they liked it because I was from Hawaii. My first convention was in 1976, then I attended every convention thereafter. I only missed one, and that was in 2014. But then, I ran for office, first vice, second vice, ran for the board a couple of times again. So, I served about sixteen years in leadership role. And then at the chapter level, now we have a chapter, I was president on three different terms.

 

And you do have a genuine passion for cleaning.

 

Definitely. Cleaning is a science and an art. And people would ask me, What do you mean science? I bring up some questions. Do you know what PH is? Okay; when you buy chemicals, we need to know the different PHs of the chemicals. Now, the other sciences of cleaning is, germ kill. What are the three scientific processes of germ kill? Lot of times when I ask even medical people, they tell me, washing their hands, hot water. Sanitation kills at least fifty percent germs. Disinfecting, ninety percent-plus. Sterilizing, hundred percent. Those are the three scientific processes of germ kill.

 

In doing these corporate housekeeping jobs, and then later your private business, you really had to understand people, too.

 

Yes.

 

It wasn’t just the process of cleaning; it was how to use people and manage people.

 

When I was in the hotels, I used to do a lot of walking around, and even to the degree where I always used to tell the housekeepers, Your cart should be right parked in front of the room that you’re cleaning. Okay; and it’s a certain way parked. Your vacuum cleaners, your equipment should be there with you. So, sometimes, I would walk around and I’d see the vacuum cleaner way down the hallway, and the cart. So, I would steal their vacuum cleaners and I’d take it to my office. So, if they saw, Oh, where’s my vacuum cleaner? Right way, they’d know, I gotta go see Miss Galera. You know.

 

So, you must have scared and intimidated a lot of your employees.

 

No, I didn’t intimidate them. I think I trained them, and they learned. And then, I would have morning briefings. My morning briefings would not be scoldings, and it would not be what you did wrong, and it would not be complaints. It would be how we can make improvements on things. You know. And ‘til today, when I run into some of those; Hey, Miss Galera, I miss your briefings.

 

You know. Because they remember, you know, some of the things. I think I had good relationships. When I had the Hale Koa Hotel, it was a union property, I never had one union complaint. I believed in working with the people. And when I had the hotels, every morning, I would be in front of my door greeting them coming in, and in the afternoon thanking them going home.

 

As a manager, as an executive, how do you get people excited to have a passion like you have for cleaning?

 

Well, when I work with the high school students, the approach I take is, I get them to become paranoid.

 

I show them pictures of what germs would look like.

 

Mousey mold; right?

 

Yeah. And maybe a picture of a body, you know, a body piece that shows the germ, you know. And I try to encourage them about the profession in that if you’re looking for a profession—‘cause lot of the students will tell me, Oh, we want to get into a job that pays big bucks. Okay. And I’ll tell them about the profession. Yes, I encourage you to go to college to get a degree, because you can demand more in your salary. But if you didn’t get a degree, but you went through a certification program, you still can be well paid. I try to talk to the students or even people when I do my training about how beneficial the profession of cleaning is. Because it’s very diverse. Not only hotels, there’s hospitals, today there’s a lot of retirement communities, there’s schools, there’s colleges. I mean, every building needs to be cleaned, and you need to know about the building environment. So, there will always be a job. And even your retail outlets, the Macy’s and all. At one time, I saw an ad where they were looking for a housekeeping manager. You know. Because they need somebody to make sure they know that the people are cleaning.

 

You actually still clean as a service in selective cases. Where do you personally clean?

 

For this family, and they have a business, and I do their office as well. I’ve been doing, I think, her home for about a good maybe fifty years. And I know she likes me, because she knows that I’m gonna do a good job. You know, I put my whole heart into it.

 

And this is a large executive home, I take it.

 

Yeah; I consider it to be a large executive home.

 

And you do it by yourself?

 

I do it by myself. I do backpack vacuuming. I also do what is called the Easy Trap dusting. I do the microfiber flat mop systems, and the microfiber cleaning technology. Microfiber cloths, microfiber flat mop, vacuuming. And there’s this one tool which is a disposable type; it’s called Easy Trap. And I use it with the flat mop. And because there’s a dog, there’s a pet in the house, it picks up everything. Picks up all the hair, pick up everything. And on top of that, I also change the beds, do it hotel style, and wash the linens and everything, and fold it.

 

I know you’re not self-conscious about your age, so I really feel like I should point out at this point that you’re approaching eighty.

 

Yes.

 

And you’re cleaning this large home and business, even though you don’t have to.

 

No.

 

You’re an executive.

 

Well, actually, you know, I get social security, but I want to supplement my income as well. And yeah, yeah, I can still do it. It helps me keep fit. It’s my way of exercising as well. And staying on top of what’s happening with the industry as well; I’m still a member of the association. In 2015, I got over being the chapter president, so I’m also doing some consulting and training. I’m going to be working with McKinley Community School. Right now, I’m doing some training there. One Friday, I have a workshop there called Cleanology 101, that has to do with communicable diseases and infection prevention in non-health facilities; schools, hotels, retirement communities. And I go into the process of telling them about epidemiology, what communicable diseases are, what are the different kinds of communicable diseases, infection preventions that they can use in their facilities, about outbreaks, should there be an outbreak.   And come up with programs, techniques. I’ve come up with something called Best Practices. What are the best practices you can use in homes, hotels. And you know what? It’s not complicating.

 

Mahalo to Rose Galera of Ewa, in West Oahu, for sharing your life story with us, and for your lifelong passion for cleaning. And thanks to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Do you ever get tired of the whole cleanology business?

 

No.

 

Never?

 

No. I would like to see our profession be raised by people doing it scientifically, with knowledge as well, and our custodians and our janitors and all, are all trained so that we can cut back on infection, you know, controls, or cut back on infection spreading. And also, have people do the jobs right.

 

You are a one-woman crusade for cleaning.

 

I am; very much so.

 

[END]

 

Sneak Preview Event:
Jackie Robinson

JACKIE ROBINSON a film by Ken Burns

 

PBS Hawaii and Palama Settlement present a FREE 40-minute sneak preview of JACKIE ROBINSON, the latest documentary from director Ken Burns, on Wednesday, April 6 at 6:00 pm, at the Palama Settlement’s dining hall.

 

RSVP

 

RSVPs help us with planning and do not guarantee seats. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, so we encourage you to arrive early.

