Author: Admin

Focus on Local Business


This episode, hosted by HIKI NŌ graduate Shisa Kahaunaele, looks back at past stories about Hawaii-based, locally-run businesses:


–A story from Maui High School about a grocer in Happy Valley, Maui who has figured out how to use the influx of big-box retailers to his advantage.


–A profile from Waimea High School on Kauai about a successful t-shirt artist who grew up in Waimea so poor that all he could afford to wear were t-shirts.


— A history by Seabury Hall Middle School about the iconic, family-run Komoda Bakery in Makawao.


— A story from Roosevelt High School on Oahu about a café that sells slow-drip coffee but whose real draw is the unrushed, face-to-face interaction between its customers.


— A study from Kamehameha Schools Maui Middle of Maui Soda & Ice Works and the strong set of family values that has made that business a success.


— A story from Kalaheo High School on Oahu about a chocolate manufacturer in Kailua whose product bears the name of a valley in Honolulu (Manoa Chocolates) and that uses cacao beans from all over the world.


— A profile from Konawaena High School on Hawaii Island about a family-founded -and-run hotel that is nearing a hundred years of age and whose success can be attributed to the allure of nostalgia and a great pork chop.


This program encores Saturday, July 16 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, July 17 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website,


Seeing Double – Newest Keiki Club Members

These four-year-old twins, Madison and Riley, are the newest members of the PBS Hawaii Keiki Club. And guess what? They don’t even live in Hawaii.


They’re from Redwood City, California. Their parents brought them here on a vacation on which Dad and Mom renewed their wedding vows –  and the family visited PBS Hawaii.

Madison and Riley will receive fun and educational mail from PBS Hawaii. We hope they return to Hawaii for our annual PBS character costume party and other events!


Beloved Songwriter: Jimmy Van Heusen

We asked Honolulu jazz singer Jimmy Borges to intro a featured program airing tomorrow (Wed., Aug. 13, 2014, 8:00 pm): Jimmy Van Heusen: Swingin’ with Frank & Bing. Van Heusen wrote so many of those great songs for which Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were known. Jimmy B., a former Board member of PBS Hawaii, has the same elegance in song phrasing as we heard from Ol’ Blue Eyes.

On tomorrow’s program, you’ll also see Frank Sinatra Jr., Harry Crosby, Tony Bennett, Woody Allen, Angie Dickinson, Shirley MacLaine, John Pizzarelli and others share their memories of Van Heusen.


Sam Low: Raising Islands


As a crewmember on the Hokulea, waterman Sam Low experienced the chicken skin moments when, as the canoe would approach a Pacific island, the island itself would appear to be raised out of the distant horizon as the canoe sailed closer. As a documentarian, author Sam Low heard the vision, fears and dreams of master navigator Nainoa Thompson and those involved with sailing the canoe.




Nainoa has said that early on he’s been hindered by a fear of failure. Do you know how he resolved that? Because he certainly succeeded.

Courage. He resolved it by being courageous, I think. It was Nainoa’s job to be the first Hawaiian in perhaps a thousand years, after that devastating accident, devastating loss of Eddie Aikau, to take the canoe as navigator on the first voyage in a thousand years that a Hawaiian has navigated. So, naturally, he was fearful. He was fearful for his own ability, but he was fearful for his people. Because if he failed, that would have been, Oh, Hawaiians, yeah. I have the feeling that his father helped him understand that there’s a deeper mission. That everything is based on helping your community, helping your people, and that your fear or your immediate reluctance is nowhere near as important as pushing through it to get that mission accomplished.

In researching his book, Hawaiki Rising, Sam Low spent hours interviewing his cousin, Nainoa Thompson, talking to him about the double-hulled canoe Hokulea, and what drove his dream to voyage in the wake of his ancestors. Sam Low, 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. Sam Low was born and raised in Connecticut. His Hawaiian father left the Big Island to attend prep school on the Continent, where he got married, never to return home again. Their son Sam inherited his father’s love of the ocean and of boats, and grew up spending summers at the beach on Martha’s Vineyard, where he still lives at the time of our conversation in 2014. Sam Low made his first trip to Hawaii as a young naval officer, and has been coming here ever since, connecting with his family that includes Nainoa Thompson. Sam’s background as a documentary filmmaker, his ocean skills, and his family connections eventually led him to become a crewmember on Hokulea, where his role on the voyaging canoe was that of the documentarian. His job was to observe, and through that, he got to experience what life is like sailing on a canoe in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles away from land.

My role on Hokulea has always been as a writer, as a documenter. Usually, on Hokulea, you’re a crewmember, and so that’s basic. You know, you stand your watch, and you do all that. But you have another role as well, which is, you could be a cook, you could be a watch captain, you could be a carpenter, or you could whatever. And my role was as documenter. And so, that fit, you know, what I had been doing for so many years prior to that, going out and documenting, either filming or writing about, or doing a thesis at Harvard about a way of life that I wanted to bring back and I wanted to give you, wanted you to have this gift. I have seen this, I have been there. And now, I want you to have it. And that was a perfect blend of what the job was. As a documenter, the kuleana, or actually as any crewmember, the kuleana on Hokulea.

