Hawai‘i

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Literacy in Hawaiʻi

 

We know literacy as reading and writing, but it has become so much more. Literacy enables people, especially our keiki, to understand concepts and ideas and express opinions. Importantly, literacy allows them to grasp knowledge needed to meet the demands of today’s rapidly changing world. On the next INSIGHTS, we’ll discuss literacy in Hawaiʻi and look at how we are preparing children to not only participate in society but how to lead and solve problems. Join the conversation by phoning in, or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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

 

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insights@pbshawaii.org

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Wordsmiths

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Wordsmiths

 

On this special episode of Long Story Short, we look back at conversations with three of Hawai‘i’s contemporary authors. We revisit our 2011 interview with Chris McKinney, whose gritty, semi-autobiographical novels, like local best seller The Tattoo, depict the dark underbelly of paradise. Acclaimed novelist Susanna Moore, whom we interviewed in 2012, draws inspiration from her Hawai‘i upbringing, calling forth both beauty and danger in her writing. Our 2008 guest, storyteller and historian Gavan Daws, has made a lasting impact on Hawai‘i’s literary scene with his book Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, which remains the bestselling history of Hawai‘i. These “wordsmiths” have built careers weaving stories of Hawai‘i in distinctive, personal ways and have proven exceptional at bringing these stories to the page. Hear how they approach their craft and get a glimpse into their literary lives.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, March 17, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Wordsmiths Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

In part, I wroteIn the Cutbecause was so exasperated by hearing, after three Hawaiian books, that I was a woman’s writer, which meant that I wrote poetically about children, and flowers, and mothers.  I remember thinking: Oh, is that all I can do?  Oh, is that how I’m seen?  So, I very, very purposefully wrote In the Cut to dispel that notion.

 

Some of the best stuff, some of the best ideas, some of the best things that you can plug into your story will be thing that may be scary, and things that there’s actual risk in sort of hurting somebody’s feelings or making somebody mad.  I mean, if you’re gonna refuse to do that kinda stuff, find another vocation.

 

Those are three of Hawaiʻi’s successful contemporary authors sharing thoughts about how they approach their craft.  These writers have built careers weaving stories of Hawaiʻi in distinctive, honest, and personal ways.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we’ll hear some of the fascinating backstories behind their books.  Island Wordsmiths, coming up next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Despite the technology that dominates our lives these days, a good book continues to inspire our imagination and transport us to new places, far away and even within ourselves.  Here in Hawaiʻi, we have fascinating stories to share, and writers who’ve proven exceptional in bringing these experiences to the printed page or screen.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we feature some of the wordsmiths with whom we’ve talked story over the past decade: Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws.  Perhaps not surprisingly, all three have been teachers, as well as writers.

 

We start with our youngest author.  Chris McKinney of Honolulu was thirty-eight, with four books under his belt, when I interviewed him in 2011.  A writing career seemed unlikely when Chris McKinney was growing up in rural Kahaluu in the 1970s and 80s.  School-assigned books sparked his interest starting in middle school, and little could Chris McKinney guess then that his very first novel, The Tattoo, would one day become assigned reading in many Hawaiʻi schools.

 

You know, especially in Tattoo, part of the story is about a father seeking to toughen his son.  I just make this wild, random guess and figure it’s autobiographical.  So, which father?

 

Oh, stepfather.  And I can’t remember it, but I can just imagine what must have been the look on his face the first time he saw me, when I was about two or three years old.

 

Because of the leisure suit?

 

Because of the way my mom had dressed me.

 

And he said: I’m gonna do something with this kid.

 

Yeah; he just must have taken one look at me and thought: What in the world is this woman doing to this poor kid?  It almost felt like, you know, even though it was the 1970, early 1980s, that we were living in some sort of time warp plantation, sort of the way you were brought up thing.  And even the stories that he seems to enjoy telling the most are stories that involve people doing spectacularly crazy things.  And so, I think for him at least at the time, is part of what being a man is about.  To not show the next guy that you’re not just tougher than him, but you’re crazier than him, that you’re willing to go further than he is willing to go, and he better recognize that before he messes with you, basically.  So, if it wasn’t for my stepfather, The Tattooprobably would not have been The Tattoo.

 

So, you obviously had material to be a writer, but were you thinking about being a writer?

 

Absolutely not.  Again, remember, in some ways, I am my mother’s son.  And it is that cliché immigrant Asian story, or that philosophy, in that they want their children to succeed financially.  I mean, that is the most important thing you can do in life, is you get a good job and you make a lot of money.  And I think that hearing my mother and my grandparents and stuff talk like that all of my life, that I bought into that more than anything else. Art; you know, art, that’s not what I’m gonna do.  I’m going to make money.  So, for a long time, the plan, at least from about high school and for most of my undergrad, I was going to become a lawyer, an attorney.  And then, what had happened was that I spent probably too much time playing ukulele and drinking beer, and playing Nintendo during my undergrad that I needed to go to grad school in order to get into a good law school.  So, yeah, you know.  And at the same time, I had my bachelor’s degree in English. During my bachelor’s degree in English, I was parking cars for a living.  After I completed my bachelor’s in English, I was still parking cars for a living.  So, either way, I thought that grad school, whether it would be an avenue to law school or anything, was probably a good idea, ‘cause I didn’t want to park cars for the rest of my life.  Which was what it felt like.  So, it wasn’t until I went to grad school as an unclassified graduate student.  And again, I was very lucky because the professors who would take me, one being Joy Marcella, and the other one being Phil Damon, and another one—all three of them in the same semester, Ian MacMillan, when I wrote for them, they were all very encouraging.  And I thought: Maybe I can do this.

 

Did you have a sense that your writing was fresh, and that you knew a world that most people hadn’t written about?  If they knew it, they didn’t write about it.

 

Yeah.  Quite honestly, it’s because if you were to look into the sort of educational background of, let’s say, all of the kids my age within that square two miles of where I grew up, I would put money down on the fact that I may be one of three that actually graduated from college.  If that. So, in the sense that I was sitting there and I was writing stories among whatever, you know, seventeen, eighteen other people, yeah, there was definitely nobody else writing the kinda stuff that I was writing.

 

Would you talk about more of the influences on your writing?  What, and who have influenced your writing?

 

There’s a list of teachers that I’m thankful that I had. The first great teacher I had was a guy named Mr. Guerrero.  And this was when I was living in California.  He was fantastic.  He assigned the class a book, Animal Farm, that was the first novel that I had read that just totally resonated with me. And at the time, I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be a writer, but it was the first time that I saw, and I was in awe of what you could do with a book.  At first, we read it, and then of course, it was thig thing, this power corrupt scheme and all of that.  And you know, I’d seen that before.  But when you find out that it’s based on the Bolshevik Revolution, that just blew my mind. Wait a minute; so this guy took history, he put it on some generic farm, and in that last moment, of course, when the animals are looking through the window and they can’t tell the difference between the pigs and the farmers, the human farmers, I mean, talk about an ending that I will never forget.  So, that was the first book that blew me away.  And then, in high school, I had a couple of good English teachers.  I think one of them still teaches at Mid Pac. Mrs. Takeshita, Mrs. Takabayashi; they were really good, and they were always encouraging.  So, I had teachers, and then there were books that influenced me. Shakespeare, Mac Beth particularly resonated with me when I read it in eleventh grade in high school.  So, that was the second story that just sort of blew me away.

 

How do you feel about high school students getting The Tattoo as required or recommended reading in many schools?

 

Thankful.  I mean, at first, it was weird.  So, when the book first came out, and people would come up to me and say: I don’t read, but my teacher assigned this book and I had to read it, and it was The Tattoo.  At first, I didn’t really know what to say to that, ‘cause I just thought it was strange. But at this point, ten years later, eleven years later, I’m grateful.  Something like that would never have occurred when I was in high school. I mean, high school, you were taught The Canon, you know, Dead White Males.  So, I think that it’s interesting to see that there’s more of a progressive thing going on in high schools, where teachers are allowed, and some of the language in that book is kind of foul.  So, it’s gratifying to see that they have the courage not only to buck the idea that everything has to come from the Western canon, but also that they can take a little bit of risk with what they include in the curriculum.

 

Since this interview first aired in 2011, Chris McKinney has published more books, bringing his total to eight.  He continues to teach writing courses at Honolulu Community College.

 

I spoke with our next critically acclaimed author in 2012.  At the time, she was living in New York City.  Susanna Moore’s tenth book is expected out this year, 2019.  Her repertoire includes two memoirs, one history book, and seven novels, including one called In the Cut, which was made into a 2003 movie starting Meg Ryan.  Susanna Moore grew up on Oahu, attended Punahou School, and lived what appeared to be a privileged life in Tantalus, Kahala, and Portlock in the 1950s. However, her mother’s untimely death led to an unhappy upbringing.  That experience would later compel Susanna Moore to explore family dynamics in her writing.

 

When did the writing bug come?  Or had you always had it?

 

I’d always had it, and wrote as a child, and wrote plays, and really bad poetry.  You know, I was a reporter for Ka Punahou, the newspaper.

 

Did you write more after your mom passed away?

 

No, I don’t think so.  I think about the same.  And also, really a bookworm.  You know, reading early, and reading insatiably and incessantly.  And then I stopped, because I had to work, I had to support myself.  And writing certainly was not going to be a way to do it.  And still isn’t, you know.  Like a lot of writers, I had to teach in order to write.

 

How did you find your voice in the first place?

 

With the first book, I’d had a baby, a girl child.  So, I’m sure there was some identification there with myself and my mother, and my mother with her mother.  And I was approaching the age, the same age as my mother when she died.  And I felt a bit shaky, and I wanted very much to just get down in writing what had happened to me, and to my daughter’s grandmother.  And that’s really how it began, just to record it.

 

And who were you imagining would see it?

 

She; I was imagining my daughter, when she grew up, would find this helpful in understanding who I was, and who her grandmother had been. And then, of course, it took her years, and years, and years to read it, interestingly.  She could not read it for the longest time, not until she was maybe seventeen or eighteen, because it was too pain for her.  She would start it, and then she’d have to stop.

 

What did she say after she read it?

 

Thank you.  She understood.  I think certain things were made clearer to her.  Some, perhaps more mysterious.

 

And what’s the name of that book?

 

My Old Sweetheart.

 

Which is really the story of you and your mom.

 

Yes.

 

As you say.  The Whiteness of Bones; I mean, I didn’t have this background as far as you talked about a little girls growing up on Kauai with a land-rich family, but very much a creature of the ocean and the forest, and you know, hanging out with the cook. How did you get that?  That was such beautiful imagery.

