The Lim Family of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island
By Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawai‘i
Royalty and talent. Chances are, it’s rare you’ve met someone – much less an entire family – who could truly lay claim to both.
For the Lim Family of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, royalty and talent course through their veins.
The Lims’ lineage can be traced back to Alapa‘i Nui, the chief who once ruled Hawai‘i Island. As the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great, and the residence of high chiefs (ali‘i nui), the Kohala district is featured in many ancestral stories.
“Kohala’s history had a lot of royalty,” says Lorna Lim. “A lot of the families still exist today. They keep family stories alive through chants and mele.”
The musically talented Lims are one of those families, with each family member well-versed in music, chants and hula. The six Lim siblings are: Leialoha Lim Amina, Nani Lim Yap, Charmaine “Minnie” Lim Davis, Elmer Jr. “Sonny” Lim, Lorna Lim and James “Kimo” K.H. Lim. Kimo died in a helicopter accident in 1997.
Their mother, the late singer Mary Ann Lim, was hired as a cook, then as an entertainer, at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in the 1960s. Naturally, the performances became a family affair.
To this day, the Lim children continue to carry the family’s musical torch. Nani, Sonny and Lorna still perform regularly at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, as well as the nearby Mauna Lani Hotel. They also frequent Japan to perform, and have traveled as far as Europe to entertain audiences.
“We’re real grassroots,” says Nani, whose husband Ed Yap is also an integral part of this musical family. “We’ve not really advertised what we do, who we are. I think it’s just seeing what we do.”
This month, PBS Hawai‘i viewers can see for themselves what the Lim family can do. A new episode of Nā Mele: Traditions in Hawaiian Song, recorded in our Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Multimedia Studio, features the Lims in a new setting, but a familiar scene: surrounded by music and family. Among the songs they perform are: “Ka‘anoi Pua-Pua Olena,” “Lei Ana O Kohala,” “He Hene Ahahana,” “Ka Wahine O Ka Lua” and “Pau Hana Rag.” Among the featured hula dancers are: Leialoha Lim Amina; Lorna’s daughter Wehi; and Nani’s daughter Asia.
There’s more. In a new episode of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, Nani Lim Yap reminisces about growing up with her siblings on Parker Ranch, going on long rides in the family’s Rambler station wagon, and overcoming stage fright. “I performed before as a dancer, but not as a singer,” she explains. “I could not look at the crowd.” Today, in addition to her regular Kohala hotel gigs with Sonny and Lorna, Nani is also an accomplished kumu hula.
And in a Long Story Short encore, we revisit our conversation with Nani’s son, Manaola Yap. A fashion designer who made a splash at the 2017 New York Fashion Week, he’s also a musician, hula practitioner and chanter.
“I do not name myself to be a designer that went to school and did all of that because that’s not me,” Manaola says. “I specifically come from the background and the understanding of the traditions of hula and the dance in its most traditional element.”
It all comes back to the Lims’ commitment to tradition and storytelling. “Hula, it is bringing those words to a living form,” says Lorna. “And then you realize that mele are portals back in time. You bring this song [from the past] back to life, and come right back here to our time.”