Aloha

Board Chair Jason Fujimoto Steps Down, But Not Away

 

CEO Message

 

Board Chair Jason Fujimoto Steps Down, But Not Away

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOBecause of time constraints in assuming a new business role, PBS Hawai‘i’s Board Chair Jason Fujimoto of Hawai‘i Island has elected to step down from our nonprofit’s chairmanship, while continuing to serve on our Board.

 

At age 38, Jason is the new President and CEO of Hilo-based HPM Building Supply, supporting residential building statewide. He’s the fifth-generation President of the family-founded, employee-owned business.

 

Jason will be succeeded as Board Chair July 1 by current Vice Chair Joanne Lo Grimes, an attorney and Co-Chair of the law firm Carlsmith Ball.

 

Before Jason turns over the reins, I want to honor him for his integrity, skills and steadfastness in supporting and governing this nonprofit through rapid evolution.

 

Board Chair Jason Fujimoto with Leslie WilcoxHe’s had two tours of duty, amounting to a decade of unpaid service, most of them on the Board Executive Committee, including three years as Chair. He joined the first time in 2008, just before the state felt the impact of the Great Recession. In succession came the big switch from analog to digital broadcast transmission; the television equivalent of a heart transplant – high-definition TV; expanded local programming; the birth of HIKI NŌ: The Nation’s First Statewide Student News Network; the rise of social media as a new platform for engagement and video programming; and the successful capital campaign to buy land and build a replacement multimedia home in Kalihi Kai.

 

Jason returned to the Board just after we moved into our new facility. He led the organization in adopting a new three-year strategic plan. In cloudy times for media enterprises and nonprofits, the plan is clear.

 

There’s a feeling we’re all on the same path and same page, in part because different perspectives and ideas can be argued and adopted safely and productively.

 

“As Chair, my style is to create the conditions that foster the greatest amount of collaboration and discussion, and support the CEO,” Jason said.

 

A former Wall Street analyst, Jason is a member of the Omidyar Forum of Fellows and the leadership group Hawai‘i Asia Pacific Association (HAPA).

 

“I really enjoy being with everyone on the PBS Hawai‘i Board. We have a lot to learn from each other,” he said.

 

For me personally, I’ve internalized much of the guidance Jason gave me, and I’m grateful for this lifelong gift.

 

Overall, Jason, thank you from the heart for continuing to strengthen and polish this community treasure that is PBS Hawai‘i.

 

Aloha Nui,

Leslie signature


 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puna Dawson

 

Puna Dawson has often found herself in the right place at the right time. Guided by her Hawaiian values and a desire to serve others, she has met extraordinary individuals and lived through significant events. Meet this Kaua‘i-based Hawaiian cultural practitioner and learn about the remarkable people and events that have touched and shaped her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 19, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Puna Dawson:

 

Hawaiʻi Is All People

 

Whatever You Need, You Have

 

A Simple Smile

 

Puna Dawson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Did you have that sense that you were—because your life has been one of service, and you’ve done an astounding number of things, was that an intention?

 

I think it kind of happened.  I’ve been very fortunate to be at places that have opened doors and given me experiences, I mean, from one end of the Earth to the other. I thank my kūpuna, because they planned it, you know, and I’m just walking that path.

 

Puna Dawson often happened to be in the right place, at the right time, meeting remarkable people.  Was it chance, or part of a greater design?  Puna Dawson, 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.  Cecelia Ann Camille Keikilaniwahinealiiopuna Kalama Dawson, better known as Puna, is a Hawai‘i cultural practitioner on Kaua‘i.  She’s the second-oldest and first daughter born into a family of eleven children on O‘ahu. Descended from Hawaiian ali‘i, her parents taught her as she was growing up that like her ancestors, her life purpose must be to serve the people.  While she did not seek to meet prominent and extraordinary individuals, they certainly crossed her path in surprising ways, in surprising places.  Who else can say they were called to give a man a ride on Kaua‘i, and it turned out to be the Dalai Lama?  More on that later.  She lives in Anahola and Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i, but grew up in Kailua on the Windward side of O‘ahu.

 

Kailua was a big place close to the ocean.  I that was what our life was all about. And my family, you know, when I look back at all of my siblings, my parents had playmates for us.  Because they had so many.  And we were poor, but we just didn’t know that we were poor.  Being there in Kailua, it was a rich community of people that really knew one another, that saw each other at church, walking to and from, you know, school.  The people of that time are names that you read about in today’s time, but they were aunties and uncles, and everybody knew everyone.

 

And now, it seems so odd that anyone who describes themselves as poor would live right … you lived behind what is now Buzz’ Steakhouse, and right across from the beach park.   And now, it’s a whole different upscale neighborhood.

 

Oh, it sure is.  But back then, you know, in one of the homes that we lived, my dad grew everything.  And he was a cook.  My mom was a princess.  But he grew everything, and he taught us to respect and appreciate the ocean, because that was our icebox.  Our house was a one-bedroom house.

 

With eleven children.

 

With eleven children.

 

Up to eleven at a time.

 

Eleven children.  My dad was a man of many trades.  And he was able to build us steel bunkbeds.  So, we had three bunkbeds, a daybed for one of the children, and then a crib.  And we all lived in this one bedroom.  I mean, all the children did.  My parents slept in the living room.  He made that bed, too.  And we had a closet that was about this big, and a bathroom, and a hallway kitchen.  I call it a hallway kitchen because that’s exactly what it was; it was a hallway.  Small house, but lot of love.

 

And did you want to go home, or did you feel cramped at home?

 

Oh, no.  I thought everybody lived like that.  And we always had extra people.  My dad, you know, all the people that kinda grew up—Whitey Hawkins, all these uncles and aunties that he knew from the ocean came home; brought ‘em home.  And children.

 

So, when you were a child, your home was full of people who had a range of backgrounds, and came to eat, came to socialize.

 

My dad; yes.

 

Your dad would …

 

My dad and my mom.  You know, because my mother was a hula person, we always had hula people there.  Back then, the Lucky Luck show, you know, we’d go and perform, Auntie Genoa would play music, the Bee Sisters would play music.  My dad, between his fishermen and friends, we lived down the road from Don Ho, we lived, you know, in Waimānalo it’s Uncle Gabby.  But it wasn’t unusual for them to show up at our house and kanikapila in the front yard. And my dad was a boat builder, so he built so many boats.  And last count, he built sixteen boats, and he gave them all away.  And these were big sampan style, you know.  The people who would come to our house would not just play music, but you know, talk story, and talk story.  And so, our life was full and rich.

 

Auntie ‘Iolani Luahine came to your house.  I mean, you’ve seen her dance in person.  You know, she’s no longer with us, and not a lot of pictures even remain of her, especially moving pictures.  But they say it seemed like she was possessed by another presence when she danced.  Did you see that?

 

She was dedicated to hula, and of that time.  You know, when you look and read about the history of that time, I had no idea we were living in that time because she was part of it.  Iolani came on my mother’s birthday and asked if my mother would go and chant for her at the beach.  And so, we went.  And she danced right there at the water’s edge, right at the mouth of Kawai Nui, the river in Kailua.  And she danced there.  And you know, when you say that she’s possessed, it’s like she’s from another time. It was as though she was on top of the water, at the water’s edge, just floating.  Because of her dedication, when she became this other person, it was a real gift to me in my memory, because it helped me understand the histories of past.

 

So, here you are, I mean, treated to this amazing dancer, while also, you’re off to St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Kailua with your long hair down to your ankles.

 

Big bush.

 

Bound up behind your head.

 

A bush.  My dad didn’t want us cutting our hair, so our hair was big.  Anyway, at St. Anthony’s, again, at the right place at the right time.  You know, Hedwig von Trapp was—

 

Okay; stop right there.  Hedwig von Trapp was your teacher.

 

Yes.

 

And who was she?

 

Hedwig von Trapp of the von Trapp family.  She came to school in her dirndl and her kerchief.

 

The Sound of Music family.

 

The Sound of Music.

 

The actual one of the kids.

 

Actual; yeah.

 

Grown up.

 

The actual.  And you know, she was a gift to the school.  My auntie, Melia Meyer’s mother, found this woman, brought her to our school.  They were so involved with education.  And she became our music teacher.  So, you know, Mihana Aluli and all of us going to school there, we learnt from this woman.  Besides, of course, Auntie Irmgard.  But we learnt from this woman about harmony and voice projection.  We didn’t know we were having voice lessons; it was what she demanded of us at the time.  But, you know, I attribute my ability to hear harmony to that woman.  And what a gift.

 

Puna Dawson’s family life revolved around the ocean, whether it was boat building, fishing, or especially canoe paddling.  As much as her mother expected her to follow in her hula footsteps, paddling always came first for her.  Yet, her life experiences, guided by her relationship with her mother and other Hawaiian cultural practitioners, pushed her in another direction.

 

I loved sandboarding at the mouth of the river. That was my favorite sport; and canoeing.  And you know, all our family were canoe paddlers, canoe builders, makers.  And my passion was canoeing.  And I’d show up for hula with my hair wet, and show up there, and I never thought I was going to be a kumu hula of any kind.  In fact, I’m really lazy.  But I never thought, because I believed that my mother was going to live forever.  But not too long after that, my Aunt Maiki Aiu passed away.  She and my mother were two peas in a pod, and were both graduates of Auntie Lokalia Montgomery, and so, they did everything together.  But it was such a shock when Auntie passed away, because it made me realize that that could happen to my mom, too.  And I will say that helped me be more responsible.

 

Because you were the next in line to be kumu hula once your mom passed?

 

No; it was, you know, never appreciating what is right around you.  Never appreciating them.  And that was a real wakeup call.  Because my aunt was surrounded by beautiful people, and you know, and my mom too, and my aunts, my other aunts, that when she passed, it shook us, all of us.  But it shook me enough to say to my mom: I’m ready. I’m ready.

 

You had been the daughter who wasn’t showing interest in hula.

 

Oh, no.  I would say to my mom every time: Oh, there’s a new race, mom; right after this race, I will show up.

 

I see.

 

I promise you, I promise you.

 

It’s not easy; as everyone who ever goes to Kamehameha Schools knows, not easy to make Concert Glee.  You did so. What was that like?  Because it did take you many places.

 

It did.  You know, I’m gonna say this on record; I had the best friends in school, and Robert Cazimero was one of them, Kaohu Mookini.  I mean, you know, all the names that you hear.  Wayne Chang, all of these people were the who’s-who were all part of this group.  And Auntie Nona Beamer was our Hawaiian teacher.

 

You must have thought that was really normal to have all these amazing people around you.

 

Really.  And what happened was, at the right place at the right time.  Kalani Cockett came and he saw the Hawaiian ensemble, our group, and picked the whole group up and, you know, the rest is history.  We became The Hawaiian Expression.  And so, we traveled, but we traveled with our teachers. Mr. Mookini, who taught science, was our musicians, the Bee Sisters.  You know, all of these people that were known musicians of the time were a part.  Barry Yap from Kauai, you know, Beverly Noa, Ed Kenney.

 

Wow.

 

These people were—

 

They traveled with you and worked with you.

 

They traveled.  You know, we’d show up in Belgium, we’d show up in Paris; every place that Pan American flew, we had a show there.  And we were housed in Zurich.  And a group of us, you know, it was like a pod.  And it was wonderful, because we were at places that you only read about, you know.

 

Was Hawaiʻi small enough now that many other people had these experiences, or were they coming to you because your family was so involved in the community?

 

I think it was just timing.  And I say it all the time; it’s just timing.  All the places that I’ve been and continue to go to, in the name of aloha is an expression that my mom used.  What happened was, she saw so many things being written about Hawai‘i, and she totally disagreed with it.  And she became part of the Aloha Council with Auntie Pilahi Paki.  They wanted to push to make sure that that idea and the flavor of Hawaiʻi didn’t disappear.  And so, my mom started to travel.  And she chose the places that we still had agreements of peace—Germany. You know, if you look at Kalākaua and the things that he had made peace agreements—Japan, all of these places, that’s where she wanted to go.

 

What were the original things that your mom heard that were being said incorrectly about Hawaiʻi, that made her want to go on her mission?

 

Oh; hula.  Things about hula that just drove her crazy.  All knowledge is not in one school.  That’s correct.  But what was happening was, things about huna, about lua, and especially about hula was being printed, and printed in all these different languages—Japanese, you know, German, a lot of Swedish and things.  And talking story with Auntie Pilahi, you know, they were: We gotta do something about this.

