Hawaiʻi

PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS
Those Who Came Before:
 The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae

THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE
: The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae

 

The Kamae’s final documentary recounts Eddie’s own journey of musical self-discovery, a journey that led him to some of the most well-respected gatekeepers of the Hawaiian Renaissance and grew into a 50-year pursuit of Hawaiian cultural and musical traditions.

 

 

 






NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Jerry Byrd & Friends

NĀ MELE: Jerry Byrd & Friends

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG presents a special encore of the smooth sounds of the late master steel guitarist Jerry Byrd. Byrd was joined for this nostalgic journey by four master musicians in their own right: Hiram Olsen Jr. on guitar and vocals; Dennis Keohokalole on ukulele and vocals; Gary Aiko on upright bass and vocals; and the late Ned Ka‘apana on guitar and vocals.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Josh Tatofi

 

As a young child, Josh Tatofi thought he had an ordinary life. “I thought everyone’s dad was a rock star, and I thought everyone was playing music,” he says. His father, Tivaini Tatofi, was a founding member of local island music group Kapena. “I didn’t really know that my childhood was special until way later,” says the younger Tatofi.

 

Download the transcript of this program

 

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song - Josh Tatofi and his bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song – Josh Tatofi and his bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

 

Born in Honolulu, Tatofi grew up on Windward O‘ahu, in Kāne‘ohe, before moving with his family to Maui in his early teens. It was in Kāne‘ohe that Tatofi would have a breakthrough moment, when his friends of the Hawaiian music group Hū‘ewa invited him onstage at a bar to sing a Hawaiian-language song.

 

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song - Josh Tatofi's performance includes a Hula performance

The program also features hula dancers from three different hālau: Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela, Hālau Hi‘iakaināmakalehua and Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea.

 

Read more about Josh Tatofi in our June program guide cover story here.

 

Josh Tatofi on NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Music, Monday, June 24, 7:30 pm

 

More from Josh Tatofi:

 

Kaleohano, commentary

 

Kaleohano. Written by Louis Moon Kauakahi

 

Kāneʻohe

 

Kuʻu Leo Aloha

 

Kuʻu Pua Ilima

 

Lei Hala, featuring Hālau HiʻIakaināmakalehua

 

Leolani

 

Pua Kiele, featuring Hālau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine

 

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lorenzo DeStefano

 

Lorenzo DeStefano is a Honolulu born photographer, filmmaker, film editor and writer who explores the hidden lives of those who are often overlooked in society. He wrote and directed Shipment Day, a stage play that ran at O‘ahu’s Mānoa Valley Theatre. It tells the true story of his feisty cousin Olivia who contracted leprosy at age 18 and was exiled to Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 30, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Lorenzo DeStefano Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Having gotten leprosy and having struggled against the Board of Health, and the autocratic, dictatorial nature of fear and stigma, and having Patient Number 3306, I mean, just short of stamping it on your arm, you know, changed her, changed everybody who was caught up in that fear.

 

Patient Number 3306 was his cousin, and Lorenzo DeStefano wrote a play about her life. Meet this Hawai‘i-born photographer, filmmaker, film editor, and writer who explores the hidden lives of those who are often overlooked in society, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Growing up in Hawai‘i, he was Larry Stevens.  Now, he is Lorenzo DeStefano, having gone back to the Italian origins of his family name.  Today, DeStefano lives in Ventura, California, but during the early years of Hawai‘i’s statehood, he was an island kid living in the O‘ahu neighborhoods of Kāne‘ohe, Wai‘alae, Kaimuki, and Waikīkī.  Lorenzo DeStefano tells his stories through different types of media.  He produced and directed a documentary film titled “Hearing Is Believing”, about Rachel Flowers, a blind musician and composer.  And more recently, he wrote and directed a stage play called “Shipment Day”, the true story of his cousin, Olivia Robello Breitha, who developed leprosy at age eighteen and was exiled to Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i.

 

[scene from “Shipment Day”]

 

That’s when he began taking scrapings from around that spot on my arm.  He went deeper into the flesh than I ever thought he would.  I tried really hard not to scream, and I didn’t.  I almost passed out.

 

LORENZO DESTEFANO

 

Jason, everything sounds good?

 

[OFF STAGE]

Sounds great.

LORENZO DESTEFANO

Yeah, that line with Lauren was okay; we got it?

 

[OFF STAGE]

Yeah.

 

My dad came from Brooklyn.  I think he came to Hawai‘i in the late 40s.  He worked at KGU as a radio announcer.  I don’t know if he spun music, or talked.  I know when he did go to KGMB.  Was it Channel 9, I think that was, a CBS affiliate.  He had a show uh, called Larry Stevens’ Matinee, and he played movies, screen movies of his choice, I guess.  They had a library of movies.  And then, between the breaks, he’d be sitting there with a cup of coffee, and he ran this thing called the Trading Post, which was sort of an early QVC type thing.

 

Really? 

 

Where they sold things.  And he’d say, like, you know: Mrs. Wong in Kāne‘ohe has a bunkbed she wants to sell for five dollars; if you’re interested, call 5671.

 

That’s interesting.  I’ve heard that since on the radio.

 

Yeah; I don’t know if he invented it, or it was something that he was assigned to.  But he got to be known.  But here was this guy smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee, and he’d say: Well, now back to the movie.  And then he played Charlie Chaplin’s song, “Limelight”

 

And he started off as a DeStefano, changed to Stevens.  So, you were born a Stevens.

 

Yeah.

 

You changed your name back.

 

Yeah.  Well, he was Severio DeStefano.  You know, this was the 40s, when we were at war with Italy, and you know, there was a lot of bias about immigrants anyway.  Jews, Italians, Germans; you know, a lot of people changed their name.  And he changed his name to Stevens, Lawrence Stevens.  So, I was born Lawrence Peter Stevens.  I just changed it back a long time ago to Lorenzo DeStefano.  I didn’t change my name, I just went back to what it was before, you know, before he had changed it.  And he approved of that.  You know, he says: Yeah, times are different now.  And I understood why he did it.

 

And your mother from Kalāheo, Kauai was a Silva.

 

Yeah.

 

And she turned out to be kind of a business dynamo.

 

Well, she’s the eldest of three.  They were orphaned when my mom was nine, when her parents died.  What I think that instilled in my mom, being the oldest of three, she was gonna make something of herself.  She wasn’t gonna be tagged as this orphan, this second-class citizen, you know.  So then, she got secretarial skills, and really made something of herself.  And I think when most women were maybe just homemakers and happy with that, she was that, plus she worked for Bishop Realty in the early 60s and throughout the 60s as one of the top brokers with Vi Dolman and people like this who were around at those times.  Really dynamic women, who were sort of in the business world.  Looking back, I feel honored and privileged to have been brought up here.  You know, lots of diversity, growing up without fear of the other people that looked differently or acted differently than you, multiculturalism.  I think, like anyone who was around then, life was slower and simpler.  The 50s was sort of maybe a fantasy period of tranquility.  You know, then I started to grow up.  Some of my first jobs were, I was a busboy at Rudy’s Italian Restaurant on Kuhio Avenue, and I sold koa wood bowls on Lewers Street.

 

On the sidewalk?

 

Yeah; yeah.  And then, I worked at a candy store making candy.  You know, I had two or three jobs.

 

Where was that?

 

On one of those side streets.  Then I went to Punahou for a year, until they suggested that maybe I’d do better elsewhere.

 

What was the reason for that?

 

Well, I was not applying myself, you know.  They were pretty strict, as they are still.

 

So, you were disappointed, or did you want to leave?

 

I wasn’t as disappointed as they were.  You know.  I think they were disappointed, but you know, my folks never really pushed me. They just wanted me to be myself. I guess they were kind of ahead of the times.  They weren’t really autocratic about—you know.  ‘Cause they both made made themselves, reinvented themselves from where they came from.