Isn’t it interesting that all your interests sometimes come together and inform each other into one wonderful culmination?

Yeah. I probably never would have gotten on the canoe if it hadn’t have been that I did have this skill of being able to write. And of course, it didn’t hurt that Nainoa was my cousin, and I had a relationship with him. I was invited on the voyage to Rapa Nui. And that was actually my first trip on the canoe. The voyage to Rapa Nui was supposed to be the hardest voyage, because the prevailing winds are against you. And so, Nainoa had predicted that it would have to be tacking into the wind. So, this would be a zig-zag all the way. So, what was maybe, I think about seventeen hundred miles could easily become three thousand miles, if you had to tack. So, he chose a veteran crew. He had on board those folks like Tava Taupu, and Michael Tongg, and Snake Ah Hee, and Bruce Blankenfeld, and you know, Kalepa Baybayan. The best of the best. They set off. Now, I should say that this was the first voyage that I was actually invited to go on. But Nainoa wasn’t quite sure about me. I had made one voyage on the escort boat, and that went fine. So, he just wasn’t sure, and he put me on the escort boat and he said, You’re gonna be on the escort boat for four or five days, we’re gonna see how it goes, and if everything’s going okay on the canoe, then we’ll bring you over.

Why was Nainoa unsure about whether to have you on the Hokulea? ‘Cause you’re a waterman, you’ve been around water all your life in different kinds of craft.

Right; but you have to remember that on that voyage, there were the tested men, they were the best of the best. These men had probably voyaged thirty thousand, forty thousand miles. Not only that, they’re surfers, and they’re athletes.

And did Nainoa figure you could document it just as well from the escort boat?

I think he knew I couldn’t do that. But I think he wanted to just be sure. I think he wanted to go out and to see, and if it was a slog, and it was what he expected it to be, the most severe test of endurance, then maybe I would have stayed on the escort boat. But it didn’t turn out that way; it turned out to be easier. And so, I think that’s why he invited me.

So, it had to do with physical conditions?

Physical training.

Not fit?

Not fit. Not like those guys. No; uh-uh. Those guys, well, look at them. I mean, look at Tava. You know, look at Snake. All of those guys are watermen, all the time. You have to remember, New England, it’s the winter, so I get to swim four or five months out of the year. I was not in the kind of shape that those guys were, so I think that’s what his reservation might have been. So, I think on the fifth day, we got word that they wanted me to go over. And I’m like, Yes! And it was one of those rainy, kind of drizzly days, not a lot of wind, and I was rowed over by one of the crew on the escort boat. And Hokulea is up here, and I kind of crawled in. You crawl over the hulls, and then you crawl up over this canvas kind of space shield. And I remember crawling out and looking up, and there was Mike Tongg. His appearance is like this gentle, loving Buddha, you know. He has that kind of loving appearance. And the rain was just dripping down off his face, like this. And he was looking down at me with this beneficent smile. He didn’t say a word; just … Welcome, good to see you. And so, I just immediately felt at home with Mike’s blessing. He’s such a veteran on that canoe. But Nainoa had felt that we had to be prepared for the slog of wind. But as it turned out, fortuitously, at that time of year, down in the roaring forties … I hope I’m right, but I think that we were probably up around twenty degrees south. And down around forty degrees south, there were a number of low pressure areas that were spinning storms up toward us, spinning wind up toward us. And so, they broke the trade winds, and they created following winds. So that Nainoa seeing that, set off basically in a storm, and sailed along with the wind coming from behind, spun up by these storms down in the roaring forties, until that storm went through, and then we were kind of the calm. And then the trades would fill in again, and we’d do a little tacking, and then another storm would come along. And we made the trip so much faster than what was predicted, that we got there a week before our welcoming party.

Nice when storms are your friends.

Yeah; yeah. So, it turned out to be a lot easier in terms of the crew, and in terms of the endurance than we thought it was gonna be. More difficult from the navigation point of view, because often you would have cloudy skies. In fact, on that voyage to Rapa Nui, two or three days before Nainoa found the island, we started to have cloudy skies, and he had no real sight of his guiding star. He was steering pretty much by swells, and he was navigating by dead reckoning. So for three days, he was navigating by instinct, trained instinct. And on the day that we sighted Rapa Nui, the winds shifted. He was going to do a zig, and instead of doing a zig, the wind shifted and kind of pushed us in the direction that he thought we wanted to go. And he said, We’ll follow the wind; we’ll just stay, we’ll follow the wind. Hokulea knows where she wants to go.

Now, when you can’t navigate by stars, does he sleep at all? I mean, because he’s always watching current conditions.

