Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox
Original air date: Tues., June 12, 2012
A Sense of Connection
Lāna’i and the Spirit of Place
The executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center reveals how he became fluent in the Hawaiian language as a Caucasian boy growing up on Oahu and Lanai. Once an alienated child, this cultural researcher now makes connections with people and places throughout the islands.
Original air date: Tues., June 29, 2012
Lanai and the Spirit of Place
Leslie Wilcox continues her conversation with Kepa Maly, executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center. Throughout his years as an ethnographer, Kepa gathered stories from kupuna. Here, he passes on local legends and stories behind place names that capture the essence of Lanai.
Part 1: A Sense of Connection
I believe—and I say this honestly and with respect to my blood family that it was the ohana and the extended families like that, that they’re the only reason I’m alive today. They filled … a void. That sense of spirituality, that sense of connection, that we’re a part of something. And they gave me that.
He’s a researcher who connects the dots of places, and people, and cultures. Kepa Maly, executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, 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. Kepa Maly’s remarkable story begins as a youngster living on Oahu, feeling disconnected. He had a different first name then. As a teenager, he was adopted by an elderly Native Hawaiian couple on the Island of Lanai. Taken under the wing of the Kaupuiki’s, who had already raised sixteen children, Kepa learned the Hawaiian language. He welcomed a new first name and a new sense of belonging, and he fully embraced the cultural practices and values of his hanai family. As an adult, Kepa Maly adds to the knowledge that his elders shared with him. For the past three decades, he and his wife Onaona have been documenting the stories of people, places, and history of Hawaii.
Just circumstances in family arose, and I was actually blessed. You look at it in that hindsight. And I had this opportunity to go to Lanai, and actually ended up being cared for as—keiki hookama is the real word. We use hanai all the time now, but hookama means where someone takes on the responsibility of caring for someone’s child. And of one of the preeminent families of the Island of Lanai, and that’s what started my whole life.
So not a legal adoption.
But a … a full embrace.
And in fact, that’s where your name comes from?
You’re right. Tutu folks called me Kepa, and when I inquired about it, they said that it’s to surround, to embrace. And it’s actually part of a little longer name, but you know, what a blessing.
What is the longer name?
Kepaleiohukaahe [PHONETIC]. Because I was also a single child, yes. And lei is the garland, ohu adorning, kahe, the single or the one adoring child.
That’s not a name I’ve ever heard before.
No. Yeah; I was blessed. These were people who were the embodiment of what Hawaiians are, that love. It didn’t matter. In 1924, a group of Filipino fishermen from Maui got … capsized the boat, they washed up nearly dead on the shore of Lanai. Tutu Papa, young man at that time, goes and takes them, brings them to their home. Helps restore them to life, Tutu Mama them, and they returned them to Maui to their own families. Japanese, Filipino, whatever. That was their way of life. You aloha unconditionally.
Tutu folks; how old were Tutu folks?
Tutu Papa Daniel Kaopuiki was born in 1819. His wife, Tutu Mama Hattie Kaenaokalani Kaopuiki, was born in 1892. And so, they were these incredible people that bridged two worlds. They were competent in English, but of course, Hawaiian was their olelo makuahine, their mother tongue, the language of their naau, what they felt, yeah? And so, from them and their cousins on Lanai, I gained some skills with the Hawaiian language. Tutu Papa was also the kahuna pule of our little Hawaiian church. And so, it was a part of the daily life, yeah, between church, between home and just hearing stories that were told about places and how people connect to place, to resource, to practice, yeah?
Did you know Hawaiian before you got there?
No. Not a … sukoshi, nothing.
What were you like as a boy when you began living on Lanai?
I think I was always odd man out. Plus, hard to tell now, I was very introverted. You know, pretty shy. I was definitely the novelty. I was the only Haole in my class, only Caucasian in my class. Class of ’72, thirty-two students.
Oh, throughout the time you were there?
Yeah. I believe—and I say this honestly and with respect to my blood family, that it was the ohana and the extended families like that, that they’re the only reason I’m alive today. I know that for a fact. And they filled a void. And also, I know some people don’t like to talk about it, but that sense of spirituality, that sense of connection, that we’re a part of something. And they gave me that. And it is because of them, and years of working with kupuna from Niihau through Hawaii, and not just Hawaiian elders, but of all different ethnic backgrounds. People that were willing to share a little bit of their aloha and their time. You become family. I know that they didn’t set out to have me go on the path that we’ve ended up traveling in our careers and life. But again, it’s a way of life, not a job. But they inspired me, they filled that need. They gave me something to connect with.