 

Well, of that came from spending summers on Kauai, particularly in Waimea.  And there were bits of that from my own childhood, although those weren’t my parents. The relationship with the gardener was our gardener at Tantalus; that was real.  The mongoose; my sister did have a pet mongoose.  There were things that I took, and then things that, of course, I made up.  I always thought that in a way, nature took the place of my mother.  So, I was very, very grateful and conscious of it, even I think, as an adolescent that it was playing a part in my life that was significant. But Hawaiʻi was meaningful to me in a way that was profound.  Still is.

 

I find it just really wonderful and refreshing that you have taught at Yale, at New York University, at Princeton, and you haven’t attended college. But you’ve been hired by Ivy League universities to teach.

 

It’s because of the books.  You know, if I hadn’t written these books, I would not be hired.  No; and I don’t think I could teach in the English department.

 

Creative writing is what you teach.

 

Creative writing is such a made-up thing, and ill-defined.  I mean, yes, I can get away with that, teaching creative writing without a degree, but even if I knew everything there was to know about Emily Dickinson, I would not be hired for that.

 

Do you regret not going to college?

 

It would not be unlike the way my life would have gone if my mother had lived.  I think if I had gone to college, it might have been harder for me to get started on the path that became my life.  My path to becoming a writer, or to becoming independent and free, the way I did become, would have been much, much harder, if not impossible, had she lived.

 

Why?

 

Well, she would have wished for me a more conventional life, I’m sure.  To marry, to have children, to be near her, station wagon, house in Kahala; all of those things to which she aspired.  And a bohemian life would have seemed to her probably frightening and impractical.

 

Are you saying the wandering, the bohemian lifestyle is really you, and if your mom had been alive longer, you wo7uld have taken longer to find that?

 

If ever.  Yes, I think it is really me.

 

It is really you.

 

Yes.

 

So, that raises an interesting question.  Would you rather have had your mom with you longer, or …

 

Yes; always.  Always.  I would much rather have had my mother.  And I am one of those people who, I don’t believe that suffering makes you an artist. In a way, I’m saying the reverse of what I just said, that I don’t think the things that happened to me as a child, or as an adolescent, or a young woman, made me a writer.  I think that was there.  I don’t think suffering is ever an advantage.

 

Really?

 

No; I don’t think so.  I might have written different kinds of books, my interests might have been different, I might have been less interested in mothers. Clearly, I would have been less interested in mothers.

 

Since this interview took place in 2012, Susanna Moore has moved back to Hawaiʻi from New York and married a former Punahou Schoolmate.  She also has published a history of Hawaiʻi called Paradise of the Pacific.  Susanna Moore lives in Kapaau in North Kohala on Hawaiʻi Island, but returns every fall to Princeton University on the East Coast, where she’s been teaching for the past ten years.

 

While Moore is an author who became a university instructor, our next guest was an academic who became an author.  Gavan Daws of Manoa, Oahu says he never planned to move to Hawaiʻi, let alone become an authority on Hawaiʻi history.  He left his native Australia, and just happened to get off the ship here.  He was teaching history at the University of Hawaiʻi in the 1960s when he wrote and published his first book, Shoal of Time, which has remained the best-selling history of Hawaiʻi, ever since. This acclaimed author and historian has written shelf full of meticulously researched and sometimes controversial books, including Land and Power in Hawaii.

 

So, you accidentally came here, in a sense.  And then, you accidentally got a PhD in Pacific history?

 

It was like breaking the balls on a pool table. You know, things just went everywhere, and one of ‘em went into a pocket.  And that was the academic life.  It could have been anything else.  It just kinda grew from there.  I got offered a job, I kept the job, I got tenure, I wrote a book, and so on, and so on. But I’ve also done other things outside Hawaiʻi, and other things other than academic work, you know.

 

Within just, what, a decade or so of coming here, you’re writing a history of the Hawaiian Islands, Shoal of Time.  Is it still a local bestseller after all these years?

 

Yeah, it is; it’s forty years in print.  Which is amazing.  Eighty percent of books disappear after a year.  They’re like restaurants, you know; they fold.  And I had no idea, doing that, what kind of life it would have, or even if it would get published.  Which you never know.  And just a little bit of the history of that; Honolulu Book Shops, which was the only bookshop in town in those days, they ordered twenty-four copies.  And when they sold them, they didn’t reorder; they thought that was about the demand.  But here it is, forty years later.

 

It’s required reading in many courses.

 

Which I don’t want; I don’t want to be required reading.  I want to be read by, my phrase, consent adults.  I want them to choose to read it.

 

Have you heard that in the intervening decades after the book came out, there has been some perception on the part of Native Hawaiians that there’s a colonial tone here in the book?

 

Oh, sure.  Yeah.  I think every writer writes as someone of his or her own time.  I certainly had no great ability beyond anybody else’s to look backward or forward, or sideways.  I breathed the air that was here to breathe at that time, and wrote that. Now, in the forty years since then, and almost fifty years since the research, there’s two generations. That’s half the people living here now; A, weren’t born then, and B, weren’t born here.  So, the change in everything here is huge, since I started doing that.  Any general history written now will be written by somebody now, looking back at then through the eyes of now.  Totally different.  There wouldn’t be a sentence in this book that would be the same, if I were doing it now.

 

Is that right?

 

Oh, yeah.  Or if anybody were doing it now.  Now, I that forty to fifty years, we’ve now got more than thirty years of the Hawaiian renaissance.  Now, think what a difference that’s made in the air that everybody breathes. Okay.  The next book that’ll be done, and I wish done soon, will breathe that air.  Fine. Thomas Jefferson says: History needs to be rewritten every generation.

 

When you were researching Shoal of Time, how did you put yourself in mind of what, say, Native Hawaiians were doing at that time, and how’d you learn to characterize certain things?

 

With difficulty.  What I try to do with writing, and it’s not just for Shoal of Time, but anything at all, I try to keep people interested in turning the page.  If you’re not readable, then what?  If I put you to sleep by page ten, even if I’ve got something interesting to say on page fifty, and you don’t get there, what have I done?  So, first thing; be readable.  And then, you’ve gotta dance with nonfiction.  With fiction, you can say anything to be readable; you can have sex every three pages or a mighty explosion every five, or whatever.  But with nonfiction, you can’t really take those liberties.  So, what you’ve gotta be able to do is, do that dance between readability and reliability.  And that’s a dance.  And it’s a solo dance; only one person’s name is on the book.  And everybody’s dance with readability and reliability will be different.  And that’s why they’re my books; that is to say, that’s my name on the title page.  But they’re only my books.  There’s always room for another book and for a better book, always.

 

What other ways have you told stories in your life?

 

Well, if it comes down to twenty-four words or less, I suppose that all my life has really been about words and audiences. Words is all I have.  I have no other skills of any kind, either creative or financial.  So, it’s words; words are my currency.  And I kinda grew up on the edge of the Outback in Australia, where when I was a kid there was no radio, and where for a long time there was no TV.  And storytelling was what everybody did.  And when you got old enough, which was around sixteen, you’d go into the pub two or three years below drinking age, and that was storytelling territory as well.  And on top of that, I’m about five-eighths Irish in books and in stage plays, and in song lyrics.  And I’ve done the libretto for an opera, and I’ve made documentary films which are not my talking, but other people’s talking.  And I’m a huge admirer of standup comedy; I just love standup comedy. So, words are the way that things come to me, and on a good day, they’re the way that things come out of me.

 

You’ve been on bestseller lists, and you’re an academic whose books have been reviewed by the New York Times, which doesn’t happen to most academics, because they like to point that out.  Would you talk about that a bit?  You’ve drawn the attention of major reviewers and major audiences and readerships.

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

And you didn’t.

 

No; and for cause.  Because bless them; for all their virtues, most academics do not write to be read.  They write to demonstrate that they know something.  That’s a very different thing.  And they write for other academics.

 

Does that mean other academics might consider your work lighter than others, because it is, quote, commercial?

 

They’re welcome to; perfectly welcome to.  But I don’t see any necessary contradiction between writing responsibly and readably.

 

This multi-talented wordsmith has also written for film, television, stage, and has even written songs.  In 2018, his most famous book, Shoal of Time, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.  The e-book version has now outsold the many hardcover and paperback editions.

 

Mahalo to all of these accomplished wordsmiths—Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws—for giving us a peek into their literary lives.  And thank you for watching.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaiʻi, 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.

 

I said to my editor this time, who’s Sonny Mehta, who was also the publisher of Knopf, that I’ve always felt my books were covers that would only induce a woman to pick up the book in a bookstore, you know, that I know that women are the primary buyers of fiction, but it would be awfully nice to have a book that a man might want to read from the cover.  And I think covers do make a difference.  And he said: Yes, yes, I agree that would be good, especially as it might be your last cover.  And I thought: [GASP] What does he mean?  He saw my face, and he said: No, no, I will always publish you; I don’t mean that, I mean that it might be the last …

 

Paper book.

 

–book in which you’ll be able to hold it in your hands. So, it’s changing.

 

[END]

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Jerry Santos

Na Mele: Jerry Santos

 

When we hear his distinctive voice, there is no mistaking the music of Jerry Santos. And when we listen to his lyrics, there is no mistaking his connection with the memories and emotions of our own lives. In this NA MELE, Jerry has woven together a story of home. “The idea of home was the driving force for the content. Most of the songs speak to the idea of ku‘u home, a personal, endearing way to refer to our place in the world. It becomes ku‘u because we attach to it our familiarity, what the wind and the rain are like, how the mountains smell, what is in the river, who our people are, our attachment to them and the things we have learned by being of a place,” Jerry says.

 

Jerry mixes “All of That Love from Here” with his signature song, “Ku‘u Home ‘O Kahalu‘u,” as well as “Tewe Tewe,” a playful song that pays tribute to the slippery o‘opu. He also performs “Seabird” and “Ku‘u Makamaka,” among other songs. Joining Jerry are musicians Kamuela Kimokeo and Hoku Zuttermeister.

 

 

 



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sam Cooke

 

Sam Cooke
Preserving Historical Hawaiʻi

 

A member of one of Hawaiʻi’s most prominent kamaʻaina families, Sam Cooke shares his passion for the restoration of Hawaiʻi’s cultural and historical treasures. A descendant of early missionaries who established a business empire with Castle and Cooke, Sam, along with his wife Mary, established the Manoa Heritage Center to promote the stewardship of ancient heiau located near their historic home in Manoa Valley.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 10, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Sam Cooke Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And it was wonderful in the old days. And it’s changed, but… we’ve tried to keep a little of it here, what we’re doing with the Manoa Heritage Center. So we plan to be around for a while.

 

He bears the name of a kamaʻaina family and he’s related to other prominent families who came to Hawaiʻi when it was still a kingdom. Sam Cooke shares his passion for the preservation of historic and cultural treasures of the islands.