 

Well, what exactly bothered them?  What was being said?

 

Well, the practice of huna especially.  Huna is in every culture; every culture.  And the expression of unihipili, coming to your center. It’s when you translate something that has no foundation, and you create it.  And that’s what they saw.  You know, in the expression how the word aloha was turned around or expressed without thought, without foundation.  I mean, the words itself in that word aloha, it is so pronounced, because it is characteristics of who we are as a people.  And in reference to hula, hula is not something that you can really learn.  It is there in you.  And different people are able to help to bring it forth.  I believe that that was really what bothered them the most. And my mother said: My grandchildren, great-grandchildren are gonna be reading this and believing it if we don’t speak out against it, if we don’t show the other side of the picture—

 

Correct the record.

 

Right.   Then, you know, we’re at fault.  So, it became a mission of hers in her later years to try to, you know, create that huliau.

 

After high school, Puna Dawson assisted her mother teaching hula in Kailua, while remaining an avid paddler and hoping to build the sport.  She followed her husband, Kalani Dawson, to Kaua‘i when he was assigned a short-term job on the island.  And she was there when Hurricane Iwa hit, which extended her husband’s stay. Commuting back and forth between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i after that, she became part of the Kaua‘i community until moving there permanently.  Then, a second hurricane hit.

 

My husband worked for the telephone company, and he went to install of the PBX in Poipu.  The very following week, Iwa hit.  And then, we were on loan to the island.  And getting ready to come home, and then Iniki hit.

 

’92; that’s a long time.

 

That’s a long time.

 

So, you were there …

 

I was there from ’89, continuously.  But in that time, my friends and family on the island would say: Oh, teach hula; why don’t you teach hula.  I go: Oh, no; too much work.  Plus—

 

I’m leaving anyway.

 

Yeah.

 

Plus, my husband and I were very involved with the canoe club on Kaua‘i.  And he bought me a microwave.  I know. He says: I’m gonna buy you this microwave because I want you to come and be the coach for the women’s crew on Kaua‘i. And so, I said: Oh.  Well, when I went there, when I went there to be the coach, what happened was, you know, coming from O‘ahu, where everything was more systematic, we go to Kaua‘i, and I have people who don’t run, they paddle when they want to paddle.  I mean, they were wonderful, but you know, it was a different lifestyle.  Anyway, he said: We need to help them to become long-distance paddlers.

 

Okay; now, what does this have to do with the microwave?

 

He bought me the microwave because I said: I’m too busy, I can’t do this, you know.  He bought me the microwave, got me the classes, and I became the microwave queen. Anyway, come back to the canoeing. Why I even went on that tangent is, my mom came to visit me a couple of times, and you know, we have friends on island. Everybody knows everybody.  And in the years that I was there, I met different kumu.  And so, when my neighbor said: Oh, can you teach us a song, we’re gonna have this convention.  And I said: Oh, let me send you to my friend.  So, I sent them to Kapu Kinimaka.  Love that girl.  Anyway, sent her.  Well, these were older women.  They were schoolteachers at Kapa‘a School, and just wanted to learn a hula so that they could share.  Well, after about three days, my neighbor comes back; she goes: We can’t dance over there, we cannot do the duck walks.  Kapu was progressive and young.  So, I said: Oh, I have another friend.  So, I called Auntie Beverly Muraoka.  I sent them to Beverly, and Beverly was teaching down at the boats.  The Lurline would come in, and so, her classes were right there in front of the Lurline coming in.  So, here are these schoolteachers who like everything to be exactly right; right?  All learning hula with all these tourists around them.  And so, they come back again three days later: We can’t be down there, we don’t even know the songs, you know.  Well, my mom happened to be home at my house, and she heard me talking to my neighbor again.  And she says: How many times did you send them away?  And I said: Twice.  She goes: This is the third time?  I said: Yes. She goes: No; you’re not sending them away.  She walked out; she said: Come tomorrow, you folks will have hula over here.  And that’s really how I started to teach, is because my mom was there.  You know. Otherwise, I would have probably passed it on forward.

 

Wow; that’s interesting.  Yeah; do you think that was meant to be?

 

I believe so.  Going to Kaua‘i, my husband encouraged me.  So, anything that I wanted to do, he encouraged me to do it. But he loved the fact that I was not only doing the culture, but you know, seeing where it was going, and utilizing the things that I was taught as a young girl.

 

You mentioned that two hurricanes kept you on Kaua‘i, even though you had planned to move back to O‘ahu.  What was your life like?  Iniki really hit Kaua‘i—well, both hit Kaua‘i hard.  What was life like after that on Kaua‘i for you?

 

Oh, my goodness.  You know, I was working at um, Smith’s Flower Shop right at Wailua.  And we had this big funeral.  So, I go to work that morning, and I’m doing all of this stuff for funerals.  And what I noticed is the peacocks in the garden are walking out of the garden in a line. And I’m saying: That is so unusual. And the Iwa birds that you usually see in the mountains were now in the lower areas, where I could see them outside of our flower shop.  And my husband calls and he says: You’ve gotta go home; you know, this hurricane is really gonna come.  Anyway, I’m driving home, and I see on the open plains cows and horses sitting on the ground.  And they only do that when they’re gonna give birth or something; right?  So, I mean, all of these signs were showing that things were different, something was happening.  My husband opens up all the windows and all the doors, and everyone’s saying: Go up to the mountain, go to the school because that’s gonna be the safest place to be.  But he looked at the house, he says: There’s concrete around everything around right here, we have a coconut tree right in front of the house.  Anyway, when Iniki hit, um, it came like a locomotive, the sound. And the wind went right through our house.  And our house was fine; we were perfectly fine.  Then, we hear the noise again.  So, here is Iniki coming, the other half, ‘cause I didn’t realize we were in the eye; other half.  I saw a house that I was at the open house just the week before, falling off the mountain. You know, like the piano just falling off the mountain.

 

Wow.

 

It was at that time that I met my neighbors.  So busy coming and going, I didn’t know my neighbors.  And my neighbors next door, the three girls had really bad asthma.  My brother Kamohai, he sent a generator; I had the first generator in Anahola.

 

Oh, that was so precious.

 

And so, we hooked up these girls, because they needed it for their machines.  I met the neighbor across the street, all the neighbors, and pretty soon we had all the kids at our house.  And you know, we would walk down to the beach to go and swim in the ocean, because we didn’t have running water.  I mean, there were so many things we didn’t have.  In that time, getting to know the neighbors, getting to know the people, I think that Anahola community really came together, and people not only knew one another, but took care of each other.

 

Wow. So, you’ve just described a powerful, destructive hurricane in terms of what good things it did for you.

 

It did.  And it did for the island.  It made everybody appreciate.  Lucky we live Hawai‘i.  But lucky we live Kaua‘i.  It made everybody appreciate what they have.  And we have a lot.  You know, simple is best.

 

Puna Dawson’s experiences of meeting remarkable people in history and living through significant events have all been part of her journey.  Mahalo to Puna Dawson of Anahola and Lihue, Kaua‘i for sharing her stories with us.  And mahalo to you for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, 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.

 

Along that theme of you coming in contact with leaders and just really remarkable people, you had an interesting guest in the backseat of your broken down Subaru one day.

 

Yes; I did.  I called him Toptim, ‘cause that’s what my brother said; his name was Toptim.

 

And in fact, he was …

 

He was the Dalai Lama.

 

Dalai Lama.

 

Yeah.

 

And he was sitting in the back of your Subaru.

 

Yes.

 

Holding your pikake plants.

 

Yeah; yes.  He came to the island.  My brother just said: My friend wants to come, and his name is Toptim.  When he came—because I didn’t know who he was, I had no idea, and so, I had all my buckets with the plants and stuff in the backseat.

 

Because you worked in a flower shop.

 

Yeah.  And so, I had to pick up all the flowers.  And so, when he said where he wanted to go, I said: Oh, I’m gonna go there, but we’ve gotta pick the flowers up on the way.

 

What was the Dalai Lama’s reaction to that?

 

Oh, he was game.  He’s a fun-loving guy.  We arrive at the airport, and here he’s sitting with my packages of pīkake, smelling wonderful.  And the girls come out to help me, and they tell me: Auntie, Auntie, that’s The Chosen One.  And I’m going like: Yeah, I guess so.  And so, we proceed going inside.  And the girl comes up and she has a newspaper, and she shows it me like this. And I turned to my brother and I say … he goes: Yeah, Toptim.  Because he couldn’t say the long version of the Dalai Lama’s name.  From that moment, it was like: Oh, my goodness, I just took this gentleman from one end of Kaua‘i to the other end of Kaua‘i picking up flowers.

 

And covered him with plants.

 

And covered him with plants.  I mean, literally, you could only see him here, and everything else was around him.

 

Did he make a comment about it?

 

He said: Oh, this is joyful.  You know, he used that word joyful quite a few times. And he found humor in everything that we were doing.

 

It is pretty funny.

 

Yeah, it is.  All I can say is, I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been really blessed.

 

 

 



PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Journey to Emalani

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS Journey to Emalani

 

The commemoration of Queen Emma’s 1871 visit to the upland forest of West Kauai, as experienced by three hula halau, is the subject of this PBS Hawai‘i-produced film. It follows the halau and their kumu hula to Kokee for an annual festival of hula and chant, Eo e Emalani i Alaka’i (Emalani Festival): Tony Conjugacion’s Hālau Nā Wainohia; Charlani Kalama’s Hālau Ha’a Hula O Kekau’ilani Nā Pua Hala O Kailua; and Healani Youn’s The Ladies of Ke’alaokalaua’e. Hawaiian music icon Nina Keali’iwahamana narrates.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Melveen Leed

NA MELE: Melveen Leed

 

Singer Melveen Leed is joined by her hula dancer daughter Kaaikaula Naluai at the PBS Hawai‘i studios. Best known for contemporary Hawaiian, jazz and country, Moloka‘i girl Melveen also has deep roots in traditional Hawaiian song.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Aunty Nona Beamer

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 23, 2007

 

Passionate, Intelligent, Talented and Truly “Hawaiian”

 

Passionate, intelligent, talented and truly “Hawaiian” are just a few words that describe Aunty Nona Beamer.

 

Join Leslie Wilcox as she “talks story” with the woman who coined the term “Hawaiiana” – educator, storyteller, hula choreographer, composer – the irrepressible Nona Beamer.

 

Aunty Nona Beamer Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha! And mahalo for joining me for another wonderful conversation on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. We’re about to sit down with Aunty Nona Beamer whose life as an educator and composer began simply enough – teaching hula to young, local girls in Kaka‘ako and to America’s first movie star, Mary Pickford. But, as a student herself, young Nona would be expelled from school – for chanting in her beloved language. And it was her love for that school – Kamehameha – that would lead her to write a letter as an adult demanding reform of… well, let’s let Aunty Nona tell her stories herself. We got together with her at her friend’s house at Diamond Head.

 

(Nona chants)

 

You wanted to do this interview near Kamapua‘a. What’s the significance?

 

Well you know, we are not here very often. And so much of our family background is mythology and legends and history and the Pele family and the love affair between Kamapua‘a and Pele you know, and all that exciting passion going on. Here’s a chance to see a replica of that symbol of the legends of the story; so I don’t like to pass up the opportunity to come and say, ‘Thank you!” We are so happy to have the myths and legends to pass on to our children and have my daughter with me, and you know.

 

You mentioned passions. Look at you. You still have such a passion for life. Have you slowed down at all? I mean, I know you were sidelined in the hospital for four months. But there you are back at it again.

 

You know, I’m having so much fun and I am so grateful and I think, look where we are in all of this beauty and no matter where we look around us it is glorious. How lucky can we be? How lucky?

 

You’re in your mid 80’s now.

 

Sweetheart, I was 84 last week. Is that mid?

 

And a couple of years ago you where in the hospital for 4 months. You had a bypass surgery, you had a stroke and lots of people were very worried about you.

 

Bye bye Nona (laughs). I guess God had another plan for me and I thought, well I better get off my arse and do something. So I am trying to do something. Yeah, life is so beautiful. And it’s so beautiful because of each other, you know? Our kindness with each other, our voices, our smiles, the way we touch each other’s hands. It seems so corny but it works.

 

And you saw some of that when you were ill in the hospital.