 

The first time Jackie Robinson played a professional sport was for the Honolulu Bears, a semi-professional football team. He stayed at Palama Settlement in Honolulu, since Waikiki hotels barred him entry because of the color of his skin. “I’m very proud of Palama’s legacy of acceptance of all people,” said Paula Rath, Palama Settlement Board of Trustees Emeritus.

 

About the film: Examine the life and times of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, who in 1947 lifted a nation and an entire race on his shoulders when he crossed baseball’s color line. This new documentary reveals fascinating stories about the legend’s life on and off the field.

 

The two-part documentary premieres Monday, April 11 at 9:00 pm (part one), and Tuesday, April 12 at 9:00 pm (part two), on PBS Hawaii.

 

HIKI NŌ
Hosted by Farrington High School

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ is hosted by students from Farrington High School on Oahu.

 

Top Story:
Students from Iolani School on Oahu tell the story of a young Iolani graduate who, despite becoming a quadruple amputee due to a devastating disease, continues to live life with grace and appreciation. She visits her alma mater, sharing her inspiring message of perseverance.

 

Also Featured:
Students at Maui Waena Intermediate School on Maui explore the controversy surrounding  the construction of a new Central Maui Sports Complex; students at Kainalu Elementary School on Oahu profile a Kailua woman who shares the art of ribbon-lei-making with people from around the world; students at Mid-Pacific Institute on Oahu show how science and spiritualism are coming to the aid of a historic Waikiki icon — the Moana Hotel’s majestic banyan tree; students at Lahainaluna High School on Maui share the story of a Lahaina woman who proudly maintains her Hawaiian heritage through pau riding; students at Waiakea High School on Hawaii Island spotlight a locally owned surf company in Kapaa, Kauai that gives back by supporting the community’s sports teams.

 

 

NA MELE
Moments

 

There was a time when traditional Hawaiian music could be heard throughout Waikiki. Today, there is still a place where traditional Hawaiian music is played, where the mele of our home are sung, and where the moolelo of hula and Hawaiian chant are shared: Na Mele, on PBS Hawaii. Na Mele Moments shares a treasure of memories, including: an impromptu jam in Waimea, the beautiful voice of Mahi Beamer, and the pure joy of Aunty Genoa Keawe. To honor the late Dennis Kamakahi and Aunty Genoa, David Kamakahi and his group Waipuna, and Pomaika‘i Keawe Lyman and the Keawe Ohana, perform live in the PBS Hawaii studio.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
John Clark

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: John Clark

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 31, 2010

 

Keeping Hawaiian Stories Alive

 

In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks story with a true Renaissance man. John Clark relates how learning to surf at a young age led him to become a waterman, lifeguard, fire fighter, historian, and writer. The author of a series of books on Hawaii’s beaches, John Clark took the innate curiosity that we all have and hunted down the source and mo’olelo, or stories, behind the names of Hawaii’s surf spots and shoreline landmarks. Find out how this descendent of a sea captain is doing his part to keep Hawaiian stories and characters alive.

 

John Clark Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

One of the guys that I interviewed was a man named Kerr. He was born back in the 1890s, so he was a surfer as a young child. By the time he was already ten years old, he was already surfing in Waikiki. And Queen was still alive at that time, and she had a home called Hamohamo, which is right where the Pacific Beach Hotel is. And she had a pier that ran out from her home, that went out into the water. And she would sit out on her pier, and she would watch the surfers, which were right out in front of her. Anyway, this guy and another friend of his, she would ask for them; she would ask them to go out and surf, just so she could watch surfers while she was sitting on her pier. He and his friend named the spot Queen’s. And that’s Queen’s—

 

That’s Queen’s Beach?

 

That’s Queen’s Surf.

 

Oh, Queen’s Surf.

 

[CHUCKLE] Queen’s Beach is a little further down the road. So anyway, that’s Queen’s Surf that’s almost now—it’s almost straight out from the Duke’s statue.

 

We’re surrounded by water, so it’s only natural that many of us play and work in the ocean. But as we’re enjoying our beaches and reefs, how many of us are curious enough, and persistent enough, to learn the background of our favorite fishing or surfing spot, what its name means, who’s responsible for naming it, and what role does it play in Hawaii’s history? Next, on Long Story Short, we’ll meet a man who’s combined a love of the ocean with an insatiable curiosity.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to Long Story Short. When you think of a name, do you ever wonder what’s behind that name? For instance, why is a place called Toes, or Snipes, or Gums? How about the name John Clark; a relatively simple name, only two syllables, but the simplicity of the name hides the complexity of the man. He served in the Army. He was a lifeguard at Sandy Beach, waterman, and firefighter who worked his way up to Deputy Chief of the Honolulu Fire Department, author of a series of nonfiction book about Hawaiian waters. Somehow, it seems only natural that this complex man, with a simple name, is a descendant of a sea captain.

 

His name was William Carey Lane, and he came here in the 1850s. And in 1853, there was a smallpox epidemic that was going on in Honolulu. So he was here. He had decided to make his home in the islands. And he was asked to take some medicine to a Hawaiian couple down where the Royal Hawaiian Hotel is. So he did; he met their daughter, he married her, and ended up making Hawaii his home.

 

But he planned to do so, even before he met—

 

Met her

 

—and fell in love.

 

Yes.

 

Was he at the end of his career, or did he just decide, Heck with my career, I’m staying?

 

He—exactly that. He decided that he didn’t want to go to sea anymore. And he really loved Hawaii, he decided to make it his home. So he married her, they ended up having twelve children, six boys and six girls. And the first Clark that came to Hawaii married one of the six girls. So anyway, going back to that marriage between the sea captain and Kahooilimoku—that was her name, I’m fifth generation from that marriage.

 

You seem to concentrate your fascination and your—

 

[CLEARS THROAT]

 

—passion where the sea intersects with the shoreline.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The coastal areas, not the deep sea that your—

 

Yes.

 

—your ancestor loved, or once loved. You love that, where water and land connect.

 

Yes; exactly right. My mother likes to say that she and my dad had me swimming even before I walked. They took me and put me in the ocean before I was even a year old. So that connection for me and the ocean and the beach has always been there from the very beginning. And that was really reinforced when I learned how to surf. I started surfing when I was eight years old. And—

 

Who taught you? Or did you learn yourself?