Kepa Maly’s deep fascination with the special places and the people of his adopted island led to his appointment as the executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center. Besides housing priceless artifacts, the nonprofit organization operates an oral history program to help tell the story of Lanai’s multicultural community. After high school, he would travel and work in a number of other places before returning to Lanai, to Oahu’s Kualoa Regional Park as a park naturalist, to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where I met him and saw him mesmerizing visitors as an interpretive ranger, then off to the Continent on assignment at the Grand Canyon. He also worked as a curator and exhibit designer at Kauai Museum. Along the way, he encountered many of Hawaii’s cultural leaders who shared their knowledge and traditions handed down from their own kupuna.
We’re over there at Honaunau, and there’s this old Hawaiian gentleman sitting on the porch of his home, right down at the puuhonua. And I see this man, incredible face, this kanaka. And I look; I say, Oh, aloha mai, pehea oe. And the old man looked at me, and then he just turned around and went inside the house. I thought, Auwe. I felt sad. I said, Oh, well, here’s one ‘nother Haole, he just thinks. But it was so funny, ‘cause I continued walking around past his house, and from the back of his door, he called, Hui, hele mai, hele mai. This old man was Apelehama Kauokaumaha [PHONETIC] Moses. Pure Hawaiian, but took the Haole name Moses because in that mission period time, the name Kauokaumaha could have had not a positive meaning. And so they took the name Moses. But Tutu Apelehama … mai, mai, mai. We sat down and spoke. I actually went and stayed with him for a week afterwards, he and his wife. But what he said was, I heard your voice, you have a mana in your voice that other people won’t have. And he said, What your people took away, you can help give back. And this is ’75. That meant a great deal to me.
What your people took away, you can give back.
Yeah. And actually, I think that it’s true, but we can’t live our lives as victims also. There are kuleana and pono, the responsibilities and the rights that Tutu folks, all kupuna talk about. But there is something about Hawaii. I have no college education, I’ve taught at UH. My wife and I, Onaona and I do ethnographic studies. We do the equivalent of seven or eight PhD dissertations a year for historic preservation programs. But it roots back to our teachers, who were the people who wrote the books or who the books were written about. Onaona’s kupuna was Mrs. Pukui. I knew Tutu Kawena before I knew my wife Onaona. Mary Kawena Pukui, Tutu Kawena … as you know, was this incredible woman, Hawaiian historian, bridging late 1800s through the 1980s. She was a mentor of Auntie Maiki Aiu Lake, who in 1973, I met. I had come from Lanai to listen to a lecture that Auntie Maiki was giving with Robert Cazimero as the dancer at that time, at Maui Community College. I was already engaged, I loved the mele and hula, and I wanted to take. I wanted some formal training. I had had training on Lanai a little bit. And after the program, I went up to her, introduced myself, and in that Auntie Maiki style, she just embraced me and said, If you move to Honolulu, I will teach you. She gave me everything. I graduated uniki from her, Papa Ilima in 1975. And in that process, she introduced me to Tutu Kawena. She said, I can teach you what I know but no one knows everything. She also said, Take credit for what you create, don’t say it was old. I like that. But she said, Here is a saying. People said, Oh, that Kawena thinks she knows this and that, and she’s this and that. She said, from her kupuna … I learned this saying, and this is how I live. [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] Don’t go peering and peeking around everybody else’s doors, just stand and speak from the door of your own house. And she told me, That’s all I have done. An incredible woman. Without her Hawaii would be so much poorer. There’s … incredible lessons that we have, that we can learn by just listening to the voices around us. We’re no longer talking story the way we did before days, yeah?
We’re too distracted, right?
That’s correct. And so we need to have this with people that can share the nuances, the beauty of life, and those things that make us stronger. I think the most important saying that I learned from Tutu Papa and he must have been inspired to tell me this. Or maybe it was just the way I acted; who knows. The first saying, and the one that has lived with me throughout my life, and I’ll take it to the grave with me is, O ka mea maikai malama, o ka memea ke oli hookawale haku [PHONETIC]. Keep the good, set the bad aside.
Easier said than done.
It is, isn’t it?
But great advice.
It is incredible advice.
Did you figure out how to do that?
I believe I have. But of course, I also have a heart problem, and it really surprised me when I had my first episode. So I thought, Well, maybe I’m not doing as good a job as I thought I was, but—
Of keeping stress away from your life?
But genetics too. So I can blame it on that. But yes, I believe, ‘cause like you imagine today someone driving down the road, and they left late. That’s their problem to begin with, right? And now they’re rushing to get somewhere, they’re gonna be—all that stress that builds up, and it’s useless, right, to get irate about it. So Tutu folks keep the good, set the bad aside.
And they could do that?