Yeah; he is. Well, when you’re not navigating by the stars, you’re navigating pretty much by the swells and the wind. Of course, the wind was gyrating around and changing, so he was using the swells to navigate. Normally, if he’s alone on a voyage, then he will sleep in catnaps. He’ll sleep for maybe twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and then jump up and be awake for, say, eight hours, and then lie down for twenty or thirty minutes, and jump up. And he’ll do this for thirty days at a time. One of his great fears on that first voyage in 1980 was he wouldn’t be able to stay awake. That’s Mau’s secret, not mine; I can’t do that. But it was one of those first, as he calls them, the doors of perception had opened. One of those first doors that opened was that when they set sail out of Hilo and started on the voyage, after about fourteen hours, he decided he was really tired, he was gonna take a little nap. And he lay down, and he lay down for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and he jumped up and he was refreshed. And he said that was the first kind of sense that there is something in navigation, there is something in accepting the challenge and the risk that comes from another level, and that he was able to that, on that first voyage. And that’s what he normally does. On this voyage, the Rapa Nui voyage, he had Kalepa Baybayan on board, he had Bruce Blankenfeld on board; he had trained navigators with him. So, he could sleep.

If you don’t have enough sleep for enough time, I mean, I would think your judgment becomes impaired. So, I guess you have to have a limited goal in terms of time? How do you do that?

He does it for a month at a time.


I have no idea; I couldn’t do it.

So, maybe because you have a goal and you’re trained, and you’re generally in good shape, you can manage your mind and your brain cells for that amount of time.

Yeah; it’s a mystery to me, how he can do it. You know, it’s always chicken skin if you’re crew, and/or a documenter particularly, my job being to watch everybody, and to record. But you know, I’ve watched Nainoa pretty intently, and it’s always that moment when he says, Post lookouts, land is near. And then, I would get to go ask him, Well, what’s going on? He’d say, Well, I think Rapa Nui is there. And he put Max Yarawamai, who is Carolinian, who has great eyesight, he put him on watch. And about five hours later, there it was, Rapa Nui. And it was pretty much where he said it was. And Rapa Nui is tiny. And so, he found this island after seventeen hundred miles.

After sailing to Rapa Nui, Hokulea navigator Nainoa Thompson invited Sam Low aboard the canoe for the trip home. This second experience gave Sam even more insights into how Nainoa used nature and his intuition based on experience to guide him to exactly where he wanted to go.

The second voyage I got to make was from Tahiti to Hawaii. And we’d been at sea for, I think, about twenty-four, twenty-five days. Had lots of storm on that particular voyage, lots of squalls. I’m going to say it was the twenty-fifth day, I forget exactly, Nainoa turned the canoe downwind. We’d been headed into the wind all the time to get to the east of the Hawaiian Islands, and he turned downwind. So, we knew something was up. And steering downwind on Hokulea, the sails are on either side, wing-on-wing, ‘cause the wind is directly from behind. And we were steering that way for a while. We couldn’t see anything; there was this gentle mist wafting over the canoe. You could feel the sun, but you couldn’t see it. Visibility ahead was maybe oh, I don’t know, half a mile.

And during this time, do you say, Hey, Nainoa, what’s going on? Or do people not talk about what’s up?

Well, I got to be bratty, because I was the documenter. So, I didn’t say anything for a while, but we went wing-on-wing, and then the wind changed slightly, and so one of the sails came over. So, now, we’re sailing like this. We felt that. And around six o’clock, I saw Nainoa was just back there on the navigator’s platform, just peering intently ahead. Again, this mist was coming over. We couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t see anything. So, being a documenter, I get to go back and say, you know, What’s going on? He said, Well, Hilo is right there. After twenty-five hundred miles, twenty-five days, Hilo is right there? So, I said, How do you know? And he said, Well, do you remember when the sail, when we couldn’t sail wing-on-wing? Well, that’s because we got into that place where the winds are coming and being broken by Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and churning around the island. And so, that wind shift, that gentle wind shift told me that we’ve gotten into that zone where the winds are breaking. You know, these mountains are fourteen thousand feet high. And he said, Look ahead, you see that mist seems to stall, it seems to slow down. So, I looked. Yeah; okay. Keep going. I know I couldn’t see it. And he said, If you look—the sun was starting to go down. If you look on either side, you can see it’s kind of dark ahead of us, and it’s a little bit lighter there.

You couldn’t see it?

I couldn’t see it. And so, I wrote it all dutifully down. And then we sailed on for a while, and then he tacked. And I said, Well, why’d you tack? He said, We’re on the Hamakua Coast, and I don’t want to get too close. Of course, none of us can see this. This is after twenty-five days. I don’t want to get too close, and Hilo is right over there. And so, I said, Okay; write it down. And then, we all felt it. And we all went over to the rail, and the whole crew is standing there looking, and Nainoa said Hilo is there, and they know Hamakua must be there. And we waited for about fifteen minutes, and then fortuitously, that low cloud layer lifted; just lifted. And there it was, the twinkle of the coast, Hilo over here, the lighthouse. And at that moment, Nainoa just said, We’re home.