 

Yes, and people that I did not know, reams of cards, school children. And I’m reading them and I had no idea who these people were, but the healing vibes were just so powerful and all the prayers. They’d come to the door and say a prayer standing in the doorway, and I’d look and couldn’t make out who they were. And sometimes I couldn’t hold my head up and somebody would be chanting at my door. I thought, isn’t that wonderful that people would give up themselves and their healing energy is healing me, you know? This business of kindness and love, it’s so, so real. And it works Leslie, in every aspect of your life. And we say to live pono. That’s not very easy, pono spiritually, pono emotionally, pono physically in every aspect of your life. Moderato, you know? So you don’t overeat, you don’t get overemotional, so your blood pressure doesn’t go, you do things moderately and that’s a pretty good recipe for us, you know?

 

And that’s exactly what you’re doing with management of your diabetes. You are, you are, talk about structure, you are using structure to keep healthy.

 

My dear hanai sister has taught me how to do that. Yeah. And I have felt so much better since I’ve known the alternative, I keep to this rigid regimen because I know it’s keeping me healthy. So there’s no, no possible way to cheat. And I feel badly with so many Hawaiians, wonderful talent, beautiful people, stuffing their mouths, drinking the sodas. Oh the big uh, I forgot what you call them, with the rice, egg, hamburger, gravy. Loco moco, oh loco moco and I think so unhealthy, oh dear, if we could just get the Hawaiians to eat sensibly, they won’t all die of diabetes before they’re 20.

 

You are really watching yourself, you’re measuring your water intake even.

 

Yes, because the kidneys are not happy if you don’t give them enough water. Then I swell up if I give them too much water. So you just have to learn what that balance is, you know.

 

On the other hand, you were telling me that yours is now a life without laulau.

 

Yes, but I can have a half a cup of poi twice a week. So I’m happy about that. But no laulau. We make it with won bok. It’s the luau leaves – that has too much potassium for the kidneys.

 

So you are motivated just to keep going. Your body may be slipping up a bit but you’re all there in every other way.

 

I’m having a good time. But I’m looking for some mischief to get into. Do you have a grandfather for me? (laughs)

 

Having a good time and waiting for some mischief at age 84. You gotta love Aunty Nona. And there’s much more to her story. Did you know that it was none other than Nona Beamer who coined the term “Hawaiiana” back in 1949? We’ll find out how – and why – next.

 

You know, you’ve done so many things in your life. I mean it’s, you’re one of those “hyphen” people: educator, storyteller, hula choreographer, composer. How did all that happen?

 

Well of course we’re a big family. So that we had to take care of the children, telling them stories so they would go to sleep. And then my mother was ill one summer. I was 12 and getting ready to come to Kamehameha. And my father said that your mother can’t go to the studio, Nona. You have to go and your sister will go and help you, you know. I think my sister was 10 or 9, somewhere around there, so she was going to answer the phones. And I looked on the appointment book and the first student was Mary Pickford. And I said to my father, “Oh I can’t teach this lady. She’s a very important movie star. My father said, “Get in there.” And she came with Buddy Rogers. I think they were on their honeymoon and he was so nice. She was tiny – she was smaller than I was. And her little hands, little feet, she was completely charming. Got me over the fear of teaching because we were talking and singing and doing lovely hula hands, graceful as the birds. And I got over my fear. Well I get to Kamehameha in September and there’s a notice on the board. “Any girls interested in teaching at the Kaka‘ako Mission, sign up.” I thought, I taught, I know how to teach, so I signed up. And here were little preschool children at Kaka‘ako. It was a very deprived area, you know? And they didn’t know about soap and water. So the children had sores all over their legs. And they smelled bad. And ah, so the first thing we did was get big washtubs and bathe the children with tar soap, smelly brown tar soap. And I’m crying and trying to sing and then the children would say, “Oh, come to the singing lady. Come to the…” So my line gets long as the children were waiting for their baths and nobody at the other tubs. I thought, “Hmm, singing is the way to interest children,” you know? So the first class I faced I started telling them stories and then began chanting about the kahuli and the kolea birds (sings a bit). “Spooky, spooky, spooky!.” And they were frightened. So then I put one note in the song (sings a bit more). And they smiled and weren’t frightened anymore. I thought, “That’s how I’m going to teach. I’m going to teach them little songs, tell them the history and they’ll be smiling and learning their history all in one fell swoop.”

 

You composed music that stands forever. Every school kid, virtually, in Hawaiʻi knows Pupu Hinuhinu. You wrote it. How does that feel? I mean, virtually every child grows up knowing your song.

 

Well it’s a sweet little simple thing, you know. But I think that it’s appealing to all levels, children and grandparents, just the sweetness of it, you know? I think we are very lucky, if we can sing sweet little songs it kind of calms us down and maybe we’re not raising our voices, maybe there is more calmness in the family, you know? So I think it has a lot of uses.

 

So storytelling is really the basis of so much of what you’ve done and what your family has done as well.

 

It is, yes. Well we didn’t have books, we didn’t have you know, lot of authors writing about Hawaiian culture. In fact, I didn’t even know about the overthrow until I was on the Native Hawaiian Study Commission. I didn’t even know about the politics of those times, you know?

 

Where do you get your knowledge of Hawaiianess? From your family experience?

 

Yes, well it was from grandparents, grandmother.

 

But you don’t speak fluent Hawaiian?

 

No, no. We were not allowed to. And then the suppression at Kamehameha. I think psychologically it caused a lot of damage among a lot of Hawaiians in my age group, you know? Because we were forbidden, we were punished. Yeah, it was a psychological block.

 

And yet, as a teacher you had to have structure?

 

Well you know we didn’t have textbooks. We didn’t have curriculum, you know? We didn’t have a term Hawai‘iana until ‘49 when I coined it. And it was at a workshop with the department of education teachers. Well it was called Department of Public Instruction then – D.P.I. So I wrote on the board “Hawai – glottal i – dash – ana.” So I turned around, I looked at the teachers.. I said, “I’d like for us to study this word ‘Hawaiiana… Hawaiiana.’” Now the “ana” is the root word “to measure, to evaluate, to determine what is the best.” So we’re going to concern ourselves with that and teach only the best of Hawaiian culture in the classroom. And that was my reason for that word “Hawaiiana.”

 

You made it up.

 

Yes. And I didn’t mean “-ana” like Americana, Mexicana like a conglomerate of things, you know. But I meant to measure everything that we’re going to teach, and offer the children the very best in the culture.

 

That’s one of the many one-of-a-kind things you’ve done, firsts you’ve done. What about when you were a student at Kamehameha Schools and got briefly expelled?

 

(Nona holds up two fingers)

 

Twice you got expelled?

 

Well it was strange. The first time, the President of the Trustees, Frank Midkiff, was having a tea in the pink garden, in the bougainvillea garden – so pretty. And so he asked me, I had started the Hawaiian Club and it was simply because my friends had said, “Can we learn a song? Can we learn a chant? Tell us a story.” So we’d gather Monday after school and we would learn a chant. Unbeknownst to anybody else, but Mr. Midkiff was a champion of mine, a personal friend and hero. So for him I would do anything. So we came into the garden chanting (sings the chant). And we finished our chant and we bowed to everybody and we walked out. And then my principal said, “Winona you may pack your bag and leave this campus.” It was a sacrilege that I committed – to chant and do motions as we were walking.

 

Because?

 

Because it wasn’t allowed. No language, no chanting, no dancing, no nothing.

 

But you could do western dancing?

 

Oh yeah, we could do anything else, yeah.

 

But that’s how it was in those days at Kamehameha Schools.

 

Absolutely.

 

Because everyone was on this western path.

 

Well, it was just the mindset of the time, I think, you know? They were there to school good and industrious men and women, you know? And there was no further look about advancing us, as students or Hawaiians! I wanted to go to college. “Winona, there’s no reason to go to college.” I mean, my principal! I though, what kind of principal would tell you not to think about going to college? So it kind of hurt me that they wanted to keep us so subservient.

 

Have you had kind of a love-hate relationship with the school since you were a kid?

 

You know, I’ve loved them all my life, all my life. In 1927 my grandmother took me to the old chapel where Farrington School is now and I heard the voices of the Kamehameha men. Oh, the stone walls were just vibrating with these wonderful voices and I fell in love with Kamehameha. Didn’t know anything about it except just a name, you know? And I knew later on about the campus where my father had lived as a child. And then later on when I was hired we were given living quarters there where my father was when he was 6 years old. He was in his dormitory, you know? So there was a lot of joy in my heart for Kamehameha just from that initial love of the sound of their voices, the men singing. Of course, my grandmother was a graduate and my parents had attended. Of course all of us in our family had attended. And now it was time for the grandchild, and you know, they have been as close to me as my own blood family.

 

The school which expelled you twice was the school where you dedicated 40 years of your teaching life.

 

And $87,864 scholarship money I have raised in 35 years for scholarships for Kamehameha. Yes, I love them like my family. Well now they’re coming into the sunlight.

 

And you were part of that. You were part of bringing back the Hawaiianess into the school.

 

I like to think I was, but there’s a whole faction of us. Class members, students, they were asking. Why can’t we have Hawaiian? Why can’t we be what we are? Why do we have to be who we are not?

 

And the school was acting in what it thought was your best interest?

 

Yes, and yet they said Princess Pauahi, in her will, stated that we were not to speak, we were not to chant, we were not to dance. So when they hired me, the first thing I did, “Could I see the will? Please may I see the will?” Nothing in it about Princess Pauahi saying there would be no language, there would be no dancing, there would be no – they lied to me, they lied to me all those years. So my estimation of administration went (motion of hands going down).

 

Well and then what happens many years later, your idea of the administration had again fallen. You wrote a letter to the State Supreme Court in the late 1990s, in which you said, “Mrs. Lindsey, Mrs. Lokelani Lindsey, a trustee’s micromanagement methodology is an utterly diabolical plan of a self-serving egoist.”

 

Oh, I didn’t know her at all. But it was just an abomination that had happened.

 

In your letter, you were expressing what had been an inner angst, many people upset with what was happening at the trustee level at the old Bishop Estate. But so many people didn’t want to lose what they had and you were the one who brought it out.

 

Well, you know they were afraid of their jobs. The students were afraid of their scholarships. I didn’t have anything to lose. I had no children in school. I had retired. And I thought this was just not right. So when my hanai son Kaliko Beamer Trapp came home and told me that Lokelani had sent a directive to the University Language Department that the vocabulary they were developing could not be taught at the Kamehameha Schools, you know? So I just felt that because if it was spoken during Pauahi’s time we could have spoken it. But I thought ah, we’re back to the middle ages. We can’t speak it ‘cause Pauahi didn’t speak it 50 years ago. Something’s wrong, you know? So that really sort of capsulated it from there. We had to do something about it. That was the straw.

 

And there was a firestorm after you wrote the letter.

 

True. Well, I think it gave other people the courage to speak up too.

 

And that triggered an overhaul, a reform of the old Bishop Estate.

 

It was about time, about time. Well, I wish it were as lasting and as meaningful now. But they aren’t there yet, they aren’t there yet. I think they have to do more on campus with the old guard. I love them dearly. We’re all good friends. But they have to be more mindful of Hawaiianess, you know? Not to be thinking of all the business and the dollars and the cash register. Think about the students. That’s why we’re there – for the students. Not to amass fortunes in the bank.

 

The woman who coined the term “Hawaiiana” – lives it. Aunty Nona Beamer stands up for what she thinks is right – what she feels is pono. We don’t have much time left, so we’ll make the rest of this long story, short. Stay with us as we continue “talking story” with the irrepressible Nona Beamer.

 

Are we going to see you in future years standing up again, doing the kind of things that got you expelled, that triggered reform in the old Bishop Estate?

 

(Laughs) You know I am getting a little more outspoken and Keola says, ”Ma, you’re swearing more these days.” I used to say dammit, but now I say dammit to hell. (Laughs) Well I think that’s one of the perks of the elderly – that we can speak up, that we’ve been there and we have the courage ‘cause we know what it feels like to be denied your language, denied being a Hawaiian. So there’s no, I don’t think there’s any guilt. It’s just positive affirmations.

 

You’ve done it before and perhaps you’ll do it again.

 

Do it again? (laughs) Thank you honey.

 

You know, you have so much love, so much aloha and yet you believe in principles and standing up even if it ruffles feathers and makes people lose their jobs.

 

Yes. Well it seems, if it’s right, if it’s reasonable, it’s good you know, you should try to keep as much goodness as you can. And sometimes we just need a little help from one other. Just hang on to one another and make it better.