 

Oh, no, not at all. My dad was in construction here in Hawaii, and one of the guys he worked with was a man named Clarence Maki. And Clarence was an avid surfer—actually, an avid surf photographer as well. So anyway, he and my dad were talking one day, and Clarence just told my dad that he’d be willing to teach me how to surf. He did, and I’ve been a lifelong surfer since.

 

What was your upbringing like? Where’d you grow up, and what was it like?

 

I grew up at a place called Kaalawai, which is over between Black Point and Diamond Head. It’s a little community there.

 

Were you right on the water?

 

Oh, no, no. We were back up towards Diamond Head Road. But anyway, that’s where, really, that I learned to surf in Waikiki, but that whole Diamond Head-Kaalawai area was my backyard.

 

What was it like? I don’t know that area, except to walk along it. What—

 

Oh.

 

—was it known for?

 

Actually, Kaalawai was known for several things. As far as traditional Hawaiian resources go, it was an area known for limu, for seaweed. There’s a lot of limu there—or there used to be. There used to be wawaeiole, which is a thick, green limu, and then a finer one that

everybody calls ogo now. But we used to call it manawea, limu manawea.

 

Did you gather that for salads?

 

Yes, we did. So those two, I find them every once in a while when I go back there to surf. But not too much. But there were also octopus there. People would come spearing for octopus. And there’s a seasonal fish that used to run through there, the mullet. And they would start off in Pearl Harbor in schools of thousands, and they would just start flowing around the island, and they’d run all the way down the coast, all the way around Makapuu Point, and then head up towards the windward side.

 

Does that still happen?

 

No, not like before. We don’t see those mullet runs before. But the throw net fishermen, when they would run, and it would be in the fall, when the anae, the mullet used to run through there, the throw new fishermen would come from all over the island to throw net on the schools.

 

Did you go down to the beach every day?

 

Almost. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was your routine? Before school and after school, or after school?

 

No, only after school. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] ‘Cause lot of folks came to school with their hair dripping wet.

 

Yes; no, that wasn’t me. [CHUCKLE] But I did surf a lot after school. And like I said, that was my backyard, all those spots. I surfed a lot.

 

What kind of boards did you surf on, as you went along?

 

I started off on balsa. So I started surfing in 1954, and that’s just when the foam boards are starting to make their appearance, mostly in California, and they’re just starting to make their way to Hawaii. We don’t actually get a foam surfboard factory here, which was the Velzy Factory, until 1960. So those first six years of my life, or my surfing life, anyway, from ’54 to ’60, I was riding a balsa board. So it was what we used to called a Malibu. It had a kick in the front, and it was just a single fin. And of course, no leashes.

 

And there are two of your surfboards behind you. Tell—

 

Yes.

 

—me about those boards. They look like they’ve seen a lot of action, and—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—and they’ve been cared for.

 

Yes, they are. Those are called alaia’s, and the alaia’s are traditional Hawaiian surfboards. Anyway, one of them, the one with the round nose, is made out of redwood and pine. And the other one is made out of all traditional Hawaiian wood; it’s wiliwili with koa strips, stringers. So anyway, the alaia’s are boards that I still ride ‘til this day, as opposed to a regular surfboard. And—

 

No fins?

 

No fins at all. So they like to side slip; they don’t a line quite like a regular surfboard does.

 

And they’re not that long.

 

No; they’re only five-feet-two, both of them. And they’re very thin too; they’re only three-eighths of an inch.

 

What size waves are they best on?

 

They’ll ride anything up to like double overhead waves. Just gotta get out there and fly. [CHUCKLE]

 

And what’s the story of how the boards were made?

 

Besides board surfing, besides learning how to surf on a surfboard, I’ve also been a paipo rider all my life. And one of the guys that I ride paipo with builds paipo boards. So when I started researching my book on traditional Hawaiian surfing, I wanted to know what it was like to ride a traditional board. So I just asked my friend—his name’s Bud Shelsa; I asked Bud if he would build me an alaia board, and he did. So we started off with the one with the round nose, and then I got to know that board. And then I decided to try something a little different, shape wise, and we went with the second one, the one with the wiliwili and koa.

 

 

In the Hawaiian culture, moolelo, storytelling was crucial in passing down the history of the Hawaiian Islands from generation to generation. In today’s world, the moolelo behind many of Hawaii’s beaches and landmarks would be forgotten and lost without people like John Clark.

 

So you were an early swimmer, an early surfer?

 

Yes.

 

But those skills are different from collecting and writing about swimming and surfing, and coastlines. How did that all come together?

 

It actually started with surfing. When I got into my teens and I started surfing around the island, when I got a driver’s license and my friends did too, we started surfing all the different spots around the Island of Oahu. And I actually got interested in the names of all these different spots; where the names came from, what the story was, the moolelo behind the names. And I just started just collecting these as I went along over the years. So anyway, in 1970, when I got out of the Army, I became a lifeguard at Sandy Beach. And as I sat there on my tower, I decided that I was gonna do something proactive to try and reach people and before they got in the water, and got in trouble. So I started writing about Sandy Beach, I started writing about water safety. But when I read this material over, I thought it was really boring. I thought no one would be interested in it. So all this stuff that I’d gathered about surf spots and names, and where the names came from, I decided to combine that information with the water safety stuff. So I just rolled it all into one, and I ended up with a book.

 

Speaking of names, Sandy Beach—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How more basic can that be?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Does that have a Hawaiian name, or a history that’s more interesting than the words, Sandy Beach?

 

So the area where Sandy Beach is, is called Wawamalu. And if you go out and look at the old highway bridge out near the entrance to the Hawaii Kai Golf Course, you can see the name Wawamalu; it’s still on the bridge out there. But anyway, the name Sandy Beach actually came from the ulua fishermen that fished at Bamboo Ridge, which is over by the Blow Hole. And they would fish at Bamboo Ridge, and they would just call the beach next door … the sand beach. They’d call it Blow Hole Sand Beach; that was one of their names. Anyway, Blow Hole Sand Beach got edited down to “sand be”—Sandy Beach, and nowadays, the kids just call it Sandy’s. Simple.

 

There are so names that make you wonder. And there are also more than one name for a place.

 

Yes.

 

So you had to figure out which is the more appropriate. And then, there are probably different versions of how things came to be named the way they are.

 

Yes, there are. So that’s something that I’ve done all my life, just collect all of these stories, and then just kind of balance the stories one against the other, and try to come up with what I think is the original version, the original moolelo for that place name.