After twenty-five days. So, that’s the chicken skin, that when you’re navigating with someone like Nainoa or Kalepa Baybayan, or Bruce Blankenfeld, or Chad Paishon, or Shorty Bertelmann, any of these great navigators who have dedicated their life to merging with the signs of the sea, and you have the privilege to be on a canoe after that much time, and to see land is there, exactly where they say it is.

What happens over the twenty-five days, say, of a voyage? Is there a lot of talk? Is there a lot of laughter? What do people do, day-by-day?

I think it depends a lot on the crew and on the chemistry of the crew. And I think it’s all of that. But if I think back on it, I think more of a kind of … quietness, actually. I don’t think so much of laughter; there’s that. I don’t think so much of talk; there’s that. I don’t think so much of music, although there’s that. I think of the quietness of being at sea, and the feeling of being out in an immense ocean, completely alone, and you don’t see another ship, you don’t see another person, you don’t see land, and you get into kind of a rhythm of watch-standing, of being alert, and being relaxed, and being alert, and being relaxed, of the stars turning, and the moon and the sun. And there’s a blending with that diurnal rhythm so that it’s a meditation you get into. I think it’s a mediational state. I think it’s a very relaxed state. I think that even in storm aboard a vessel like Hokulea, which is so staunch and so seaworthy, and so sea kindly, that you’re not afraid. You know that if you do everything right, if you follow the instructions of your captain, if you bring the sails down, if you stand your watch properly, you’ll be fine. So that’s not it. It’s not anxiety, it’s not fear; it’s contemplation, it’s meditation. And actually, I think for most of us, say after five or six days, you’re just in the rhythm, and then when the canoe turns down and the navigator says, We’re there, we’re almost sort of like saying, Well, that’s good, we can have a hamburger, we can have a beer, but you know, why don’t we just keep going. ‘Cause you’re in this world. You’re with your crew, you’re with the weather, you’re with the canoe, you’re in this meditational almost Buddhist, Hawaiian meditational state, and you don’t want it to stop.

Sam Low started working on a book about Hokulea after he returned home from the Rapa Nui voyage in the year 2000. At first, he didn’t know what would be in the book, but it finally came together, and Hawaiki Rising was published in 2013. It tells the story of Hokulea, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

There was a period of time, and I think it was uh, 2010. See, I’d been working on this book for ten years. I mean, I didn’t really know that I’d been working on it for ten years. I was just recording, and I was writing articles. The first idea for a book would be a picture book, and then I went off and did my grandpa’s book. And I got partway there, and then I came back onto this. But there was a time, I think it was 2010, when I did have a chance to interview Nainoa very extensively. I was living in the family compound, and the guest house is, you know, a hundred yards from his house. And I would sit and wait, and every time he came out, I’d say, Hey, Nainoa, how you doing? You know, and he’d say, Not today, Sam, not today. Okay, okay. And then, How you doing? Yeah; okay, come. And so, we’d sit and spend two or three hours with a tape recorder, and I think the exchange did help him bring together all his experiences. Well, it was certainly great for me, because I was able to get this raw material for Hawaiki Rising. But I think it also helped him bring together his own experiences and correlate that, and put it together into kind of a set of values and a philosophy. It’s his philosophy, but I think in being able to exchange with another person who he was fairly intimate with, that it did help him in that. And at that time, about three years ago, the concept of moolelo became very important. And he expressed that; he said, You know, we stand on the shoulders of heroes, and it’s very important that as we move forward around the world, that we look back, and that we celebrate and bring with us the spirit of those people who made all of this possible, and the lessons that we learned from them, from his father Myron Pinky Thompson, from Mau Piailug, from Wally Froiseth, from Ben Finney, from Herb Kane, from all of those who had built the canoe, who had the vision of the canoe, who had sailed the canoe, and that evolving vision, that gift that they gave to all of us who’ve sailed on the canoe. He wanted that to be celebrated, and part of that was the book, Hawaiki Rising. It is a celebration of those heroes whose shoulders we stand on today. He expresses in Hawaiki Rising very clearly how fearful he was of that time of his first voyage. You have to understand that everything depended on it, that the canoe had capsized, that they had lost Eddie Aikau, and that Hawaiians were on the cusp of being able to, through voyaging, and all the other arts as well, not just voyaging, but Hokulea was the symbol of the Renaissance. Through voyaging, to recapture this great pride of ancestry. And the canoe had capsized. There was a great deal of anxiety, which he expresses in the book. And he pushed through, and he discovered deeper reserves, I think, of courage and of a sense of connection to his ancestors that allowed him to enter a world of understanding and of comprehension that was deep and that was powerful.

You went back and talked to a number of the people we associate with Hokulea over the years. What did some of those conversations yield in terms of insight about the voyages?