 

 

Lorenzo DeStefano finished his formal education at Kalani High School in East Honolulu.  Deciding against a college degree, he says he felt comfortable teaching himself, as he did during his teen years when he taught himself photography, namely street photography, capturing candid chance images of strangers.

 

I think my folks bought me Time Life books on photography.  It was like about eight or ten books, which were great books, you know.  I think I wasn’t the only one to get turned on to photography by those books and the great photographers in there.  Black-and-white, color, nude; all the stuff that was fascinating, you know.  And then. I saved my money from bus-boying and all that stuff.  And a friend of the family went to Japan and brought back a Nikon for me and some lenses.  And I just started shooting, you know.  It was really a sense of discovery for me.  And so, I got into these places.  I actually went into Leahi Hospital and shot a behavioral unit for kids. You know, emotionally disturbed kids.

 

I remember that unit.  There were also patients with tuberculosis there in your time, too.

 

Yeah.  But again, I had full access, you know.  Now, you know, you have to fill out forms, even if you could get in.

 

As a teenager on your own, no parent accompanying you or other friends, you just went on your own, and got in?

 

Yeah.  I got in my car, and went and did it.  And then, you know, like I remember shooting a Young Republicans rally at Kapi‘olani Park, and you know, seeing the different kinds of people.  It was, I guess, the Nixon days, and people with the flag.  And I thought they were rather curious people, you know.  I think the important thing is, as a photographer or writer, whatever, you have your own politics and your own values, you know, what you believe in, that either agrees with who’s in power, or doesn’t agree with who’s in power. But when it comes down to your work, you should be pretty much nonjudgmental, you know, about it. ‘Cause that lessens the power, I think, of what you’re doing.  Your job is not judge so much as a photographer, as to show, you know, whether it’s a play, or a novel, or whatever.  It’s to observe, translate, express, but not take sides.

 

Lorenzo DeStefano’s curiosity with still images progressed into a hunger to learn all he could about motion pictures and film editing.  He said that as a teenager, he saw the musical movie “Cabaret” more than a dozen times at the former Cinerama Theater in Honolulu.

 

The fourteen times I went to see Cabaret, I did that for a reason.  Because Cabaret was a brilliant film.  I’m not such a big fan of musicals, but there were great songs in there by Kander and Ebb, you know, the songwriting team.  But the way the film was put together was stunning to me.  You know, it was editing as impressionistic.  It wasn’t just shot over shoulders and, you know, sort of the standard TV type of editing, or even movies, mediocre kind of exposition.  It was very creative.  But I was convinced by that film I wanted to learn that craft, and I couldn’t do that here, you know.  There was no film school here at the time.  And so, I went to the mainland and eventually found myself in L.A.  And I found ways to get into the game, you know.  I basically lied about the experience that I’d had, and I got a job as an assistant editor at National Geographic.  We used do their editing down there.  And the first day in the cutting room, I got the job.  It was like three hundred week; it was like pretty good at the time.  People now are not making three hundred a week, you know.  Hundreds of thousands of feet of sixteen-millimeter film shows up from Africa of elephants.  Just elephants, you know.  And I’m going: What am I supposed to do with this?  And the other assistant, who I still know—she’s in New York, says: You don’t know much, do you?  I said: No, not really.

 

So, I did a couple of those National Geographic specials, you know, and I learned quickly, you know.  But I was always looking to get in the union—this was a nonunion job, so I could work on features, you know, movies.  So, it took me a couple of years.  You know, basically, what I did was, I had about ten editors whose names I had collected over a year or two whose movies I liked, you know. But I didn’t know how to contact them. This was not internet days, you know, where you can just find people pretty easily.  So, I called the Editors Guild, the union, and another group called American Cinema Editors, where these people belonged, and I basically posed as an assistant to a producer, a known producer.  And I’d read the trades, you know, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, and find out what movies were almost in preparation to go into production. And so, I’d call up and I’d say: I’m—and make up a name, you know.  I’m revealing all this stuff now.

 

Intrepid; intrepid job-hunting.

 

I’d say: I’m assisting this producer, a real producer.  And they’d say: Oh, say hi to him.  I said: Okay, I will.  I didn’t know the guy.  But I said: You know, we’re looking for editors for this picture, and there was a real movie that’s in the trades.  I said: I need phone numbers and addresses for these guys.  You know.  And they gave ‘em to me.  So then, I’d write letters to these people.  And I’d say: You know, I’m willing to do anything, sweep up, whatever. And I wrote to about ten people, and it was amazing, about eight of them got back to me, either phoned or wrote a note. Six or so of them took me to lunch. Ended up working for four of them over the years.  Two of them were Oscar-winning editors, you know.  Richard Halsey, who won an Oscar for “Rocky”, was a big influence on me. I worked for him for four years. Bill Reynolds, who won four or five Oscars for “Sound of Music”, and bunch of films was another one.  You know, these are guys who had done it all, you know.

 

How long did it take to get to where you wanted to be, which was actually editing?

 

About five years.  Yeah.  First movie I edited by myself was “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, with Helen Hunt and Sarah Jessica Parker.  And then, I cut about ten or twelve movies after that.  And then, I got on a TV series at Warner Brothers called “Life Goes On”, which was a show with Patti Lupone.

 

That must have been really long hours.  Were you doing a weekly show?

 

Yeah.  It was a network series on ABC.  It was on film, shot for eight days.  You know, it was a drama, family drama.  It was about a family with a young Down Syndrome child.  It was kind of a cutting edge, breakthrough series in a lot of ways.

 

I think you’ve compared film editing to writing.

 

Sure.  I learned that later, you know, that the final drafts of a script in the case of film is in the editing room.  You know. Where the script is now thrown away, and now it’s the film that was shot from the script, and then it’s free, you know, open season on how you’re gonna turn this into a film using all the techniques available.  Not just editing, but sound and music, and other things.

 

When you were editing fulltime, did you say: I have found exactly where I want to be, and this is where I’m gonna stay, this is me.

 

Yeah, I did have that feeling.  I think I chose well, in terms of my personality, you know. A lot of editors make great directors, you know.  David Lean was a film editor, “Lawrence of Arabia”.  Hal Ashby won an Oscar for “In the Heat of the Night” as an editor, went on to direct “Harold and Maude”, and “Being There”.

 

Did you have that aspiration to be a director?

 

I did; yeah.  But I was, you know, daunted by it, you know.  Editors don’t often make good directors, ‘cause it’s an insular kind of personality.  Directors tend to be more outgoing and jump right into the fray, you know.  And editors tend to—not to stereotype, but tend to want a more private controlled atmosphere.  And the set is not a controlled atmosphere; it’s basically chaos, you know.  And so, it took me a while to embrace the chaos, you know.

 

What did you direct?

 

Well, I did my own things, and then I did documentaries starting in the 80s.  Music films; I’m sort of a failed musician, you know.  So, I worked that out by making films about musicians.  I’ve done three of them so far.  And then, I directed on “Life Goes On”.  That’s when I got into the Directors Guild and worked actually in a studio situation.

 

I would think egos would come even more into play when you’re directing on a set.

 

Well, in that case, it was good, because people knew me.  The actors all knew me, and the crew knew me from being a producer and a supervising film editor.  And so, I was a friend, you know, I was part of the team already.  So, that was helpful. But yeah, that was a step, you know, of confidence-building.

 

In Los Angeles, Lorenzo DeStefano worked his way up the ranks as a film editor, later becoming a producer and a director.  He would eventually branch out on his own as a documentary filmmaker and writer.  During one fateful visit to Hawai‘i in the late 1980s, DeStefano learned of a family secret: a relative who had been exiled long ago when leprosy was a much-feared and little-understood disease.  DeStefano set out to meet his forgotten cousin, Olivia Robello Breitha.

 

Well, first of all, I should say she’s one of the most amazing people I ever got to meet, you know.  And the fact that she’s family was even more of a revelation.

 

What was the connection to her?  How were you related?

 

My mom and her mom, their mothers were sisters.

 

I see.