 

But I think what you’re telling us is it’s not just about being nicey nice. It’s about following principles, and values.

 

True, true, yeah.

 

Let me ask you one question – this may be dicey so let me know. One of the things that we do is we ask viewers what would you like to ask Aunty Nona? One of the questions that people always ask about and you may not want to talk about it, I understand. A viewer in Hilo would like to know if you see any mending between your sons Keola and Kapono Beamer?

 

Well you know there doesn’t need to be mending. They have diverse careers.

 

So your sons had a personal and professional parting of the ways. Does it hurt or is it something a family deals with?

 

Well I miss them together, I miss the sound of their singing. At my father’s funeral I was just weeping because I heard them singing together when I hadn’t heard them for a while. I miss the mellowness of their sound. But I see it coming in my grandson now. And I think of all the good things we’ve done. So if their direction is different, so be it. We can’t just stagnate in our same place. We got to grow or we die. So I don’t see that there’s a lot of mending because the love is still there. I don’t know that they’ll sing Honolulu City Lights together again. I don’t know.

 

But they both came to see you when you were in the hospital?

 

Yes they did.

 

Must have been nice to see both of them at once?

 

The same room – we were all talking together. Yes, yes. And I’m glad that it happened before I “make die dead”! (Laughs) Well I do think that they have a lot to contribute. I don’t know what direction. But I think we’re going to see something through Kamana. And his generation will probably mend the fences that their parents have knocked down.

 

They’re the next Beamers.

 

I think so. I think we are going to see some interesting things from him.

 

So what do you, what do you look ahead to? What’s ahead for you?

 

Well you know, I want to keep the Hawaiianess in things as much as possible. And it doesn’t seem as though it’s that important. In fact, it’s kind of corny when you say, “What is the Hawaiianess?” you know? It’s this aloha feeling – the kindness between people. You know, speaking nicely, looking at each other smiling, you know. Oh, it seems like so little. But it’s a gargantuan concept to keep this aloha in the world. And that’s what we all have to do in our own hearts – to keep this aloha. Not easy.

 

You know when people who’ve known you a long time and know you well describe you, the personal qualities they tend to talk about are: courage, stubbornness – and they say you’re full of aloha. Are they right?

 

Well, you know I’m very grateful and that’s a big stabilizer in my life – that I’m so grateful for all the things, the goodness of family and everything you’ve had behind you, you know. But you’re not here by yourself. Oh, my great-grandmother’s here, my grandmother’s here, everybody’s here behind me. And I think oh this is part of our aumakua, our belief in our guardians that are around us. But we have to listen. We have to be in tune because they’re all here to help us. But sometimes we get so busy we just run rough shot over everything. And life has so much beauty underneath it. If you just be quiet enough to listen to it.

 

Passionate, intelligent, talented and truly “Hawaiian”… just a few words that describe Nona Beamer. It was a pleasure sharing stories from Aunty Nona – and sharing them with you. I wish we had more time. But we have to make this Long Story Short. Mahalo for joining me. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kākou!

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mahealani Wendt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mahealani Wendt

 

Growing up in the crowded, rundown tenements of downtown Honolulu, Mahealani Wendt witnessed the poverty of the Native Hawaiian people around her. That ignited a passion to help, and she spent more than three decades fighting for Hawaiian rights, with a long run as the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation in Honolulu. Today she lives in Hāna, Maui, and is a poet and author.

 

Program

 

More from Mahealani Wendt:

 

“Righteous Cause”

 

Hawaiian Homeland

 

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

 

Mahealani Wendt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I worked as a volunteer, I worked as a grants writer.  I knew nothing about writing grants.  You know, a lot of times, you’re fueled just by passion, and you have so much … I don’t know how else to put it.  You know, you just feel so, so intensely about something, and it drives you, and you do everything you have to do to make it happen.  And that’s how I became a grants writer.

 

Her success as a volunteer grant writer led to a thirty-two-year career fighting for Native Hawaiian rights.  Mahealani Wendt of Maui, 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.  Mahealani Wendt is the retired executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a community activist, accomplished writer, and poet.  She’s the eldest of seven children, grew up on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, and now lives on farmland on Maui in Wailua Nui along Hāna Highway.  She knew from the time she was nine years old, living in the rundown tenements of Downtown Honolulu, that she wanted to help others.  She was deeply affected by the poverty of Native Hawaiian people she saw around her, and despite being poor herself, she says she was raised in a loving, nurturing environment, and never went hungry.  In childhood, she developed a love of writing and reading.

 

My father is Spanish; he’s second generation.  My grandparents emigrated from Spain in 1906.  They were plantation workers, the first sugar plantation in Hawai‘i, Kōloa Sugar. And so, they settled on Kaua‘i. And eventually, he met my mother, who’s from Hilo; she’s Hawaiian.  And we grew up on Kaua‘i there.  It was very beautiful, very country.  We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, raised every kind of, you know, fruit tree, we had a garden. We were cray fishing, climbing trees; all this stuff we did, it was beautiful.  My parents separated.  You know, we were pretty innocent; we never understood what happened.  We just knew that one day, my mother decided that we were going to move, and she brought us to Honolulu.  It was a really different lifestyle.  You know, it was kind of an idyllic life, country life, and we moved to the heart of Honolulu, to the tenements.  And I still remember our address; it was 1278 Fort Street.

 

Fort Street.

 

Yeah; Fort Street, and there were twenty-seven steps going up to the second floor where we lived.

 

This was an old, beat-up building.

 

Yeah; it was the heart of the slums, the tenements in Honolulu.  This was in the 50s, mid-50s, and these tenement buildings, the closest thing that would kind of resemble it would be the buildings in Chinatown.  Those are far more well-maintained than the ones we lived in.  The buildings we lived, I’m now understanding, they were at least fifty years old.  They were wooden, they were termite-eaten.  They were firetraps, basically, you know, not fit for people to live in, but we lived there.  My mother, when she left, you know, didn’t have really the means to support all of us, and so … that’s where we lived.  Some slept on the bed, some slept on the floor.  We had, I think, three showers, cold water.

 

On that floor?

 

In the building.

 

In the whole building?

 

Everybody shared.

 

And how many people were in the building?

 

There were fifty-two rooms. There were three areas where we could do our cooking.  There were kerosene stoves.

 

Was it dangerous?  I mean, I know from a fire standpoint, it was dangerous.  What about from a human standpoint in a rough part of town.

 

It was a rough part of town. From my standpoint, I never saw any danger, I never experienced any danger.  It was a new world; I thought it was really kind of cool and exciting. New kids to play with, new people to meet, new aunties and uncles.  All Hawaiians in that building.  You know, in the same way they do now, the aunties take care.  So, we felt very protected and free, and I never felt any danger.  If you were entering from the sidewalk, you know, there were these narrow steps that went to the second floor.  And the pool hall was downstairs, next to a Chinese restaurant, next to a grocery store, next to, you know, all these different kinds of—

 

So, it felt like a neighborhood to you.

 

It did; totally.

 

No creepy people hanging around.

 

I never remembered any creepy people.

 

You know.  And I mean, when I think back on it, I think: Wow, it would be like, you would think there would be creepy people, but in my child’s eyes, I never saw creepy people.  To me, they were really nice; nice people.

 

And you felt adults were looking out for you, too.

 

Yes, we did; we felt very protected.

 

I wonder how your mom felt with seven kids to take care of.

 

We owned our own home on Kaua‘i. My grandparents homesteaded twenty-five acres there, and you know, the lands are still there.  So, you know, what caused her to feel so compelled to move, we never understood.  I never even understood it as an adult.  But there we were.  It must have been very stressful; we were really poor.  I sold newspapers.  I thought that was really cool, ‘cause I could have spending money, you know, and stuff. I was selling newspapers.  My corner was Fort and Kukui, and I sold the Honolulu Advertiser.  I sold forty papers, made a dollar.  And then, that was my lunch money.  I made most of my money from tips, ‘cause I was so young.  You know, I was like, nine years old, standing on the corner with newspapers.  Oh, poor thing, you know.  So, they’d give me a dollar.  Wow, that’s a lot of money.  That’s what I would make for the whole, you know, selling forty papers.  So … I thought it was great.

 

M-hm.

Again, the perspective.  You know, as a child, I was innocent.  I saw all of it as a great excitement.  It was just a different thing, you know.  I mean, one thing, for example, when we lived in Kauai, the store was really far.  You know. When we moved to Honolulu, the store was downstairs.

 

It was amazing.  I was just like, enthralled, you know.  When I lived on Kaua‘i, we’d go to the movies once, you know, every six months or something.  When we went to Honolulu, we lived next to the theater.  You know.  So, that’s how I saw it from a child’s sort of sense of wonder.  It wasn’t until I was, you know, older, maybe intermediate school, I sort of kinda understood that we were really poor.  And then, as I got older, I realized that, you know, the auntie that, you know, was so sick, and da-da-da, this is why.  And then, I realized that, you know, so-and-so, that you know, we really thought was really a cool guy, he’s in jail because he did this.  You know, so I had a sense of perspective, but it was afterwards.

 

After the fact.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever connect with your father again?

 

Yes.  We saw him as we could afford to.  I think he would send money and, you know, we’d go.  But it wasn’t very often.  And he came to visit us once.  You know, he was not a Honolulu man; he was a hunter, a fisherman.  He would come back from the mountains with, you know, these burlap bags full of ‘o‘opu to feed our family.  You know, very subsistence lifestyle.  When he worked, he worked as a heavy equipment operator, kind of a laborer.  I loved my dad.  Both of my parents read to us.  My father would put us on his lap and read.  You know, those experiences.  I came to really love literature and reading from both parents.  My parents were very good parents, in spite of the separation. And my mother was very strict; she taught us very fundamental values, and we were expected to, you know, adhere to them.  And if we did not, the punishment was swift and sure.  All of the kids turned out good.  I went to Royal School.

 

Royal School.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; elementary.  And then?

 

I went to Royal Elementary, and then I went to Central Intermediate.

 

And then?

 

And then, I went to Kamehameha in my sophomore year.  I liked public school.  Public school was awesome; I learned a lot.  You know, again, the common theme of, you know, this love of literature, that was more than reinforced in the public school.  In fact, at Kalaheo Elementary, where I went to, you know, from first to third grade, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Robello, encouraged me when I wrote a little poem for my mother.  You know how teachers do.  It’s so important.  She took my little poem, she put it on the wall.  You know how teachers, you can encourage by telling everybody, you know. And when her students would make a little picture, she’d put that on the wall.  So, she had ways of encouraging and making you feel: Ho, this is something I can do.

 

How long were you in the tenements?

 

Well, we lived in Honolulu for three years.  There was a terrible fire in the tenement next door.

 

Another wooden building?

 

It was a wooden building; it was right next to ours on the next block, and it burned down.  And four people died in that fire.  One of the ones who passed was a three-year-old who was my brother’s playmate.  And so, it really affected everybody, the family.  It really had an impact on me.  And it was just … I don’t know; I’ll never forget it.  We stood out there and watched this whole thing happen.

 

And watched it burn down.

 

Yes.  We lived there until my mother could find someplace else she could afford.  So, we moved close to Queen’s Hospital; same sort of building, but not as big.  We lived there for another, like, three or four years, and then we moved, and we actually moved to a much nicer place. Things were getting better; you know, Mom could find work, and so, we moved to a much better place.

 

How formative was the experience of living in places like that, those two different buildings and the fire that took your acquaintances and friends?

 

I know that it has everything to do with my community advocacy work, especially on behalf of Hawaiians.  The people who made a difference in our lives when we were growing up were the social workers who reached out to us. They were so kind.  They were so kind to my mother.  And I grew up feeling that I wanted to be a social worker.  I changed my mind when I realized I didn’t have the fortitude.  I saw what they had to deal with.  And I’m a little bit emotional; I have a really hard time focusing, you know, when I see that.  I got older, I guess I gained a perspective.  As a child, I didn’t really understand what that environment was all about.

 

Yeah; you thought they were nice people.

 

I thought everybody was nice.

 

But they were carrying all this pain, I suppose—

 

Yes.

 

–that they saw.

 

M-hm.  And as I got much older, and we learned our history and, you know, the displacement, I started focusing on Hawaiians.  It happened kind of gradually.  I was, you know, someone who was intent on a social work profession, but I also had competing things that I was really interested in.  The literature thing was always an interest.