Well, they were key. The book is made up of what I like to think of as a chorus of voices. See, I’m not in it. It’s not my story. I’m the person that’s behind the camera, if you like, or that’s writing the story, singing the song, I hope. And I had this opportunity to interview dozens and dozens of crewmembers, and I wanted the book to be a chorus of voices. I wanted it to be told in the voices of the people that experienced it, not an impersonal narrator, a personal narrator. And I didn’t know that that would work. It’s like an oral history. And I’ve been very interested in oral histories, something told directly, authentically from the person who experienced it. So, the opportunity—and of course, I was very kind of shy and bashful. I mean, Tava Taupu, and Snake Ah Hee, and Herb Kane, and Nainoa and Pinky, and Marion Lyman-Merserau, and Dave Lyman. I mean, these are heroic figures to me. So, to have the honor that they would sit down and talk with me was terrific. And I didn’t want that to end. You know, so writing the book, you have to eventually do that; right? But the great pleasure was to have those moments, those intimate moments with people on whose shoulders we all stand on, and to have them tell me their story. That in itself, was the process, is sometimes more important than the product.

Through the eyes and ears of Sam Low, we all get to experience what it’s like to sail aboard Hokulea as she makes her way across vast oceans, guided by the stars and other natural elements, to faraway destinations. Mahalo to Sam Low for sharing his stories with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

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

Pinky evolved a philosophy that came out of voyaging. He said, You first have to have a vision, and you have to have a vision of an island over the horizon. And once you have that vision, then you have to formulate a plan to raise that island from the sea, Hawaiki rising. And then, you need to have discipline to train, to achieve that plan. And then, you need to have the courage to cast off the lines, and then you need to have the aloha to bind your crew together to find the island. So, those are values that were inherent in Pinky’s view in voyaging, and also in the world, and also all cultures of the world. So, he brought this philosophy from the past, brought it to the present, and made it a possible future. And Hokulea is voyaging around the world with that philosophy in mind.





Busy Day in TV Studio with Matayoshi, Dunkerley

We taped conversations today with two prominent guests for different Long Story Short shows: first, the head of the American Red Cross in Hawaii, Coralie Matayoshi.

Mr. Dunkerley told of spending the ages from 7 to college-age in two U.K. boarding schools. One of the schools was 600 years old, without heating and with bad food. Sounds Dickensian, but he said it had a fine tradition of scholarship and parents were thrilled to get their children in there. He called himself a lousy student. Three times a year, Mr. Dunkerley flew to see his parents, who were economists in developing countries. That’s how he fell in love with flying and aviation.

Have you noticed that Ms. Matayoshi always wears red when she’s in public representing the Red Cross? Today she dropped the tidbit that she’s always on the lookout for red suits –  and she finds some great ones at the Punahou Carnival thrift store! She gave some life tips, and one of them is: Live within your means. She says she still brings home lunch to work.

Both of these Hawaii leaders are clearly comfortable in their own skin, with a confidence that comes with experience. Our crew very much enjoyed hearing stories about their personal lives, which we don’t hear about in their quickie TV news soundbites.

I think you’ll enjoy the programs that will come out of these conversations! I’ll let you know right here when these respective programs will run on-air and online.

PBS Hawaii Prepares for NEW HOME Construction




PBS Hawaii is preparing to begin construction on its NEW HOME on Nimitz Highway and Sand Island Access Road later this year, with completion in 2016.


Hawaii’s only public television station has begun the process of selecting a general contractor. One will be chosen this summer.


The station has been successful in raising $22 million to renovate and expand the existing one-story structure at the former KFVE Newsplex site. PBS Hawaii owns the property.


PBS Hawaii is actively fundraising with a goal of $30 million and thanks individuals, foundations, businesses and government for their support. A complete list of donors can be found on online at


For 49 years, the nonprofit station has operated out of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The station will be losing its lease, as UH seeks more instruction space.


“All of us at PBS Hawaii are so excited to get underway with work on our NEW HOME,” said PBS Hawaii Board Chair Robbie Alm. “We still have lots to do, and more funds to raise, to realize the dream of a PBS Hawaii for a new century, but it is great to be officially underway.”


PBS Hawaii’s two-story Clarence T.C. Ching Campus will house a main television studio; an emergency broadcast center; and a Media Innovation Center, which will serve Hawaii’s students through the station’s flagship statewide student news initiative, HIKI NŌ.


Throughout the NEW HOME, PBS Hawaii will acknowledge those who are enabling PBS Hawaii to serve future generations of Islanders.



Sig Zane


Original air date: Tues., Aug. 23, 2011


Leslie Wilcox talks story with Sig Zane, a Hilo fashion designer who’s been in the business for over 25 years. Sig originally considered careers in architecture, law and real estate before discovering Hawaiian culture and fashion design in the 1970s, when he moved to the Big Island. Sig is one of the first designers to incorporate native Hawaiian plant imagery into his clothing designs, a reflection of his strong affinity for and commitment to Hawaiian culture.


Sig Zane Audio


Download the Transcript




The designs came about because of my mother-in-law always saying, Share, share what you know. Because … we need to teach our own, we need to teach our people, so that our children will have culture.