 

 

Next on LONG STORY SHORT.

 

Open billboard: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaiʻi’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha Mai Kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Anyone who’s lived in Hawaiʻi for any length of time has seen the name Cooke, with an E, in many contexts. In the islands’ missionary history, in the evolution of big business here, in the many philanthropic gifts supporting the arts, environment, education and human services. Samuel Alexander Cooke is a descendant of early missionaries who taught the children of the aliʻi. Over time, family members established a business empire with the company Castle and Cooke. In more recent years, Sam Cooke and his wife Mary have saved a heiau from development a stone’s throw from their historic home in Manoa. And they’ve created the Manoa Heritage Center to preserve the Kukaoo Heiau and an all-native garden they’ve grown around it. The Cooke family dynasty began with the arrival in the early 1800s of Sam’s great-great grandparents, Juliet Montague and Amos Starr Cooke.

 

He was a teacher, and he wanted to come out and be a missionary in the Hawaiian Islands, but he had to have a wife, and he didn’t have a wife. So the mission said, You can’t go unless you have a wife. So he posted the bonds in the church, and a few weeks later, Juliet Montague joined him as his wife. They were on the boat for a hundred and eighty-eight days, and they arrived in Hawaiʻi in April of 1837. He was asked by King Kamehameha V (sic) to start the Chief’s Children’s School, where he educated… she and he educated all the Hawaiian royalty, including Bernice Pauahi, who was married to Charles Reed Bishop in our house, which is still behind the Kawaiahaʻo Church.

 

With the evolution of Hawaiʻi, there’s new thinking about missionary contributions. You know that expression about missionaries came here to do good, and they did very well.

 

M-hm.

 

What are your thoughts about that?

 

Well, it all depends who you’re talking about. James Campbell wasn’t a missionary, and he did the best. But the missionaries did start the industry with sugar, which they started, and then it grew to be much bigger than the missionaries. And most of the people that ran those industries, sugar and pineapple, were not missionaries, they were brought in from the continental United States. And they’re the ones that really put those companies on the map. But now, they’re all gone. Except for Alexander and Baldwin and the Bank of Hawaii, there’s no large missionary engendered company left here in the State of Hawaiʻi.

 

When your original forebear came here, do think  Christianity or education was foremost in his mind?

 

 

Both; both, yeah. And then the mission went broke. And so they couldn’t afford to keep the missionaries out here, so they said, We’ll take you home back to the East Coast, or you can stay in Hawaiʻi. And that’s when Amos Starr Cooke and Samuel Northrup Castle started a ship chandler they called Castle and Cooke.

 

It did ag, it did shipping.

 

It did ag, it did…

 

Pineapple

 

-shipping, it did construction. And in its heyday, it just did about everything that had anything to do with land, and agriculture.

 

What are some of the other things your family got involved with?

 

My great-grandfather, Charles Montague Cooke, married Anna Charlotte Rice Cooke, or Anna Charlotte Rice. And she’s the one that started the Academy of Arts. And then so there’s where I get my Rice blood. And I get my Lyman and Wilcox blood from my mother, who was from Kauaʻi, and whose great-uncle, G.N. Wilcox, founded Grove Farm. My grandfather, who built this house, was a scientist. He was a malacologist; he studied Hawaiian land shells. He was a PhD at the Bishop Museum for forty years; became very famous. And then my Uncle George, who was his brother, was a rancher on Molokai. My family had the Molokai Ranch, and George Cooke was the head of it. It was a cattle ranch. It was big; it was about seventy-seven thousand acres. But the thing that made it click was the pineapple leases. We leased to Castle and Cooke, and we leased to California Packing Company, and McNeill and Libby. And pineapple, I think, was great, but in about 1985, we lost the pineapple, because they all went to the Philippines and to Taiwan. So our income just dried up. So in 1986, we sold the ranch to a New Zealander by the name of Birely, and we haven’t had anything to do with it since then. It’s been very controversial, but we’ve exited the ranch, and its been the Birely’s that have had all the trouble, because they’ve tried to run it absentee. That doesn’t work.

 

It must have been hard to give up the ranch, although-

 

It was.

 

it was a financial decision, right?

 

Well, it’s a financial disaster. M-hm.

 

But it did support, in good times, many people.

 

Oh, in good times the pineapple lease, it was a wonderful place. It had deer, it had fish, and it had everything, and we could go there and have fifty thousand acres to ourselves to go do what we wanted to do. I took all my buddies up there; Curtis Iaukea and Gilbert, all those guys. They loved the place. M-hm.

 

Sam Cooke spent many summers on Molokai, but he grew up on the same Manoa Valley land where he continues to live. After majoring in hotel management at Cornell University, he had every intention of pursuing a career in the hotel industry and took a job with Interisland Resorts on Kauaʻi. But with marriage to the woman he’d met when they were children and with the demands of a new family, he redirected his profession, becoming a stockbroker and senior executive with Morgan Stanley here. One of his clients was the late great Harry Weinberg, who was famously frugal and exacting. Sam Cooke had a long career in a competitive industry. Even back at Punahou School, he didn’t shy away from the fray.

 

Who’d you play football with?

 

Oh, with guys like Gilbert Ane, and Curtis Iaukea, and-

 

All the small guys.

 

-all the-

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

All the small guys. I wasn’t any good, but I made the team.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What were they like – what was Curtis “The Bull” Laukea, the future wrestler, like in high school?

 

Good guy; really good. Still is a good guy. I mean, very successful wrestler. I could never believe that he would do what he did, but he did, and he became very good at it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

He was always the bad guy-

 

The bad guy.

 

-on the air, but the-

 

Yeah.

 

-nice guy behind the scenes.

 

Right. And he lives up in Papakolea now. I’ve seen him occasionally. Gilbert Ane was a terror.

 

M-hm.

 

 

Boy, he was a hell of a football player. And Danny, his brother, and David, his brother, and Harry Pacarro, and A.K. Espinda, and Punahou was always thought of as a Haole team, but I think there was only one Haole on the team, and that was me.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Well, tell me; I noticed your grandfather had a very vibrant scientific career, your father was in the finance business, trust, you worked for decades in hotel and for Dean Witter and Morgan Stanley.

 

M-hm.

 

Couldn’t you all have just said, I’ve got a trust fund, I have wealth, no need.

 

Never happened that way.

 

You could have, though.

 

Well, yeah. I’ve had cousins that did that, but not me. Mm-mm; mm-mm.

 

What got you up every morning to go to work?

 

Oh, I don’t know. I guess I wanted to prove myself. I’ve never been that way. Neither has my wife. So we’ve been very, very active.

 

So you made money, and now you spend your life giving money.

 

We do.

 

In your philanthropic-

 

We do.

 

-efforts.

 

We do here, but we do. We do a lot of philanthropic work. M-hm.

 

Did you always know you were gonna do that?

 

No; no. I thought I was gonna be a hotel manager.

 

Mm.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Lots to eat, always have a bed.

 

As a businessman, when you look at people applying for grants, you probably have a different eye than many people do.

 

Well, we do. And then you really get to know who your friends are.

 

‘Cause you say no.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You have to say no every once in a while. At Cooke Foundation, we hire the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation to research all the grants. And so we have a pretty good idea of who we want to give our money to. We do twice a year. You’re not taxed when you’re an eleemosynary foundation; you don’t pay taxes. So the IRS takes a very, very strong look at how you give your money away. And if you start giving it away to people that don’t really qualify, you could lose your tax status. And so we’re very careful about that.

 

Sam Cooke is an avid collector of Hawaiiana that includes paintings, rare books and artifacts. His ongoing philanthropic efforts reflect the Cooke family tradition of sponsoring arts and preserving the cultural heritage of the islands.

 

Well, principally, my great-grandmother started the Honolulu Academy of Arts. And I was the chairman of the Academy of Arts for sixteen years, and got to know most of the major art people in the United States. And I’ve been told by many of those people that the Honolulu Academy of Arts is probably the finest small museum in America. So it’s a real treasure.

 

It’s such a legacy, but I sense that for you, it wasn’t a family obligation. You love art.

 

Yeah, I love art. And it wasn’t an obligation, but it was a very necessary part of the soul of Honolulu, I think. That without it, we’d be wanting. It’s a beautiful museum.

 

Has it faced challenges that threatened it along the way?

 

Yes, mostly monetary. My great-grandmother founded it, endowed it, built it, and left her collection there. And then she moved up to where the Contemporary Art Museum is; that was her home. But the challenges that the Art Academy really faced were expansion and growth, and collecting.

 

I believe you helped to raise, what, fifteen million dollars-

 

Thirty.

 

-for a wing. Thirty?

 

M-hm.

 

And which people said at the time couldn’t be done.

 

Right; right. M-hm.

 

How’d you do it?

 

Mostly on the mainland, and tremendous support from the local people here in Hawaiʻi, especially the foundations and the corporations. But there’s just not that kind of money here in Hawaiʻi, so we went to the mainland and got support from the Henry Luce Foundation, and all sorts of foundations all over the country that had been here and seen the Academy, knew what we were talking about, and were very happy to help us out.

 

What kinds of art do you like the best?

 

Hawaiian.

 

I know – Hawaiʻi?

 

Yeah. Kind of things you see on my wall. M-hm.

 

I see lots of books about voyages-

 

Voyages.

 

-to the islands.

 

M-hm; m-hm. It’s a fascinating story. The books start with the collection of Cook, and go all the way through the end of the 20th century. After Cook discovered Hawaiʻi, all the European nations came here, and they all published voyages and did beautiful atlases with drawing. Of course, there was no photography in those days, so they all brought artists with them, and the artists did beautiful drawings.

 

And why are you fascinated with those voyages?

 

Well, that’s when we all got started, I guess. It really brought Hawaiʻi to the fore in the world. I mean at one particular time, Hawaiʻi was the most literate country in the world; everybody could read.

 

After the missionaries came.

 

After the missionaries came.

 

But Hawaiians were literate in their own language too.

 

Yes, they were; they were, very. They had a tremendous culture. And on the property here, we have a Hawaiian heiau, which we have rebuilt, and it’s a beautiful piece of work, gorgeous piece of work.

 

So you live in a nice suburban area of Honolulu, with a heiau in your back yard.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that happen?

 

Interesting. My grandfather moved here in about 1901. He built the house in 1911. There was a heiau out there, and the architects wanted to put the house where the heiau was, because that’s where the best scenery was. He said no; no. His life had been saved by a Hawaiian, so he was very, very true with the Hawaiian people. And he would not let them build a house on the heiau. So he built a fence around the heiau, and it stayed that way up until 1994 when Mary and I bought it from a developer, and saved it and then rebuilt it. So we brought a stonemason from the Big Island by the name of Billy Fields, who is an outstanding mason, and he built it and put it back in shape.