 

So, they were first cousins.  Yeah; yeah.  Portuguese girls from Kalāheo.

 

How did you meet her?

 

Finally, my mom told me about this cousin of ours who had leprosy, who was in Kalaupapa.  And I went over there to meet her.  And I hiked down the trail, and she wasn’t home.  I didn’t check first; I just figured she was there.  She was in Honolulu.  So, I missed her the first time.  But then, I met her Christmas of ’89, and we spent, you know, seventeen years ‘til she died in 2006, being very close, you know.  Especially after my mom died in ’96, ten years between then and Olivia’s death, Olivia who’d never had kids, you know, who loved children.  I wasn’t a kid anymore, but anyway, we bonded. You know, I like to call her the Rosa Parks of leprosy.  You know, she’s a simple woman, like Rosa Parks was.  Rosa Parks was a maid, you know, who took the bus back and forth to White people’s houses to work, and who wasn’t gonna change her seat.  Came a day when she says: I’m not doing this.  And then, we know what happened from there. She and others kicked off a whole movement, you know.  Olivia said: I’m not my disease, you know, I’m not my condition; call me by my name, Olivia.  And I really respected that.

 

So, did you remain on the mainland and go back and forth to see Olivia?

 

Yeah; m-hm.  I did, and she came there.  She went to the UN in ’97 with Bernard Punikaia and Catherine Puohala, and a lot of other patients that were being acknowledged.  It was World Leprosy Day or Month, the World Health Organization. And so, they got to meet Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the UN, and get medals.  And I still have her medal at my house.  And she got together in New York City, the only time she’d been.  And so she traveled, you know.  Like a lot of patients from decades of isolation, when they were able to travel, they just got out of Dodge and went all over the world—Belgium, and you know.  So, not everybody wrote a book, but she did.  And so, I think she made the best of the disease, I think.  She took the disease and said: You’re not gonna beat me down, I’m gonna beat you, and I’m gonna become what I’m gonna become, despite you, you know.  And she did. And you know, she made some enemies along the way.

 

She was feisty.

 

Yeah; she was not about to be pushed around, you know.  When she died in 2006, you know, I was in mourning for her, and I didn’t come to Hawai‘i for seven years after that.  My mom was gone, my dad, her.  There was really kinda no reason.  I’m gonna come here and get a tan?  You know. What am I coming here for?  And I came back in October of ’13 to put her gravestone.  I had a gravestone made in California with a picture of her and John, her husband, and it says: Together Forever on it.  It’s a nice little stone with the dates that they were married, and when they were born and died.  And took that over to Kalaupapa in October of ’13.  And that was the first time I’d been back in seven years.  And it sort of reminded me of what Hawai‘i meant to me, you know.

 

At what point during the seventeen years you really got to know Olivia did you decide: I want to do a play on this?

 

I didn’t.  Never.

 

Not at all during the seventeen years?

 

No, because it was happening, you know.  She would say; she says: Don’t ever make a movie about my life.  I said: Fine. You’re not so special, I’d say.  She’d say: Wait a second; what are you talking about?

 

Lorenzo DeStefano says that his cousin Olivia Robella Breitha taught him the value of fighting oppression, and to never lose sight of your quest for dignity. DeStefano decided to tell the early part of Olivia’s life story and her encounters with the stigma of leprosy through a one-act play he wrote and directed called “Shipment Day”, which was staged at Mānoa Valley Theatre in Honolulu, in late 2018.

 

She described to you what her life was like before she contracted the disease. And your play shows that, what it was like.

 

M-hm.

 

She was an eighteen-year-old, expecting to be married soon, and still living with her parents.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

And very Portuguese household.

 

M-hm.  Yeah. Well, that’s in her book, as well as stories that she told me and stuff.   But it’s very much in her book in the early chapters.

 

What was the hardest thing about writing your Olivia play?

 

It really wasn’t difficult.  You know.  It wrote …

 

It wrote itself?

 

I won’t say wrote itself.  I mean, it was a one-act play, twenty minutes, and we did it at PlayBuilders of Hawai‘i, which is a local play development program run by Terri Madden.  It’s a terrific program that they have here.  And we won Best Play, and Ku‘ulei Shafee won Best Actress, and William Hao won Best Actor for this little twenty-minute thing we did.  And that’s what got Mānoa Valley Theatre interested in the full version.  And so, they asked me to write a full version.

 

[scene from “Shipment Day”]

It was in that moment that I became a stranger, leaving a home and people that I loved.

 

Inclusion is important.  And yet, people’s fears, you have to deal with them in a creative way. And that’s what’s great about cinema and theater, you know, is that you get people in the dark, and you kind of own them for a little while.  It’s a privilege, you know, to have people, especially when they bought a ticket, you know. And you need to honor that, the fact that they did choose to leave the house, when they really don’t need to leave the house anymore.  They can switch on anything they want.  So, to take that privilege of having them show up, and trying to maybe transform them a little bit, or … I don’t want to use the word educate so much, ‘cause that implies they’re not educated.  But to show them, expose them to something that they maybe weren’t expecting, you know; so that a controversial character, even someone who’s completely divergent from their belief system.  You know, if you’re a Democrat, and you take a Republican type character and make them human, that’s good.

 

Is there one paramount lesson or piece of wisdom you take away after having known Olivia for so long?

 

You know, basically, it’s like, don’t give up to the tormentors, you know, in your life.  You know, not everybody’s in an extreme situation like that, you know, where you’re really incarcerated.  Self-belief, you know, pride.  Not that kind of pride that’s boastful pride or anything like that, but inner strength, you know.  Yeah; she was strong, super-strong person.  Yeah.  That, I guess I take away, you know.  I guess I was drawn into those worlds, hidden worlds, which I think looking back—I don’t look back a lot, I try to look forward.  But looking back, I guess there’s a kind of continuity there, you know, of discovery, finding out what’s unseen or what’s overlooked, you know. And I think there’s a commonality there throughout everything I’ve done.  Which basically comes down to being a curious person, you know.

 

Lorenzo DeStefano is having his play “Shipment Day” translated into both Spanish and Portuguese with the hope of sharing Olivia’s story with foreign audiences. And as curious as ever, he continues to discover hidden stories to bring both the big screen and the stage. Mahalo to Lorenzo DeStefano, former islander, who makes his home in Ventura, California.  And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Everybody loves stories.  We’ve got to find some commonality here.  You know, as people get torn apart by political differences, and ideological differences, those maybe never can be healed.  You know, maybe we’re in a place where it’s getting wider, and wider for people being able to really find any place to relate. And I do firmly believe, and I’m certainly not alone in this, that the arts is one place, if you can get people in.

 

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI:
Ala Moana Park Plan

 

Ala Moana Regional Park on Oʻahu’s south shore is a beloved playground for local residents, with access to surfing, swimming, paddleboarding, tennis, walking and picnicking. The city of Honolulu has a master plan to revitalize the park. Not everyone agrees with the plan’s vision. Join our discussion on the Ala Moana Park Plan on the next INSIGHTSON PBS HAWAIʻI.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Harry B. Soria Jr.

 

As the voice of Hawai‘i’s longest running radio show, Harry B. Soria Jr. has kept the music of Hawai‘i’s past alive for current and future generations. His weekly show, Territorial Airwaves, preserves and shares vintage Hawaiian, or hapa-haole, music recorded between 1915 and 1959. While he is a third-generation member of what is called “The First Family of Hawai‘i Radio,” he didn’t immediately enter radio broadcasting. The Honolulu born-and-raised host shares how he eventually surrendered to the siren call of radio. He tells of the rare recordings he has saved, and the launch of Territorial Airwaves, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 9, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Harry B. Soria Jr. Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

But a lot of the young kumu hula, who are now old kumu hula, weren’t so keen on what I was doing.  They thought it was the black period of Hawaiian music, you know, where our kūpuna had been tricked, and we had gone into the territory and lost our identity.  And there was some ill feeling at that particular time.  But as they got older, and as people learned more about all of this, they began to accept it.  And now, it’s revered.  And now, you see it at the Merrie Monarch, and you know, it’s found its place.