Designer and cultural practitioner, Sig Zane, 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. Hawai‘i clothing designer Sig Zane is known for his distinctive limited edition prints that combine contemporary graphic elements with Hawaiian cultural values. The Sig Zane Design store in downtown Hilo has been selling this iconic Hawaiian wear for more than twenty-five years. His designs reflect an intimate knowledge of the Hawaiian culture. It ’s knowledge that he acquired, and continues to glean, from his wife, Nalani Kanakaole. She and her sister, Pua Kanahele, are kumu hula of the renowned Halau O Kekuhi. Nalani and Pua are the daughters of the late Hawaiian culture expert, Edith Kanakaole, who was a key influence in her son-in-law’s life. In contrast, Sig Zane’s Chinese great-grandfather on his mother’s side, and Chinese grandfather on his father’s side, both immigrated to Hawaii to work on farms.


Sig’s father, Benjamin Zane, had an interest in the arts, and provided Sig and his three sisters with opportunities to travel and visit great museums.


My father’s father grew up in Kohala, but jumped ship to come to Oahu and moved to Haiku as soon as he could, refusing to speak English, just wanting to speak Hawaiian and Chinese, but a fisherman and a farmer.


And then your father and mother; tell me about them.


Father was a insurance man for, mm probably ‘til the 70s, and then he started doing real estate. My mother mostly was a housewife, and she did go out and do some retail at one of the bigger retail stores, but most times at home. My father always entertained, so that was something that I think we all got from him, in the sense that he was so mm, friendly, always could make conversation. My mother was one of the best dressers. To me, she was the Jackie O, yeah, she … totally perfect. So I think that they, in their unique way, really set the path for us.


And your given first name is?


Sigmund. [CHUCKLE]


And why?


[CHUCKLE] That’s a long story. [CHUCKLE] My mother wanted to be a Catholic, and everyone in her family were basically atheist. They didn’t believe in religion.


But when the time came for her confirmation, there was nobody that would be her godparents. So, at the Lady of Peace Cathedral downtown, she walked up to this couple, and she said I’m gonna be confirmed, but I need godparents; will you be my godparents? And this German couple said, Sure. Well, his name was Sigmund.




And so, she promised him, If I have a son, I’m gonna name him Sigmund. [CHUCKLE]




Growing up with that name was a challenge. Still, today, everybody pronounces it totally wrong.


For example?


Zig Zag. [CHUCKLE]


But Sig is a nice, snappy nickname.


Yeah, especially with Sig Zane, it …


It works.


It works. [CHUCKLE]


It’s a good design name.




Much to the dismay of his parents, school was not a priority for Sig Zane. He instead threw himself into surfing and fishing. After graduating from Roosevelt High School in Honolulu in 1970, he left for Spain, where he lived for two years as a child, to rekindle fond memories from his youth. Within two months, he grew disillusioned, and returned home. In 1971, he tagged along with a friend to attend college in Hilo, and go fishing. It was here that he met an extraordinary family and began a lifelong love affair with the Big Island.


So, running down to Hilo Bay we immediately caught. And this was just amazing. Day three in Hilo, and here we’re catching papio. Yeah, I have to admit that I didn’t go to much schooling. [CHUCKLE]


You started at school, but you …


I went to the other school, school of papio. [CHUCKLE] But the papio really took me all around the island. I was not catching them regular style by bait, I was whipping. And so, using a lure, it meant that you had to traverse a lot of coastline. But that’s how I got to see the island, and got to appreciate it, and really see places that I felt that, wow, probably the last person who walked here was a Hawaiian. ‘Cause we were way out in the sticks. And I think that that exposure really got me to love the island, the spirit of the island, that mana that kinda is not visible here. Got to go places in Kona that, the Emerald Seas, that very isolated bay, and then being rewarded with this ulua now, not just a papio, but ulua.


From the shore?


Yeah. It was just amazing. [CHUCKLE] So I think that that was the first thing that got me there. But, I really have to give credit to the Kanakaole clan. Meeting up with Edith Kanakaole, my mother-in-law, I didn’t know who she was. I just remember seeing this jovial wahine, and how she served the poi. We went to this little paina, and there she was, serving poi, and how she just did this, and with a big smile on her face, and I just went, Wow, what is this? But that night, I recall we were on the shoreline of Keaukaha, and she having her halau. Her daughters had just kinda taken over running the halau, and I remember before moving to Hilo, that oh, I think that I want to dance, I want to learn everything about hula. This was the renaissance in the early 70s, and I heard the first chant, and they were doing the Pele’s. And growing up in Oahu, you really weren’t exposed to the fire clan, you were mostly exposed to Kalakaua’s, you were exposed to the pahu dancers, dances that were kind of slower. So listening to these fire dances, I went, Holy macaroni.


Holy papio. [CHUCKLE]


Unbelievable. I remember Nalani sitting off in the dark, and totally naïve to who she was, I just walked over and said, Okay, what is this, what’s going on here? This is just unbelievable. And you know, when I think back how everyone was kind of afraid of my wife, and her demeanor, and her power, they never approach her. And here I was, totally naïve. Well, what’s your name, what’s this? [CHUCKLE] But that was the start of this love affair and really, the immersion in the Hawaiian culture of this depth in that foundation.