They did. Yeah. I think they had to. Lanai was a stressed island, particularly after Western contact. So if you became the victim, you know, pau, waste time, yeah? And look at these people, they raised and they touched so many people’s lives. Tutu folks told us, Mai kaulai ka lima i ka la [PHONETIC], don’t put the palm of your hand up to the sun. Huli ka lima ilalo a hana, alo ao i ka ae [PHONETIC], turn your hand down and work, and you will have food to sustain yourself. What a simple, basic value. And our children aren’t getting that; we’re all learning this. Yeah? Put the palm up. I want to share with you three cute twists on a saying. On Lanai, Tutu Papa taught me … maikai ka hana a ka lima, o nono kai a ka waha [PHONETIC]. When the hands do good work, the mouth has good food to eat. Cool, yeah?
I like that.
It is. You think about it. Then, I’m working with Tutu Kinoolu Kahananui, later years, yeah, in Kona District. And wonderful old man, native speaker, great, great historian. His tutu taught him, hana inu ka lima ai i nono ka waha [PHONETIC]. Do dirty work with your hands, you going eat dirty food. Same idea, right? But a whole different twist.
Other side of it.
Yes. And then, we go with Tutu Mahiula Hashimoto at Haena on Kauai. Nice man, wonderful fisherman. His tutu, his saying was more simple. Hana ka lima ai ka waha [PHONETIC]. Work, you going eat. [CHUCKLE] You know.
I know people who are skilled in Hawaiian arts like to share, but they don’t share with everyone. So they chose to share with you.
Mahalo ke Akua. That’s all we can say. You know, somehow that gift from God of a little Haole boy being off on the side somewhere, but coming up and being at the right place at the right time. I don’t think it was an accident. We do work now—you know, Onaona and I, in our oral history, we’ve done close to a thousand oral history interviews across the state, recorded interviews from Niihau through Hawaii.
What’s the best question you ask? What elicits the best responses?
O wai kou inoa? What is your name? O wai oe? Who are you? Where do you come from? Who are your kupuna? And I’m sorry, it can be one, but the next one is, and What is your aina? That aina is what connects everybody, yeah?
You hardly have to ask more questions after that.
What is your aina? Has it become Lanai?
In my heart, it is Lanai. For years, Onaona and I have worked around the state, and I was telling her in 2005; I says, Kinda shame though, yeah? I’ve never had the opportunity for us to do an ethnographic study on Lanai. And in 2005, after I said that, the first opportunity arises. And then we get asked by members of the community who were involved in a memorandum of agreement, this development was being proposed and then developed on Lanai. I get asked by the community members, Come home and help us make a museum. So Lanai is the home of my heart.
And what is ethnographic? I’m sorry, I don’t know.
Well, it’s the collection of the stories of people. So archeology. And I sometimes even disagree, when we were working on the state process, when they say, Oh, this is an archeological site, this is this. I say, Uh-uh, it starts first as a cultural site. Archeology looks at the biggest piles of stones and bones, those are the things that are significant. But I can tell you that just a named puu, a named point … every place that is named has a story to tell.
But sometimes, you don’t get the right story. Later generations tell a different version.
How do you get the right version of why it was named that?
And I humbly say this, is that … well, Tutu, yeah, and Auntie Maiki or Tutu Pukui folks, aohe pau ka ike ka halau hookahi [PHONEITC]. That not all knowledge comes from one school. So maybe my right—not mine, but the right that I’ve been taught may not be someone else’s right. But the bottom line is, you go through the historical accounts, the native language newspapers, and incredible resources that have been collected. I believe that those kupuna were writing so that future generations would know the stories. So, what we do is you connect those historical resource materials with the stories of people who were living on the land, and who are descended of the land. And they could be Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Haole. But people that interacted with people Tutu’s generation and older, yeah? And we present it as this is the story that they tell, this is their pono, their right. And you let it speak for itself. This is one of the reasons that sometimes archeologists today, they say, Well, Kepa and Onaona are doing this work, but they’re not making judgments on it. And I said, It’s not my right to make a judgment on it. The people speak for themselves, the land for itself. And you can also see where … Tutu Kawena, I asked her at one point. We were talking about John Papa Ii’s fragments of Hawaiian history, which is a product of one of the preeminent Hawaiian historians, right? So I said, Tutu, pehea oe o no a kela inoa [PHONETIC], fragments of Hawaiian history. I always had a hard time understanding what that meant. And she looked at me and said, Na Ii nu, it was Ii himself who called it that. [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] moolelo Hawaii, fragments of Hawaiian history. His own title. And so what I take from that, and when I speak about it today is, I say that if John Papa Ii, who was born and raised as an attendant to the Kamehameha children, as a steward to those children, he witnessed the last human sacrifice at Papaenaena Heiau, on Leahi, on Diamond Head. He traveled with the Kamehameha family back to Hawaii. If it was fragmented for him in his time, how much more so for us today. So those fragments that we have left are treasures. It will speak for itself. And you can see where the connections go. You can see where this tradition, even if we’ve never heard this before, you can see does it fit comfortably with this body of knowledge that has been gifted down to the generations. And in some instances, you can see where if someone’s out there changing a whole genealogy, mm, a na hui kaua [PHONETIC], maybe it’s a little confusing there.