 

He kept the music of Hawai‘i’s past alive and meaningful for future generations. Territorial Airwaves radio host Harry B. Soria, Jr., next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  For forty consecutive years, Harry B. Soria, Jr. has hosted Territorial Airwaves, weekly radio show featuring vintage Hawaiian music recorded between 1915 and 1959.

 

You’re in the Territory with Harry B.

 

Soria first launched Territorial Airwaves on KCCN in 1979 with the late radio legend Jacqueline “Honolulu Skylark” Rossetti.  It’s the longest-running radio show in Hawai‘i airing at this time in 2019 on AM 940, as well as on TerritorialAirwaves.com. Soria continues to preserve and share rare and otherwise forgotten recordings of Hawai‘i’s past in a collection that now numbers more than ten thousand vinyl records.  The territorial era music he passionately advocates is also referred to as hapa haole music, or a merging of Hawaiian and Western music.

 

Hawaiian music is always a reflection of the Western musical influences of the decade.  So, whether it’s big band swing, whether it’s calypso, whether it’s Jawaiian now, whatever it is, it’s always a reflection of what’s on the mainland, and it’s coming in and affecting the youth, and they’re listening to it.  You know, Richard Kauhi was a reflection of Nat King Cole and all of that.  You know, there’s always some influence coming in which was persuading the youth to change the way they expressed Hawaiian music.

 

When a young person comes to you and says: Why should I listen to Territorial Airwaves?, what do you tell them.

 

It’s actually been the other way around. People say: Oh, you know, I was born in 1998, but I listen to Territorial Airwaves.  And I’m amazed.  You know, they’re young musicians, they ask for songs to put on their records.  There’s this curiosity where they’re interested in language, hula, you know, all of the performing arts, and they realize that the older music is where it all is.

 

And there’s no direct connection to the people performing it, but you’re the link.

 

I guess that’s it.  Yeah.  ‘Cause the aunties and uncles are all gone.  You know.  I mean, when I play voices on my show—You’re in the Territory with Harry B, this is Andy Cummings or whatever—well, they’re long gone.  They’ve been gone forever.  But they still live on my show.  They still talk to you every week.  One thing about radio, when the record’s playing, that’s when you hear the real story.  So, the challenge is to, decades later, remember the story that was told off-air by the person who has passed on, and share it with the contemporary audience in a meaningful way.  So, it is challenging, but for some reason, all of these things stay with me.

 

You remember all those conversations.

 

I think it goes back to my father telling me: This used to be that, that used to be this.

 

As a child, Harry recalls that his family moved into the very first block of homes in the new housing subdivision of ‘Āina Haina in East Honolulu.  He attended public schools in the district all the way through his graduation from Kalani High.  Here’s a stunning fact: for one hundred years, there’s been a Soria working in Hawai‘i radio, three generations, starting with Harry G. Soria, then Harry B. Soria, Sr., and currently Harry B. Soria, Jr.  Together, they’re called The First Family of Hawai‘i Radio.

 

Well, Soria is Spanish.  They emigrated from Spain to Bordeaux, France, and then to Saint-Domingue, which is the Dominican Republic today, and then to New York City in 1791.

 

Became Americans then?

 

Yes.  So, just twenty years after the revolution, we were there, some of the earliest Spanish. We kept moving westward, and my grandfather came to Berkeley, California to represent a company, brought his family, and then came over from Berkeley to Honolulu in 1919.

 

Talk about traveling; that’s a lot of movement.

 

Yeah.  So, this is our centennial, our hundredth year in Hawai‘i.

 

1919 was the year he set foot here.

 

Yup.  He very quickly got involved with Marion Mulrony of KGU Radio, the first radio station that started in 1922.  And he became the solicitor, and very successful for decades.

 

What is a solicitor?  Attorney?

 

A time salesman.

 

A time salesman.  Okay; so he sold radio ads?

 

Yeah, yeah; the very first.  And Dad eventually broke in as a personality.  So, he became, you know, Going To Town With Harry Soria, or Voice of Hawai‘i, or all these specialized shows that my grandfather created to feature him.  And so, he became a radio star in the 30s.

 

So, your grandfather created the shows as a way to sell commercials, and your father provided the content for the shows.

 

Yes; exactly.  My father would jury-rig things and make the first remote broadcast, or the first shortwave broadcast, or whatever he could figure out.

 

And this was in the days before television.  Radio was huge; right?

 

It was everything.  Yeah.

 

That’s what people depended on.  So, was your dad a star?

 

At that time, yes.  Yeah; I have a lot of his publicity pictures and so forth.  And he was the first guy with his name on a show, Going To Town With Harry Soria.  And he was the first personality that was known outside of Hawai‘i, because he was known as The Voice of Hawai‘i.  So, there was recognition transpacific wise.  So, it made for a very heady time in the 1930s, but when World War II came, it was all over.  After that, the war, when he returned, he was—

 

When he returned from fighting?

 

Well, he was a censor for the electronic calls, long distance phone calls and so forth.  So, when he returned, he was immediately activated in the Navy Intelligence to be running this particular division.  And after that was over, he was in management and sales after that. My mom was a war widow.  She was in her early twenties.  She left Washington, DC, came all the way across the nation, demonstrating business machines for the women now entering the workforce during the war.  At the end of war in ’46, she was assigned to Honolulu to Fisher Printing, and she was supposed to demonstrate the addressograph and the new machines.  And her first client was my father, who was trying to put together what would be like a Midweek today.  It didn’t go, but you know, he was trying to get it off the ground.  And so, she was consulting for him, and then at the end of the week, they had argued the whole week, and he said: Hey, have you gone around the island yet?  She said: No, I haven’t seen anything.  He said: Okay, I’ll pick you up.  And that was it.

 

And there was a big age difference between them.

 

Yes.  When I was born in ’48, my father was forty-three, and my mother was twenty-four. So, they were able to bridge those generations, and I think that was part of the magic of our family.

 

Wow. And that worked; that May-December marriage worked.

 

And just held hands, walked around the block every night.

 

Long into their marriage?

 

All the way through their marriage; never stopped. Yeah; very much in love.  My parents bought one of the very first homes in ‘Āina Haina, on the very first street, Papai.  And it was one of the first ten houses.  And we have a photo of nothing but this little street with a few houses on it.  My father was a Shriner, and we had lots of parties.  That was a side thing going on.  And Shriners had lots of parties.  So, we had Andy Cummings playing for dancing in our lanai, and I sat in the living room and talked to Duke Kahanamoku,

 

Wow. 

 

We had all these people who, I found out later, were very important celebrities, but they were also part of the Shrine organization. So, because of that, I got to meet everybody in our home, and it was kind of amazing to look back later and realize who I’d actually spent time with as a young boy.  I think the cleverest thing he did was, I was pretty young, still in elementary school, and he brought home a reel-to-reel tape recorder. And he said: Here, this is how you use it; why don’t you try and make a show, an adventure series.  You know, like I watched on television, the serials. So, sound effects, and voices, and imitating things.  And he told me that the biggest thing that he worried about was that his son would have mic fright.  And so, he wanted me to get used to the sound of my own voice on this tape recorder, so that I wouldn’t intimidated by a PA system or a tape recorder, or any other form of electronic recording.

 

Do you think he saw you going into broadcasting, the way he and your grandfather did?

 

You know, I don’t know.  I wonder about that, because—

 

Pretty subtle, but—

 

Very subtle.

 

Yeah.  But he did want me to get over that.  To him, mic fright was a big deal.  You know, he didn’t want that.  And if you think, in the 50s, where there were very few microphones and opportunities, it’d be easy to have mic fright.

 

Oh, yes.

 

So, he had this fear that, I don’t want you to be afraid of a microphone.  And that seemed to be very, very important to him.  So, we addressed that very early on.