And what did Nalani make of you?


She probably thought, Oh, this crazy Pake guy from Honolulu. [CHUCKLE]


And that was the beginning of a career in hula for you, as well, right?




You still dance?




And you run the halau, right? Or you are very much a part of the halau management.


Yeah, I guess. I carry all the implements, I carry the pahu drum, I carry her ukulele. I help dress them, and I help do costumes. But, I still dance, mostly auana now, kahiko is a little challenge for the body. But yeah, very much in.


The Kanakaole’s are a strongly matriarchal family, aren’t they? So it must be hard for guys, sometimes.


[CHUCKLE] Damn hard.






How does it work?


We know who the boss is, and mostly because of that kuleana, just carrying that tradition. Right now, it’s seven generations. And I realize my role, my function is really to take care of that kuleana, and take care of her, because of that responsibility that she has. And when I came to that point in my life all doors opened. It’s just amazing where we’ve gone, what we are privy to. And really, it is just honoring that responsibility.


And what did your parents make of your transition to very Hawaiian values and lifestyle?


My father didn’t say anything. I guess he probably could think of his father, and how he did things Hawaiian. But my mother was totally baffled. She came up to me and said, Well, why? Why? [CHUCKLE] Why? But I think now, she sees the value. It took her a long time. I remember when I said, Ma, you’re going to have a grandson, and she said, I know, I know your sister is hapai. I said, No, you’re going to have a grandson. And she said, What? And I think that was a change, that I could bring up a Zane. You know, ‘cause there’s no other Zane left. I have three sisters, so they all took their husband’s name, and at least I could provide a Zane. But for her to embrace Nalani, who doesn’t speak much, and who really lives in a very Hawaiian style way, to this day, is often challenging for my mother. But I think she sees the benefits.


Well, tell me about the Hawaiian way in which she and you live.


It took me a long time to learn that. [CHUCKLE] I, who come from the city, going to Hilo, I learned a lot. And I think that to this day, Nalani has taught me about the power of the word. If it is spoken, good or bad, it has consequence. And so, in just that small little rule of thumb, that has changed my life totally. Being cognizant of what we put out there, I think is what’s the greatest gift I gained from learning things from Nalani. I think also, language. It isn’t just the literal, but really, it’s the figurative. The many, many, many layers of the meaning has helped me define design. It has helped me really put out something, I believe, that is applauding things, what the Hawaiians have done.


After attending college in Hilo in the early 1970s, Sig Zane spent a year in Chicago as a flight attendant with American Airlines. Later, he moved back to Honolulu to work with his father in real estate. Sig would travel back and forth to Hilo, always with special gifts to court his future wife, Nalani Kanakaole.


I wanted to make gifts for her that no one else had. And so, I learnt silk screening. And so, I started making these plant forms, because I knew that in hula, all these plants were important. So the liko, the very tips of the ohia plant were symbolic of new growth. And especially in a dancer, that means you are projecting the very best, the very tops of the plants, the maile to bind, the olapa. You know, just like in the forest. So those became the first designs, because I wanted to gift her something that meant something.


Did you know you had design and art talent?




You didn’t have any training.




Just did it?


Well, nature is the best teacher. How better can you do than nature? So I just copied nature. The designs came about because of my mother-in-law always saying, Share, share what you know. Because we need to teach our own, we need to teach our people, so that our children will have culture. I was invited to a party, and they said, You have to wear an aloha shirt. And I didn’t have aloha shirts. I was basically a surfer, I wore all surf clothes. And I remember going to the store, and I told Nalani, Let’s go, I have to get an aloha shirt. And we were kind of surprised, we didn’t see any Hawaiian plants. They were all—


No Hawaiian plants on aloha shirts. Isn’t that amazing?


And they were all called Hawaiian shirts, aloha shorts. And so I remember at that moment telling Nalani, we have to make real Hawaiian plants on aloha shirts, then they can be real Hawaiian shirts. And that started it. We started the line, and basically, that was it. But, along with that, we really wanted to share that story of why the maile is important, and why maile is good for weddings, and why people shouldn’t wear the puhala tree, especially if they’re going for a job or running for office. Yeah. [CHUCKLE]


Okay; you gotta tell us all these things. And I know you explain this in you r shop.