 

After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, Mahealani Wendt went to work for big corporations, first on the continent, and then back home in Hawai‘i.  She was good at what she did, but her heart was not in the corporate world.

 

Right out of high school, I lived in Texas.  And while I was in Texas, I worked for a very large insurance company, a national insurance company, and I learned a lot about corporate business.  And so, I worked there for five years, I worked my way up.  Then I came home to Hawaiʻi.  I worked for a local corporation called Crown Corporation.  They had a bunch of industrial loan banks, they had securities firm, they had insurance. You know, I mean, some of the companies are still around; a lot of them are no longer.  But you know, they were real estate developers; all of that.  I was into that.  And I was like an admin assistant to vice president.  So, I did that.  And then, I went to college.

 

That was good preparation.

 

Yeah, it was good preparation. But interestingly, I started doing the community activism, you know, the demonstrations and stuff when I was still working for this corporation.  And my boss, who was a vice president, said: Just don’t let me see you arrested, or on TV. You know, something like that.  I said: I’ll be fine.

 

You know, so I always like, had these two like, sort of identities there.  I would be this corporate thing at work, and then, you know, uh, the rest of the time, I’d be … and then, I decided I needed to go to school, because I needed skills to do the thing I wanted, which is [SIGH] effectuate social reform.  Working for business was really a survival thing for me.  I had good skills, I had good typing, accounting; those sort of things. I had skills that I could market very readily in the business environment, so that’s where I went.  But that’s not where my heart was.

 

So, you’re taking political science now at the UH.

 

M-hm.  I’m taking political science, and I have an opportunity to do an internship with Legal Aid Society, along with thirty other interns, students at UH Mānoa, political science majors.  And we’re placed at the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i at a time when, you know, we were coming into a growth of social programs, social economic programs in our community.  So, there was this quantum leap in legal services available to the community through Legal Aid.

 

Because there was more funding.

 

There was more funding.

 

More value placed on that.

 

Yes.  I chose to go with the so-called land unit at the time.  And in the course of my internship, I was assigned to work with community organizations in the Hawaiian community. And that sort of was a catalyst for my future work.  I attended law school, I left law school.  I was very active in the community.  I mean, actually coming into this kind of work, the genesis of it was community activism.  So, the early so-called land struggles—Kalama Valley, Kokua Kalama, He‘eia Kea, Waiāhole-Waikāne, Niumalu-Nāwiliwili on Kaua‘i, Mokauea Island—all of those struggles, I was there.  I was there. I was not there as a leader; I was there as someone who felt compelled to be there.  I really related to what the people were suffering, and I felt I had to be there.  It’s a combination of that activism and my experience at the Legal Aid Society leading me to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.  You know, it’s kinda like all boiled into the picture.

 

Why did you leave law school after college?

 

Well, I had children.  At that time, I was a single parent.  That was part of it; it was the economics of it. You know, when I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I found my niche was really talking to the staff about community; how community felt, you know, what was important.  Because sometimes the rigor of legal linear thinking separates you from community. And I think you need both.  So, I think it would have been fine to go through law school, but at that point in my life, I felt I would be more useful in bringing that perspective to the firm.  And I think that it worked really well.

 

And you worked your way up to heading the office; you ran the office.

 

Yeah.  So, the first position was an interim attorney who agreed to come over from private practice to sort of get us started.  The second was Melody MacKenzie.  Then after, I think, a year or two, the first gentleman moved on back to private practice after kinda mentoring us.  I became the third staff person.  And Melody MacKinzie was my boss for, I don’t know, maybe six, seven years. And she taught me so much.  I just owe her a great debt of gratitude.  She’s the kindest, the most brilliant mentor a person could have.  I mean, I just love her; I love her to this day.  She was the executive director, but I guess she was kind of, you know, having to do a lot of this admin stuff.  And it just seemed more efficient to have me do the administrative part, you know, deal with personnel hiring, firing, that sort of thing.  ‘Cause I had a background in it.  Melody has those skills, but she’s also brilliant; a brilliant jurist, a brilliant scholar.  You know, I mean, talking story as a staff, and it just seemed like, you know, a more sensible way to go.  And so, I guess in name, you know, I became the head of the organization, and then she could focus on cases and clients, you know, and I could just deal with the other stuff.

 

You did that for a long time.

 

M-hm.  Well, I retired after thirty-two years.  So, yes, I did it a long time.  It was fun.  I loved it.

 

What kinds of cases did your firm handle?

 

Well, our cases were all Native rights cases.  So, you know, they’re kind of characterized as the things that we require in order to be Hawaiian.  Hawaiians were being affected with respect to land tenure, their ability to hold onto their lands, ability to hold onto their natural resources, have access to it, ability to engage in traditional and customary practices that they require to be Hawaiian.  If their access to the ocean is cut off, then they can’t go fish, they cannot gather limu; these kinds of things.  The ability to exercise practices relating to their traditional religion, things that would impede it, ability to access their trusts, the Hawaiian Homelands trusts or the public lands trusts.  All of those things became our areas of focus.  We had genealogists on staff, we had title people on staff.  We had Hawaiian translators on staff, because we’re dealing a lot with archival documents, many of which are only in Hawaiian. So, we had people on staff who specialized in translating legal documents.  So, the shop is a specialty shop, you know, asserting the rights of native people.  And we did well.  There were many cases that we did, that I’m very proud of.

 

That was a very … just vibrant time, and also, it was a time of people coming into age and being very proud, and also running into a lot of walls, too.

 

Yes; yes.  And I think with knowledge comes power.  You know, and the more we’re able to understand our history—and of course, language is a window into culture, the more we understand our language the more we understand better who we are.  Part of that is having, you know, connection to land, connection to water, connection to ocean, continuing to keep traditional practice vibrant and alive. All of those things are important. And you know, ultimately, it’s about values.  And as many other peoples, including indigenous peoples, those values are really important, not only for us here as a people in Hawaii, and not only for all of Hawai‘i, but even globally.  You know, you join with other peoples.  There are certain values that are universally exalted as being life-affirming and necessary in order for, you know, humankind to thrive.  We can make a contribution, and it’s really, really important that we be allowed to be a people.

 

Why do we do this?  We do this because we love Hawai‘i.

 

A&B doesn’t own the water, the taro farmers do not own the water.  Our people own the water.  Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

Ae!

 

Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

For all of us.

 

So, let our people live, and let the ‘aina live, forever. [INDISTINCT]  Stand up so that we can make that happen.

 

Mahealani Wendt met her husband, Ed Wendt, through her work in native water rights.  He’s a taro farmer with kuleana land.  Where they live in Wailua Nui, in Maui’s Hana District, is beautiful, but as always, farming kalo is hard work.  Besides her passion for justice, Mahealani Wendt has always had a love for poetry and writing.  Even as head of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, she found time to write, and has received numerous literary awards, both nationally and internationally. We’re going to close now with a reading from one of her poems that reflects back on her childhood.  Mahalo to Mahealani Wendt of Wailua Nui, Maui, for sharing her life story with us, and mahalo to you for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, 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.

 

At statehood, we trundled kerosene tankards over rutted Honolulu sidewalks, past beer halls, pool halls, taxi dancehalls, past honky-tonk dives, juke joints, and shoeshine stands, to rooming house kitchens where we lit our communal fires and kept vigil for the one day our nation would be restored.  The torches burned bright as we stood watch.  Our children, listless on tenement floors, their coverings prickling with insect filth, and the grit of ambient sounds, incessant scuttlings and winged scurryings inside squalid floors and walls, we sensed a slow collapse under the terrific weight of a people whose gods kept watch with them there. The minions of forest, river, and ocean gods, companions in these root places whispering their encouragements as generations of children turn to hear, like flowers brightening to sun.

 

[END]

 

 

KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall



KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall

“KĀKOU” means “all of us.” But it doesn’t mean we all agree.

 

When we can speak to each other honestly and listen earnestly… When we recognize that we are all in this together… When we are engaged in working toward a common goal, that is “kākou.”

 

PBS Hawai‘i hosts a periodic series of live town hall events called KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall. You can email us with your thoughts in advance or during the live conversation at kakou@pbshawaii.org, or post on Twitter using the #pbskakou hashtag. The town hall will also be live streamed on pbshawaii.org and on Facebook Live, where you can also join the conversation.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Fred Hemmings

 

Fred Hemmings has lived life as a waterman, an entrepreneur and a lawmaker – but he says he’s most proud of being a “local boy.” He shares his experience growing up in Honolulu in the ’50s and ’60s surfing alongside Duke Kahanamoku in Waikīkī, and how his time as an amateur surfer led him to a career that championed professional surfing.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Fred Hemmings Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Held underwater?

 

Yes; it’s the worst way to die.

 

Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?

 

No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live.

 

Fred Hemmings has had many death-defying experiences that he lived to tell about. Waterman, entrepreneur, lawmaker; he’s done it all. And not for love of money; mostly for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. Fred Hemmings, 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. Ask anyone who Fred Hemmings is, and you’ll get a wide range of answers: legendary surfer, channel winning canoe paddler and steersman, professional surfing contest producer, marathon runner, national television sports commentator, State Representative and State Senator, and back in the day, a Punahou School football player on a renowned championship team. Retired now, Fred Hemmings has been all of these things during his lifetime. Yet, for all of his endeavors and accomplishments, there’s one description that he is most proud of: local boy. It speaks not only to his family roots, but to his pride in his island home. The third of six children, he grew up in Honolulu in the 1950s and 60s in a landscape that is unrecognizable today.

 

I count as one of my greatest fortunes, besides my family, being born and raised in Hawai‘i. My roots are very deep in Hawai‘i. My mother’s side of the family, which is Portuguese, got here in 1881 from Funchal, Madeira, Portugal of a Portuguese island. And my dad got here in 1925 from New York City, as a young boy. We were a home of modest means. We weren’t by any means wealthy. And you know, we lived rather frugally. It was an interesting time. Lived in Kaimukī; born and raised in Kaimukī. Kaimukī boy.

 

You also lived in Kāhala, though.

 

I lived in Kāhala uh, when it was pig farms, and farms.

 

And it was all muddy, it had dirt roads.

 

Oh, there were basically three paved roads: Aukai, Kāhala Avenue, and Kealaolu that goes along the edge of the golf course. I lived on the next road up from Aukai; it was called Farmers Road, and it was a dirt road.

 

And there was a reason it was called Farmers Road.

 

Exactly.

 

People don’t realize that now, perhaps.

 

Yes; yes. Between Farmers Road and Kaimukī, there was no houses, because there was no subdivision. And it was three-acre farm lots.   Bishop Estate, which owned it all, had three-acre farm lots. And my grandfather, Arthur Freitas, a gentleman of Portuguese ancestry, and a great bon vivant, what a character he was. He raised horses. So, we had three horses, and we lived on a three and a half acre farm lot along with mostly Japanese farmers who were growing lettuce, cabbage, and other things in Kāhala. But Farmers Road was a farmers’ road. I went to Star of the Sea, a Catholic school, you know, my early years, a kindergartner. I went to Star of the Sea when it was still across from the old Keokara Store. There was no Kāhala. Keokara was on the corner of what now would be Kilauea and Wai‘alae Avenue. And across the street was the old Hung Wai Gee that then turned into Star of the Sea School. And so, it was the old Hung Wai Gee. Classic; you know, the wood buildings and all of that. So, that’s where I started school.

 

Your mother was Portuguese.

 

Yes.

 

Your dad, English-Irish.

 

Right.

 

What was your family culture like?

 

You know, there’s really something funny. As rough and tough as my father was, hard-drinking, you know, a real rugged guy, the facts are that Portuguese women, they’re even tougher. But she was real quiet, you know, but ultimately, my mother would rule the day. And she instilled in us a lot of the values that I think have been an asset in my life. Most especially, I think values that come from what I call the holy trinity of humankind. You know, we’re physical beings, and we nourish that through exercise and good health and eating habits. We’re intellectual beings; we nourish it through education. But most importantly, I think is, we’re spiritual beings, and who we are, the goodness of who we are is our spiritual being. And my mother, in her own way, being a Catholic and being the way she was, she nourished honest, hardworking, spiritual values that I think endure throughout the betterment of humankind. So, she was something special.

 

What were you like as a kid? You said your dad was rough and ready; were you?

 

We all had nicknames; my dad named us. My sister was Big C; my brother Mark was Butchie. My nickname was Bully Beef.

 

Because?