I notice that you use the word Haole.
And I know that there are some people in the public who say … that’s not appropriate. If they’re Caucasian, it makes them feel like an outsider, it seems pejorative to a group. What is your feeling about the word Haole?
Well, and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. But, it’s very interesting. In the oldest context of the word a Haole is anyone who is not Hawaiian. Only Hawaiians are kanaka. So the original context now, this is a good example of stories being passed on. So one of the families that’s well known on Lanai was that of Charles Gay. And he married a pure Hawaiian woman, and his last surviving child, Auntie Venus Gay Holt, just passed away the later part of last year at a hundred and six. While talking with Auntie Venus, and then her older brothers, there’s a story about how the word Haole even came up. Two versions of the story.
Oh, I’d love to hear.
Okay. And these were family traditions, and I can’t tell you that this is really what it means, because as we said, if you go to the dictionary, you go to old language resources, Haole was anyone who was not Hawaiian. But, Captain Cook arrives off of Kauai in 1778, and this is from Roland Gay and his brother, Lawrence. And the chiefs, the people, they’re off of Waimea, they see this floating island, right? Ah, ua hiki mai o Lono, Lono has arrived, yeah? And the chiefs of Kauai sent canoes out to greet these people and begin to offer them mele, chants, the genealogy. [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] Your body is Lono there in the heavens. It was Lono [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. It was Lono who caused the stars to be strung through the heavens. And the people on the boat, Captain Cook folks, sat there with no response. And the Hawaiians were puiwa. First thing, they run back, ‘cause they see them hemo their clothes, yeah, take their clothes off like that, and all white skin underneath. They run back. One story is, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE], skinless people. Yeah? The other one was, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE], people who had no breath of life. Because these life- giving chants that had been offered went unresponded to.
That’s where the no breath of life comes in. I see. So now, you use Haole to mean Caucasians? Or do you use it for anybody not Hawaiian? Filipinos, Samoans.
Yes. I do. Sorry, ‘cause that’s what I was taught the word means. And I don’t mean it in a negative way. It’s just that we’re not as lucky.
At home and at work, Kepa Maly’s partner of over thirty years is his wife, Onaona. Their business, Kumu Pono Associates, mirrors the efforts of Onaona’s grandaunt, the renowned Hawaiian scholar, Mary Kawena Pukui, whom you heard Kepa mention. Since the business’ establishment in 1995, it has completed more than three hundred ethnographic studies and conducted more than five hundred oral history interviews. Lots of stories. And then, there’s the love story of Kepa and Onaona Maly.
Well, Onaona actually is descended from the Pukui and Mahoe lines in Kaiapa. Those are the main lines. But what’s interesting, like her great-great-grandaunt was Queen Liliuokalani’s adopted daughter, Lydia Aholo. And we knew Tutu Aholo up ‘til she was a hundred years old to hear these stories of her upbringing and how she would play hide-and-seek with the Queen’s other children before the Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center was made. But when she would play hide-and-seek, Auntie Lydia would go hide under the Queen’s dress. And no one, of course, would go seek for her under there.
Oh, good one.
Yes. So what happens is, now I’m working at Kualoa. We’ve opened Kualoa, and Onaona’s mother is a teacher at Bingham Tract School. And we’re, of course, working with schools from around the islands, right, thinking about doing camping programs, canoeing programs, back country programs with these youth who often would have no other opportunity to do anything like this, yeah? So this is God’s truth. I hear the car arrive. I know the group is coming. I hear a car arrive, I step out of my office. It’s Onaona and her father. Onaona opens the door of the car, steps out. Kanehoalani is the highest peak of the ridge above Kualoa, and the sun is setting above it. And I swear, this ray of light comes down, illuminates Onaona, and for me, it was love at first sight. I hope that she was okay about it. We were married six months later. [CHUCKLE]
Have you asked her what her impression of you at first sight was?
She loves me.
I’m blessed. [CHUCKLE]
And that had never happened to you before, right?
This was not a common occurrence for you.
No, no. No, no; not a common occurrence at all.
This light bathing—
Yeah, yeah. To me, it was it was like, wow. And we chuckle about it all the time, and when people ask us, this is our story.
Kepa Maly continues to work to maintain a sense of place and balance on Lanai, and in Hawaii. The man who once was an alienated kid has made it his life’s mission to find and share connections in our island home. We’ll hear more from Kepa Maly about his spiritual connection to Lanai on an upcoming episode of Long Story Short. Thank you, Kepa, for sharing your stories with us, 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.