 

How do you go about finding the moolelo? I mean, how do you do it? You show up at a beach, you’re curious about it, and then what?

 

Well, because I’m a water person, I guess I can talk surf speak, or I can speak the language. And I just talk to guys or girls in the water, and I say, What do you call this spot? And, I mean, where did the name come from? So I just pick up stories as I go. And I also go through literature. People besides me have written about surf spots and about beaches, and just different places. So I gather all this material, and I just kinda sift through it, and come up with what I think is the legitimate story behind the name.

 

Do you try to find people who are living there, or associated with the beach a long time ago?

 

Oh, yes.

 

You go away from the beach to find the story?

 

Yes, I do. In fact, that’s one of the things that I’ve done religiously over the years, is going to the communities and talk to the kupuna; the people that were born and raised there, that know the area, that know the names. And the Fire Department was wonderful for that. Because everybody has a fireman in their family, or everybody knows a fireman. So I would ask the guys at work. I’d say, Oh, you’re from Kaaawa. Do you still have family out there? Can I go talk to your grandma or your auntie, or whatever? And then you get the ripple effect. So I talk to the grandma in Kaaawa, and she says, Oh, now,you gotta go talk to my sister in Punaluu. Or, You need to go talk to my dad, who’s out in Laie.

And did you know you were gonna put the information into books? Did you have that idea to begin with?

No; I never did, you know. Just going back to Sandy Beach in 1972; I never thought that I would ever put all of this information into books, into what turned out to be an entire series of books. They were just things that I was interested in, you know, I gathered the information.

 

And you were methodical about it. You thought, back in 1972, to take down names, and commit—

 

Yes.

 

—it to paper.

 

Yes. I really valued the information that people gave me, and I thought it was important to recognize them, to honor them for, confiding in me and helping me with what I was after. So I did. That’s something that I’ve done all these years, is acknowledge everyone who’s contributed to my work.

 

Can we take some surfing sites that lots of people know—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—but they may not know the origin of the name.

 

Sure.

 

For example, along Ala Moana and Waikiki, there are all kinds of surf breaks.

 

Yeah.

 

And people know the names, but they might have forgotten the reason. Some—

 

Sure.

 

Some, you can tell, some not.

 

Sure. Well, if you want to start at Ala Moana, first of all, you have Magic Island. And there’s a spot out there that’s called Bombora’s. And Bombora is actually an aboriginal word; it came from the Australian surfers who came here to Hawaii. And somebody just tagged that name for the surf spot out there. You move—the next spot down, going west now, is Baby Haleiwa’s. That’s named, because that spot breaks just like the surf spot Haleiwa on the North Shore. It’s got the same right with a pocket on a shallow reef on the inside. So that’s for a geographical comparison. And then you hit Courts, which is named for the tennis courts—

 

Which are right across.

 

Exactly right. Straight in; that’s your landmark. You go a little further down, you hit Concessions, right out in front of the food concession. So anyway, all of the spots, they all have a story, they all have some reason that they were named. A lot of the names come from just geographical location.

 

There was one near where I grew up, Niu Valley, called Snipes. Do you know the origin of that?

 

Yeah; Jerry Lopez told me that story. Snipes are birds.

 

Mm.

 

And the snipes were the little seabirds that were running back and forth on the beach at low tide, just foraging for food.

 

There’s another surf spot called Gums. What’s the story there?

 

[CHUCKLE] Okay; Gums is out on the North Shore, and Gums is at Ehukai Beach Park, right next to the Pipeline. Anyway, Randy Rarick told me this story.

 

Who grew up in Niu Valley, by the way.

 

Who grew up in Niu Valley, and who surfed at Snipes, and he named Toes too, by the way. Randy is the one that came up with that name. But anyway, getting back to Gums. Randy said that there was a surfer out there who had false teeth. And one day, he got hit in the mouth by his board, and he lost his false teeth.

 

M-hm.

 

So everyone was teasing him about coming in toothless. So the spot just got tagged Gums.

 

Gums.

 

Which it’s been ever since.

 

There’s also Yokohama Bay, which folks on the Waianae Coast have now taken to calling by its original Hawaiian name.

 

Yes.

 

Keawaula.

 

Keawaula; exactly right. So anyway, back when it was called Yokohama, the train, the OR&L train used to run from Honolulu around Kaena Point to Haleiwa, and actually beyond. The train actually ran up ‘til 1947. But anyway, there was a camp out there, um, of repairmen who were mostly Japanese workers. And their job was to repair the tracks. So Yokohama was one of the ports where a lot of the Japanese came from, when they came to Hawaii. So that name just kinda got tagged with them, to that particular bay, Keawaula Bay.

 

And why was it called Keawaula? There must be a reason for that.

 

There is.

 

That Hawaiian name.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, the name Keawaula is actually three words in Hawaiian. It’s ke, which is, the; awa is harbor; and then ula is red. So it means, the red harbor. And there are squid in the Hawaiian Islands, besides octopus, now—these are the true squid, and they school. And when they come into a harbor and they’re schooling, and they’re mating, they turn red. And so it looks like the water turns red, because the schools are so massive. So anyway, that’s the moolelo behind Keawaula, is because of the squid schools that used to come in there seasonally.

 

You know, we were talking a lot about …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—things you can see, you know, surf sites.

 

Yes.

 

But … I live on the North Shore, and—

 

Oh.

 

—I’ve always lived around or among surfers.

 

Okay.

 

And … it appears to me that there’s a whole world out there that a lot of us don’t see, but it’s as real as anything to those who are in the waters a lot. So many people know the underwater landscapes just as well as they do the streets of—

 

Yes.

 

—the town.

 

Yes. Well, you’re actually making a very good point. Surf spots are ocean parks. And that’s how surfers see them. So if you think of your favorite park, or your favorite golf course, or the tennis courts where you play tennis; to a surfer, a surf spot’s the same thing. That’s his park, that’s his area where he does his recreation, his activities. So you’re right. The surfers know the ocean bottom, they know all the quirks, and the currents, and what happens if it’s high tide and low tide, whether it’s summer or winter. All of that stuff plays in, and they know their spots just as well as golfers know their golf courses.

 

No matter how random life is, sometimes people become who they were destined to be. In the case of John Clark, he channeled his love of surfing, his career as a firefighter, and his passion for historical research into leadership of the Hawaiian Historical Society.