 

I was a bully beef kinda kid. You know, I was a rough, tough, rolling around, rough ‘em up kid.

 

Does that mean you were a bully?

 

No; it just meant rough.

 

Bully.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

I know what you mean.

 

Bully, bully, bully boy, you know.

 

Yeah.

 

Bully boy kind guy.

 

So, you’re always ready to wrestle, or whatever it was.

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And being a hard-headed young boy of Portuguese ancestry, if anybody would give me any grief, you know, I wouldn’t back away. I got in my fair share of fights when I was kid.

 

When you say your fair share, what does that mean? In connection with Portuguese ancestry?

 

Well, you know how kids are. No, kids argue about all kinds of different thing. And you know, like if I got off the bus in Kaimukī from Punahou, I was all of a sudden a Haole getting off the bus from Punahou. You know. When I was at Punahou, I was Fred Hemmings the Portagee. But when I got off the Punahou bus in Kaimukī, because I was getting off a Punahou bus, I was a Haole. So, guys would make remarks. Eh, Haole; eh, Haole. You’re too young to remember this, but they’d say: Eh, you like beef?

 

Oh, I remember that.

 

You remember that? You like beef? Eh, punk, you like beef? And I’d say, yeah.

 

And it was because of your ethnicity?

 

Because they perceived me as a Punahou Haole. It was stereotyping of the worst sorts. You know.

 

And on the Punahou side, they said what?

 

I was a Portagee; Fred Hemmings the Portagee.

 

And what did that connote in those days?

 

I wasn’t one of them. You know, I’m a kid, and I’d say: Well, I’m really not one of these guys, I’m not a wealthy Caucasian; I’m a Portagee at Punahou. You know. And I was on financial aid, and I worked in the cafeteria. One of my claims to fame is, my Aunt Min Marciel introduced the malasadas to the Punahou carnival.

 

There you go. So, did that do the trick? Did you feel like one of the bunch?

 

Nah … I’ve always taken pride in my Portuguese heritage.

 

And you distinguished yourself at Punahou as an athlete.

 

M-hm.

 

In those days, football was everything.

 

Oh, gosh.

 

And you surfed as a recreational fun thing.

 

I grew up in a surfing family. My dad and Lex Brodie surfed together in Waikīkī as young boys. They both went to Roosevelt together. And so, my playground when I was kid wasn’t on a baseball field or anything; it was the surf at Waikīkī, where I learned to surf. And one of the greatest blessings in my life is growing up in the shadow of Duke Kahanamoku and the other beach boys. But my father wanted me to be a football player. ‘Cause he played football at Roosevelt, I was gonna play football. So, I got involved in Pop Warner Football, and I did pretty well at it.

 

What position did you play?

 

Funny story; let me tell you. I found out in my senior year at Punahou when I played with Charlie Wedemeyer, the ILH championship was a real big deal back then.

 

Absolutely.

 

‘Cause that was the only game in town. I found out I was pretty fast and could run well. ‘Cause I was linebacker and, you know, all these little, scrawny little running backs would come out of the backfield, and I’d nail ‘em like a heat-seeking missile. I should have been a running back, but I had polio. Four of the children that were alive in the early 50s, we all had polio. And so, my father decided in his mind that I was a plug, that I couldn’t fun fast ‘cause the polio was lumbar polio, and my legs were quite weak for a while. I had to do a lot of things at Shriners Hospital to rehab my legs. Didn’t cripple me, but it made me not be able to run fast. So, my father said: You’ve gotta play on the line. So, I ended up playing on offensive center in middle line, which is kinda fun. Not as fun as running with the ball and making a touchdown, you know, ‘cause linemen, they don’t get any credit. We just block and get our butts kicked. But it was great.

 

When did you get polio?

 

1952.

 

So, you were just a little kid.

 

Yeah. It was just weak legs for a while, and I eventually rebounded out of it. And within two or three years, you know, I was running and jumping around like any normal kid.

 

But your dad had a sense that you could use your legs, but not fast.

 

Exactly. In his mind, I was a plug. And he’d call me that, too.

 

Oh; what did that do? Did that make you feel bad, or did it make you want to …

 

Oh, I believed him. Yeah. That’s one thing parents should really learn is, be careful of what you say to your kids. ‘Cause they’re more than likely gonna believe you. And so, always plant seeds of confidence and goodness with your kids.

 

So now, you realize that you could run fast, and knock people down.

 

Yeah; by the time I was a senior at Punahou playing with Charlie Wedemeyer, I was playing on the line now. We used to play both ways; offensive line, and then defense. I was a linebacker, and I could run down the little backs, and you know, like I said, nail ‘em. And I said: Eh, I’m not that slow, I could have been a running back.

 

And that was a great team you were on.

 

Oh, it was unbelievable. I’ll never forget, Leslie, what a thrill. November, Turkey Day of 1964, we took a bus with a police escort to the old Honolulu Stadium. We warmed up on our field, not in the stadium, and they were all wondering where’s the Punahou team. And we took a bus. We ran off the bus through the portal, and right onto the field to play the game. And I was one of the captains. And we beat Kamehameha. We were tied; we’d gone through the whole season, Kamehameha had lost a game, we’d lost a game. So, Turkey Day was for the championship. And there were twenty-five thousand plus people in the old Termite Palace, which was the stadium. There were folding chairs along the edge of the field so they could maximize the crowd. And we ran onto the field, and at the end of the game, we won twenty to six. We beat Kamehameha for the championship. Which back then was a real big deal; ILH champions.

 

Fred Hemmings grew up surfing in Waikīkī. He competed in amateur surfing events around the globe, winning many of them. This was during the 1960s, when the surfing craze was taking over the nation, and Hemmings saw an economic opportunity.

 

I didn’t go to college. I went to college for one year at UH, and then I quit to start professional surfing and start the business of professional surfing. I went surfing, basically. But I’m telling all my grandkids, and as I told my children: You’ve gotta go to college if you want to be successful. But as fate would have it, not going to college was, in a curious way a blessing for me, because I didn’t have an occupation. I could go where my nose took me in life. I surfed with the greatest surfers of the 20th century and in the 60s. Joey Cabell, Paul Strauch, and then a guy who was the first Pipeline which history has forgotten, a guy named Butch Van Artsdalen, and myself were the Duke’s surf team.

 

You also mentioned that Duke Kahanamoku was perhaps one of the greatest citizens of Hawaii you’ve ever met.

 

When I was a little boy, back then, lot of local guys would call the younger boy: Eh, boy. You’d never say the name. He wouldn’t say Fred; Eh, boy. But then, I got to be a member when I got to be a fairly good surfer; I got put on the Duke’s surf team, and I traveled with Duke. I think I can honestly say the most beloved citizen of Hawai‘i, the person we loved the most because of the content of his spirit, not his accomplishments, was Duke. A handsome Hawaiian, a man who knew no malice or negative.

 

So, you were an amateur surfer. Surfing in competitions, you did well in competitions.

 

Yeah; I did pretty good. I never surfed professionally. I started professional surfing. Surfing had grown under the leadership of a guy named Eduardo Arena of Peru, and he developed a world surfing championship. They held the first one in Peru in ’65, and then they held one in San Diego, and finally went to Puerto Rico when I competed in it and did pretty good. It’s their fiftieth anniversary this year. I read a poem, probably the only thing I ever remember, poetry in school; it was by A.E. Housman. It said: Smart lad, to slip betimes away, From fields where glory does not stay, And early though the laurel grows, It withers quicker than the rose. It was about an athlete who died young, and they were carrying him through the town. And laurel would never wither, because he got buried as a champion. And what that said to me was that, leave the field when you’re a champion. You know, don’t become a has-been. And I didn’t want to become a has-been, but I also saw the economic opportunity of starting professional surfing. I got hired by the Smirnoff to put on their meet, which originally was California, and then it moved here. And the following year, in 1971, I started the Pipeline Masters, which believe it or not, is in its forty-eighth year. Gosh; I think I was eight years old when I started it.

 

And you’re not involved in it anymore?

 

No; I sold my proprietary—same thing with my life. In 1988, I was really proud Leslie. I had surfing events on all three television networks. This was before there was cable television.

 

While Fred Hemmings was busy with his amateur and professional surfing careers, there was another sport that was close to his heart. He was a champion outrigger canoe steersman.

 

I learned to steer a canoe in an old koa boat called the Ka Moi. It’s now hanging in the bar of the Outrigger.

 

That’s the other thing; you were a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club, even though, as you say, you’re a family of modest means.

 

Right.

 

How did that happen?

 

That happened very modestly. You know, we couldn’t charge in the snack bar or anything, but we were all members ‘cause my dad wanted us to paddle and surf, and he wanted us to be members of the Outrigger. And we were. And you know, the Outrigger is like Punahou; people can sometimes stereotype the Outrigger. But I’m so proud of the Outrigger. It has really contributed significantly to watersports in Hawai‘i. Outrigger paddlers and surfers have been amongst the world’s best. It’s won more Moloka‘i to Oahu canoe races than any other club.

 

So, it was your hangout when you were in school?

 

Paddled every summer. You know, we had regattas. Back when I started paddling, there were no fiberglass canoes, there was only koa canoes.

 

And they were heavy.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

What about the paddles?

 

The paddles were wood and very heavy. Yeah. But things have changed, progress. But to the credit of canoe paddling, they’ve done an excellent job of preserving the integrity of the sport.

 

And you’re a steersman. So, that’s a very key position on the boat. All of them are key positions, but you call the shots on the boat. What does a steersman do? Maybe you could explain all the things.

 

You’re very intuitive that way. I used to steer, and I was very much the boss of the boat. The steersman thinks about the course, the steersman thinks about working the ocean, working the wind, how to avoid currents. And there’s a thousand things a good steersman should learn about. When you’re in the Molokai race, is the tide coming in? If it is, you run a little more inshore, because it runs faster near the shore. The tide’s going out, you stay away ‘cause it’s pulling Makapu‘u from Moloka‘i. So, there’s all these little subtleties to being a good steersman, that the steersman should worry about. Of course, in the regatta season when they race around flags, it’s a little different.

 

Your family seems to have a steersman gene. Don’t you have generations of steersmen in your family?

 

Four.

 

Four?

 

My grandson Trevor, who’s sixteen now, just won the state varsity paddling championship, steering at Punahou. So, he’s a fourth generation canoe paddler steersman. Which is something; fourth generation. My dad, my son. My son’s won a couple Moloka‘is. He’s real good.

 

I saw a photo of you surfing this huge wave in a canoe.

 

Yeah.

 

Where was that?

 

A place called Castles. Ancient times, it was called Kalehuawehe. Those swells come from New Zealand. They come actually five thousand miles; it takes them ten days to get here. And by the time they get here, if it’s a really huge swell, it can get up to fifteen feet out at Castles. It’s where Duke got his legendary ride in 1917, from out at Castles.

 

Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Held underwater?

 

Yes; it’s the worst way to die.

 

Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?

 

No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live. So, I can remember a couple times. Yeah.

 

And how did you break out of it? How did you get free?

 

You finally break the surface and you take a breath. And you know, you live.

 

You were able to endure until you can get out, get up.

 

Well, once you get your air back in your lungs, you know, the next wave comes. What happens when you wipe out is, the water in the surf line is usually moving. ‘Cause once a wave breaks, it becomes moving. You get pushed in. That’s where rip currents come from. So, you get pushed in enough where you’re not in the lineup for the next wave, usually. So, the next wave hits, you know, it’s soda water. You just dive under it. You know. And when you wipe out on a big wave … this was before you could get towed in; you had to paddle in. So, you’re taking a lot of your energy; it’s like running, and then, you jump in a washing machine. And usually, when you wipe out, you get—pah! You know, you smack the water. So, you put all those combination things; you don’t get held under much longer than twenty seconds, but that’s plenty enough to drown. ‘Cause you don’t have any air. And you know, when you suck in a breath of air, that air goes to the muscles that are working. And so, you can try to release quick. But fortunately, you know, most of us made it successfully. There are some that haven’t, though.

 

When you’ve had a close call like that, how long does it take you to go back into the water, in big water?

 

As long as it takes to get your board, and go back out.

 

Fred Hemmings continued to take ocean risks that could have ended in disaster, and he took some hits on land, too. It wasn’t until he had a particularly harrowing tree-cutting accident that he started thinking differently.