Hawaiians are real people, living people. Tutu Kawelo taught me a beautiful saying, because we were talking about Kawelo of Kaalaia. We were talking about anaana, sorcerer practices like that. And Tutu said, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. In all people, there are some that are good and some that aren’t. And so, she was also tied in the conversation about whether you Haole, someone who was not of Hawaiian ancestry, of other mixed ancestries, or real people doing real things, living their lives as best they could. And I believe the Hawaiians left us models. We have models that we can learn from to actually live better in our island landscape. There’s only so much to go around; you take too much today, pau, tomorrow you don’t eat. That idea of [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE], healthy land, healthy people. Yeah?
Enough is plenty.
Yeah; that’s right.
Part 2: Lanai and the Spirit of Place
I believe Hawaiian, non-Hawaiian alike, we are touched by spirit of place. I also believe that sometimes, some of the bad decisions that are made down here in Honolulu are because we have insulated ourselves in cement, iron, glass molds that don’t let us reconnect with the aina.
Cultural consultant and Executive Director of the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, KEPA MALY, next on LONG STORY SHORT.
Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kepa Maly was an introverted teenager, feeling isolated and so adrift that he left his home on Oahu for a new life on the island of Lanai. He was welcomed by the Kaopuikis as a keiki hookama, an older child taken in as one’s own by another family. The only Haole boy in school, Kepa forged a connection with the native Hawaiian culture. He became a fluent speaker of the Hawaiian language. In fact if you close your eyes when he speaks Hawaiian, you think you’re in the presence of old-style native speaker. Kepa eagerly immersed himself in the depth of knowledge of his elderly hanai parents, Tutu Mama Hattie Kaenaokalani Kaopuiki and Papa Daniel Kaopuiki, and other kupuna. All of that translates into an adult life in happy partnership with his wife Onaona, conducting oral histories and other research on Hawaii’s people and places. These ethnographic studies have helped preserve island cultural treasures.
I would—like summertime, you hit fifteen on Lanai, you go out and pick pineapple, right? I loved it when I got night shift, because I’m not a night person, but I’m an early morning person no matter what it is. And so, I would pick pineapple. We would get off close to midnight or something like that, so I’d get a few hours sleep. And Tutu would say, Oh up in Waiapaa where the springs, and in this spring, Tutu always said there was a kananaka, a mermaid, a moo form that lived in this spring, that when Tutu Mama was a girl, she would go up there. And her kupuna had warned her, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. You wait until the moo is gone, the winds have calmed, and then you go take your water. So I wanted to go see the spring. I never saw the moo, but I got up to Waiapaa. So they would talk about these places, or where the last purple blossomed lehua—
You would go alone on your own to—
—find these places?
Yeah. I was old enough. In my mid-teens up through high school. So it was great. And I would know when I had found them, come back, describe. Or else, Tutu would say there was maile up here, and I’d go find the maile. Or Tutu would say, Oh, had the sugar mill, the old sugar mill. No one knows there was a sugar mill on Lanai. Tutu folks, Uncle Lloyd Cockett, Tutu Maggie Kauwenaole, they would talk about this place or that. We would go out and find it. I would go find them. It was to me, it was, sorry, one last. When I was in high school, people like do you remember Donald Kilolani Mitchell, who was—
—up at ka—yes. He and Hooulu Cambra them, and others from Bishop Museum would come to Lanai, and I would get pulled out of school to go take them to go holo holo.
Because you’d already been around.
Now, your Tutu folks, were they too elderly to go with you on these—
How old were they?
—and 1892. So Tutu them were in their late seventies, eighties. Their life continued, excuse me, up through their through their mid-90s, just about early to mid-90s.
And were you the first child for them?
No. They had sixteen of their own.
Yeah. The oldest today, Auntie Lei, or Kuuleialoha Kaopuiki Kanipaa, is ninety-six. She is sadly, the last elder native speaker of Hawaiian language on the island.
Lanai has a long history of weathering change brought on by the introduction of European livestock, pineapple production, an affluent tourist clientele, and other by-products of Western Contact. From Kepa Maly’s many years of gathering the stories shared by kupuna, he brings Lanai‘s rich cultural history to life.
Lanai, in at least the tradition of a chief by the name of Kaululaau, perhaps 1400-ish, based on genealogies, he goes to the island, which at that time is called Kaulahea, because named for the—the goddess that gave birth to it. He encounters ghosts, akua who dwell on the island and who make it very difficult for anyone to survive there. He goes around the island—it’s a wonderful story, and actually challenges the ghosts and vanquishes them. He reaches the top of the mountain, the highest point, and builds a house there. And he invites the last group of akua, ghosts to come to the housewarming party. They weren’t very bright, apparently. Inside the house, he’s thatched it with pilali, the gum of oha and kapa—uh, papala, trees that are like bird line that they would catch birds with to stick. Well, as it a ghost walks in, you have to kneel down to get into the door of old Hawaiian house, yeah, ‘cause they weren’t tall doors. And as each ghost comes in, he goes, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. He sticks them up face-first, closing their eyes against the thatching wall of the house, steps out, burns the house down, the ghosts are killed. The last ghost, king of the ghosts, is the last one to die, and on the day of his death, the island is called Lanai, day of victory, day of conquest.