 

And that’s, I believe, an agricultural heiau.

 

It’s an agricultural heiau; right, m-hm.

 

What’s the story about it, and what’s its name?

 

Well, it’s name is Kukaoo. And there are all sorts of interpretations of Kukaoo, but the one we like the most is of a chief who stood on the mountain in back of us, and threw his oo stick, and it landed there. And that’s where they built the heiau.

 

Standing oo, step- 

 

Standing oo. And oo is a digging stick. And Kenneth Emory, who was the archaeologist at the Bishop Museum, did a radiocarbon test out there, and with some ashes, and determined that it was very, very old, perhaps back to the Norman conquest, which was 1088. So it’s been there for a long time. Billy found three different stages of rebuilding in the heiau, so it had been rebuilt. And then we dedicated it in1994 with Bill Kaina, who was the kahu at Kawaiahaʻo Church. And he came up here; he had a very difficult time, giving a little talk about the heiau, because the mana was coming from the heiau bothering him. But he got through it. [CHUCKLE] It’s a beautiful heiau. And it’s the only one on this side of the island, and it’s the only one I’ve seen that has been restored this way.

 

So you mentioned that a family member had been – his life had been saved by a Hawaiian woman, and he was very indebted to the Hawaiian people as a result, and the Hawaiian culture.

 

 

M-hm.

 

This was your grandfather.

 

It was my grandfather. He was born down at Kawaiahaʻo Church, and he was not expected to live. He was two and a half pounds, and Western medicine couldn-t take care of him. So my great-grandfather went to Hilo, and got a kahuna lapaau who was named Kaaina. Brought her to Honolulu, and she saved the baby; he lived. And she wrapped him in kukui leaves, and massaged him with lomi lomi, and did all the old things, and he lived. And so he took care of her for the rest of his life. And I have an obituary that talks about her when she died. She was a hundred and fourteen years old when she died. And she went on to say that she had been a kahuna lapaau and had saved many lives. And she never married, but she had a son, a Haole boy by the name of Montague Cooke. So lots of the old-timers around here still remember her. My mother was very perplexed by it, because she was very striking looking and had blue eyes, for a Hawaiian. And her whole name means, the last supper. Because she was born in Kona on the same day that Kamehameha died in 1819. And her parents were converted to Christianity, and when she was born, they named her this big, long Hawaiian name, that meant, the last supper. M- hm. He would take care of her. It was like a mother and a son relationship.

 

The name of your home is Kualii?

 

Kualii; right. Kualii was the chief who lived here, and that’s his heiau out there. And Kualii is a big name; it’s like Smith in the English name. There are Kualiis everywhere, I found out afterwards. [CHUCKLE] But he was a chief, and he was the chief of Oʻahu, a very powerful one. It’s is a great house. It was the first house of its kind in the valley. And there was a dairy up here. My grandfather’s hobby was dairy, so he got a tiny dairy. It went from Cooper Road there, all the way up to Waioli Tea Room. But after the war, people moved into the valley, and they objected to the smells and the sounds of the dairy, so we moved the dairy over to where Olomana Estates is now. And then we started selling off the property. But this has a great, great history, this house. And when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, all the able-bodied people went to Pearl Harbor to help, but the women and children and the older people came here. There must have been between eighty and a hundred people in this house, and they were sleeping on the floor, and upstairs; there are four stories.

 

Here, because it’s stone.

 

It’s stone; it looks like it could handle itself. But a word went out from the authorities that the water had been poisoned, so we filled our bathtubs up. We have three big porcelain bathtubs upstairs. We filled them up with water, and we drank out of the bathtub for three days. So it has many, many fond memories. We had bomb shelters out here. And I think growing up here in the 50s, we all – and the neighborhood gang would come here and play football and baseball, and there was a lot more property in those days, so we had the room to do things like that.

 

How much more property did you have then?

 

Well, we had quite a bit more property. I think the place was about eight acres. Now, it;s three. And it was all the way down to the Manoa Road.

 

And the stones, which surround you, are neighborhood stones.

 

Yeah. They were quarried here, right where the circle is out in front of the house. And when Mary and I moved in here in 1970, we really had a feeling that we wanted to save the place. Because I think my father, who lived on Maui, would have knocked it down and subdivided, and sold the property off. So we had to bite the bullet, and I made a deal with him, and the house was in terrible shape, awful shape. But over the years, we’ve painted and used chewing gum and everything else I can

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Sam and Mary Cooke established the non-profit Manoa Heritage Center and the Kualii Foundation to secure the future of the home and the nearby heiau site. As long as the couple lives here, the house is not open to the publicbut the heritage center offers guided tours of the heiau and native garden.

 

And I’ve opened the garden up, not the house, but the garden to tours; small tours. And we’ve done’we do about three thousand kids a year. And I think we can do a little bit more than that, but we’re growing, and we’ll get there soon. But we can’t do much more than that, because of our size.

 

You’ve restored the heiau, and youve replaced the original plantings with all native Hawaiian- Yes. –plants.

 

Right; m-hm.

 

What have you learned about the Hawaiian plants and-

 

Well, when we-

 

-in the process?

 

-first started doing it, we had to get special permits from the State to plant these plants, because they were endangered, and they were protected. And so Mary, my wife [CHUCKLE], had a lot of sessions with the State in bringing monroidendron trees in, and like all these other things that we put in the garden. Now, you can buy them at Home Depot. [CHUCKLE] But we have some very unique things out there that we got from Kauaʻi.

 

Like, for example?

 

Well, the monroidendron; it’s such a rare tree. It grows on Kauaʻi. It’s such a rare tree that we’ve forgotten the Hawaiian name; nobody knows the Hawaiian name for it.

 

I heard there’s one out there that – there’s nothing left in the natural to pollinate it.

 

Oh, yeah; that’s the brighamia. It looks like a cabbage on the end of a big stalk. And that was found on Kauaʻi and on Molokai, and there was a special insect that pollinated it. And that insect has become extinct, and it can’t pollinate itself by itself, so it has to be pollinated by man. There’s the native Hawaiian hibiscus, which is the State flower, the yellow one.

 

M-hm.

 

And then there’s Hawaiian cotton out there. And then there’s akia, the fish poison plant.

 

How does that work?

 

You take the leaves and you make it into a poultice, and then you throw it in the tidal pools. And it stuns the fish, and the fish come floating up. And then you grab them and put them in a bag. I’ve never tried it, but it’s something that does work. Well, there’s about sixty different plants out there, all sorts of exotic, rare Hawaiian plants that are kinda fun to see, because you don’t ever see them anywhere. And one of the things that has been so interesting is that when the native people come here to see the heiau, they’re much more interested in the plants than they are in the heiau.

 

What do you think happened in that heiau? I mean, did you know, right now, it’s an empty enclosure.

 

Right; right.

 

What was there? Was anything in there before?

 

We don’t really know. We speculate that there were some images in there. There was one person who came out to the University of Hawaiʻi who said it was built much like that big stone thing in England called Stonehenge, where it lined itself up to the solstice, the different seasons.

 

M-hm.

 

And that you could see the sun coming over this part of the heiau, and that’s where this particular plant was planted.

 

Oh; that would be so nice to know.

 

Yeah; it would be nice to know. But there’s nobody to tell us. We have a protocol committee, different local people who come and advise us about once every other year. And we decided that we weren’t going to let anybody walk in there, out of respect to the place. And if you know a chant, it’s very appropriate to chant. We’ve had many chanters out there. But it’s very refreshing to take these kids who are studying Hawaiian history, and all of them know chants, and so they come out there and they do their chant at the heiau. It’s just chicken skin. I mean, it really is. I was terrified that we’d have some sort of reaction from the Hawaiian community, but we have nothing but positive vibes from them. And we’ve tried to include them. Our board has several native Hawaiians on it, and Nathan Napoka has been very, very helpful to us. A wonderful guy. So I think we’re doing the right thing. I mean, I think my kids think I’m crazy, because they don’t get it.

[CHUCKLE]

 

They’re not into the Manoa Heritage Center?

 

Not really. Cathy is the one that lives here, but they’ll be okay; they’ll be okay. M-hm. They’re not setup such that they could take care of books like this, and paintings, and that type of thing. And we’re going to leave an endowment, hopefully, that will take care of it for the foreseeable future, but these places always need more, more, more, more, more.

 

Have you ever considered moving away?

 

No; I would never move away. I would never move away. We go on trips, and it’s always nice to come home.

 

And you’ve never moved away from the property? 

 

No.

 

-where your family has lived for generations.

 

Right; right. No; no, we’re gonna stay here.

 

Kukaoo was restored in 1993 and survives as the last intact Hawaiian temple in the greater ahupuaa of Waikiki.

 

That’s right, Waikiki. The Cookes- Manoa Heritage Center gives tours of the heiau and native garden by reservation only. Our guest Samuel Alexander Cooke could have let his family achievements support him, but instead, he enjoyed a long successful business career and created his own legacy of philanthropy in Hawaiʻi.

 

Mahalo, Sam Cooke for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for listening and supporting PBS Hawaiʻi. 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.

 

We were very much involved with Molokai. We did a lot of fishing. My dad caught the world’s record oio, bonefish.

 

Bonefish.

 

And he also held the marlin record that he caught at Lanai. And Mother held the world’s record in the Allison tuna. And so when Dad died, he went in the Fishing Hall of Fame with Herbert Hoover; he was a very famous fisherman. So most of my time was fishing, when I was a kid. I didn’t-I don’t play golf; never been on a golf course. I miss the old ways; I do, I really do. I remember going to luaus at Laie, and seeing my father’s great friend, Haumana Kalili, in a tug-of- war, pulling six Filipinos. I mean, it was this incredible background. Going fishing with him, and going to the koa and praying in Hawaiian, and going out and catching akule by the boatload. And you don’t see that anymore. Mm-mm. We’d go to lobster holes, and out of maybe thirty lobsters in the hole, we’d take two, all we could eat. Now, you go out to the lobster hole, there’s nothing left.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ciara Lacy

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Ciara Lacy

 

Documentary filmmaker Ciara Lacy was valedictorian of her graduating class at Kamehameha Schools and Yale University alumna is the daughter of a Native Hawaiian activist. Lacy’s love of storytelling and social justice causes began in Central Oʻahu with an electric typewriter, and led her to New York and Los Angeles and work on a succession of films and other media projects. A painful medical condition forced Lacy to reevaluate her life and return to Hawaiʻi. She underwent treatment and found a new source of inspiration in a story about Hawaiian men trying to reconnect with their native culture as inmates who’d been shipped to an Arizona prison. This drove Ciara (pronounced Kee-ah-rah) to create the documentary film Out of State, with colleague Beau Bassett, chronicling the journey of two released prisoners returning to Hawaiʻi to make a new start. This May, Lacy’s documentary will premiere nationally on PBS stations, including PBS Hawaiʻi, on the film series Independent Lens.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 3, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Program

 

Ciara Lacy Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Your gender in doing this prison story …

 

Yeah.