 

I’ve always liked English. I’ve always been a very good reader. A voracious reader, actually. So I thought I would be an English major, and that’s what I started off doing up at UH Manoa. But as I got into it, I realized that I really didn’t want to be a teacher, which is pretty much where you have to go if you’re an English major. So I switched; I switched my major to Hawaiian Studies, which was what I was personally interested in. And at that time, I was already in the Fire Department, so I didn’t have to worry about my degree being my profession.

 

I see.

 

I already had my profession. So I got a degree in Hawaiian Studies.

 

How did you go, all of a sudden, from water to fire?

 

[CHUCKLE] I was a lifeguard for two years; that was from 1970 to 1972. And my roommate at that time was a guy named Aaron Young, and Aaron was working for Hawaiian Tel. So anyway, Aaron decided that he wanted to be a fireman, and after he got in, he said it was a really good job, it was a good lifestyle, and he encouraged me to take the test, which I did. And one of the reasons I did is because at that time, there wasn’t any upward mobility in the lifeguard service. If you were a lifeguard, you were a lifeguard pretty much for life. So there wasn’t too much chance of me moving up in the ranks, getting higher pay; you know, that kinda thing.

 

M-hm.

 

And in the Fire Department, it’s just the opposite. They’re a big organization, lots of mobility, lots of room to get promoted.

 

And lots of different aspects of the work.

 

Yes; including ocean rescues. The Fire Department here does ocean rescues. So that’s something that I did as the years went along, too.

 

And when you ended your career after thirty-three years—

 

Oh, yes.

 

—Deputy Fire—

 

Fire chief.

 

—Chief.

 

Yes.

 

Far away from the water.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And even fires, right? You were in an—

 

Yes.

 

—executive role.

 

Yes. So the last seven and a half years of my career were as the Deputy Fire Chief of HFD. But even that was good, too. During that time, I went and got a master’s in public administration. And I really took that job seriously, of being a public administrator of a first responder agency.

 

You’ve spent a lot of time gathering information, writing, and taking—

 

Yes.

 

—care of the publication of books. Why do you do it? Do you make a lot of money from it?

 

Oh, no. It’s all for love. [CHUCKLE] Just real quick; the royalties are very minimal from the sales of all of my books. And the royalties that I do get, I just channel them back into the research, and all of the field trips that I do for the current projects that I’m working on. So there’s no money in it. But I really enjoy doing it. I think that I’m capturing pieces of Hawaiian history that other people haven’t. And the feedback that I get from people that read my stuff tells me that I think I’m touching some bases out there. Maybe not making a homerun with everybody, but I’m touching some bases, and people seem to appreciate what I do.

 

Sometimes on a mainland trip, I go to one of these, say, LA subdivisions, you know, malls. And you don’t—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You don’t see any distinguishing characteristics, or landmarks.

 

Yes.

 

It’s just paved.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I think it would be really hard to live in a place like that.

 

That you can’t relate to somehow; yes.

 

What’s the history? I don’t know. [CHUCKLE]

 

Right. So that’s something that I’ve tried to do for Hawaii. So if you live in Lanikai, you know where the name came from, what it means, you know the history of the area. If you live on the North Shore, why Sunset Point is Sunset Point, and you know why Rock Piles is Rock Piles, and all the rest of it.

 

I notice that you’ve been the president of the Hawaiian Historical Society—

 

Yes.

 

—for years.

 

Yes; for six years. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why? What do you enjoy about that?

 

The Hawaiian Historical Society … does what I do. They preserve Hawaiian history. And that’s something that I’ve been doing all of these years, is telling history, telling Hawaiian history through the beaches. So to me, it’s a perfect fit. The Hawaiian Historical Society has a library, they have an archive. They’re one of the key resource research centers here in the Hawaiian Islands. And I’m a part of that. I’m a part of the journal that we’ve put out. In fact, I’m one of the editors of the Journal of Hawaiian History. So it all plays in, it all ties in, and it all works out really well for me.

 

Even if it’s land history?

 

Yes; even if it’s land history. [CHUCKLE]

 

So the next time someone asks you where the name Snipes came from, or why Queen’s Surf is called Queen’s Surf, pass on the moolelo. Then, tell them that you heard if from the guy slipping down the face of a double overhead on the alaia surfboard. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

Is there a favorite surf site name that you’ve come across? I know they’re probably all like your children, but is there a favorite one?

 

Actually, I enjoy all of them. I like all of the names and all of the stories. But I’ll tell you this real quick. The spot that I get asked the most often about, over any spot in the Hawaiian Islands, is a spot out in Makua that’s called Pray For Sex. And Pray For Sex actually comes from another surf slogan from the 60s, which was Pray For Surf. Somebody just change one word in the slogan there, and they actually wrote it on a rock out there. So you can go out there right now, and see Pray For Sex; it’s still written on that rock.

 

And what is another name for that surf spot? Is there—

 

Oh.

 

Is there another name for it?

 

It’s actually more of a little bodysurfing spot out there. The rock that it’s written on has a Hawaiian name; it’s called Pohaku Kulalai. And there’s actually a little marker out there that explains that. But people still know that ‘til this day. And every time I talk to people about surf spots, they always ask me about that one.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mamo Howell

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mamo Howell

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 6, 2007

 

Hawaii Fashion Designer

 

If you know the name Mamo, it’s probably because Mamo Howell is one of Hawaii’s most successful fashion designers and retailers. Quite an accomplishment for a woman – half Hawaiian – who started her business in her 40s.

 

But that’s not where Mamo’s story began. As a teenager she danced hula in Waikiki to help support her family and later became a high-fashion model, strutting on runways in New York and Paris. Hawaii’s first top model.

 

Mamo Howell Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha! And mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. If you know the name Mamo, it’s probably because Mamo Howell is one of Hawaii’s most successful fashion designers and retailers. Quite an accom- plishment for a woman – half Hawaiian – who started her business in her 40s. But that’s not where Mamo’s story began. As a teenager she danced hula in Waikiki to help support her family and later became a high-fashion model, strutting on runways in New York and Paris. Hawaii’s first top model. That was 50 years ago. Let’s catch up with her today.

 

We know you today as Mamo Howell, the designer, the business owner, the retailer. But in the 1950s, Mamo Howell was known as a high fashion model, all over the papers.   And you were even described in one caption as ‘Polynesian Goddess.’

 

I was?