 

Harry B. Soria, Jr. did not immediately follow his father’s footsteps into Honolulu radio broadcasting.  Despite being introduced to the microphone at a young age, he did take his father’s advice and earned a college degree in business, and then had a career in credit collections.  Along the way in 1976, he found something in an old overlooked storage crate that would transform his life.

 

And then, suddenly in ’76, the renaissance was happening, and my father said: Hey, you want to see this box of things I have? They’re in the garage, and I have to get rid of ‘em, we’ve moving.  So, I went through, and here’s the contents of his entire office at KGU that he put into a shipping crate on December 8, 1941.  So, at one point, Dad pulled this paper tape out.  It was carbon paper; it wasn’t plastic tape.  It was on a reel, and he cued it up on an old machine.  And there was Alvin Isaacs and his group.  One of the songs had never been heard, and it was about the interisland airport, and it was a comedy song.  So, I initially thought: Oh, this would be a great record.  So, I approached Mike Kelly and Jerry Santos and the gang, and asked them if they would want to release it on their label.  But happily, they said: You should talk to Skylark, ‘cause that’s more of a radio vehicle.  So, I went to Sky, and I showed her something, and we transcribed it.  And Skylark heard it, and she was just amazed by it.  So, she started playing it on the radio, and it became a big hit.

 

What was it like?

 

It was: Here comes the big mokulele.  It was called The Mokulele E.  And it was all about the interisland airport and the early airplanes.  And it was hapa haole, it was real fun kinda lyrics.  And it just took off.  And so, in ’78, ’79, it became this big hit on the radio, a highly-requested song.

 

Harry B. Soria, Jr. would continue to share more forgotten vintage Hawaiian music with Jacqueline “Honolulu Skylark” Rossetti, then a young KCCN radio deejay. She immediately took interest in both the vintage records and the pre-statehood stories that Soria and his father could share with radio audiences.  In 1979, Harry and Skylark co-hosted the first episode of Territorial Airwaves.

 

Sky recognized that we had this older music. She had a passion for 78s, but she was like twenty-three.  So, she would play the records, and she’d go: This is so weird, what does this mean, why are they doing this?  And I would call my father and say: Dad, they’re asking a question about this song. He’d say: Oh, well, that’s because we did this.  And then, I would call up her and I’d say: Well, my dad says.  So after a while, she would say: Why don’t you come on.  So, I started coming on, bring in some records. .  It took off, and that was it.

 

The beginning of Territorial Airwaves.

 

Exactly.

 

And did your father’s old office suitcase yield more songs?

 

It was full of records, and song sheets, and photographs, and business cards, and whatever you can think of.  And he spent the time to explain each and every item to me, and kinda walk me through this history of what radio was like.  So, he realized that I was interested at that point, and so, he really immersed me in everything.

 

And I think there are parents who want to tell their children, you know, more about their jobs, but sometimes kids aren’t interested at that age.  But you were.

 

Well, especially in our case, because there was two generations between us; right?  So, he was like my grandfather.

 

Even though he was your father.

 

Yeah.  And so, for me to take an interest in his life, back in his prime, was unexpected and he loved it.  So, he was very proud, and he was like the consultant for the show for the first eleven years.

 

And it gave you reach far beyond what someone your age would normally have.

 

Exactly.  You know, if people would ask questions, I could go right to the source.  He would give me the answers.

 

He must have loved hearing the show.

 

You know, every show, every week, he would listen. And I would come home, and on my answering machine would be a critique.

 

Oh, on a positive way?

 

In a positive way.  You know, this was good, but you could have …  Yeah.  And then, other radio guys, legends, got involved, started supporting me.  Ron Jacobs started calling me and giving me advice, and listening to the show.  And occasionally, Tom Moffatt.  And these guys, I had known them as a young rock and roller, so now they were giving me advice about the radio.  So, it really helped that they would give me insights into their careers and what they had done.

 

And nobody else was doing what you were doing at that time.

 

No.  It was unheard of, you know.

 

But in part, it was because it was not all that popular.

 

Well, we didn’t even have oldies rock and roll shows yet.  You know, this was oldies Hawaiian.  Period.

 

You know, you mentioned this was right about the time of the Hawaiian renaissance.

 

M-hm.

 

The Hawaiian renaissance wasn’t wild about territorial music.  I mean, it was hapa haole, it was not Hawaiian, it was not authentic, it was kind of a mixture, lots of malihini references.

 

Luckily, I had Skylark, who was my champion, who believed in what I was doing.  There’s two ways to look at it.  You know, some people say: Oh, they outlawed the language, and they destroyed the connection, and we lost our roots.  But on the other side, without hapa haole music, we wouldn’t have had that string to keep us going to this point, so that we would have a generation rediscovering Hawaiian language and writing songs again .

 

In addition to his weekly broadcast of Territorial Airwaves, Harry B. Soria, Jr. worked to restore rare and out of print Hawaiian music recordings based on the records he collected over the years.  He re-released many of these lost albums on newer formats, like compact discs and digital music files.

 

Through the years, people would say: Harry, get rid of your records and put it all on tape; get rid of your records and put it on cassettes; get rid of your records and put it on CDs; get rid of your records and put it on the internet.  But the point is, I’ve kept the source material, and I’m glad I did.  Because all these other mediums have gone away. They don’t last.  You know, CDs, whatever; they’re gone.  So, by keeping the original 78s, 45s, 33s, I haven’t lost my connection to the source material.

 

And I understand you have a lot of those.  How many records do you have?

 

About ten thousand Hawaiian.

 

Wow …

 

Yeah.

 

And do you keep them in a place you won’t say where it is?

 

No, no.  In our living room, we have the working collection in big bookcases.  And then, we have more in our storage lockers, so forth.

 

Wow; ten thousand.  And some of them were given to you; right?  I heard the story about you going door-to-door.

 

Yeah.

 

And saying: Do you want your old records?

 

Well, there was that time when nobody had a 78 rpm player anymore.  And so, what I would do after work is, I had handbills, and I would drive around the communities of Kaimuki, Kapahulu, you know, wherever.

 

Older communities.

 

Older communities.

 

Yeah.

 

And I would look for a home with fruit trees and a green-and-white striped canvas awnings, so forth.  And I would go up and knock, and give my handbill.  And they’d say: Oh, yeah, we have that; come, you can get it.

 

And they have no way to play it.

 

No way; it’s just taking up dust.  So, I got lots of records that way.  That was in the ’78 acquisition.  And then, as I went into the 90s, people said: I have all this vinyl, all these 33s; let me give it to you, I’ll bring it by the station.  I’ll do this, I’ll do that.

 

And nobody wanted money; they just wanted to give them to you.

 

Just want to hear it on the radio.  You know, ‘cause nobody had a record player anymore. You know, everybody was going to CD; who cared about vinyl.  Now, the kids are into vinyl.  So, it’s gone full circle.  You know? Suddenly, they all want vinyl, and they want turntables, and they want to listen to old records, and they’re paying big top-dollar for them.

 

And your wife, she has the same reverence for the past that you do.

 

You know, it’s amazing.  We were introduced because she has a collection that she acquired in Paris, when she was living there for thirty years.

 

A collection of …

 

Of records, vinyl, 45s and 33s, from the 1950s, that a French scientist had acquired in the 50s, and then wanted to give to her in the 90s.  So, she took care of it all these years.  She paid to bring it back home, when she came back home after she was widowed.  And then, we had a mutual friend that said: You know, you both have these record collections; you should meet.  So, we merged our collections, and we merged our life, fell in love.  And her name is Kilohana, and she’s a kumu hula in Paris, Rome, Mānoa, Beijing, Juneau, Alaska; all over the world.  And so, we have this winter love.  You know, we met late in our lives.

 

How long ago did you meet?