 

How did that affect the dynamics?

 

I will say that the prison setting had more yin-yang, feminine and male energy than I would have expected.  So, it wasn’t an all alpha male situation.  There was a lot of spectrum of gender that presented at the prison setting.  So, as much as like, going into it I had thought of like, you know, whatever X, Y, Z bad movie I’d seen about a prison, that wasn’t the truth.  You know, when you make a movie, you want to show up and own the space, and say: This is how everything has to work.  Right?  This is my crew, this is my schedule, this is what it has to be.

 

Because producers are …

 

Because producers …

 

The synonym is, bossy people.

 

I’m so bossy.  I’m so bossy.  And you know, when it came to working in the prison, I call it Daoist filmmaking.  You know, you don’t have control, and you just give it all up.  And you say thank you for whatever you’re able to do.

 

She’s a filmmaker who went into an Arizona prison to document the stories of Native Hawaiian men who were incarcerated thousands of miles from home. Ciara Lacy, 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.  Ciara Lacy is a Native Hawaiian producer and director of the documentary, Out of State. The film follows two Native Hawaiian men from their confinement in a for-profit Arizona prison to their struggles reintegrating into society on Oahu.  While still locked up in Arizona, the men began to reconnect with their native culture, even though they were isolated thousands of miles away.

 

I never knew one ounce of Hawaiian before I even came jail.  I learned everything in jail.

 

[CHANTING]

 

I always took from people.  That’s how I knew how to get what I wanted in life.

 

Why couldn’t I have learned my culture while I was outside?

 

Ciara’s path to making this film was also filled with her own personal struggles. She spent her early years growing up in Central O‘ahu, where she loved to draw and write stories on her electric typewriter.

 

I was born early.  So, I was born like, six weeks early, and my mom and dad didn’t have a name.  My mother studied opera at UH, and she was singing an aria at the time, and Ciara was one of the words in the aria.  And they needed to give the baby a name, and she pulled that out.

 

What does it mean?

 

It means light, or clarity.  So, it’s like, kinda like chiaroscuro, like light and dark, the painting technique.

 

Oh, that sounds like you’re well-named.

 

What’s your earliest memory?  What was your home life like?

 

I had a great family.  You know, my father worked at Pearl Harbor for like, thirty-five, thirty-seven years.  And you know, I was lucky; I didn’t realize it at the time.  My mother was a housewife in the 80s and 90s.  And it was the four of us; you know, my mom, my dad, and my sister.

 

Did you have adversity along the way?

 

I mean, I was weird.  I didn’t necessarily fit in, but I was okay with that.  When I was very young, I don’t know, maybe five or six, my dad went to a garage sale.  My parents love garage sales.  And he went to a garage sale, and he bought an electric typewriter.  And I fell in love with the thing immediately, because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.  And so, I would sit there, and I would just type at it.  And I’m sure some of my teachers from elementary school, like, they must have thought my mom was typing my homework.

 

Because I would turn in all my homework typed.

 

In elementary school?

 

Because I liked to type.  And I remember in fourth grade, I wrote a really weird story about like, a drug addict in Vegas.  And I’m like … what fourth-grader does that?  And I’m sure my teacher thought this was weird.  But it made sense, because that was the kind of thing I would do.

 

Future filmmaker Ciara Lacy went on to high school at the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus.  She applied herself, and became valedictorian of her graduating class.  That opened up many possibilities for her future, although she wasn’t quite sure what that future was going to be.

 

When I was little, I knew we didn’t have money for me to go to college.  Which is not uncommon.  Right? I mean, college is super-expensive. So, I needed to make sure I could go. And that was what drove it.  So, it’s like, I mean, whatever college is, you know, like, I didn’t know; I just knew it was something that I needed to do.

 

And did you know what you wanted to do with this life-changing experience of college once you’d attained it?

 

No.  And I think that was the problem.  Like, I knew I needed to get there.  And then, when I showed up, I was like: Well, now what?

 

And when you showed up, you showed up at Yale.  You got a very good …

 

I was very lucky.

 

You got good scholarships, and you got a top college.

 

Yes; I was very lucky.

 

Did you find it intimidating at all, this idea that everyone at Yale could be the smartest one in your?

 

Oh, my gosh.  Everyone at Yale is super-smart.  Are you kidding me?  It’s like, two hundred percent imposter syndrome.  Like, okay, what am I doing here?  And it takes a second, and you realize everyone’s thinking the same thing. And you know, everyone’s coming from vastly different spaces.

 

And what did you end up majoring in?

 

I ended up majoring in psychology.  And I did crisis counseling in college.  And that, I really connected with.  But I wasn’t sure if that was gonna be my career.  And I thought that counseling and the crisis counseling would be good for business.  And that was about it.  But I didn’t think I wanted to go into therapy as my career.

 

But unlike many people, you didn’t stay on the mainland; you came back.

 

I came back.

 

And then, how was the job hunting when you came back?

 

Job hunting was hard.  I had a really hard time getting a job.  And I wanted to work in production.  I like, had a secret love of music videos.  I still have a love of music videos.  And that’s what I wanted to make.  But I didn’t have a degree in that, because who gets a film degree. It’s way too lofty.  And that’s not a real job.  These are things I’m telling myself.

 

M-hm.

 

Right?

 

A year after graduating from Yale University and returning home to Hawai‘i, Ciara Lacy decided to pursue her secret passion: to produce music videos. So, she packed up again and left for New York City to enter the world of video production.

 

And I went back, and I showed up in New York. And I had two thousand dollars in cash, and a credit card.  And I sold hotdogs at the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, and I taught the SATUs for Princeton Review.  And I temped, and I interned for free, and I did whatever I could to kinda just figure my way.

 

So, you’re out there selling hotdogs.

 

And somehow, you get hired in media production.

 

So, I had no idea where to get started.  And at the time, I was like: Okay, I don’t have any contacts, I don’t know anybody, I’ll just go on Craigslist.  You know, you can get a couch, and maybe I’ll a job.

 

And so, I was like, putting my resume out there, and sending it off into the ethos.  And I sent off for a music video, to work on a music video as a production assistant.  And with no credits, no experience whatever.  And I got an email back from this guy; his name is Terry Leonard.  And he said: Meet me tomorrow at the McDonald’s at Union Square.

 

And you didn’t say: Uh-oh, this guy could be a total crank or serial killer.

 

I was just like, well, It said the McDonald’s at Union Square, so I’m not gonna die.  And I said, okay.  So, I went and I met him, and we talked.  And he said: Okay, show up to work tomorrow; we’re working on this music video.  And I showed up the very next day, I had no idea what I was doing, and whatever he said, I was like: Okay, I’m down.  Like, he sent me to go pick up gear with a five-thousand-dollar deposit.  I’d never held that much money before in my life.  I had five thousand dollars on me, I’d just shown up in New York City.  And I was like: Well, you know what, nobody’s gonna rip you off because—

 

And he trusted you with five dollars.

 

He trusted me with five thousand dollars. ‘Cause he was like: Well, you went to Yale, you’re not gonna steal my five thousand dollars.  So, I guess that helped.  And I was like: Well, nobody’s gonna steal it from me, because nobody’s gonna look at me thinking I have five thousand dollars.  I went and I did that, and then he sent me off to the mayor’s office of film and television, and I went in and got the permits for the next day. Did I know how to get a permit for a shoot in New York?  Absolutely not.  And I think that sort of like, I don’t know anything, has been a big part of just like, how I’ve done my career.  Like, I don’t have to know everything; I just have to be able to ask somebody else who does, and be okay with—

 

Yeah; as long as you’re learning.

 

Yes.  I ask the question.  And I’m not afraid to ask the question.

 

Ciara Lacy spent about ten years between New York and Los Angeles, working in television production.  She climbed the ranks, moving up from an intern to a producer, and she was finally able to work on music videos and rock documentaries for artists, including the members of the Dave Matthews Band and Cindy Lauper.  However, in 2011, a medical condition sidelined Ciara.

 

Yeah; it was a mystery.  Like, when I first started getting sick, I thought it was carpal tunnel.  I had all this pain in my arms, and in my hands.  And it was absolutely frightening.

 

And then, it turned out to be worse than carpal tunnel.

 

Yeah.  And then, I was like, okay.  So then, I was like: Okay, this is carpal tunnel, I’ll go get like, acupuncture, and I’m starting to do yoga, and I’m doing all these things.  And like, that wasn’t actually what it was.  And I couldn’t lie down, and then I couldn’t stand up.  So then, I was like, constantly in pain.  I was living in New York at the time.  I couldn’t carry my laundry to go do my laundry at the laundromat down the road. Like, I just couldn’t do things. And I was young and super-functional; you can’t like, ooh, what are you doing?  Like this is not Ciara.  Ciara can do stuff.  It took a while for them to kind of figured out what was wrong.  And I was diagnosed with this neuromuscular disease called thoracic outlet syndrome.  And you know, it’s probably repetitive stress.  It’s bilateral; it’s probably from all of this that I’d been doing, and I’d been doing a lot of it.  And it was the world saying I needed to slow down.  I moved back home, and I was thirty-one, and I was told I might have to get a new career.  And it really affects your ability to think when you’re in a lot of pain.  It’s just like, super-foggy.  And like, you know, I was the kid that used to wake up before the alarm clock.  Right? And now, I was just sleeping all the time, because that was the only thing I could figure out, outside of taking the medication to take the pain away.  So, it’s just like a very different person.  And I gained a lot of weight, and you know, it was a pretty dark moment for me.  But again, like, when I look back at it now, right, I don’t begrudge any of it, because it’s helped what got me into the place where I think I really wanted to be. And it got me back home.  I never left home thinking I didn’t want to come back. I just didn’t know how. Right?  And you know, I found myself back at my parents’ place.  And you know, I left very young, and I’d always been independent.  And to have to return and not know what I was gonna do about work and money, you know, I didn’t want to be a burden.  I’d never thought of myself as that before.  And so, it was a lot of, like: Okay, what can you do?  And just rethinking a lot of things.

 

But you say this is all gonna turn out for better.  I know one thing that happened.  That’s when you came back here, and you were ill, you met your husband, your future husband.