That’s what the victory is.
Yes. And so, Lanai Hale is the peak of the island … the house of Lanai, built, as—as we said, by Kaululaau. But there are incredible place names, stories. The other peak of our island home is called Haalelepaakai, which means salt left behind or discarded. And it’s a story of two fishermen who come across from Maui, malihini, yeah? They come across. And see, that’s another word, malihini. Malihini—doesn’t mean—they’re someone who wasn’t familiar to a given place. Okay.
So it could be somebody like me from Honolulu going to—
Exactly; exactly. So these malihini come, and they’re laden down with their puolo of paakai, their fishing gear. Early in the morning, they rise up to the summit, the second summit of Lanai Hale, and they look down into Palawai Basin, and they see a bed of white. Ah, ae no ka paakai, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. There’s salt down there, we should just go ahead and throw away our salt, and we’ll gather the salt below. Well, they get down there, now the sun is rising. Guess what? Ho ka, no more nothing. The salt’s all gone, because it was mist.
And so, they ask a native of Palawai. Ah, ihe a ka paakai? Where’s the salt? Ah, kuihewa olua, you made mistake. Aohe paakai [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. It wasn’t salt, but only mist. And so, Tutu folks taught in parables also, right? And one of the sayings was, kekuhihewa o ke kanaka piikula o Lanai Hale [PHONETIC]. The mistake of the men who ascended the slopes of Lanai Hale was to discard their salt. Don’t act in haste. Yeah. Know what you’ve got.
One of the fun things about growing up on Lanai was hearing Tutu folks talk about this place, and what it was known for, and these stories are really incredible. Whether they’re recorded in mele and traditional chant form, or even in music. And of course, Lanai has been so out of sight, out of mind for many people that there are not a lot—excuse me, not a lot of songs out about Lanai. And so, Tutu folks had their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary, and I composed a song for them. It was my way of expressing as a gift of aloha, ‘cause I couldn’t give them any—I had no money, right? Couldn’t give them anything. So they had their wedding anniversary, and I composed a song for them. Then we come up to what was basically their seventy-fifty wedding anniversary. Imagine; seventy-five years of marriage, let alone just living that long, yeah? And I composed another song, and it was all based on the stories that they had told me about Lanai. A stronger section of the verse, a softer section of the verse being Tutu Papa and Tutu Mama, who always covered him, you know, gave him that softer, those qualities that, made life easier. And recently woke up crack of dawn with these words in my mind and this melody.
And it was celebrating story places of Kaa Ahupuaa, which is the northwestern end of the Island of Lanai, where Keahiakawelo where you and I visited you know the Quote, unquote, Garden of the Gods. And the very point is Kaena, the beach, this miles along of white sand beach, Palihua, cove of eggs, because the turtles nested there. And that’s celebrated in one of the few ancient mele of Lanai for the Pele migration, where Pele, you know [CHANTS], you know, calling, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] is Pele. She wears a garland of ieie that is woven for her. As the lines of the mele go on, it describes that Pele eats of the turtles of Polihua. It was okay back then, because it was in their cultural context, yes? And it talks about these places, though, and about standing on top of Kanepuu and looking up to the heights of Lanai Hale. And you can see the cloud layer going down like a garland at Maunalei, which means Mountain Garland. So the song speaks of some of those famous places.
What about that wind you told me about—
—lovely, just gorgeous name?
See? Again, that beauty of the Hawaiian poetry and language and of their mind comes from their naau, from their very gut, their essence, yeah? Um, the wind’s name is Hoomoepili. Hoomoe, cause to lay down the pili grass. And of course, when we stand out there, you can see how that wind can cause actually sometimes things more than pili grass to lay down. [CHUCKLE]
That’s right; the rocks get eroded.
Yes, yes. And rolling away bits and flakes of rock like an onion, unpeeling one layer after another, and being blown off into the wind.
And pili is a word that you use a lot.
Yeah. Well, pili is not just that grass, but it is the connection, the relationship, the closeness, yeah, that we feel. And I believe Hawaiian, non-Hawaiian alike, we are touched by a spirit of place. I’m sorry, I also believe that sometimes, some of the bad decisions that are made down here in Honolulu are because we have insulated ourselves in cement, iron, glass molds that don’t let us reconnect with the aina.