 

Must have happened a lot to you because you were just the slinkiest, most beautiful model. And you’d already had three children.

 

Oh yeah; mm. I’m in reverse. My life is reverse. No, but—

 

How did all that happen?

 

You know, I was dancing at the Halekulani Hotel. I was a dancer before I became a model. And I was seen dancing and offered a contract to go to New York to model. And when I got there I accepted it. It was a very good contract. And when I accepted it and went there, they insisted I lose weight. And I thought I was all right. You know, I thought I was hot stuff, huh? I don’t have to worry. No, no, no. So I could only eat—they watched my diet. I could only eat, you know, melon and foods that were not full of calories. And I got down to—I mean, my goodness. Today I’d be a size four. At that time it was a size eight.

 

How did the size of the models then compare to the size of the models now? We keep hearing models get skinnier and skinnier and skinnier.

 

Well no, we were skinny then. We got skinny then. But it’s just that it wasn’t called—a size four today was a size six or an eight then. That’s the difference. Somehow, the numbers changed. And I don’t know why. If it’s because it makes women think they’re thinner by the size being smaller; but actually you know, it’s the same. It’s just the numbers changed, you know. And that’s how I got into modeling, was really through dancing, through hula.

 

You got discovered.

 

Yeah, I guess so. But I was already married and had my three children. I was very, very young.

 

That must have been really unusual at the time to go away to New York to model, and your three kids were home.

 

Well, yes, but thank God for my wonderful family and my mother. You know, mothers, wonderful mothers. And then I took them with me from time to time. They would come fly with me to New York, and especially summertime. Then come back here, and my family took good care. My husband was here, so it all worked out very good.

 

You’re half-Hawaiian.

 

Half-Hawaiian.

 

And in New York that constitutes being a woman of color at the time.

 

I guess; yes.

 

Were you the only one?

 

Yes, I was. I was. All the other girls were from throughout the country. But there were—there were no Black models then. You know, that I don’t remember any Black models at all.

 

You didn’t just model in New York; then you hit Paris.

 

Well, yeah; then I was discovered there, and I was sent to Paris. And off I went there. And I loved it. It was like — I liked the language too, because I’d had a lot of that in school. You know, French nuns in Sacred Hearts Academy.

 

In Kaimuki.

 

Kaimuki.

 

And you never lost yourself when you were a high fallutin’ high fashion model in New York and Paris.

 

No. No, no, no, no. Never. I always came right home here. This is my home. And not that there aren’t in many you know, temptations all over the place. No, I always came home. It’s the place to be.

 

And went to your Hawaiian roots, right back from Paris.

 

Right; right.

 

Did you wear real avant-garde or scanty clothing on the runway?

 

Very. Clothing I’d never seen before. I mean, the chiffons and the beautiful velvets, and what have you. Very, very high, high fashion. I was working for a company called Nettie Rosenstein at the time. She was like the Coco Chanel of America. And she was famous for her little black dress. And she did a lot of poir du soir. That’s what she loved. Poir du soir was her thing. And so we did a lot. The lines were pretty big, large. Like we had four models, we did showroom shows every day at ten and another one at two. And the buyers from all over the country would come. But it was very high fashion. We did a lot of the shows at the Pierre Hotel and the Waldorf. It was fabulous. It was a great, great experience for a girl coming from Hawaii, who’s only who’s got as far as Kona. You know what I mean? So it was — it was quite an experience.

 

Hawaii’s first high-fashion model. The first Polynesian to go global in the fashion industry. That was in the 1950’s. Amazing. From that heady start, Mamo Howell reinvented herself to become a leading Hawaii designer and entrepreneur. We’ll find out how that came about – next.

 

How do you go from model and hula dancer to fashion designer, business entrepreneur?

 

Well, you know, you’re much like a model, dancer. Much like an athlete. There’s just so much time you have. The time span for a dancer or a model is very — it’s really short. It’s not a long span.

 

Does somebody have to tell you, or do you know?

 

No; I knew. I wanted to start before they stopped asking me. So I was talking to David Eldredge at Punahou. And he offered me a job during the summer to do an enrichment course for summer in the fashion thing and the modeling. And so I did. And I just kind of transitioned right there to maybe having a course now, and then I looked around the market and decided that what we had on the market was not of our culture – the prints and everything. They were lovely, but they were not of our culture at all.

 

They were just florals or …

 

Mm hm. And then I thought what they don’t have on the market is something I grew up with, and that was a kihei pili – which all Hawaiian mothers made for their children. The little blanket with the flannel on one side, and that.

 

Mm hm.

 

There wasn’t any on the market. So I designed on those. And I really started with that baby blanket, that’s what. I had a hard time selling it too. It took time. And then with that – and oh, the quilt – the Hawaiian quilt. That was another thing I didn’t see on the market at all, which is our, you know, the art of what Hawaiian women were doing. My mom, my grandmother; they were all quilters.

 

And you started when you were in your fifties, right? That’s when Mamo really took off.

 

Just about; yeah. About mid-forty, forty-five. Right; yeah. Which is crazy. Nobody starts that at that age. But then you have to, because again, you can’t go on dancing and modeling forever. It’s a young woman’s profession. You have to think something else. I didn’t want to be a, maybe a clerk in a store, ‘cause I didn’t think I’d be happy doing that. And so I went into designing. But I did have the background, which you know, with Nettie Rosenstein and Dior. So I had that background, which is what pushed me on. And then I’d been modeling here—

 

Mm hm.

 

–in Hawaii for all the — most of the manufacturers in town, you know.

 

So you knew the market.

 

So I knew the market. Shaheen’s; you remember Shaheen’s?

 

Alfred Shaheen.

 

Alfred; did a lot for him. And all — Kahala Sportswear, Nat Norfleet; I worked for him for a while in his office, as well as his model, showroom model. And so I was — I’d been in it for quite a while, you know.

 

You didn’t start with dresses at all; you started with blankets and quilts.

 

Blankets. Dresses were not even in my head. Started with the quilt blankets and all of that. And before you know it, I had a hard time selling that. So …

 

So things aren’t going very well.

 

Not the — things are not flying. No. So then I thought, well, what I have to do, then you know, it’s done; the print was done, the screens were done – of two prints that I had, of the quit. So what do we do with it? I decided, well, I’m gonna make a muumuu with it. Okay. And that’s when it started. That’s when it happened. The muumuu. Carol & Mary, Nancy Lang — you remember Nancy Lang?