 

In 2015.  Yeah; right after I retired.  And so, we took our incomes, refinanced the home, and we have a 1931 vintage home in the back of Mānoa Valley.  And we’ve remodeled it for aging in place, which is the thing to do.  At this point, we’re focusing on our nonprofit foundation, The Hawaiian Music Archives Foundation.  And the idea is, now that I’ve turned seventy, and Territorial is forty, I don’t have an heir, it’s time to focus on preparing all of this for sharing with a curriculum for future generations.  So, my wife and I hope to have it out there so that it’s accessible, and then when the time comes, we can just transfer it to the proper and the chosen institution to, you know, take care of it for perpetuity.  If you had told me back in 1979 that all this was gonna happen, I never would have believed it.  But it just seems that slowly, but surely, we’ve gotten opportunities, whether it was the CD series, or emceeing shows, or you know, being involved in productions, whatever it is, we were able to be part of the culture. And we went from we were this weird little thing, to now we’re having Hapa Haole Hula Festivals.  You know, that’s quite a stretch, over the decades.

 

And it’s because you were there, and you waited for other people to join you.

 

Pretty much.  Yeah; that‘s all it took.

 

Territorial Airwaves.  Yeah; we’re Territorial Airwaves, your source for the history of Hawaiian music.

 

In 2017, Territorial Airwaves and Harry B. Soria, Jr. were honored with a Krash Kealoha Industry Award at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Awards. He’s also received eight Hōkū Awards for the vintage recordings that he’s helped to re-release.  At the time of this conversation in the spring of 2019, Soria continues to broadcast new episodes of Territorial Airwaves to audiences worldwide.  Mahalo to Harry B. Soria, Jr. of Honolulu, O‘ahu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

What are some of the best-known Territorial songs?

 

Of course, R. Alec Anderson is my favorite, because he was a local boy.  He was not a mainlander.  Most of the hapa haole composers are.  But he was a local boy who had the ability to, in English, with some Hawaiian words, convey the meaning of, you know, the earth, the sea, the wind, all of the elements.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Business Start-ups

 

Statistics show that a little more than half of Hawaiʻi’s workforce is employed by small business owners. But the state gets low marks as a place to do business because of regulations, taxes and start-up costs. What does it take to start a small business in Hawaiʻi? What resources are available for young entrepreneurs?

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Preparing for Hurricanes

 

On its approach to the Hawaiian Islands last year, Hurricane Lane dumped an historic amount of rain on the Big Island, causing major flooding that damaged homes, roads and other infrastructure, without even being a direct hit. The storm also caused flooding on Kauaʻi. At one point, Lane intensified to Category 5 strength and was one of two tropical systems to cause damage in Hawaiʻi last season. A new hurricane season starts June 1. Is Hawaiʻi prepared? Are you?

 

Here are links to information and resources that can help you prepare:

These links will open in a new window or tab.

 


Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Francis “Palani” Sinenci

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Francis "Palani" Sinenci

 

After leaving his isolated hometown of Hāna, Maui, Francis “Palani” Sinenci spent decades away in the military before becoming inspired to reconnect with his Hawaiian roots. Serendipitously, he fell into the art of building traditional Native Hawaiian houses. Over the past twenty years, he has become a master, having built more than 300 traditional Hawaiian hales thatched with grass or leaves.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 26, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Francis “Palani” Sinenci Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And do hale stand up to strong, strong winds?

 

Well, we really haven’t had one that’s Category 5. But we had a storm … and we had campers at our site.  And you know, we heard the wind—whoosh.  But we were living in a cement house with a pitch roof.  So, the next morning, I go outside; our pitch and tar roof, that thick, blew off the house.  I go: Oh, god.  So, I went and looked down at my hale.  Six leaves blew off the hale, which were not tied.

 

That’s it?

 

Six leaves.

 

So, very durable construction.

 

It is durable.  It’s like a coconut tree; it bends with the wind.  Yeah.

 

He lashes together hale, or traditional Hawaiian houses, that can withstand fierce winds.  Francis “Palani” Sinenci, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  After retiring from the U.S. Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant, Francis “Palani” Sinenci is now a chief of a different order.  He has built over three hundred hale, or traditional Native Hawaiian houses, thatched with grass or leaves.  Uncle Palani, as he’s often called, is a master hale-builder.  He grew up in the isolated town of Hāna and Kāpahulu, Maui, to a Native Hawaiian mother and an immigrant Filipino father.

 

I had a really fun life.  ‘Cause I was born in Hāna, the plantation was just winding down, and cattle was being brought in, so I was in that transition stage.  And so, I just grew up fishing all the time.  You know, we lived right close to the ocean, right next to a boarding house with all mixed ethnic workers from all over.  They had Japanese, Portagees, Filipinos, Hawaiians, and we lived in a place called Old Camp.  My dad was from the Philippines.  He was a plantation worker.

 

And he came to work plantation, and he got sent to Hāna?

 

He almost went to jail, ‘cause my mother was only fifteen years old when they got my older brother.

 

And your mom was from Hāna?

 

Yeah; my mom was from—

 

Hawaiian from Hāna.

 

Yeah.  But lucky thing he didn’t go to jail, ‘cause I wouldn’t have been here.

 

Oh; ‘cause that was your older brother.

 

That was my older brother.

 

Got it. 

 

Yeah.

 

How many siblings do you have?

 

It was altogether, nine.  And there were two girls and seven boys.  And I’m number two.  And I lived with that number-two syndrome for all my life.  ‘Cause my older brother immediately got hanai’d by my tutu lady.  So, I was the oldest in the family, so I had to take care of my siblings while my mom and dad went to work.  Yeah.

 

So, does that mean you took care of feeding them during the day?  Your siblings.

 

After I got to be about like eight to ten years old, yeah, I started taking care of the younger ones.  I was a really good spear fisherman, ‘opihi picker.  And we did a lot of kalua pig, and all.  You know, regular stuff.

 

So, you gathered your food.

 

Oh, yeah.  We were gathering.  We were on the lower part of the ahupua‘a, I guess you call it, and we’re mostly ocean people.  So, some of the people from Kaupōor Ke‘anae, they’d grow the taro, these guys would grow the goats and whatever. So, we’d trade, you know.

 

You would have the fish.

 

Yeah, we’d trade.  We had fish, and then every week, we’d get taro.  I didn’t know where it came from, but they brought in taro. Sometimes, we’d have goat, and we’d have beef.  So, I was on the border of when Hawaiians just starting to start eating rice.  So, I was raised up eating rice.  And taro; we pounded all our own taro.  Every week, we had taro.

 

So, whatever you ate came from the land?

 

Came from the land.

 

And the sea?

 

Yeah.  It was fun. I had a good childhood.

 

But you ended up traveling all over the place.  So, you went from a very small and remote area, very isolated by geography.

 

Yeah.

 

What made you leave?

 

Well, about my high school days, I joined the Civil Air Patrol.  It was the thing; it was a way to get off island, free, on Air Force airplanes. So, I joined the Civil Air Patrol, and we used to travel to different islands, and got a taste of other than Hāna or other than Maui.

 

After graduating high school in the isolated town of Hāna, Maui, Francis “Palani” Sinenci says he got itchy feet, and wanted to see the world.  So, he enlisted in the Navy, and left behind his rural life and worked on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock.

 

I was an air crew survival equipment technician. In other words, I took care of the pilots’ survival gear, and some of his environmental systems within the aircraft, like breathing, his G-suits, his ensemble.

 

Did you rig up his parachute?

 

Oh, yeah.  In fact, one of the pilots got shot over South Vietnam, and he jumped out of the plane.  Not ejected; jumped out and used my parachute.  And he came back to me one day and he says: Here’s your Crown Royal. So, the person that packs the parachute that was used gets a bottle of Crown Royal.  That’s the tradition.

 

After traveling the world on an aircraft carrier, Francis “Palani” Sinenci wanted to attend college.  So, after four years in the Navy, he returned home to Maui to enroll in school.  That plan did not last long, as Sinenci says he got itchy feet once again, and enlisted in the Air Force.  Sinenci would spend the next twenty-five years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant.