 

I’ve had my share of accidents. I cut my toe off; three of my toes off with a lawnmower. The worst one was actually pretty serious, and this happened late in 2015. I was sawing down a tree along the side of the road, and it fell down and it kicked back, and it hit me in the chest and broke eight of my ribs, punctured my lung, and crushed my shoulder.

 

Were you alone?

 

By myself; yeah. I’ll never forget this. So, I flew through the air. You know how they say when you die, you relive your life. I said to myself: Oh, S, I killed myself. Then I blacked out, and then, I finally came to, and I couldn’t move the side of my body. It was a real funny feeling. And I reached into my pocket and grabbed cell phone, and I called some people, and they called the ambulance. But then, when I went to the hospital, they OD’d me on opioids, and my heart stopped, and they had to jolt me back. So, I’m very cautious now when I do yardwork.

 

But you still do yardwork?

 

Little bit.

 

Did your life change because of life-threatening incidents like that? Have you changed your life any?

 

I’ve had a lot of life-threatening incidences. But this one did change me. All the rest, like almost dying in the surf, and you know, having all these other perilous situations I’ve been in; you know, I’ve done a lot of things that are kind of on the edge. But that did change my life.

 

How so?

 

I was scared.

 

Of?

 

Death.

 

Mm. And so, you’re careful?

 

Yeah. You’re scared of losing not your life; you’re scared of losing your grandkids, and your family, and you know, things you love.

 

Yeah.

 

So, it’s a strange feeling.

 

Mortality.

 

Yes; mortality. Exactly. I used to, with reckless abandon, take the canoe out to Castles to ride big waves in a canoe. I’m a little gun shy now; I’m not gonna take a chance that’s gonna kill me. You know, when you’re younger, you know, that’s part of the DNA of humankind. There are some guys that got that alpha gene, that they’re gonna risk their life, and that’s what progressed humanity, is the guys that leave the safety of the status quo and venture. You know, it’s a star trek gene, I call it. It’s the genetics of star trek, to go where no one’s gone before. That’s what advances humanity.

 

Are you saying you had that before, but now, you’re reining that in?

 

I had it in spades. I mean, I had it triple-time. And now, well, I’m also seventy-two years old, so I don’t have to go. I’m done there. You know, I’ve done my star trek going places where no one’s gone before; big waves, politics, surfing, paddling. You know, I’ve pretty much done everything I’ve wanted to do.

 

What’s your goal now?

 

What’s my goal?

 

Yep.

 

My goal is to enjoy my family and loved ones with the remaining years I have, and to rekindle friendships with friends around the world and nourish, you know, relationships. I’m not a very materialistic guy. I drive a Honda; you know, I’m not a high-end guy. I don’t need to go to fancy restaurants.

 

You don’t hire a yardman. Or maybe you do now.

 

No, I don’t.

 

You don’t?

 

I still do a little bit of my own yardwork. You know, the family compound, we have some guys that come in and help out. But I’m a good supavisah.

 

I can ‘em where to go.

 

So, you’ve never regretted that you didn’t go for riches, you went for experience?

 

Exactly. That’s a good thing. I pay my bills, but I’m not a rich man. I have a beautiful family, and I pay my bills, and I’m able to put food on the table, and that’s rich enough for me. And what’s really nice now for me is, I’m at the age where I can travel to other places and have friends. I love going to Peru, and I have a lot of friends around the world that I can occasionally visit, and they visit here. So, it’s a rich life without a lot of money.

 

Besides being a legendary waterman, Fred Hemmings is probably best remembered as a rare Republican State Senator in Hawai‘i. And he brought the first surf shop to Ala Moana Center. In 2017, he wrote a book, Local Boy, a memoir. Mahalo to Fred Hemmings of Lanikai, Windward Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, 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 would run at night. I wouldn’t go to bed; I’d meet a buddy at nine-thirty, ten o’clock at night, and run in the mountains. And so, I wrote about it in the book; it’s under Running. It says: One of the most beautiful moments ever was when Kent and I were running the Maunawili Trail to Waimanalo on a cool, full moon night. About halfway to Waimanalo, we rounded the Ko‘olau Ridge that was high promontory. It was very still and eerie, and quiet. The luminescent moon was bright, casting a blue hue over the Windward Coast. It was ethereal. We stopped running, and pulled plastic ponchos from out butt packs and lied next to the trail, and basked in the soft light of the eerie night. Surely, God was on the high altar on the Ko‘olau Ridge. He touched us. So, that’s a message, I think, that I learned, that you know, money can’t buy that, those moments. You know, we have such great gifts, if we take the time to appreciate ‘em. You don’t have to be a rich fat cat, or you don’t have to have a fancy car. You don’t need to go to, you know, wherever to be happy. You take it in your own spirit, what you appreciate in life.

 

 

A Concern About Hawaiians Leaving Hawai‘i

 

CEO Message

A Concern About Hawaiians Leaving Hawai‘i
Left image: Community Advisor Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, left. Right image: Community Advisory Chair Karen Knudsen with fellow member Les Murashige

Left image: Community Advisor Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni, left. Right image: Community Advisory Chair Karen Knudsen with fellow member Les Murashige

Community Advisors pictured, from left: Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui (Hawai‘i Island), Les Murashige, Dennis Bunda, Kainoa Horcajo (Maui), Marissa Sandblom (Kaua‘i) and Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni. Not pictured: Chuck Boller, Lei Kihoi (Hawai‘i Island) and Corrina Moefu.

Community Advisors pictured, from left: Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui (Hawai‘i Island), Les Murashige, Dennis Bunda, Kainoa Horcajo (Maui), Marissa Sandblom (Kaua‘i) and Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni. Not pictured: Chuck Boller, Lei Kihoi (Hawai‘i Island) and Corrina Moefu.


Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOBesides our statewide, governing Board of Directors, PBS Hawai‘i has a Community Advisory Board, with all of Hawai‘i’s counties represented, to give us feedback about programming and other community engagement.

 

At a recent meeting, these Community Advisors shared thoughts about the central question of our April 19 KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall: “How do we keep Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i? One theme of the discussion was concern about Native Hawaiians choosing to move out of state.

 

Dr. Shawn Kana‘iaupuni of Honolulu says there are research initiatives to measure the current outflow of Native Hawaiians. “That’s our host culture,” she noted.

 

Cheryl Ka‘uhane Lupenui of North Hawai‘i Island mentioned that community changes are affecting a school which uses a curriculum based on the Hawaiian culture. This curriculum is deemed less relevant to the needs of new students.

 

Maui’s Kainoa Horcajo said that newcomers and visitors are using social media to confer new names on treasured places, resulting in a “homogenization” of Hawai‘i.

 

All of the advisors counseled PBS Hawai‘i staff not to worry if the Town Hall turns dour. They pointed out that change is inevitable, and mindfulness is a positive first step if we want to keep Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i.

 

More to come on this subject…Aloha nui,

 

Leslie signature

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Senator Daniel Akaka

 

Original air date: Tues., Jul. 29, 2008

 

You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – real aloha.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai’i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate.

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. You’ve heard the expression, “Nice guys finish last.” Not true. Not when it comes to U.S. Senator, Daniel Kahikina Akaka. Except at the very beginning of his political career, he’s been number one in the balloting for every elective office for which he’s run. Political supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he’s full of aloha – not a cheap, smarmy version, but real aloha. Join me in a conversation with Hawai‘i’s junior United States Senator, next …

 

Daniel Kahikina Akaka is the only Native Hawaiian and the only member of Chinese ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate as I speak. Since 1976, he’s represented Hawai‘i in Washington, D.C. – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate. Our conversation begins at his birth, through a story heard from his older brother, Abe, who would become the Reverend Abraham Akaka of Kawaiaha‘o Church.

 

Well, when I first entered the world, let me tell you about what Brother Abe said. He said that I came before dawn, and that my dad helped to bring me into this world.

 

Was it in your house?

 

At home.

 

Where was home?

 

And home was in Pauoa Valley. And they cleaned me up, according to Brother Abe, and my dad called the family to the parlor, and we had what we called at that time, ‘ohana. And ‘ohana was a devotion. And it was an ‘ohana to celebrate my birth. And when the ‘ohana was finished, according to Brother Abe, Pa named me Daniel. And he said that Daniel will someday be in the lion’s den. And in a sense, that was prophetic. Because when you think of what I’m doing now as a Senator, in a sense, we are in the lion’s den, and that Daniel will prevail, as it is in the Bible.

 

What part of what you do now puts you in the lion’s den?

 

It’s the kind of issues that are raised by members of the Senate, in our case today, and the way in which they try to have people join them in some of the issues, and the way they try to pass it on the floor. And I will tell you, it’s done in a procedural way, but the way it’s done, it’s tough.

 

Whats the most ferocious lion you faced?

 

Well, the most voracious lions are my friends [chuckle] who have issues that are dear to them. And the thing about me and coming from Hawai‘i, I will tell you, I would say would really benefit others who are also in Congress, is that you can still be friends.

 

So the toughest adversaries are your friends?

 

Yes. And that doesn’t sound right, but we are friends. And they’re friends today, and it occurs today with me where, after we’re done with the debate, and the bill is either passed or fails, they will come up to me and shake my hand, you know, which shows that the friendship was still there. And that’s a good way to serve.

 

So there you are, a few minutes old, and your family’s having a devotion, and you’re being named Daniel. And then what happened?

 

Then I then took my place in the family, and I was number eighth.

 

Were you the last?

 

And the baby of the family—and I was the last. But with eight kids—you know, it’s hard for me to imagine supporting eight children.

 

How was your life? What was it like?

 

It was good—I would use that word, although, it was difficult, because of the situation and circumstances. When I tell you that we lived in a two-bedroom home, and we had a lanai that we used too, as an extension.

 

So who slept where in this two-bedroom house?

 

Well, most of the children slept in one bedroom, and some in the parlor, and some in the other bedroom. And Pa and Ma slept in one, and they slept on the floor.

 

No beds?

 

There were beds, but we slept on the beds.

 

And your parents let—

 

Yes.

 

Theyd take the floor.

 

Yes. And we would have ‘ohana twice a day in the family. So early morning, before my dad went to work—

 

And where did he go to work?

 

He was an ironworker. He worked at Honolulu Ironworks.

 

Was that in Kaka‘ako?

 

It was.

 

That was a hardcore place. Lots of industry and—

 

Yes.

 

–tough folks.

 

Well, it’s located right across the present Federal Building, where the restaurants are. And he worked there every day. He was a molder.

 

What does a molder do?

 

He would use sand to make patterns in which they poured the steel to create whether it was a gear, or whatever.

 

Oh, I see.

 

And most of the work was for sugar plantations. So whatever parts that they needed, they made there.

 

And your mom, did she stay home with eight kids?

 

She was a housewife. She was pure Hawaiian, and very, very gracious, loving Hawaiian woman; rotund. And I remember her as such a beautiful lady.

 

Did she speak Hawaiian?

 

Oh, yes; she and my dad spoke Hawaiian.

 

When they didn’t want you to know what they were—

 

Yes, and—

 

–talking about?

 

–unfortunately, in those days when we were little, they would ask us not to speak Hawaiian; to speak English. Learn English as best you can, because that’s the language today.

 

Your dad was also Chinese, right?

 

Yes; he was Chinese, and his dad came from Fook Yuen, China, and married a Hawaiian girl. And they lived in Pauoa.

 

And in fact, his name, and your middle name, both refer to Chinese origins?

 

That’s right; and in Hawaiian, it’s The East.

 

Kahikina?

 

Kahikina.

 

What lessons did you learn from your mom and your dad, and how were they different?

 

My mom and dad, as I said, were very spiritual people. For us and the whole family, you know, the church was so important. And so Sundays for me, as I grew up, it was church day. In the morning, we would—there were times when we walked from Pauoa to Kawaiaha‘o Church. And we’d be there for Sunday school in the morning at nine. And after that, then we went to regular church service, which was done about noon. And then we went home, and we’d have lunch at home. Then we went to another church in Pauoa Valley at two p.m. Then we’d go back home and get ready for church again at Kawaiaha‘o, where we would have Christian endeavor classes, which started at six. And at seven-thirty, the evening service began, and we’d stay for that. And after the service we went home. That was our Sunday. But even with that, there was ‘ohana in the morning and ‘ohana in the evening for the family every day.

 

Devoted and devout. And headed for a life of service. Daniel Akaka would go on to graduate from Kamehameha Schools in 1942 (having witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor from Kapalama Heights).