 

I did.  I met Chris Kwock.  And like the night I met Chris, I hadn’t gone out in a very long time.  And you know, I went out with my very good friend, Kristen. And she’d been kind; she’d taken me out for my birthday the night before, and she was like: Will you come out with me the next night?  You know, I wasn’t going out, and my first response in my head was no.  And I was like: That’s not what you should say; you should go.  And I went with her, it was the end of the night, and we were about to go home because Kristen’s teaching Sunday school the next day.  And we bump into this party, and oh, it’s my birthday, and I was like: No, it’s my birthday.  And then, we have the same birthday, and it turns out I meet this guy’s friend.  And I had lost my grandfather.  I had lost him the year before, and he always had these like incredible shiny eyes.  And I met Chris, and … I saw those eyes again.  And I’d been so—I’m sorry.

 

I’d been so sick for so long.  And I was just so sad.  And … when I met him, I thought: You could be happy.  And I’d forgotten … I’d forgotten.  And like, I don’t do good if I’m not happy.  You know.  It’s just sort of how I am.  And so, it was so random.  In this moment, where like, I shouldn’t be here, and I don’t want to be at a bar, and I’m super-sick.  And like, this guy I’m talking to, this like idea clicked in my head.  It’s such a small thing.  You could be happy.  Like …

 

And it’s nothing he said.  It’s just who he was.

 

I was like, this guy with the shiny eyes.

 

And like, it was something I’d forgotten. And in the haze of everything, my friend turns to me and she goes: We have to go.  And I was like: Okay, we’ll go.  And I’m not thinking straight, and we walk out the door.  And I gave my number to his friend, and I said: Tell Chris to call me.  And we walked across the street for some reason, and I got a text message.  And it said: That’s not your real name.  And I was like, because whose name is Ciara, I guess. And I wrote back; I’m like: That’s my name, and where are you?  And I turned my head, and he came running to where we were.  And we ended up just hanging out with him, and dropping him off at his house.

 

And you’ve said something about him; that he taught you something you actually really didn’t know, that there was more to life than work.

 

Oh, yeah.  I didn’t know that.  My whole identity was like, my performance.  Right?  My whole identity was, okay, what are the outcomes I provide.  Right?  Like, how did I do in school, how am I doing at work, you know, those are the things that I knew I had control over.  Right? You don’t have control over people. I have control over the things that I can do.

 

Achievement.

 

Yeah.

 

M-hm.

 

Totally.  And you know, I never thought of my life as having somebody else in it.  I never did.  And I think that was just partially just because in was always off doing my own thing, I just never assumed anyone would be there to do that.  And you know, and my identity was so wrapped up in my work. And that’s why it was so crushing when I got sick, because it was like, if you take away my work, you’ve taken me away. What’s left?

 

Yeah.

 

And that’s a very sad thing to think.  It’s a very sad thing to think.  And yet, at the time for me, it was true.  And you know, as I spent more time with Chris, you know, he would say things that I think most people would be like: That’s terrible. He would say things like: You’re not that special.  And when he says that, it wasn’t that I’m not special, it’s that your work doesn’t prevent you from having the other obligations.  The work doesn’t come first.  Right?  The work is part of it.

 

Ciara Lacy and Dr. Chris Kwock got married two years after they met.  As Ciara was still adjusting to life with her medical condition in Honolulu, she found the inspiration to create her first original documentary film.  She would pack her bags again, heading this time to a prison in Arizona.

 

So, I was in physical therapy, and one of my mother’s friends who’s a physical therapist would throw out all these ideas. Oh, you should do a film about this.

 

Or you should do a film about that.

 

I’m sure that happened to you all the time; right?

 

No, it didn’t, actually.

 

No?

 

It didn’t.  And like, at first, it caught me off guard.  But in my mind, I was in such a dark space where it’s like, I can’t do anything.  Like, I could barely ride in a car at this point.  One day when I was in physical therapy with my aunt, she was like: You know, there are these guys dancing hula in Arizona.  And I took pause, because I was like, this doesn’t make any sense. You know, dancing hula at a prison in Arizona; why are they in Arizona?  And like, how does that feel to you, Ciara, knowing they’re dancing hula behind prison.  You know, behind prison bars.  And I packed it away in the back of my head, and I went off to go wallow in my own sadness. And two weeks later, I was at home … on a Friday night.

 

Doing nothing, ‘cause was lame and sick, and I Googled what she had said, and I saw a video online.  And I cried.  Because I was seeing people who, in the moment that I saw, were so far from our community, and were trying to find a point of reconnection, and were coming back from what was probably, you know, without having specific details, really tough stuff, man.  I mean, probably some of like, the toughest stuff one could think of to come back from. And yet, they were still trying. And I saw that, and I was like: You have no excuse; you have absolutely no excuse.

 

You related to them.

 

Yeah.  And in that moment, again, this like crazy click in the head.  I was like, maybe we can heal each other.  And I didn’t know what that really meant.  But I tucked it away, and I thought about it.  And I saw my cousin Beau.

 

Beau Bassett.

 

Beau Bassett.

 

Your co-producer or part of the producing team.

 

Yeah; my producer on Out of State.  And at the time, he was a public defender.  And I mentioned to him this idea, and he was like: You know, this is a big issue for Hawaiians right now.  And he’s like: We should do this.

 

Filmmaker Ciara Lacy, along with her cousin Beau Bassett, and her mentor Terry Leonard, set out to produce Out of State.  The documentary is Ciara’s directorial debut.  It chronicles the lives of two Native Hawaiian men leaving the Arizona prison where they’d been serving time, and returning to Oahu to make a fresh start.

 

You know, the goal was to be as honest about what we were seeing.  So, I almost even intentionally didn’t look up statistics and facts, because I didn’t want my mind, as we were making the film, to be clouded with, oh, this is how things are supposed to go, because this is where the numbers are at.

 

Mm …

 

So, let’s just stay true to what actually happens. Right?  And as small, and as like, humble as we can appear is more important, because the process was never about us.  Right?  This film is not about me.  This film is not about Beau.  This film is about the men who were willing to share their lives, and hopefully, we can do something positive with this.

 

And they were reconnecting with Hawaiian culture.

 

M-hm.

 

In an effort to be whole, and to go back and make a life for themselves.

 

Yeah.  And I mean, you know, that effort, I can get behind.  If you’re gonna try, like if you’re gonna try and nobody else is helping you—this is a very organic program that they have.  This is something that the men developed themselves.

 

There are many interesting themes in your film.  And one of them, I think David Kahalewai, one of the prisoners, talked about how it’s really hard to forgive yourself.  It’s hard to start on that journey where you can change.  And then, for the others too, how can somebody be ready for change when they have known nothing like what they really want to be.

 

Yeah.  No; and I think, you know, first thing to that is, what a humble and like, vulnerable position for someone to put themself in.  Right?  For someone like David to be willing to recognize that, and to share that with other people.  You know, we were very fortunate because the men that participated in the film wanted to make sure our community understood what they were trying to do.  Right?  Wanted them to understand how hard it could be, and wanted do this film to help each other. Like, maybe if I tell my story, or share my story, maybe if somebody knew how hard it was for me, that’s gonna help one of the other brothers who are in prison to figure it out and do better.

 

You forgive yourself for a lot of stuff that you did.  Yeah. I think I had to go to the ends of the Earth and hit bottom to really find out who I was.

 

I’ve been locked up fifteen years.  I’ve been waiting all this time; I want to come home. But where is home?

 

I don’t want to go back to jail, ‘cause I have too much to lose.

 

We don’t live in isolation.  No man is an island.  Right?  And so, it’s about knowing that it’s all about interactions.  Doing better, for them, is important for them to do the work and put it out there.  But it’s also gonna be hard, because the other people around them are gonna have to do the work too.  And as a Hawaiian, it’s like, we talk about hewa; right?

 

M-hm.

 

We talk about hewa, what is wrongdoing.  And how does hewa work?  It doesn’t go in one direction.  If I do something bad to you, I have to apologize, but I also need your forgiveness, and I also need you to be ready for that.  The solution is both of us.

 

Right.

 

So, the solution isn’t just me coming out, trying to do better.  The solution is, I need your forgiveness.

 

That reminds me of what you said about your own life as a filmmaker, which was, life tends to be incremental, one foot in front of the other.

 

I just show up, man.

 

I just show up.

 

And you keep going, and you hope to be in a forward step.

 

Yeah.  You hope everything you do is a little bit better.  Do you always get it right?  No. But do you hope to put yourself out there and try?  Yes. And for me, it’s like, I make a million mistakes every day.  Like a lot.

 

M-hm.

 

But I know that I’m at least putting myself out there, and I show up.  And if I do something wrong, I will apologize, and we’ll figure out a way to fix it.  And I’m not afraid of that.

 

In 2017, the documentary Out of State was released, and went on to win several awards on the film festival circuit, including Best Documentary at the Cayman International Film Festival and the San Diego Asian Film Festival.  Ciara Lacy’s health has improved, but her medical condition still requires management.  She continues to produce and direct with a slate of new film and television projects. Mahalo to Ciara Lacy of Honolulu. 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.

 

Yeah; I think for me, the provocation is important. It’s like, it’s about instigating that ripple.  Right? I push the ripple, and then we start asking more questions.  It’s not necessarily about always finding the solution.  Right?  Maybe the questions help us get to the solution, but part of it is, we need to start asking more questions.
 

 

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Ohta-san: Virtuosity and Legacy

PBS Hawaii Presents Ohta-san: Virtuosity and Legacy

Herb Ohta is one of the giants of the ‘ukulele who snatched the simple four-stringed instrument out of the background and planted it firmly at the front of the stage. In this special, Herb Ohta, known as Ohta-San, brings his solo ukulele riffs to the PBS Hawai‘i studios, playing numbers such as “Rhapsody in Blue,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” and his chart-topping ballad, “Song for Anna.” He also teams up with his son, Herb Ohta Jr., for their take on the Hawaiian classics “Hi’ilawe” and “Sanoe.”

 

Preview

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Mahi Beamer, Nina Kealiiwahamana and Robert Cazimero

NA MELE: Mahi Beamer, In Memoriam, Mahi Beamer, Nina Kealiiwahamana and Robert Cazimero

 

Three magical talents, Mahi Beamer, Nina Kealiiwahamana and Robert Cazimero, blend their voices together to create an intimacy that only comes with the melding of family and good friends in this encore presentation of a vintage NA MELE episode from the PBS Hawai‘i studios.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
David Kuraoka

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: David Kuraoka

 

Growing up barefoot and carefree in the wild outdoors of Kaua‘i, no one predicted David Kuraoka would find his calling in the confines of a ceramics studio.

 

 

Even after becoming a widely celebrated ceramics artist, he managed to straddle two very different worlds: his job as an art professor at San Francisco State University and summers spent in the vast wilderness of Kalalau Valley on Kaua‘i’s Nā Pali Coast.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

David Kuraoka Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

What’s the biggest piece?