 

I know what happened between the time you were in the Navy and the time you joined the Air Force.

 

Met my wife.

 

Yes.

 

Yeah.  I went to a party.  And she looked fourteen years old, playing the piano.  And I asked my auntie: Hey, who’s that little girl playing the piano? She goes: That little girl is nineteen years old; she’s going to University of Hawai‘i.  Oh, that changed my whole … oh, yeah; intelligent, too.  I don’t know if she’s watching.  But anyway …

 

Long story short; we’ve been married fifty-one years.

 

And I know you call her your wife for life.

 

Mm.

 

And I asked her where she calls home, because you’ve lived so many places.

 

Yeah.

 

And she said: Wherever my husband is.

 

Good answer.

 

It is a tough life.  And she’s in the Reserves, or she was in the Reserves.

 

Was.

 

Right? So, how did that work?  You then joined the Air Force.

 

Luckily, we lived close to the base.  And she went temporary duty sometimes, off base to other bases, but only for two weeks at a time.  You know, the Air Force and the service is like one big family.  They always take care of each other. Yeah.  So, there’s no worries.

 

During the time you were in the Air Force, and then the—first, the Navy, and then the Air Force, were you keeping Hawaiian traditions?  Or how much a part of your life was Hawai‘i?

 

Well, actually, I kind of wanted to distance myself from home.  ‘Cause I wanted to see the world.  And I go: Oh, man, the world is my oyster.  You know, I really loved what I was doing, and I was traveling a lot. And I go: Hāna is just a little dot, you know, I grew up there.

 

At the end of your service in Air Force, in which you did very well, you were all set to retire on the mainland.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Where?

 

South Carolina, Charleston.

 

Why South Carolina?

 

Because I had a home there.  And my home was like Hawai‘i; I had banana trees, literally, my back yard was a Hawaiian garden.

 

And you were okay living in Charleston.

 

Charleston, South Carolina.

 

Rather than back home.

 

Yeah; my son was there, my wife was there, you know. So, yeah.  And all my friends were there.  Close to the golf course, I had all my imu rocks.  You know, I was like at home.

 

What happened?  Why aren’t you in Charleston right now?

 

So, one night, a friend of mine calls me over to his house.  He goes: Hey, brah, come over.  Hawaiian Senior Master Sergeant.  Come over, and let’s watch some some videos.  He just came back from Hawai‘i.  So, I go: Sure.  So, my wife and I go over, and we’re having pupus and drinking beer.  And he shows the Merrie Monarch.  I go: Wow!  And I started getting emotional.  And I said to my wife: Tomorrow morning, I’m putting in my retirement papers.  And she goes: What?  Where we going?  I go: We’re moving back to Hawai‘i.  And she goes: Really?  Yeah. She goes: What about our house?  I go: We’ll sell it or leave it for the son.

 

Just like that.

 

Just like that.

 

And it was the call of the Hawaiian culture?

 

Yeah.

 

Which you had not really repressed.  You’d lived it, but you also didn’t really seek to immerse yourself in it.

 

Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

And it was Eddie Kamae, and he was playing, you know, cowboy songs and all that.  Wow; I really got choked up.

 

So, it was two films; Merrie Monarch and Eddie Kamae?

 

Eddie Kamae; yeah.

 

Wow.

 

And later on, I told Eddie Kamae; I go: You know, you’re responsible for bringing me home.  When we had a chance meeting over in Maui at a festival.

 

Inspired to reconnect with his Hawaiian roots, Francis “Palani” Sinenci retired from the Air Force, packed up, and shipped out to Hawaii from South Carolina.

 

 

And you knew where you would come when you got home, you would go to Hāna?

 

Well, actually, I didn’t go to Hāna.  I just wanted to come home.  You know. And so, I came home, and the first thing my brother-in-law says: Hey, you know what, we need a kūpuna at school.  They were lacking teachers and stuff.  I go: What’s a kūpuna? You know, like, all my Hawaiian stuff was all left back in the old days.  So, he goes: A kūpuna, you know, a teacher, an elder.  I go: Oh, okay.  I don’t know anything about kūpuna. So, he goes: Well, you know what, go and interview with our principal, Jan. I go: Okay.  So, I show up.  And I considered myself old at that time; I was forty-eight years old, you know.

 

I was forty-eight years old.  ‘Cause in the military, when you’re forty-eight, you’re an old man.  And you really are; they make you feel like an old man.  So, I was doing backflips, and they called me an old man.  So anyway, I went and interviewed.  And she goes: You’re from Hāna; yeah?  I go: Yeah.  She goes: Can you speak Hawaiian?  I go: I can understand.  You know, I was brought up by my tutu lady, and yeah, I can, little bit.  She goes: No problem.  She says: Here’s what you gotta do; we’re gonna hire you, with all the classes I need to take.  So, I had like, two ‘ōlelo classes, and an ‘ukulele class.  She goes: Can you sing, play ‘ukulele?  I go: Sure. You know, what local boy doesn’t know how to play ‘ukulele.  So, I got these three things; now I gotta go. So, immediately, she hired me immediately. And so, I had to report to work on Tuesday.  So, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights, I was in school.  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday days, I was teaching.  So, I was going to ‘ōlelo classes.  By the time Friday came, I just said: I gotta get out of here.  Honolulu of course, I was living here.  And I used to just jump on my truck and go to the airport and fly to Hāna, and just go fishing.  Just forget everything.  Sunday night, fly back here.  Same thing; teach.  I was working like, twelve to sixteen hours a day, retired Air Force.

 

Yeah; your wife told me you don’t have a lazy bone in your body.  You’re always doing something.

 

Yeah.  It’s weird.

 

You just keep going.

 

I just don’t want to waste time.  Because tomorrow is not guaranteed.  That’s the way I look at it.

 

Francis “Palani” Sinenci kept himself busy reconnecting with his Hawaiian heritage, practicing taro cultivation and working as a kūpuna, or Hawaiian cultural elder, at Helemano Elementary School in Wahiawā, Central O‘ahu.  One day in 1994, he received a request from a fellow kūpuna that would shape the rest of his life.

 

So, one day, one of my kūpuna says: Uncle Francis—we always call each other auntie and uncle in front of the kids as a sign of respect.  And I don’t know if she’s older, or younger than me. But she goes: Uncle Palani, why don’t you build us a hale?  I go: What’s that?  She goes: A hale.  And I grew up with hale ‘au‘au.  That’s bathroom.

 

M-hm.

 

Hale hopau pilikia, hale unu, and these kinda hale. Not a sleeping house.  She goes: Hale pili.  I go: Oh, pili; like pili grass?  She goes: Yeah.  So, I said: You mean a grass shack, don’t you?  She goes: Yeah; it’s a hale, not a grass shack.  ‘Cause when I was growing up, a hale was a grass shack.  I want to go back to my little grass shack.  Everything was grass shack.  So, I go: I don’t know anything about building a hale.  She goes: Well, we’re gonna send you down to Waimea Falls Park, and you’re gonna see Uncle Rudy, and he’s gonna teach you how to build a hale.  So, I go: Okay.  So, I go down to Waimea Falls Park, and meet Uncle Rudy.  He’s back there by all his archaeological stuff in the back.  And he’s smoking a pipe.  So, he introduced me.  He goes: Oh, you want to build a hale; yeah, boy?   You want to build a hale, boy?  ‘Cause he was about sixty.