Well, oftentimes, studying nature is the best way to define the meaning. And that’s what the Hawaiians believe. You study how a plant grows. Like for example, the maile, how it entwines the trees; it kinda embraces its host. Same thing as the meaning of maile, is to bind, is to grow together. And for a wedding, what best metaphor for a design? Koa; koa is a real good example. Oftentimes, when people are applying for a job, we say, You should wear koa, just because koa, first of all, means fearlessness, yeah? But it also means warrior. But if you study how it grows in the forest, it becomes the mother of the forest. It is the one that hosts the community. Under a koa tree, the understory is beautiful, because it is a nurturing ground. So in that whole thing about a koa, it’s not just fearlessness or strong, but really, it is to care for that community. So all those things, we try to share with every shirt that leaves us. We want to that story to go, so that that story is retold. The ulu, the breadfruit is very, very important to us. Not only that it feeds us and that it provides shade in our Keaukaha yard, and one of the most beautiful motifs graphically, but our pahu drums are made out of ulu, our poi boards are made out of ulu, the bowls that we use in ritual are made out of ulu. Certainly, it has its meaning of this plant of provision, but ulu also means to inspire, to grow, not only in physical sense, but mostly in mental sense. So, I wore this today just because I feel that oftentimes, that kuleana, that responsibility to share what we know is very important, especially in today’s world, when you put on your computer, you go searching on that internet. You’re fed so many different things, but it’s really important for our people to know, and have a good foundation. And so, I wear ulu, hoping that something we say today is inspiring to someone to search deeper into their own traditions.


Oh, that’s a nice thought. You do other things in the shop. Tell us how your shop works.


It’s fun. You know, after twenty-five years, it’s become my playground. One of the neat things that I love to do are the displays, especially the window displays. And I really consider myself lucky that I get to do anything in that window. The store is becoming a fun place where we also play with display. Just trying to tweak things, so that whoever comes in gets an experience visually, not only print wise, but how it’s displayed. I like to do things that get people to think, Wow, I should have thought of that. I like that. Yeah, I use the store as a staging, as a place where we can each express ourselves.


In his youth, Sig Zane aspired to a career in architecture. He and Nalani have shared an interest in the subject for many years. Sig sees the next step in his creative process as applying his designs to works of architecture.


My wife and I talk about that, that we have thirty years of architecture behind us. Because as soon as I met her, we started cruising. There’s not much to do in Hilo, yeah? So we would cruise around and go all through the neighborhoods, and we’d pick our favorite houses, and we’d discuss it. What characteristics we liked, what kind of roofline, what kind of nuances that set that house apart. I think that the design, or the sense of design that we can bring to architecture will define sense of place. And especially here, Honolulu especially is getting so modern, and trying to be like other people. But we have a sense of design that is so totally uniquely Hawaiian, that can convey a sophistication that I think needs to be done. And actually, there’s been several discussions about that, that we can apply, especially like the ohekapala, the bamboo stamps, how we decorate kapa. Those have a meaning that is so deep that I think that intention of putting that kind of meaning into architecture allows Hawaii to stand right up there with everything else. For example, a lot of the Polynesian cultures still create bark cloth. They still make kapa, and they still decorate it in many different fashions. Some with a little hala brush, some with stencils. The Hawaiians had a chance to take it to another level with bamboo stamps, and still, no one else uses these bamboo stamps. It allowed them to refine that art of decoration. Thinking about those stamps that that artist created, it isn’t just a simple geometric, but it is a symbol. Like for example, the simplest one, the triangle can often mean a favored puu or hill. Like if the artist lived in Puowaina, Punchbowl, that may be part of that decoration for that kapa. Well, we use it often in hula, back in Hilo. We ask everyone to decorate their own costumes. We do not go out and solicit other designs, because we want that to be a story that belongs to that dancer. So oftentimes, we take chants, and the line of a chant talks about, say, maybe the canoe that mounts a certain wave that is in seek of the new home. So that symbol now becomes that line of that chant. So that meaning is transferred to that audience who is visualizing this now costume. So I think the same thing in taking that form, that artform into architecture, we now are developing our storyline in a grander sense. Something that really has meaning.


But where does the Chinese come in? In business?


Uh … no. [CHUCKLE] I can make pretty good fried rice.




I can cook. Maybe that was the Pake. You know how the Pake always cooked for the Hawaiians. I think in my artform, because I still hand-cut everything, it comes easy. And so, I think that maybe my ancestors were paper cut artists. I also am a dragon, born in the year of the dragon, but also because my birth in November, I’m that scorpion dragon. So I think that that part of the Chinese is very strong.


And what does that mean about you, scorpion dragon?


Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.


Lucky Sig Zane points to his son, Kuhao, as the keeper of the flame in the next generation of Sig Zane Designs. Already an established graphic designer, Kuhao has the passion to uphold his cultural traditions, and the technical savvy to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The entire family collaborated in June of 2011 on an exhibit named for the ID code for Hilo International Airport, reflecting this ohana’s near constant time on the road. The show, titled ITO Travelwrights, was a ten-day art and design event in Waikiki. It included a pop-up boutique and an art exhibition of creations by each family member. Mahalo piha, Sig Zane, for sharing your long story short, and thank you, for watching and supporting PBS Hawai‘i. 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


The community of Hilo has been one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I have become who I am because of the land, of the people. Really, the humility, the elements have really taught me a lot.





Nathan Aweau, Award-Winning Vocalist


Nathan Aweau, award-winning vocalist and former member of music group Hapa, performs in this special recorded at the PBS Hawaii studio. In between songs, Nathan reflects on his work from scenic Kahana Bay on Windward Oahu.