 

You know, I have large pieces, but they’re made in sections.  I worked in a ceramic factory that made industrial ceramic; bricks, sewer pipes.  One of my student’s family owned the factory, so he gave me the privilege.  He gave me a studio in the back, and I could work on these large two-ton sewer pipes.  You know, machines pick ‘em all up.  But I couldn’t cross the bridges in Hā‘ena and Hanalei, so …

 

Two-ton?

 

I couldn’t pick ‘em up; right?

 

That’s the weight of a car; right?

 

Yes.

 

Two tons.

 

Yeah; these are big pieces.  So, they’re big, like that.

 

He’s known for creating larger-than-like sculptures. But what shaped the life of this Kauai-born artist?  David Kuraoka, 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.  David Kuraoka grew up in Hanamā‘ulu and Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i, far from the art scene in San Francisco, where he found his calling. He is a celebrated artist, known for both his large-scale abstract sculptures cast out of bronze that sometimes weigh more than a ton, handmade ceramic clay slabs, and glazed porcelain works created on a potter’s wheel.  For more than forty years, he’s shaped works of art, and artists, as a professor and former head of the San Francisco State University Ceramics Department.  You can find Kuraoka’s sculptures in places like the Hawaii Convention Center, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, and the White House art collection.  David Kuraoka knows his way around posh city buildings and art galleries, and he has remained comfortable in an environment without walls: the outdoors in his native Kaua‘i.

 

My dad worked for the plantation.  I think my grandparents worked for the plantation.  This was my grandmother’s house, and she had raised six daughters and my father in the camp.  And as they got married, my aunts moved away, but my dad stayed there with my mom.  And so, we were there until we bought our house in Līhu‘e, in the city.  It was primarily a Filipino labor camp.  And it was like a Filipino camp with three or four Japanese families.  They were primarily Filipino bachelors, so I was raised by all these bachelors who took care of me until I was about ten, maybe.

 

Never felt lonely, I bet.

 

No, no. They were really, really nice.  I got used to their food, and they taught me some language.  I was raised around cockfighting and chickens.  It was very plantation.  I was lucky; in Hanamā‘ulu there was a beach, nice beach, Hanamā‘ulu Beach.  And there was a mountain, Kalepa Heights, right behind the camp.  So, I got to run in the mountains a lot, and I got to swim a lot.  So, it was kind of a great place for a young guy to grow up.

 

Your dad seems like he might have been kind of a larger-than-life personality.  What was his column about?

 

Sidelines Kuraoka; it was a social column, three-dot journalism kinda.  And him and my mom would type out.  On Sundays, they would work in the yard, because that was kinda the thing they did.  They had a really nice yard.  But they would come in Sundays and type out the column with this old manual typewriter; whack out the column.  Because it was published only every Wednesday, once a week.

 

When you’re the three-dot columnist, the only three-dot columnist in the area, you’re kind of a celeb yourself.

 

Kinda; yeah.

 

So, that was your dad; right?

 

Yeah; that was my dad.  Yeah.

 

Very connected.

 

Connected; yeah.  He met a lot of celebrities; right?  Because he was like the reporter on Kauai.  So, if Frank Sinatra, Mitzi Gaynor, you know, like they made movies there and stuff, so he was right there with the stars and celebrities.  The princess from Japan, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

So, he had an interesting life.

 

He was active politically.  What did exactly did he do?

 

Yes, he was active politically.  And he would support Republicans and Democrats.  But he was at one point, Kauai’s Republican chairman or representative, I believe.  He was Hiram Fong’s campaign manager and Hiram Fong’s representative.  I know that, because I was kinda high school by then. In fact, he had stacks of Hiram Fong tee-shirts that said: Fong, Man of the Pacific.  And I ended up with ten of ‘em, and that’s all I wore at the community college, and people used to call me Fong.

 

Because I had this Fong on.  And my dad was also campaign manager for Richard Nixon on Kauai.  And he had passed away, my dad passed away right before Watergate, so he never experienced Watergate.  So, lucky for him, because his hero, you know.

 

Now, to be a Republican on Kaua‘i, that was swimming against the tide, wasn’t it?

 

Yes; yes and no.  Like he explained to me later, as I questioned him about, because I was kinda on the opposite side, he said that, you know, he worked in the plantation office, and all his bosses were Republicans.  And he said: I don’t want to work in the fields, you know.

 

I see.

 

It makes more sense for me to be Republican and work in the office.  Which made sense, you know.  And I’m like: Mm, okay.

 

Did you have to switch schools when you went to Lihue?

 

No; no, they were close enough.  My mom taught school, so I would go to school with her.  And fortunately, when I moved to Līhue, we lived on the edge of a valley, a very big valley, Kapaia Valley.  And I had a whole valley to play with there, too.  And there was a big river in the bottom of the valley.  So, I ran around carefree, barefooted.  Until I went to the ninth grade, I never wore shoes.  I rebelled; I didn’t want to wear shoes. And in the ninth grade, they sent me home for not wearing shoes.  So then, I had to get shoes.

 

What kind of shoes did you get?

 

Oh really ugly, big bulldog shoes.

 

Not very fashion conscious.

 

With your mom a teacher, did that compel you to be a good student?

 

Actually, I was never a very good student.

 

Did you have art classes in school, in public school?

 

No; no. Actually, I wanted to take some classes, but it wasn’t really emphasized much.  They really forced me into chemistry, into physics, and you know, I really kinda wasn’t interested.  You know, I’m more interested now, because I understand it now, but while I was a local kid, I wasn’t that interested.  I was more interested in surfing and running around the jungles.  I was more a outdoor kid, and I almost resented having to be forced to take chemistry and stuff.  Because it didn’t make sense to me, or it didn’t make sense to my life or how it was gonna help my life, you know.

 

David Kuraoka says he did not apply himself in high school, nor did he have the grades to go to a four-year university. So, at the urging of his parents, he enrolled in San Jose City College to study architecture.  His first few semesters in a strange new place did not go so well.

 

Okay; so you arrive in San Jose at your new college. What are you wearing?

 

Um, pretty much Hawai‘i cl—uh, Kauai clothes.  I graduated in 1964 from Kauai High School, and uh,

There’s not much TV on Kauai in 1964.  Uh, and what’s there is very blurry.  An—and our—our house didn’t have TV.  So, I go to San Jose, and I don’t have a car, I don’t have many friends. But who I—whoever I speak to in the cafeteria or any friends I make, they’re cracking jokes or they’re talking about things that I don’t understand.  And they’re picking it up from television culture; I Love Lucy, um … uh, you know, I don’t know, Hogan Heroes, or The Fugitive, or—you know, an—and I—I don’t know these things, because I don’t have a TV.  And it’s common to everyone except me.  So, I—I but a twenty-five-dollar TV, and I sit there for almost six weeks, day and night.  And still watch TV, but six—day and night, to try to catch up on culture,

 

Oh, like the worst time in my life.  You know, there was that adjustment.  I used to wear slippers and bright shirts.  I still wear bright shirts.  But I used to wear bright shirts, and tee-shirts.  Just culturally, I was not in tune to the rest of the world, I felt. I mean, I tried to be, because I didn’t want to be lonesome.  I had no car, and so I would look for other Hawaii kids, you know.  So, us Hawai‘i kids would all just hang together, so it would make it more comfortable or make it more, you know, okay.  But every time there was a summer break and kids went home, only half the kids would come back.  And so, the next summer, then the other half.  So pretty soon, I was pretty much alone again.  And then, until I found art, I didn’t really have much friends, or much social contact.

 

So, how did you find art?  How did you find ceramics?  I mean, did you pass by the room, or …

 

Yeah, really by accident.  I had to take a couple basic art classes to fulfill my architect degree, and so, took drawing.  And in my drawing class, my friends were taking ceramics.  So, I would go over during the break and watch them.  And I thought: Gee, I want to make some cups for my friends, my classmates back in Hawai‘i; I could do that, you know.  And once I did it, it felt so …something was very compelling and drew me to it.  And the things were very ugly, the stuff I made in the beginning.

 

You know, it wasn’t accomplished at all.  And by the time I got good enough, or good enough to give away, I was kinda hooked.  Somehow, ceramics made sense to me, and it was something I could do.  You know, I wonder sometimes when I watch television and stuff about people with dyslexia and stuff.  And I think: Oh, I think that looks like me.  You know, like just one part of my brain or something, and another part wasn’t working as well as another part.  You know.  I’m much more visual.

 

Now, when you started taking ceramics classes, and then all your art classes for your major, I mean, you were with a different subculture of students.

 

Yes.

 

Was that different, to be with all the art students?

 

Yes and no.  Because I tried really hard.  When they went out drinking beer, I wouldn’t go out drinking beer; I was still working. When they went to lunch, I was still working.  And I wanted it so badly that whenever the professor was gone—because I didn’t take classes in the beginning, I didn’t know about it—I would sneak in at lunchtime. Then I would wait for him to leave, and when he would leave for the evening, I would sneak in at night.  I lived right next to the college, so I could stay there as late as possible.  And any time he wasn’t there, I would sneak in and work.  And then one day, he called my name, so then I knew … oh. I mean, I sweated, because like, oh, no, I’m busted.  You know. But then, he accepted me, so then I was so glad.  And you know, the next semester, I enrolled, so I was okay.  It changed me a lot in the first couple years.  I think eighteen to twenty, I really grew up there.  I had one set of mind, one kind of cultured mind when I was in Hawaii, which I’m really, really happy I grew up here.  And then, suddenly out of loneliness, out lack of focus or focus, I’m not sure, but I went through a metamorphosis kind of the first two years, for two or three years.   And then I started a metamorphosis realizing that the rest of my life, I had to seek and look.  And I was quite comfortable on Kauai; I wasn’t really looking, because I was happy. You know.  And then, it almost takes an unhappy to then try to find the rest of your way.

 

At San Jose City College, and later at San Jose State University, David Kuraoka reveled in his newfound passion for art. Although he was discouraged by family and college counselors from going into fine arts, he pursued ceramics and quickly became a rising star in the art world.  In 1976, he became a professor at San Francisco State University, where he could practice his ceramic arts while helping to shape aspiring artists.

 

Yes; I was fortunate enough to be paid for what I like doing.  And I learned a lot from my students.  I mean, everybody’s so different; right?  They bring so much life into it.  I mean, I was just fortunate to be in that position.

 

So, is it more than forty years as a professor at San Francisco State University?