 

Mm hm.

 

Well, Nancy was really the first one to buy my muus. She bought two. And then Carol & Mary right after that bought some also. But Carol & Mary told me with my blankets — they bought the blankets too. They said to me, we’ll take your blankets, your kihei pili, if you give it to us first, and you give it to us, we’ll have it for three months before you give it to anybody else. Well, what they didn’t know was that I’d been out there trying to sell, and nobody would buy it. So I said, Oh, okay, you can have it first. And I had to make an appearance on the floor, and help customers, and put it in the paper. That’s what happened. It started with that. But I really had no intention of doing dresses at the time. It just evolved that way.

 

And your concept was high fashion muumuu, and nobody really thought of muumuus that way.

 

No. No. No. And they still don’t, really, you know. I find today that not too many women are wearing muumuus too much.

 

Oh, there was a newspaper article one day that said, you know, if you want to be taken seriously as a businesswoman, nix the old muumuu.

 

That’s right. That’s right. So when I came on the market, I did two regular muumuus. The regular, you know, the non-fitting fitted ones. And then I decided, you know, there’s so much more to fashion than just the muumuu. And I gleaned some of the — my thoughts and ideas from Dior and Nettie Rosenstein and some of the big designers, and put them into fashion. Made skirts and tops, and different things. And that’s where we are at now. Because really, you don’t really see a lot of muumuus being worn. You know? But it’s more the older people wearing muus.

 

So as you continue with your business, you can’t continue to concentrate on muumuu, long muumuu, traditional style.

 

No. We will never stop making the muu. We always will. We’ll still do that. But we progress with style and fashion, and how things are going. And I subscribe to a magazine that’s like the Bible of the industry, Women’s Wear Daily out of New York. And you see the trends that are way before, you know, six months ahead of time. But even so, Hawaii is still different from the mainland. I mean, they may say green is in there, but it’s not green—I mean, it’s not in here in Hawaii. Hawaii is different. We’re totally kind of by ourselves.

 

What are some of the other ways we differ from mainland buyers?

 

Well, the mainland buyers are more gutsy. They take chances. They’re right out there. They’re demanding something new, demanding something different. They don’t want the same thing. Here, they want kind of the same, safe things ‘cause their heads are on the block. Doesn’t sell, they’re in trouble. But that’s the big difference I see in the buyers here and the buyers on the mainland.

 

Did you ever have a huge flop in terms of a dress design?

 

Oh, sure. Oh, yeah. There were a couple of things we’ve made, I thought, Wow, this is going to be really hot. And it’s not. But there again, you know, people who come into the shop to my shop, they still have this idea that we are just Mamo muumuu, and this kind of unfortunate stigma that’s with Hawaiian wear, that it somehow is just not quite up to par, it’s not quite good enough. Some of our broadcasters don’t wear Hawaiian wear on Fridays. I think you might know who, a couple, some of the—

 

I know a few of them.

 

Some of those. Yeah. But that’s okay. That’s how they feel. It’s not dressy enough, it’s not it’s just too casual.

 

I heard one say, ‘How can I report on the war in Iraq when I’m wearing flowers?’ That was one of the comments I heard from a newscaster.

 

Yeah. I think that’s ridiculous. See, we’re in Hawaii. I mean, what do you do in New York? I mean, if you’re gonna be living in New York in December, of course you’re not gonna wear the flower stuff. But in summer, why not? Well, we are in Hawaii. I think that’s the main thing. That’s where we are. We’re Hawaii; we should be with something of our islands, of our culture, of the coconut trees and the beautiful oceans and the colors, and the flowers. And how can you not, you know, be wearing something of Hawaii. I can’t see it.

 

Look at you in your slinky black tee-shirt.

 

Oh, thank you.

 

You’re well past conventional retirement age. I’m sure most people don’t realize that, but—

 

Oh, aren’t you nice. Thank you.

 

You’re closer to eighty than to seventy.

 

Soon; soon.

 

So how long do you go on working in this very challenging and dynamic business?

 

Well, you know, if I didn’t love it so much, I think I would be gone already, long time ago. I do love it. But I do. I do feel that I have to start thinking realistically. And I’ve never taken a vacation. And I’m thinking — and even my doctor says, You know, you have to start taking off and don’t go in every single day from nine to five or whatever. And he’s right, because I do think that there’s a lot of stress going on. And if I didn’t love the business so much, oh, I’d be in — what would you say when we were kids? We’d be in Room 13 in Kaneohe.

 

I remember that expression.

 

In Room 13. Remember that? That’s where I’d be.

 

That’s a reference to the State Hospital on the Windward Side of Oahu. Coming up next, Mamo Howell shares stories about adversity, success and legacy – and perhaps how she’ll start planning her first vacation.

 

One of our PBS Hawaii viewers remembers that you had humble beginnings, and wonders, ‘Of all the obstacles you’ve had in your quest to achieve, what’s been the toughest adversity to get through?’

 

I think the toughest is convincing the buyers that our culture is not to be pushed aside. I think – I mean, I’ve been battling for like five years, when I first came out with my designs, with like Liberty House. I couldn’t get into Liberty House because the quilts. They never saw that before – they didn’t want that. So I had a hard time convincing any buyer I went to at first. It took me five years before I could get anything on the market at all.

 

Was it your product, the type of product, or was it the fact that you’re a former hula dancer, model, woman?

 

Well, I think all of that. But mostly the product. But I think all of that. They didn’t take me seriously. You know, hula dancer, you know, things and the model, and you know, the frivolous kind of thing, and that also, my designs weren’t what they thought would sell. And it did not seem — see, it was too different, so the buyers have to be safe. They feel they have to be safe.

 

Well, how did you convince them? Or was it that one — Carol & Mary saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’

 

Well, that one Carol & Mary thing did start me off with the blankets. Exactly right. And I got going there, then Nancy Lang. But the really big start was with a fellow by the name of Fred Hasegawa. He was at Liberty House. And he was, I think, he was a rural manager or one of those. Anyway, he came and he recognized — local boy, part-Hawaiian, Japanese. And he recognized what I had. And he came to my home. He came to my house.

 

And you had seamstresses at your home, right?