Can’t even see it.
Yeah. Yeah. So you know, these kinds of things. Can I share with you a little bit of that mele?
Oh, I’d love to hear it.
That talks about that. You know, we just—
So this is a tour of the northwestern side?
The northwestern side of Lanai, Kaa—
Now, there’s a Kaena on Oahu that’s—
—also northwestern. Is that—
Does that mean …
That means heat, doesn’t it?
Well, it can, but it also means wrath.
Because the currents that come from the Koolau and the Kona sides of the islands meet there, and they—
—roil. Yeah, so—
That’s it. And I’ve seen them—
—butt up against each other.
Now, we’re gonna go up to Kanepuu and look up to Lanai Hale. We were there.
The last line of the song is nine verses, so I’m not gonna do ‘em all.
So the last line says, These are among the storied places of Lanai which is beloved and set there in the calm. And this comes from Tutu folks, their stories, the—the stories, the traditions that are handed down. And so, we need to keep people connected to this beauty. It’s all that we have that no one else has, right?
That last word, malie, calm.
In 2007, Kepa Maly found the opportunity to honor his adopted island home. As the Executive Director of the non-profit Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, Kepa showcases Lanai’s past and provides a gathering place for living history.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs gave us seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars to engage young local people of Lanai who were otherwise unemployed in stewardship out in the field, and in creating a climate controlled museum and engaging people in documenting and collecting their history. You walk in, the space is well used. We have a timeline that I’ve got people from the Smithsonian and other places coming and saying, This is a model for communities across the nation. So there’s a timeline that takes you from the island rising above sea level, to the close of the plantation in 1992. We have artifacts that were found by native families and given to Kenneth Emory in 1921 and 22, when he did his initial archeology on Lanai.
What kind of artifacts?
Typical things, like the poi pounders, ulumaika, sling stones, lures. We have an incredible pu, a conch shell. It was found actually by John Stokes in 1911, 1912 down at Kanaele. And I got brave one day, and tried to blow it. It has the cleanest, clearest sound. It’s just—and imagine, who did that herald. Who did that conch, that pu, herald the arrival of sometime in antiquity, yeah? Our program focuses on a thousand years basically of residency on Lanai; that Hawaiian period up through a ranch. We were an active ranch for a hundred years, longer than we were a pineapple plantation. The ranch … was owned by Walter Murray Gibson. Gibson starts the ranching operation, formalizes it basically as a sheep ranch, and began exporting sheep, wool, and mutton from the island to the Honolulu market. Then, he passes away in 1888. His daughter-in-law—daughter, Talula, and son-in-law, Frederick Hazelton, take over and try various facets of business, and in 1898, come up with this idea that reminds me of modern ideas, and creates a sugar plantation. Lots of water, no worry, we can develop eight million gallons of water a day on Lanai. We going plant three thousand acres of sugar. They build a locomotive, a train, they have a sugar mill, they have a community of like eighty or ninety houses, a little hotel. All this stuff. And by 1901, they formalize it in 1899, in March of 1901 they’re bankrupt. And three thousand acres of land are left uncultivated, with grazing animals over it, our reefs are buried under sedimentation, the beautiful reefs and fishponds. Today, when you go to Lanai to Keomoku Village, we’re restoring though an AGAPE Foundation grant, we’ve engaged community members, and we’re restoring the old church, the last wooden building of Keomoku Village. It’s beautiful. Once you get there now, we have the sugar mill trail open, the church is restored. The old boat that ended on the shore is now three hundred feet inland, because that much sedimentation in a hundred years—
—has occurred. There are things to see. We’ve uncovered the locomotive, the 1837 mortar, stone and mortar school, church houses also. See, what we’re doing is, our program has allowed us and the landowner has given us a right of entry agreement to do this. What I believe is, we’re creating added value for our own kamaaina experience on Lanai, but for people who come and want to. Why would I drive that long, dirty keawe over-laden road if no more nothing to see? So you know, our program, as I said, spans this thousand years of ranch, a three-year-long sugar mill, seventy years as a pineapple plantation up until 1992. Imagine; when Onaona and I returned to Lanai the graduating class of 2006 was the first class to graduate children that had never seen pineapple growing commercially on Lanai. The continuity on Lanai, from one business endeavor to the next, has always been the people. And there are some people, even among the plantation period, families of Japanese, of Filipino, of Korean mixed ancestries, they are on Lanai because it is home. We’ve just finished an oral history project, recording elder kamaaina families of Lanai. And how many of them tear up when they say they came from the Philippines, or they came from somewhere else, or from Japan, Lanai is my home. There are few places like Lanai now, and I think that that’s an asset for us. It’s a way, actually, to remain sustainable and viable if we care for these unique qualities.