 

Yes; just a little bit more than forty years.  I started when I was young.  I got my MA about twenty-four, twenty-five, and I won a number of awards, and I got recognized, so they hired me right away, which I was fortunate.  And then, I was there until I retired.  One thing I realized when I was teaching, that many students came from many small towns across America, like Lihue.  You know, once realized that, I thought: Oh, I’m just like everybody else.  You know, it’s not like: Oh, I’m just this small town kid that forever, my whole life, I’m always gonna be small town, and everybody else knows everything, and I’m not going know.  You know. Then I found out that they’re not from San Francisco, they’re from Missouri, and Oklahoma, and you know, Nebraska, and all these small towns.  And you ask them, their towns are smaller than Līhu‘e.  And you’re here, you know, and there’s one or two of ‘em that would leave the town. Most of them would stay in the small town, but these are the brave ones, and then they would come to college, and seeking their fortune, you know.  Lot of the times, my life revolved around my work, and I would teach Tuesday, Thursday, Friday.  But I had the other four days to do my own work.  So, that was rather fortunate.  Also, when I became head of the department, I could buy all the equipment I wanted, I could set up the whole studio, and do my work along with the students.  That was very fortunate.

 

Did people on Kauai get surprised when they saw what happened to you?  Like what you did on the mainland.

 

My mom laughs sometimes, you know.

 

She laughs?

 

Yeah; she didn’t expect it, you know.  Because she taught her whole life, and she goes: Oh, yeah, that person was a good student.  She judges them, knowing them from teaching, you know.  And she was always a good student.  I could always tell she was gonna succeed, or he was gonna succeed. And I turned to her and go: You thought I would ever be a professor?  And she laughed.  She goes: No. So … you know.

 

So, the hallmarks of your work are abstract?

 

Abstract, pretty much.

 

And I’ve heard the word bulbous described.

 

Bulbous; yeah.

 

Like, is that the art term for …

 

No.  But yes, it has life.  I mean, I think it’s round.  I look at my more round full things as like feminine, more feminine.  And the more cylindrical stiffer things as male.  I mean, sometimes, when I look back, I’m not doing it on purpose, but I can see more female in some, and more male in—

 

That’s interesting.  And then very clean lines, too.

 

Yes. I called it California slick.

 

California slick.

 

I kinda made it up, but it’s kinda true.  When I went through my education at that particular time, it was minimalism, and abstract expressionism.  And so, I’m kinda some place in there.  And then, so my work is pretty slick.  It’s not rough.  I don’t do rough textures, I don’t do … it’s organically vital, but it’s clean.

 

You know, it sounds like when you sit down to throw, do you know what you’re gonna make?

 

Many times, yes.  Many times, I conceive it all the way to the end.

 

Oh, you do.

 

I do. When I’m sitting there to throw, I already know how I’m gonna finish it.

 

Okay.  ‘Cause I’m thinking of third grade, I’m making an ashtray.  You know, that kind.  So, you have an idea.  But sometimes, it sounds like the pieces go organic on you.

 

Yes. Yeah; there’s a range.  There’s a range in there that I have freedom to do. But I know I’m gonna finish it in a particular way.  Because the clay body or how I’m beginning dictates the end, so I already figured it out.

 

In 1987, at the young age of thirty-five, David Kuraoka was recognized by the Honpa Hongwanji of Hawaii as a living treasure of Hawai‘i for his art.  Kuraoka remained connected to Kauai, and would return during his summer breaks to embrace his childhood love of nature and a slower pace of life.  He would often spend months roughing it in the wilderness of Kalalau on Kauai’s NāPali Coast.

 

I always lived on Kauai four months out of the year, sometimes more.  You know, so I would do an academic year, then I’d move back to Kauai.  Sometimes I thought I was commuting from Kauai to California, because that was my base on Kauai.  But I would spend my summers on the NāPali Coast.  And sometimes one month and up to three months.  I would sometimes pack my bags in California, and then come in, say hello to my parents or my mom, and then off to Kalalau.  And I’d buy all my food, everything would be packed, and I would just go off to Kalalau.

 

And were you doing art in Kalalau?

 

Lot of it.  And some sketches, but also mostly to slow it all down, to understand humanity.  You know, you want fire, you get wood.  You want water, you go to the waterfall.  I mean, it was like very basic, and it kind of brought reality, a different reality, made me feel like I understood the person living in a grass shack in Africa, or or taking me back in time a hundred years or two hundred, you know, like how humanity lived, you know, most of humankind lived, the way I lived, I felt.

 

How did you get to Kalalau?  Did you paddle or get dropped off?

 

No, no. In the beginning, yes, I would take a helicopter, boat, walk.  I mean, I did everything.  I walked, I hiked a lot.  Sometimes, some summers, I’d hike.  I’d run out and go to the dentist, and he would take a mold, and run back in, run out, then next week put the false tooth in, and come back the next week put the permanent.  You know, like I’d go back and forth; run back and forth.

 

So, I’ve spent time in Kalalau too, and I mean, it’s just stupendously beautiful.  And isn’t it illegal to live in Kalalau?

 

You know, for a while it was in litigation between the State and the Robinsons. You know, so for about seven or eight years, nobody owned it.  So, it was pretty free for all.  So, that was a great time, was no law; right?  It’s kinda scary.  But then I wasn’t scared at all.  Was just open.  And so, at the end of that period, the State parks and the law came.  But I was the only local kid in there.  So, they were anxious to be friends, and they knew my dad, they knew my family.  And I knew all the trails, I knew all the fishing spots.

 

 

So, I can remember there used to be like young people living naked in the back, with a wood-burning pizza maker.  I mean, were you there for all that stuff?

 

Yeah, yeah, kind of; yeah.  They were all my friends; yeah.

 

During David Kuraoka’s return trips to Kaua‘i, he had a business relationship with a contemporary art dealer who made the Garden Isle her home.  As time went on, that relationship grew into a romantic one.

 

Carol had owned the Contemporary Gallery, really one of the better ones in Hawai‘i, and very successful.  And she had been my dealer for fifteen years.  But I never spent much time in Līhu‘e; I would uh, go to Kalalau.  So I knew her, and she helped me, and she had shows for me, but I wasn’t around town.  Then we met, and it was just right.  After so many years, we got together.  And just when we got together, Hurricane Iniki happened and destroyed all the buildings, pretty much destroyed all the buildings, destroyed the galleries.  And it was okay, because we then got married and moved to San Francisco.

 

Because we couldn’t rebuild the galleries, because there was no houses to put art in on Kauai anyway.

 

Oh, that’s right.  Yeah; it was just terrible.

 

Yeah, it was over; that area was over.

 

You sort of knew her and did business with her for many years.  What was the difference when you got together?

 

I think it was just timing.  I mean, on both of our parts.  I mean, I wonder too, sometimes.  But I’m just lucky I got together with her, because we’ve been together and happy ever since.  So …

 

That’s wonderful.  And that turned out to be the end of her art gallery era in Līhue.

 

Yes.

 

But off you went to San Francisco.

 

Yes; yes.  And then, I’m her art interest now, so lucky for me.  I mean, I was doing art, so she’s very interested in art.  So, she knows more artists than me.  She’s much more well-read than I am.  She would do things by reading.  I was trying to teach her ceramics, we were doing little craft projects together, and she would tell me what to do.  And I said: How do you know?  You know, I teach ceramics.  She goes: I read it in a book.  So, she would read all the books and had the answers, you know, and I do it through experience.  But that was kinda funny.

 

After more than forty years at San Francisco State University, David Kuraoka retired and now spends the majority of his time in Hā‘ena, Kauai, just down the road from the trailhead that leads to his beautiful beloved Kalalau. He’s still active in ceramics, and has also turned his attention to designing houses.

 

Every artist should build a house.  It’s so sculptural, so you’re conceiving so much, you know.  And so visual, and it makes sense, you know.  And then, you look at any building, you go: Hm.  You know, it helps you visualize the whole process, and appreciate it from the inside out more

 

Are the houses you design like the art you do? Is it … California Slick?

 

Kind of.  All dark green.  All the houses are the same color, including my mother’s.

 

All dark green.

 

All dark green, and white inside.  No white for the outside, because the mold.  You know, and black roof, because the mold will turn it black anyway.  Just all this practical stuff.

 

And then, what else besides white inside?

 

White inside; yeah.  Hardwood floors, high ceilings, and nice windows and doors.  I mean, I have little set things that I do.  Yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

Well, Carol and I too.  Carol likes building too, so we have those projects we could do together, you know.

 

Right.  You go back and forth between San Francisco and Kauai.  And I know Kauai is your home.  But do you have a preference down deep?

 

I always preferred Kaua‘i.  And now that I’m on Kaua‘i fulltime, I like go back San Francisco and eat and stuff. So, you know, I like both sides. But we’ll spend a month out of the year maybe, if we’re lucky, in San Francisco.  But that’s it, that’s about it.  Yeah.  Our life is pretty much on Kauai now.  It’s getting harder, you know.  I had a two and a quarter acre farm, flower farm, fruit trees, and so I used to like working in the yard.  But now, I’m just pretty much in the studio.  I’m not so physical anymore.  So, it’s just different.  As you get older, I just kinda adapt, you know.

 

You really did kinda make your own way.  You were able to do what you wanted to do for so much of your life.

 

M-hm; kind of.  You kinda gotta find the spot; right?  I mean, I think starting with education.  You gotta be educated.  Stay in school and find something that you want.

 

Acclaimed artist David Kuraoka says he has plans to create a ceramics art center for the Kauai community, so that he can continue to teach and inspire others on his home island.  And he continues to challenge himself by finding new ways to express himself through his art.  Mahalo to David Kuraoka of Hā‘ena, Kauai. 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.

 

The challenges for me is never ending.  If I master a particular part of ceramics, then I look for another part of ceramics. In other words, I keep searching within the field.  There’s so much to do.  My work chases my work.  In other words, whatever I do, then I see and I learn from it, and then I move on.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Kawika Kahiapo

 

Slack key musician and singer-songwriter Kawika Kahiapo is a longtime member of the PBS Hawai‘i ‘ohana. In 2008, he wrote the theme song for our “PBS Hawai‘i and You” campaign. He then served on our Board of Directors for six years, from 2009 through 2015.

 

Kahiapo makes his NĀ MELE debut, performing music inspired by his lifelong home, Windward O‘ahu. “When I lived in Lā‘ie, driving up and down the coast every day, coming to and from work and from gigs, I was just inspired by the natural beauty,” Kahiapo says in the program. “I wanted to celebrate that.” Song selections include “Nani Wale Kualoa,” “Kaulana Makapu‘u” and “‘O ‘Oe ‘Io.” Kahiapo’s wife Laurie and daughter ‘Ālana accompany him with hula during several songs.

 

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at this production of Na Mele:

 

Don’t Miss Kawikaʻs Na Mele Digital Short.

 

 

 



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