 

I go: Yes; yes, sir.  So, he brings out this pad, and he starts drawing the posts, the tenons and, you know, how to connect the hale.  I go: Wait a minute; I know how to do that.  And he goes: Really?  I go: Yeah.  He goes: Why are you here?  I go: No, when I was in the sixth grade, that was my homework.  Our teacher, Mrs. Naone said: You guys go to the library, and go find something Hawaiian, and come back and do a show-and-tell, you know, story. Gotta write about it; you gotta draw the pictures.  So, that’s what I did.  Everybody did like, lamalama torch, all the other things, you know.  I chose hale-building.  So, he writes down all these things that I need to do.  You go to Bishop Museum, you look, you go read this book, this book, this book.  So, I went to Bishop Museum, looked at the hale there, they let me go inside.  And I got Russ Apple’s book, Dr. Russ Apple, and I read through it.  I go: Oh, yeah, this is easy.  So, I went out and gathered the wood, and I built a little hale, about a six-foot hale for a project that I was working at one of the schools, Helemano School.  And when I built it, I invited him to come up to come up for the christening or blessing.  Yeah; oki ka piko.  And he came up; he goes: Wow, boy; you get ‘em.  Now, if you like become one master, you gotta build one twenty-by-forty.  I said: Uncle Rudy, I’ll never be a master; this is too much work.  He mentioned that: You need to go back to Hāna, and go build a kauhale at the Hāna Cultural Center.

 

What’s a kauhale?

 

It’s a group of different type of houses.  Or a village, like a small village.

 

He wanted you to build a small village?

 

Yeah.  So, I go to Hāna, and I see Ms. Coila Eade, who was kind of my mentor too.  She’s there, and she goes: Yeah, we need a kauhale.  So, she goes: You know, I’m from Hana.  She goes: You know how to build a hale?  We don’t know that you can build a hale. So, I had to go out and gather more wood, and build a small table model, using dental floss for the lashing, then cement and rocks, and built a hale for them.  And I presented it at the meeting, and they said: Okay, you’re hired.  So, I started my career right there.

 

And were you loving the process by that point?

 

Doing the first one, and then making the model, you know, everything sinks in, and you get some muscle memory.

 

So many different things.  You get the rocks.

 

Oh; yeah, yeah.

 

I mean, it looks simple, but it’s not.

 

I mean, for me, well, it came natural, ‘cause I worked with cords and stuff.  After I finished the kauhale, everybody in Hāna was like, jumping in and helping out.  In fact, one of the hales that I built, we didn’t have pili grass, so I had to use the alternative thatching materials, which was loulu palm, palm leaf, loulu, and ti leaves.  And that one hale took about almost half a million ti leaves to thatch the totally enclosed sleeping hale.  So, I had the whole community out there, gathering dried ti leaves, and then putting them in bundles.  And then we lashed it all on.  And that catapulted me to a hale-builder, master hale-builder.  In fact, when I called Russ Apple—he was still alive, and I said: Russ, how do you become a master builder?  And he’s been tracking, he was tracking me.  He goes: You’re a master.  I go: No way; I gotta build a twenty-by-forty before I proclaim myself a master.  And the first twenty-by-forty I built, my wife and I, in strong wind, started to build it.

 

Where was that?

 

In Hana, at the place where we’re at right now. So, I built my first twenty-by-forty with my wife’s help.

 

And it’s your hale.

 

Yeah.  So, as we were building, the wind was blowing, it was starting to rain.  And we’d build these A-frames, and stand it up like this, and my wife was holding it in the wind.  I go: Don’t you let that thing fall.  Oh … she didn’t.  And we built the hale.

 

Do you marvel when you put those together about, you know, how you do it? I mean, you know, how durable it is.

 

I’m awe every time I build.

 

What are some of the things that impress you about the building?

 

How they can stand up to the weather, and how ingenious and simple, ingenious how those fittings come together.  And I firmly believe—you know, these EZ Corner tents that you see pop up, you know, people put them together?  It’s almost exactly like a hale.  The framing and everything is the frame of a hale.

 

If I were to be there to watch you do the work, what would I be surprised to see? What’s some of the most interesting parts of the job?

 

You will probably be amazed at how many people we can hold on the ‘oloke‘a, which is the scaffolding system.  By the way, you cannot build a hale without.  I mean, many have tried, and I’ve got reports back where they used modern metal scaffolding.  But an ‘oloke‘a, has to conform, or a traditional hale building ‘oloke‘a is actually building a hale, then another hale over it.  Because the scaffolding system has to be commensurate to the size of the hale, and the workers.  So, it’s gotta be kind of like ergonomic; yeah.  So, it’s gotta fit the guys and the people too.

 

So, first, you build the scaffolding.

 

No; first you build the foundation, then you build the scaffolding after the posts is all in to build the roof part.

 

And what do other people use you hale for?

 

Mostly for gathering places, like most of the hale that I build are called hale hālāwai, which means, you know, meeting place. And gathering, and some just for show.

 

Over the last twenty years, Francis “Palani” Sinenci has tirelessly built various types of hale across Hawaiian cultural sites, schools, private residences, Haleakala National Park on Maui, and even on the U.S. mainland, and in China.

 

The title that I have as a kahuna kuhikuhi pu‘uone suggests that I’m an architect.  The word kuhikuhi pu‘uone, breaking down the word kuhikuhi pu‘uone was to show how to build on a pile of sand.  So, now we have architects who use blueprints.  Back in the old days, they used a pile of sand.  Like, if a kahuna is gonna demonstrate how to build a heiau, he would go like this.  He would say: Okay; get the sand, and then stack all the rocks, stack all the wood. And I actually did one, demonstrated how to build a hale on a pile of sand.  So, kuhikuhi means to show or direct, or envision; pu‘u, a pile, a pu‘u; one, sand.  So, someplace I read, over on the Big Island, that became the title for the royal architect, kuhikuhi pu‘uone.  And at one point, somebody said: You’re a kuhikuhi pu‘uone.  I go: I didn’t get that title; somebody else gave me that title, I didn’t put it on myself.  I’ve met more people building hales than people do, except if you’re a concierge.  Of course, you meet a lot of people.

 

I have people from all walks of life that walk away with something.  Either just making a shaka or understanding the Hawaiian culture, or just coming to find out that, hey, I appreciate my job more than building hale.  You know, either positively or negatively, it impacts everybody.

 

Well, you bring people together to build it.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, it becomes a gathering place forever after.

 

I’ve had people get married, met at these hale gatherings.  And then divorced, and came back again.

 

Yeah; halawai, the word for meeting is really a truism.  Hale halawai; you meet, you gather, you eat.  And most of my hales are used for pa‘inas.  Yeah.

 

How many hale have you built now?

 

It’s over three hundred.

 

This takes tremendous energy and strength.  And you’re doing this, and now you’re seventy-six now.

 

Takes a village to build a hale.  Literally.

 

So, are you doing mostly the overseeing now?  Because you’re in your seventies, and you’re doing the main work.

 

Overseeing; I wish that was so yesterday.

 

So, you’re out there doing it.

 

But I mean, keeps the blood flowing, you know, keeps the energy going.

 

In 2018, Francis “Palani” Sinenci was featured in Ka Hale: A Revival,  a short film about his efforts to preserve the traditional practice of hale-building.  The film received a People’s Choice Award in the American Institute of Architects Film Challenge.  Working with his hands and showing no signs of slowing down, Uncle Palani also is rebuilding structures from Hawai‘i’s past.  In addition to restoring a Native Hawaiian fishpond in Hāna, he’s now turning his attention to recreating plantation era Portuguese stone ovens.

 

Mahalo to Francis “Palani” Sinenci of Hāna, Maui.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, I devised this shaka.  And you coil it up, you pre-cut all the lashing.  Like if I say: Hey, throw me a number three shaka.

 

And what’s a shaka?

 

This is called a shaka, a coiled piece of rope. Okay; this is how we test to see if you did it right.  So, you’re supposed throw.  Did it come out?  Oh, yeah. See, no knots.

 

No knots.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
Puna Geothermal Restart?

 

Kīlauea Volcano’s lava flow last year not only destroyed hundreds of homes and farms, it damaged and caused the shutdown of a geothermal plant that supplied 25 percent of the Big Island’s power needs. Puna Geothermal Venture intends to be back in the power business again by year-end. Critics question whether the cost of reopening is justified, versus the benefits of investing in other forms of renewable energy. Should Puna Geothermal Restart?

 

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

1 2 3 4 5