There used to be a lot more people living on Lanai—
And they didn’t need a barge coming in for food, either.
You got it. The Kenneth Emory, and actually, Dr. Emory and I walked around Lanai together in 1975. It was fifty years of his celebrating the publication of his Archaeology of Lanai. But when Kenneth was on Lanai in 1921 and 22, he gave estimates based on what he saw of a population of about three thousand people. We’ve been doing, funded by Office of Hawaiian Affairs, archaeology in the Kaa District of Lanai. And with the archaeologists, we know that we can rewrite the history of Lanai, and actually, the [INDISTINCT] settlement and residency history of Lanai. We know also that based on the archaeological evidence … at least six thousand people lived on Lanai, and what you just said, it was sustainable. Everything they need, they caught from the ocean or they grew on the land. Today, one week, southerly storm, Kona storm come in, naulu blowing in like that pau, the barge doesn’t go in. Milk is nine, ten dollars a gallon. Eh, you want good gas mileage; five seventy-nine a gallon right now.
I think I paid that price.
It’s five-seventy now.
Yeah. I mean—
It’s gotta be, what … well, it is one of the highest—
It is the highest, yes.
Is it The?
I believe it’s the highest.
And there’s one gas station—
One gas station.
—in Lana‘i City.
Yes. And—and of course, the nice thing is there’s only thirty miles of paved road, the rest is dirt. So, you know, not like we gotta drive far.
Yeah, but when you have a stomachache, it’s not a good time to go for a drive.
The small but well-organized Lanai Culture and Heritage Center is a revelation for visitors and some residents as well. While pineapple production was tough on the land, Lanai still has special cultural places and they are simply not as well-known as those on other islands. At the heritage center in the heart of little Lanai City, community volunteers take care of some of the learning programs, sharing island history and spirit.
Well, most of our people say Lanai, and they say White Stone or Sweetheart Rock, or Garden of the Gods. One of Onaona’s big missions, and this why in our website we have this place names. Speak our traditional names, speak the names of our kupuna. And it engages people. That’s what we have. So you can get a nice resort with good service anywhere; what you can’t get are the stories of the people, the storied faces and places of Lanai. Yeah?
I know at Manele Bay, the—
The tourists love the story of Sweetheart Rock.
Now, is that based on fact, or on true legend?
Not made up—
But it—it’s—it’s—it’s an interesting account in that Puupehe, or Pehe, was the name of a young, beautiful woman of Lanai. She was betrothed to a gentleman by the name of Makakehau, dewy misty eyes. So you get an idea that maybe there’s not a real cheerful personality there, yes? He loves her greatly, but he’s also jealous, and when he leaves to go to the uplands or goes out to go fishing, he wants her to stay in the cave of Malauwea, which is where Puupehe sits here, and then the higher peak is here. There’s a cave right underneath there. Well, the cave faces out to the Kona storms. One day, Makakehau is ascending the slopes and getting ready to go gather uao birds off of the mountain lands. He looks back down and sees off of Kealahikahiki … Kahoolawe, a naulu storm, raging storm suddenly swell coming in. He drops what he’s doing, and runs back down, but is too late. Pehe has died, killed by the wave surge. He laments her passing, gathers her body, and that night she’s prepared for interment. But at the close of night, he asks her family, who are rather peeved at him, to allow—
Yeah. To allow him to watch vigil over her this one last time. They agree. Early the morning, the sun is arising. They go to the hale, to the house site. No more them; they’re gone. And off in the distance, Auwe! [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. You know, Auwe! My love has passed on, never shall we two swim in the waters protected by the shark Ahipuhi, never shall we gather the uau of the uplands or eat the ohelo berries, or walk the sandy shore at Ulopoe. They follow the voice, and they see that he is atop of that island’s steep-side at eighty, ninety feet high, something like that, and there’s a platform built on top of it with an upright stone in it. Still see it today. He ends his uwe helu, his lament, and leaves off and kills himself. So, the only junk thing about that is, is that it’s not a real good sweetheart story, right?
And so, they don’t usually tell that part of the story.
But did it really happen, or is that a legend based on something?
We have to believe that it is tradition, that it was handed down to folks told the story. Walter Murray Gibson collected the story from, I believe it was Piianaia, who was with Kamehameha on Lanai when during the Kamehameha period. It has been handed down.
At the time of this conversation in 2012, Kepa Maly lives on Oahu for medical reasons. He visits Lanai each month to keep the vision strong at the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center. Mahalo piha, Kepa Maly for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.
You know, we have a mesic, a dry forest complex; it’s struggling. But there are things found, like a beautiful iliahi, a maile whose leaf was the size of my little fingernail that was famed in native language accounts as being gathered and bedecked with a lei as you went down to Polihua. The puanau or nanu, the native gardenia five wild trees left on Earth there.