 

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the War; and become a school teacher and a principal before entering politics. Dan Akaka followed his faith in God and in people who advised and supported him all the way to Capitol Hill.

 

Your brother, Abraham, would grow up to have a very prominent position as pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church. You were the choir director for seventeen years.

 

That’s correct.

 

The family was so spiritual. Did you ever have a crisis of faith?

 

I can’t remember that. I don’t think so.

 

You never said to yourself, Where’s God when I need Him, and—

 

No.

 

–maybe this whole thing I’ve grown up with isn’t really —

 

Well, when we grew up, my mother and dad really—I mean, they talked to us a lot too, you know, and they were sure that we understood that we could trust God. And anytime you need Him, He’s there. And I must tell you that it has helped me all my life, including where I am now.

 

And when you don’t get what you pray for?

 

Well, there’s a reason. I mean—

 

And do you under—

 

–that’s how they—

 

Do you—

 

–taught us.

 

–understand the reason?

 

That’s right. And well, we may not at that time. But later on, when we look back, we say, Oh yeah, we didn’t understand it that time, but things work out.

 

I’ll bet you were under some influence to become a missionary yourself.

 

Yes; yes. And later on, I came to think that, you know, there are different ways of being a missionary. You don’t have to be a preacher, like Brother Abe. And Brother Abe, for me, was doing so well, I thought, Eh, one in the family is enough; and so I would maybe do my work in other ways. And this is why I went into education, as I did, and that was to help people.

 

I presume you jumped on the GI Bill and attended college on that basis.

 

Yes.

 

Would you have gone to college otherwise?

 

No. You know, it was a blessing for me. The GI Bill, you know, helped not only me, but it helped Senator Inouye and Senator Matsunaga as well, and many others.

 

You went on to get a Master’s in education as well.

 

Yes.

 

Was that also on the GI Bill?

 

Yes; yes. So we really benefited. But when you look at it, what we did during our time really changed the world. And in Hawai‘i, it changed Hawai‘i too, because many of them became leaders in the legislature as well, and leaders of the government. And so my feeling was, we gotta have a GI Bill for our latest veterans. And so I’m so glad we were able to pass it, as we did.

 

In 2006, Time Magazine ran a feature that called you one of The Hill’s five worst legislators.

 

Yeah.

 

It said that you’re living proof that having experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have expertise, and it called you a master of the minor bill—minor resolution on the bill that dies in committee.

 

You know, they were very wrong, really wrong. And my colleagues told me that. They said, What? You know, this is wrong. For instance, one of the big bills that I just passed was the Filipino veterans. Sixty-two years, they haven’t been able to pass it, and I passed it. That’s really big. And there are other bills that I can mention, but these are important bills that I was able to pass. But I passed it, you know, using the Hawaiian method of dealing with my colleagues. And they appreciate it.

 

And I sense that you’re not there because you’re terribly ambitious to succeed in a certain way; you’re there because you enjoy it.

 

Well, it’s not only that, but I’m there because I can help people.

 

Because you—

 

That’s the—

 

–you’ve been effective.

 

–real reason. And I’m not there for Dan Akaka; I’m there for the people of Hawai‘i. And so whatever I do, as a matter of fact, many times, my staff would tell me, Eh, get up front. But I don’t. I would rather stay back a step and …

 

As a matter of fact, if you wanted to retire, you’d be under intense pressure not to leave, because of your seniority.

 

That’s correct. And we’re able to do so much for Hawai‘i, and for our country. And we’re doing it.

 

So you’re—how old are you now?

 

I will be eighty-four.

 

So what do you see in the way of your future? How do you expect the future to play out for you?

 

Well, I look at continuing to have good health, and to continue to do all I can to help the people of Hawai‘i, with my experience, with the way I work with people, and to help this country. And now with a new administration coming forth, you know, we need to transition into a Congress that can really produce and help our country and Hawai‘i. Speaking of producing; there is the Akaka Bill, which has been waiting and waiting and stalled and

stalled.

 

Do you think it’ll pass?

 

It can pass, if we can get it to the floor. Now, I’m saying it that way, because this has been the problem.

 

M-hm.

 

That I’ve not been able to get it to the floor. It passed the House twice; it passed—this Congress. And the reason is that in the Senate, one Senator can hold up a bill. And that’s what happens. And to get it to the floor, we have to use what we call cloture; we have to invoke cloture. And to do that, we need sixty votes, not majority. And so to get the sixty votes, it’s really tough. The last time I did that, I ended up with fifty-six votes, and therefore, couldn’t get it to the floor. But if we can get it to the floor, we’ll pass it.

 

Whats been dubbed the Akaka Bill is legislation to provide federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity. In the U.S. Senate, Dan Akaka chairs the Congressional Taskforce on Native Hawaiian Issues and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. On the Hill and at home, his life is about building and keeping relationships. He and his wife of sixty years, Millie, have five children, fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

 

Where does Millie enter the picture? When did she come into your life?

 

She came into my life before I went to the Pacific, into the Army.

 

Where did you meet her?

 

She met me. [chuckle]

 

She wanted to meet you? Is that what you’re saying?

 

That’s right. See, I was with what we called the Junior Hawaiian Civic Club. And to take members, we would have to interview them.

 

M-hm.

 

So I was interviewing members, and she was one I interviewed.

 

Now, was she doing that ‘cause she wanted to meet you?

 

Well, I learned later, was she wanted me to interview her, and she was sure that she came to me. And that was the beginning.

 

You know, after six decades of marriage, your wife still comes to the office every day, and essentially puts in the same day you do and is so supportive of you. And you two seem like you’ve still got this very good thing going, very close.

 

Yes. She takes good care of me. As a matter of fact, she has that responsibility of keeping me healthy. And she comes to work every day. She’s my only unpaid staff. I tell her that.

 

What does she do in the office?

 

Well, she comes in, and she usually meets with guests who come. And many of them from Hawai‘i, or most of them from Hawai‘i. And she’s the type that, as soon as she gets in the office, she takes off her shoes and she walks around bare feet. And so some of the guests, they look down and they say, Ooh [chuckle], she’s bare feet. And I always tell them, Look, you folks are welcome to take off your shoes in my office—

 

[chuckle]

 

–and be comfortable.

 

But you know, she could easily stay home at your condo in DC—

 

Yeah.

 

–or go meet with friends; but she’s always there. Why is that?

Yeah. Well, she loves to do that, because she sees people, and she’s able to talk to people. And I guess it’s better than staying home. But she likes that style. And the other reason, although I’ve never said it, that she helps—we need three passengers in the car.

 

[chuckle] To get into the zipper lane—

 

To use the HOV.

 

–or something? [chuckle]

 

And without her, we don’t have three. [chuckle]

 

Whos the other one? Who’s the third?

 

The other is Jim Sakai, who is my administrative assistant, who picks us up, you know—

 

[chuckle]

 

–in the morning, takes us home at night. And so the three of us use the HOV.

 

You spend most of the year in DC, right?

 

About ten months. Yeah.

 

What do you like about living in DC? And why is it so important to you to continue working, long after a time when many folks would have retired, take it easy?

 

Well, there’s so much to do there, and that’s what I like too. The hours are long. I keep telling the young people; I said, Look, you never stop learning in your life. I said, I thought I was learning a lot when I was in Kamehameha; I thought I was learning a lot when I was at the UH. I said, But here, I’m still learning. I said, Every time there’s a new bill, there’s something new to learn. And my health has been good. And Millie has been very supportive. So that helps me do my job.

 

She’s completely herself.

 

Yeah, oh very.

 

Despite who she’s around, right?

 

Oh, yes. And even my colleagues know that. You know, she’s herself, and she says what she wants to say. And there isn’t a lot of pressure to kind of conform and be a certain way, and be accepted in a certain way?

 

You haven’t—

 

Yes.

 

–felt that?

 

Well, I’ve felt that. But she’s one that does what she wants to do.

 

And — And you support her to—

 

Yes.

 

–being that way.

 

But— Herself.

 

–you know, my colleagues like that. So whenever they see me, even today, they don’t say, Danny, how are you? They say, Danny, how’s Millie? [chuckle]

 

Millie will say what she’s thinking, won’t she?

 

Yeah; oh, very much.

 

Has she ever told anybody off on Capitol Hill?

 

Yes. [chuckle] Yes; but she says it in a way where—that they accept it.

 

M-hm.

 

And you know, if you get hurt—

 

And you do the same thing too, don’t you?

 

What’s that?

 

I mean, don’t—

 

Yeah.

 

Aren’t you able to tell people things in a way that they don’t get offended, even though it’s counter to what they’re thinking or what they want?

 

Yes; that’s what I call the Hawaiian style of communicating. And it works, and I just hope that more people would use that. And people like you for it, and feel that you’re a good friend, and they can trust you. That’s the other word that’s so important up there.

 

Tell me, what’s—give me a course in how to disagree, Hawaiian style.

 

Yes. Well, one is to be sure that your friend, your opponent knows what you’re all about, and where you are. And if you know that what you’re trying to do is what he doesn’t want, and you need to find out what it’s all about. And try to present it in a way that is non-threatening. And that’s a big thing. And to say it in a way where, you know, you’re not yelling or screaming, and you’re telling him in a nice way, or even say, You know, my friend, I disagree with you.

 

But first—

 

You know.

 

–you say you have to understand who they are, and what they want.

 

That’s right; that’s right.

 

Let me ask you this. And you’ve seen this in campaigns, you’ve been through it all. When one is nice and kind, that’s often mistaken for softness, weakness, being less than smart. Tell me your experiences—

 

Yes.

 

–in running up against that.

 

When I first went there, many people told me that. They said, Eh, you can’t be like that. And now that I’ve been there all these years, I’ve gotta tell them they’re wrong. That you can be nice, but you’ve gotta be up front. You’ve gotta be sure they know where you are and what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. And they appreciate it. And so that’s something I think that more people in elected office need to do, and use that method of dealing with people.

 

You mentioned that, when you came into the world, you were called Daniel because your role would be in the lion’s den.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel that has come to pass?

 

Yes; I feel, definitely, that the story about Daniel, of course, he was cast into the lion’s den, and the reason for that

 

 

was for the lions to devour him. Which they didn’t. And he lived through that, and became a leader after that. And I think, you know, the spiritual background and all of that, you know, helps you to survive.

 

But the difference is, you don’t want to leave the lion’s den.

 

Well, I hope someday we can calm the lion’s den and make it more productive. But that remains to be seen. This fascinates me, because it seems as though the thing to do when one has been very successful on Capitol Hill, is not to aspire to a wonderful retirement and take it easy; it’s essentially to work as long as you’re capable of working, and even die in office.

 

I mean, is that what you foresee?

 

Well, I foresee working as long as I can. [chuckle] You know, and, being in that position I’m in now, you know, it’s a great way of helping our country and the rest of the world.

 

Have you and Millie talked about that?   Does she want to take it easy at all? Or is she completely happy with, this is how it is, well—

 

I wouldn’t say she’s completely happy, but she lives with it, and she—

 

But you’ve told her, This is me, I—

 

Yes.

 

–would like to

 

Yes.

 

–continue on

 

But she’s supported—

 

–Capitol Hill.

 

–me; supported me very well. And that helps me in what I do. Yeah. So I’m so fortunate and feel been blessed too, with Millie and my family.

 

And what a high achieving person, what a high achieving life you’ve had.

 

Yes; and when I look back at my life, there was a reason for all of this, since I was born. And as Daniel, I’m still serving.

 

So you think that it was preordained, it was foreseen that you had this role in your life, and it was up to you to make it happen?

 

I feel that way; yes. Yeah; so when I think back, you know, on when I came to this Earth, I was destined, I guess.

But I didn’t know it. And I’m still on my way.

 

Still on your way.

 

Yeah.

 

An unknown author once wrote, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” The “Hawaiian style of communicating,” as Senator Akaka puts it, will be conducted on Capitol Hill for as long as he’s able to serve. Mahalo to Dan Akaka, and to you, for joining me this week. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawai‘i. A hui hou kakou.

 

The people of Hawai‘i tend to work together so much better than other places. And as a result, they’re able to be more productive. They’re able to do more things and are able to do it in such a way where people enjoy it and not take it as somebody losing something. And I feel that that style is really needed in the Capitol and in the country. And I think the diversity of Hawai‘i, the diversity of people has helped to bring that about. Hawai‘i is Hawai‘i because of its culture, its people, its diversity; and we need to keep that.

 

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