 

Only one. I had one seamstress, one cutter, and me, you know. And he came to my home, and looked around, and that’s— that’s how I really — I mean, the orders really came in big. I mean, I was really doing, wow, you know. So that’s what happened. But that was my toughest thing – was trying to get us out on the market. We had a hard time. When you’re up against the big boys, you’re up against the Hilo Hattie’s and the Tori Richards, whom I used to model for when I was young. And all of them – Iolani and all the big companies, you know.

 

And then you became so successful, you had to worry about knockoffs here and there.

 

Well, the interesting thing about that is I was so naïve, I didn’t know about knockoffs. I didn’t think about it. One of the buyers — she’s no longer there – she’s retired long time ago. But she said to me, ‘Do you know, Mamo’, she said, ‘What you should do,’ she bought my stuff. She says, ‘Oh, I love it.’ She says, ‘What you’d better start thinking of doing is knocking yourself off.’ I said, ‘Well, what does that mean? What do you mean by…’ She says, ‘Because you’re gonna be copied. You’re gonna — people are just going to – there’ll be like an avalanche coming down.’ And I said, ‘Really?’ And she was right. Because everybody after that came out with a quilt. It’s on every hotel and stationery, and it’s everywhere.

 

You know, in any business, but particularly I think the fashion business, you can’t just start and everything goes along. You always have to sustain the business by reinventing it as you go along.

 

Always. You have to keep going. And somebody said that to me once a long time ago, ‘Mamo’ — my blankets, you know, she says. I said, ‘Oh, thank God.’ She says, ‘No, no,’ she says. ‘You have to keep going.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I guess so.’ I didn’t think about it.

 

Find something else, do something differently.

 

You have to. Or you’re dead in the water. Then quit.

 

Have you ever felt dead in the water, or like you should quit?

 

Never. I think that’s another thing about — if I wasn’t so positive I wouldn’t let anybody talk me out of anything. I mean, they said, ‘What?’ They said, ‘You’re gonna compete with the big boys?’ ‘I’m not competing with the big boys; I’m coming out with something that nobody’s doing, no one has, no manufacturer or designer out there is doing my look, quilt, the Hawaiian—nobody is. So I’m not competing with them at all. I’m bringing something on the market that’s brand new.’ And that was part of my problems too, ‘cause that’s when they all got on the same bandwagon, you know. But you can’t let anybody – you have to be focused and stay there. Yeah.

 

Do you have a succession plan for the business?

 

Well, you know, I did. My daughter was supposed to take over. Now she’s on the mainland, she can’t. But you know, something very interesting has just happened recently. My grandson who’s out of college, he’s with a company on the mainland called Cerbae, C-E-R-B-A-E. And he’s been there with them for three years, and he’s learned an awful lot. And what he’s interested in doing is fusing some of my kind of looks with that look, and doing another label. His name is Tautua. And he was here for a little while, talking with me. And it’s very, very encouraging, because this is where he, I — it’s going to him. I think I think he’ll do a good job with it ‘cause he’s enthusiastic. He loves — he loves it. And he’s an artist. He’s young.

 

And he’s family.

 

And he’s family. And he’s handsome. And I think — I think that’s what is gonna happen with him. So that makes me feel a little better ‘cause I need an exit plan. And I have to start to thinking of it now. You know, as age comes on, I have to start thinking — it’s gotta go on. And I want my legacy to be there, and I want this to continue. I want the — our culture and Hawaiian prints and all that to, to go on. Because I don’t want to do the hokey Waikiki corn things that’s on the market. A lot of it is on the market now and has been for years. That’s not Hawaii, that’s not Hawaiian culture, that’s not where I’m coming from. And I think that’s where Tautua will take it – into the cultural side.

 

So what if your grandson takes your designs and makes them into something that you would never put up with?

 

Well, that would be interesting.

 

And you’re out of the company by then.

 

That’s gonna be interesting. But he’s already shown me some things that he’s done, and I think he’s — I think he’s on the right track., I mean. But that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? ‘Cause you know how these kids are. You don’t know what they’re gonna do. I mean—

 

I think you’d be one unhappy tutu.

 

Yeah. I have faith in him. I mean, it’s gotta be something that’s gonna sell. You know, it can’t be so far out. But the company he’s with is a very good company and they might — he’s thinking of probably some kind of a merger maybe. That’ll be very good. I’ll be very comfortable with that. ‘Cause it’s a tough business to handle by yourself. Not easy.

 

You know, you’ve done so much in your life, and you’ve accomplished a lot. You helped to support your family when you were a teenager by dancing hula when you’ve raised children. You’re a world traveler. And you mentioned legacy. Of all the things you’ve done, is there one particular thing you’re most proud of and would like to be remembered for?

 

My design. I think the fact that I’m bringing out the culture of Hawaii in our motifs and all of that. I’m proud of that. But starting very young and earning money – I remember dancing, yes, and helping my mom. Because you know, when my father died, he was only forty-two years old and left her with seven children. Us. So when I was dancing I remember making two dollars and fifty cents a show and coming home and giving it to my mother. And that was good for me. You understand things then.

 

Tough to lose your dad at such a young age. How old were you?

 

Oh, I might have been eleven. And I was the youngest in the family. So you know. And you know, all families have something going on. My mother moved to the Big Island and we went over with her – my two brothers and I. We were the youngest ones.

 

Went over on the Humuula. We went steerage. [The future model was in steerage.

 

In steerage. But you know what? It was — we had more fun on steerage ‘cause we could run all over the place. Go into those little rooms, claustrophobia time. No, no, no. That’s what we did. Then you get to Kailua-Kona and then they have to send the boats out to take you in, I mean. But it was nice. It was a nice time.

 

So your whole life, you’ve just kept going. No matter what hit you, you kept going, and you kept believing in yourself.

 

You have to. Yes; absolutely. You have to keep going.

 

How do you know you’re right?

 

Well, you know, if you let too many people steer you, you won’t — you’ll never — you have to just go straight ahead. I mean, this wandering around – somebody will tug you this way, somebody will tug you thisther way. And you can’t – I mean, you should believe in yourself all the time. Not that you always – not that you’re always right. You make mistakes. You make wrong decisions sometimes. I’ve made many. You know, the thing is you just get back on track as fast as you can. And go on.

 

And she keeps going. This daughter who helped support her widowed mother as a teen…this mother of three who traveled through Europe as a high-fashion model… this designer who started a business in her mid-40s. Mamo Howell keeps charming us today. Mahalo to Mamo – and to you – for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou!