Nainoa Thompson


As a young boy growing up in ahupuaa o Niu, now known as Niu Valley, Nainoa Thompson would go to Maunalua Bay with a family friend, Yoshi Kawano. “And we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing,” Thompson remembers.


In this interview from August 2015, Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson discusses sailing the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokulea, on a voyage around the world to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our earth and the ocean that he loves.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, June 14, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, June 18, at 4:00 pm.


Nainoa Thompson Audio


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You know, we do things ‘cause we believe they’re right. We’ll take voyages or we’ll move forward because we believe that they’re necessary to be active. The worst thing in our time is ignorance, and it’s apathy, and it’s inaction. And especially now, ‘cause the world is changing so quick, you need to be in front of it, not behind. And so, you create an idea, you create a vision that is based on something like taking a canoe forty-seven thousand miles, going to twenty-eight countries, eighty-two ports around the only island we have called Earth in a way in which you hope in the journey that you can create awareness and better understandings and moving community towards being active. And so, inherently for the success of the mission of the Worldwide Voyage, it requires both a strong local community connected to a global community. Otherwise, you’re gonna fail your intention. I see myself as part of the responsibility to do certain pieces to make that happen.


Nainoa Thompson is a master navigator who has learned how to rely on nature and his instincts to guide the double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea across vast stretches of open ocean to faraway destinations. And he’s using wayfinding skills on land, navigating political and diplomatic terrain to reach with the Hokulea across the globe to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our Earth. Nainoa Thompson, next on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Nainoa Thompson was the first Hawaiian in over six hundred years to sail a canoe between Hawai‘i and Tahiti without the use of modern navigational tools. He has the vision to see an island thousands of miles away, and the courage to leave the safety of land, because he feels the long voyages connecting people will make the world a better place. That’s come from a lifetime of training and community, starting here in the East Honolulu ahupuaa of Niu, also known as Niu Valley, where Thompson grew up. From this place, his sense of community has grown to encompass the world.


When does a child learn values, caring for the Earth, caring for your place, caring for ohana, caring for your family, caring for elders? When do you learn that? And for me, it was very young. And that was because my two greatest teachers were my mom and dad. Here is my primary school, in my mom and dad’s house. It sets the course for my life. And right down the road, right here was my grandfather’s dairy. I mean, I’m so old that there were no supermarkets, no Costco, no Foodland, no nothing. There was nothing in Niu Valley. It was a dairy farm and a chicken farm, and Kuliouou had a meat house. Hawaii Kai marina was the largest fishpond in the State of Hawaii, and Aina Haina had a few stores. And my grandfather made milk, and it would be delivered in glass bottles at night. And the guy that would deliver it, his name was Yoshi Kawano, and he was the man that taught me kindness, he was the man that taught me compassion. He lived in an old wooden house. My mom and dad, when they would leave us with someone, we would always be with the Kawanos, ‘cause they were the ones that they trusted the most. And you felt that, you know, as a child. You were taken care of, you were nurtured, you were safe, and you were clean. And so, in Yoshi’s house, everything was Japanese. And so, you bathed in the furo, and you ate Japanese food. You could smell it in the house. You ate on futons and everything was Japanese. But he was my greatest ocean teacher, my primary ocean teacher. When I was about five years old, he gave me a fishing pole. Too bad for him to do that, because he gave me this little bamboo fishing pole, and then he was the one who delivered the milk at ten-thirty at night, worked all night ‘til eight o’clock in the morning. And then I would be sitting on his old wooden doorsteps with the fishing pole. And then, he’d put me in the car every single time, and we’d drive what seemed very far to me to Maunalua Bay right out here, and we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing, ‘cause Maunalua was so full of life. And so, that was classroom, that was school, and Yoshi became my definition of community that was caring, that kept you safe. We were safe as children here, and we could be left here on the land or with the community. It was a beautiful time. And Yoshi, in his house, everything was Japanese, and it was fully respected. He’s Nisei, so he was born in Hawaii. But everything outside of his house, once you stepped out the door, was Hawaiian. And so, this whole valley here, or this ridge Kulepeamoa, this is where he taught me about the spirits and the blue light. He talked about the Menehune when Kalanianaole was a coral road. And that that beautiful blending and mixing of who he was, of Japanese ancestry, but on a place that’s Hawaiian, and honoring both sides. It was hugely impactful on how I look at our amazingly beautiful mixing of many cultures around the world that created a fabric of a culture that is more based not on race, but it’s based on values. And that makes Hawaii powerful. Not just a nice place to be, but it makes it powerful.


In addition to Yoshi Kawano, the teachers whom Nainoa Thompson most often recognizes are Mao Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Nainoa’s father, Pinky Thompson; Lacy Veach, an astronaut from Hawaii; and Eddie Aikau. Eddie was an outstanding waterman and crew member on Hokulea, and was lost at sea when he went for help on his surfboard after the canoe capsized in 1978. When that happened, the dream of a Hawaiian navigating a canoe voyage to Tahiti could have ended.


My dad was saying that, you know, you guys, your community, you need to find Tahiti. Not for you, but for your people. And he was so forceful. You need to get up, get off your knees; you’re on your knees and you can’t see, you need to get up, and you need to find Tahiti. But with me, he said—interesting, you know. He pulled us all together, our leadership. After the loss of Eddie, we couldn’t even talk to each other. We were just so … overwhelmed with grief and anger, and rage, and denial. All that kind stuff. And blaming; yeah? And that’s the worst. And so, it was all of that, and so we couldn’t even talk to each other. Leadership was was pau, it was finished. But my father and guys like Abraham Piianaia, they said, Absolutely not. I mean, these guys have been through the war; right? They know what it takes to stand up and fight for your beliefs. And they knew it was a pivotal time. But dad was interesting. He gets us all together, he pulls us all together, he creates the idea of finding Tahiti. We all come together around the idea in one room at the Biomedical Building and so, we were together. Then we’re walking in the parking lot after the meeting, and we’re all solid and the vision’s clear, we’re gonna go. We’re gonna work hard, we’re gonna take years to do this, do it right, not wrong, but almost in an angry voice. In the parking lot, the light was so bright, ‘cause we were in a dark room the whole time. And he goes, Okay, Nainoa, you want to navigate? Who’s your teacher? ‘Cause Mau went home; yeah?


And he said, You won’t look for me, and you won’t even find me.


Yeah; and he was not gonna come back. Yeah. So, he was just so … frankly, disgusted with Hawaii. Because Hawaii was just not together. It wasn’t pono, and it was in conflict all the time. In the world he comes from, that is completely unacceptable. You know, anyway, make a long story short, Mau came back.


After Mau Piailug returned to Hawaii, Nainoa Thompson trained with him for the next two years, learning the paths of the stars and the movements of the winds and seas, and sailed to Tahiti. Over the next two decades, Nainoa would take the canoe over enormous expanses of ocean. Throughout the Pacific, he became regarded as a wayfinder on land, as well as at sea. In the year 2000, he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court to serve as a Bishop Estate trustee. This, after a scandal over gross mismanagement that had placed the future of Kamehameha Schools in jeopardy. Do you know how he found his way in these uncharted waters? This is his story.


You know, I never applied for the leadership job. I mean, actually, I don’t even know how it happened. But the agreement to become a trustee was really about service. It was really about if you’re gonna be asked, certainly, it’s honor and privilege to be a part of that amazing institution. And it is. It’s just so extraordinary. But it was a rough time. I remember it was the first month of being a trustee, and you walk in the door with four of your colleagues that you don’t even know. I mean, we come from very different worlds. Why they picked me, I have no idea. But I’m not in the business field, I’m not an attorney, I’m not in real estate development. I’m a fisherman. So, in the back of my mind, two things. The primary thing, you need to rebuild trust in trustees, ‘cause it was gone. It was evaporated. Nobody trusted the trustees. And the only way that you’re gonna do that is to have that community of five trustees come together. And if we fail to come together, we should quit and have the courage to do it. So, make a long story short. In the first month, I don’t know, I remember … it’s like where our office is, you walk around and go through this small little kitchen into the boardroom. And that boardroom has so much mana. And it’s like a brass golden doorknob, and I reach for the doorknob. I grabbed it, and then I pulled my hand away, ‘cause I was like afraid to go in the room, like I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to lead this. I didn’t know how to command. And then, I took a really deep breath, and I opened the door and walked into the room filled with people. They don’t trust you. And then, working with a group that you don’t know. It was a rough time. And then to really be able to collect and glue back the pieces of a broken trust, it was a rough time. And I didn’t feel I was adequate, I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this. And so, I remember my response to that was, I got my assistant, Stella Kutaka, a beautiful lady, to help me. And I got pictures of all my great leaders, all of my great teachers, those who I would define as leaders that navigated. So, you had Yoshi on the wall, you had my father on the wall, you had Lacy on the wall, you had Eddie on the wall, you had Kala Kukea on the wall, you had Herb Kane. There was like sixty-something pictures, and I put ‘em around the whole room. And so, when I would be in a decision that was profound to a whole institution that’s on the governance side, it’s my job to set course for the institution, and I didn’t know how to answer it, and I’m getting pressured for the wrong reasons, and you feel it, I would stop the meeting. And I would go inside the room, turn on the light, and I would sit with my teachers. My leaders that have set the course for me for my whole life, and I needed them, ‘cause the vast majority of them are gone. And so, in the pictures were their story, their work, their values, and their relationship. So again, that is that community around the whole room.


And are you saying that after spending time with the photos that you were able to find a course?


Well, sometimes, the course, but the ability to be able to say, You gotta get up, you gotta go in that room, and you gotta make a decision. If you’re not completely clear too bad; you’re a trustee, and you need to decide. You can’t go absent. And so, I needed their counsel and their guidance, and so, I would remember their stories. You know, what would Mau do? What would Eddie do? What would my dad do? My dad was a trustee for twenty-one years. What would he do? And so, that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself. Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do, ‘cause it’s complex decisions, and then working on. I always say this with a lot of humility, but huge respect for my colleagues. That was an amazing group of trustees. Diane Plotts was a land developer that built all these big hotels with Chris Hemmeter, which is not my thing that I would ever do. I thought, We are gonna have a rough time coming to find a place of common ground. But Diane in the end, she was really almost the spiritual grounding of the board, because she had such solid values that she went back to. And so, I’d go pester her and ask her, you know, Where do you come up with these decisions? It always went back to her growing up on a farm.


And having a center.


Where are values taught? Where do you learn them? How? When? Who? So, Diane in the end was really my guidance at the level on which, you know, she would look at me in the boardroom and say, Nainoa, vote. Vote. But no matter what position I ever took, even though it was contrary to her, she respected it. I love that lady.


And no Hawaiian blood in her at all.


No Hawaiian blood. But she is of the culture of values, she is one of the navigators. If there was some way to accurately measure Kamehameha’s influence on what’s happened in the last four years, it would be profound. Look around in the professional fields at how many are graduates. And the interesting thing about Kamehameha is that the graduates come home. You know, there’s a sense of place, there’s a sense of kuleana, and they’re making a huge difference. And if you think the last forty years was amazing; wait ‘til the next forty. I mean, they’re just everywhere. On our voyaging canoes, out of the twelve navigators that we have, eight are Kamehameha Schools graduates. The new ones, the young ones, the best ones. And so, I mean, their influence on voyaging is huge.


Nainoa Thompson says that as new generations of voyagers have been raised up over the years, so has their desire to undertake new challenges and achieve new goals.


Lacy Veach back in 1992, he and my dad, right down the road, he was telling my dad, and my dad was agreeing; We should take Hokulea around the world, the world needs to see Hokulea, Hokulea needs to learn about the Earth, we need to protect it. This was Lacy. And my dad was raising the question; Are we at the point where the Hawaiian community is ready to engage the rest of the Earth as a vibrant, strong, powerful culture and build relationships around the right kinds of values? That’s in 1992. We lose both of our great navigators; my father and Lacy. But it wasn’t until 2007 when we were … not me, it was Chad Paishon and Chad Baybayan were sitting exhausted on the Fukuoka dock in Japan when we sailed to Micronesia, to Mau’s island to honor him, then we went up to Japan to honor Yoshi and the many Yoshi’s that had voyaged to Hawaii. It’s two o’clock in the morning. These two poor navigators are exhausted, and they’re saying, Man, there’s gonna be two thousand people down here tomorrow morning at dawn, and they’re gonna want to touch Hokulea. So, you’re in a country that doesn’t know Hokulea, you’re in a country that speaks a different language, with a different history. They’re oceanic people, they’re amazing ocean people, but they don’t know this canoe. And yet, why would two thousand people be there? And they’re gonna be there. And then, they said, Why don’t we go around the world. And so, we voted on April 1, 2008 to do this. But there were a whole bunch of issues. Could you keep it safe, could you get enough crewmembers to do this, could you raise the funding? Could you build the community? And so, that was when we reached out to stuff like organizations that were just designed for this. And that was the East West Center. I mean, they’re designed for this, to help us create the ability to sail the voyage. ‘Cause we needed to earn the voyage; right? We needed to make sure that all these issues, safety and leadership, and crew strength that as borne from the idea, but we had to be responsible for the idea.


There are so many moving parts, like even fundraising and strategic planning.


Hokulea took eighteen months of dry dock. We made the promise that the canoe needed to be better than ever, that it can go around the world. We’re gonna take all rot and all damage off the canoe. Right now, the only thing left on Hokulea that’s from 1976 is one inch of the hulls, that go around the hulls. And everything else, by that decision, had to be changed. But the thing about community, we had twelve hundred volunteers that put in thirty-two thousand volunteer man hours. If we didn’t have that pool, we could never get Hokulea ready to go. But fundamentally, these are twelve hundred people who don’t know each other, that come together around an idea, and to get Hokulea ready. I mean, enormous; enormous human effort. You don’t lead that. You know what leads it? It’s the idea.


But the idea has to be shaped and nourished, and grown. At what point do you come in and feed it?


I come in, in the beginning. You know, I’m there to be responsible for the nurturing of the idea, and to measure it. And I guess my biggest leadership decision is whether we did earn the right to go. And during the voyage, I have the very difficult situation about saying whether it’s still worth it. Are you gonna call it off? Are you gonna ship Hokulea home? Are you gonna fail the mission? That would be my responsibility. And so, I do have to make that final call. But what I’ve learned over the years, and it’s through those great teachers, is that fear is best friend. You know, it’s the one that reminds you that you’re not ready. It’s the one that keeps you honest and tells you that the things you didn’t take care of. And fear, I find it in a number of ways, but I find it in my dreams. And I will wake up and just have these horrendous dreams of irresponsibility, not following through, danger, risk, the things that are really bothering me, they come to me. ‘Cause what you do is, your day is so busy and it’s so complicated that you can push this all behind you. But when you’re sleeping, you can’t do that. But then, I also find it in exhaustion. I get sick sometimes, I get more colds, I start to create that old kinda childhood excuses for not having to take responsibility. It never goes away. It’s still there. But what the voyaging has helped me do, which has been huge, it’s like there’s this door of fear that it’s like the Kamehameha Schools door, it’s like that golden handle that you don’t want to open. ‘Cause if you open it, you gotta be honest about all your inadequacies, all the things that make you less than perfect. But what I’ve learned through the voyaging—that’s why I love cloudy days. I love getting lost now. And I love taking my students. I hope they get like the worst doldrums, ever.




Because it’s in the blackness, it’s in the cloudiness, it’s in the times that aren’t easy, that you grow, that you become the best. And what I’ve learned, and primarily from—my primary teacher is Eddie. Eddie said, Open the door.


When Hokulea was rebuilt, the original deck was salvaged and remade into this table that sits on the lanai of Nainoa Thompson’s parents’ house in Niu Valley in East Honolulu. In May 2014, Hokulea left for Tahiti, the first stop outside Hawaii on the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, a journey dedicated to increasing awareness for the importance of taking care of our island Earth. Everywhere Hokulea travels, the canoe is joining with global communities to bridge traditional and new technologies to share the message of living sustainably.


The oceans matter. So, the Worldwide Voyage says that the greatest environmental challenge of our time is protecting the world’s oceans, because the oceans protect the world’s life. I mean, the next four breaths you take, three come from the ocean. Don’t mess with plankton. And so, when we look at the oceans and we look at the state they’re in, we need to be very concerned, because that’s gonna be the measurable defined environmental issue about what’s gonna happen to our next two generations. So, if that’s our story, if that’s our idea, then you make the connection with places that don’t know the canoe, but they connect to your values. So, when we look at sustainability, we talk about stuff that’s not really the solution. But when you think about what the Hawaiians did in this land, with their system of tenure, their sets of values, how they developed things like the ahupuaa system and how they learned how to manage resources on the islands, it’s so critical today, ‘cause embedded in that two thousand years was an enormous amount of very hard learning that took place to be able to find some sense of balance. And in the balance is where we find hope. And so, you have all these things emerging. You have leadership emerging, you have highly educated Native Hawaiians that are coming into the workforce, coming into professionalism, namely go into medicine, go into the doctorates programs, go into economics, go into education. It’s growing. What’s gonna happen in the next twenty years, there’s gonna be this merger between that history, that culture of living well on these islands, and with the professionalism which is required to make the adaptation for the way that we lived before, we’ll figure out a way for the second half of this 21st century. I think it’s vital. And you know, of course, it’s hard.


Since he attained the rare distinction of master navigator, Nainoa Thompson’s courage to open the door and walk through has been inspiring communities not just in Hawaii, but around the world, to achieve their dreams. Mahalo to Nainoa Thompson of Ahupuaa O Niu, for your community building on a vast scale, and for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.


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


I don’t know about that. But the ones I listen to the most today are my two little children. When I add up the signs and what we know about traditional knowledge and indigenous knowledge about what’s going on, when I know that my two little children understand the Worldwide Voyage and the values and the beliefs in the context of their six-year-old world, when I know that they allow their father to go ‘cause they know that he believes it’s the right thing to do, but at the same time that this voyage is for them. At the same time, I don’t have to have their picture on the wall, because I can see them on a daily basis. I can touch them and feel them. So, it’s that beautiful world that I live in that has this legacy and this journey, and this history of extraordinary leaders that are defining your ultimate permission. And then at the same time, you can be at home and see your children, and making sure that they are believing with you too. And so, I’m not a leader, but I’m in an amazing place, and been on a lifelong journey of extraordinary leaders, and that’s that.



More incumbents sitting out debates?



Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS HawaiiGeneral Managers of PBS stations across the country met last month for a strategy session, looking at what kind of programming is needed most in our country, and how to make the content more responsive and more interactive.


And in this election year of deep divisions and negativity, we compared notes on our television stations’ political debates and other forums. Longtime station managers remarked that they’d never seen so many local incumbents decline to appear with their challengers on live telecasts and live web streams.


“These incumbents have the money to create their own messages through advertising, and that’s what they’re doing instead,” said Tom Axtell, the head of Vegas PBS and a member of the PBS Board of Directors. Another GM noted that many candidates no longer feel obligated to appear alongside their competition because they can speak to the public through low-cost social media.


In Hawai‘i, we had our share of incumbents turning down participation in our weekly election forum on Insights on PBS Hawai‘i, noting scheduling conflicts. We know that candidates are busy, so we generally ask them early. And we realize that incumbents may not be terribly motivated to let their lesser-known competitors receive statewide air time.


In addition, incumbents from 34 Hawai‘i State House and Senate races faced no opposition from another major-party candidate.


We even had a challenger withdraw from a General Election forum. That was Honolulu Mayoral candidate and political veteran Charles Djou. His campaign contended that it had never committed to the forum. (Before the Primary Election, Djou did take part in our forum with incumbent Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former Mayor Peter Carlisle.)


The rebuffs by candidates in some major races had a silver lining, freeing up TV time for district races, especially outside Honolulu and beyond O‘ahu. Incumbents and challengers with different ideas sat down at the same table, engaging in some interesting, vigorous and respectful discussions.


Viewers could feel the fresh breeze of democracy. At its best, this civil discourse provided much-needed substance and helped voters make their choice at the polls.


As Communications Professor John Hart of Hawai‘i Pacific University commented in a Honolulu Civil Beat podcast with reporter Chad Blair last October 10: “I still believe [debates] are our best chance to see past the pseudo-events, the slick advertisements. When you hear someone talk for an hour, you get a sense of who they are.”


This public media organization wants to thank all of the election candidates who accepted our invitation to inform voters by answering viewer questions and taking part in civil discourse on Insights on PBS Hawai‘i.


A hui hou (until next time)…
Leslie signature



Hawaiian Value: Kuleana


This episode is the second in a series of six shows in which each episode focuses on a specific Hawaiian value. The Hawaiian value for this show is kuleana, which means responsibility. Each of the following stories reflects this theme:


The top story comes from the students at Waianae High School in West Oahu. They feature Waianae High School graduate and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter Max Holloway, who feels it is his kuleana to represent the Waianae community in the most positive way possible when he competes. Max also takes his responsibilities to his wife and young son very seriously. Having been severely neglected by his own parents, Max wants to make sure his son does not have to suffer the same sort of childhood.


Also featured are student-created stories from the following schools:


Kamehameha Schools Kapalama (Oahu): A one-day community service event for Kamehameha Schools Kapalama seniors builds character and nurtures lifelong community service.


Kainalu Elementary School (Oahu): Student Caleb McCrillis was concerned when his great grandmother became the victim of a phone scam. He felt it was his kuleana to warn other senior citizens about phone scams and produced a PSA offering tips on how seniors can avoid being conned.


Aliamanu Middle School (Oahu): Students and teachers at Aliamanu Middle School take responsibility and raise awareness of the hazards for pedestrians jaywalking near a major intersection in Salt Lake.


Keaau High School (Hawaii Island): Keith “Brudda Skibs” Nehls starts the non-profit organization, Basic Image, that maintains Honolii and other Hawaii Island parks for free.


Ewa Makai Middle School (Oahu): Although it has earned him a reputation as the meanest teacher at Ewa Makai Middle School, science teacher David Wong has made it his kuleana to teach his students what they need to succeed in high school and beyond.


Moanalua High School (Oahu): Moanalua High School student Jacob Genovese deals with the responsibilities and challenges of fatherhood, full-time work and school.


This episode is hosted by Kaimuki High School in Honolulu.


This program encores Saturday, Aug. 13 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 14 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website,


How Do I Decide?


Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us – why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious series blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories.


How Do I Decide?
Learn how the brain navigates the tens of thousands of conscious decisions we make every day and the many more unconscious decisions we make about everything from whom we find attractive to what we perceive.


The Brain with David Eagleman
Who is in Control?


Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us – why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious series blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories.


Who is in Control?
Dr. Eagleman explores the unconscious brain and reveals that everything from our movements, to our decisions, to our behavior is largely controlled and orchestrated by an invisible world of unconscious neural activity.


The Brain with David Eagleman
What Makes Me?


Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us – why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious series blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories.


What Makes Me?
Explore how we are our brains: how our personality, emotions and memories are encoded as neural activity. The process of becoming continues through our lives. We change our brains and our brains change us.


The Brain with David Eagleman
“What is Reality?”


Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us – why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious series blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories.


What is Reality?
Dr. Eagleman takes viewers on an extraordinary journey, exploring how the brain, locked in silence and darkness, without any direct access to the outside world, constructs multi-sensory reality and conjures up the rich and beautiful world we all take for granted.


Easy Yoga for Arthritis with Peggy Cappy

Easy Yoga for Arthritis with Peggy Cappy


Air date: Mon., Aug. 17, 8:00 pm


Discover how yoga can come to the aid of anyone, regardless of age, who wants to increase strength and mobility. Yoga is both a natural weight-bearing exercise that builds strength and a low-impact way to work wonders for balance. Peggy Cappy, whose gentle yoga approach has helped many reduce stress and create greater comfort and ease in body, mind and spirit for more than 40 years, shows how yoga poses can increase range of motion, improve awareness of the body and help keep the metabolism running efficiently.


Claire Hughes


Original air date: Tues., May 3, 2011


Raising Public Awareness for Hawaiian Health


This week on Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks with Claire Ku’uleilani Hughes, who has spent more than three decades raising public awareness of Hawaiian health needs. Dr. Hughes became the first Native Hawaiian registered dietitian in 1959 and became the chief of the nutrition branch for the State Department of Health. She was recently named one of 2011’s Living Treasures of Hawaii by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii in recognition of her groundbreaking work in drawing attention to the benefits of returning to a more traditional Hawaiian diet and for her advocacy for health programs on behalf of the Hawaiian community.


Claire Hughes Audio


Download the Transcript




They don’t see the professional woman. They don’t know I have a doctorate. And so they treat you like they presume who you are. Discrimination is alive and well. And I can only tell you that there are many Hawaiians that have no means of being recognized. They’re just ordinary people. We will hear from people about their treatment when they go to get services somewhere.


She’s a strong woman. Push her and she’ll push back. Next on LONG STORY SHORT, a longtime champion for Native Hawaiian health care needs and advocate of the traditional Hawaiian diet…Dr. Claire Hughes.


Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. We’re about to talk with a Living Treasure, Dr. Claire Hughes, the State of Hawaii’s first registered dietician of Hawaiian ancestry, awarded the honor by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, in 2011. But Dr. Hughes didn’t always feel valued. In fact, there were many times she felt dismissed. That’s one of the reasons for her lifelong pursuit of education, which included earning a Ph.D. Her tremendous dedication and strong will have helped her advance Native Hawaiian health care initiatives, including research showing the benefits of a traditional Native Hawaiian diet. Claire Hughes’s “small kid time” was spent on a sugar plantation. Growing up in the late 1930s, she was among the thousands living in various plantation camp communities that were generally segregated along ethnic lines. At Kekaha Sugar on Kauai, Claire and her parents and two siblings lived in Haole Camp, with its superior acccommodations.


We were the only Hawaiian family that lived in Haole Camp. And Haole Camp is where all the managerial staff are. So my father started out as the engineer on that company plantation, and then he moved to personnel director. So we lived in Haole Camp. And at the time, I wasn’t really aware that I should be on edge, because I was the only Hawaiian. And it wasn’t too obvious to us, ‘cause there were a couple other graduates from Punahou School, which is the school my father graduated from. And so we were quite at home. We had friends that lived maybe a block and a half away that were Hawaiian, so we were not alienated totally from people who were Hawaiian. And I really had no idea that Haole Camp was that special until I was way into adulthood, and met a young lady who lived on a plantation. And when I disclosed that I lived in Haole Camp, she was so impressed.


What made Haole Camp different from the other camps?


Okay. Well, we had homes that were ranch style, one level. They were on about an acre of property. The back yard went back forever. My mother had uh, a banana tree farm, and pets back there, ducks and all kinds of things. But down in Japanese Camp, the homes were much closer. And things were not as pretty. We had gardeners that helped us do the yard work and then Filipino Camp was just about like Japanese Camp. But there were definite camp demarcations, and you could tell by the look of the camps, that Japanese Camp had a lot of shoji door type things. And so Portuguese Camp was where there was a big outside oven. And it was right next to the school, and on certain days, all of the Portuguese ladies brought their bread out and cooked it in this big oven. And as a kid, I can remember thinking, Ooh, the smells were so good.


So Haole Camp had bigger yards, free gardeners, and—




—what else?


Well, we had the latest of things. We had a washing machine, number one. And uh, everybody was outfitted with that. And then, we had a crank phone, party line. And so, there was just a box on the wall with a speaker that came out, and an earpiece you picked up. And when you wanted to call somebody, you picked up the receiver, and you cranked the phone. And our phone was one long, and two short. So you cranked one, two, three, if you wanted to call home. And then, if you wanted to call anybody else, my mother would say, Auntie Esther is three shorts and one long. So we go, one, two, three, and then crank one more time around.


When you say party line, who could listen in?


Anybody…everybody heard the ringing, and they know, Ooh, the Hughes are getting a phone call.


Even though you had these big lots, they could hear it?


Oh, yes. Oh, well, they pick up the receiver. And in those days, if you picked up on the ring, nobody knew, and you could listen to the whole thing if you wanted to. Children didn’t get to use the phone a lot. It was usually to deliver a message. There were many things we were not allowed to do, and we listened.


You did listen? Were your parents considered strict for the time?


Well, my mother was the strictest mother. And my father was kind of not so strict. And so, we knew we could work my dad for things, and that my mother was very difficult. I ran away from her one day. Because I didn’t want to do something, I ran away. I mean, physically ran. And I ran into the neighbor’s yard, and she called us. [CHUCKLE] All the kids over there were, Catch Claire. And they caught me, and I got a … whipping with a Panax hedge


With Panax hedge branch?


Yeah. We had to go pick it ourselves, and then bring it to her.


Did you try to find one that wouldn’t hurt?


Well, I always, lolo, thought the skinny ones were the better ones. So I’d try and get a small skinny one. Well, those were more pliable, and we were stung, yeah? When they hit you, go whack. So I learned very quickly, get the big brittle one, because it might break. [CHUCKLE]


And then she’ll stop?




How many whacks did you get?


Oh, it depended. That day, I think I got quite a few. Yeah, I did.


Dr. Claire Hughes’s family eventually moved to Oahu where she attended Kamehameha School. She says her career path involved a bit of serendipity. When her mother pressed about her career plan, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind, because she’d just read an article that mentioned it: dietitian. Once committed, she stuck to that off-the-top-of-her-head choice. Fighting homesickness and struggling though her courses at Oregon State University, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Science. On her return to the islands she couldn’t find a job in the dietetics field and settled on work in school food services. In the late 1960s she found a foothold in State government which became a career of more than 30 years at the Department of Health. She started out a Clinical Dietician and Public Health Nutritionist. While working and raising two children, Claire Hughes studied for and received her Master’s of Science in Public Health Nutrition. She saw education as an equalizer in an imperfect world.


And then later, much later in my career, I was representing Hawaiians and Hawaii sometimes in national meetings. And especially in the Hawaiian things, I noticed, because you’re with other ethnic groups, yeah, that I was being looked down upon often. Because I was Miss Hughes to them. I was not Doctor, right?

One time, I got very angry at this one man who was about six-foot-ten, and—


And what did you do?


And ooh, I was so hot. And I thought, I’d like to just punch him. And I thought better of it, ‘cause he was so much bigger than I. And he’s one of the ones that said, Oh, I don’t know what to call you. I said, What do you mean? And he looked at my table tent, and I turned it around and it said Claire Hughes. So I said, Well, you can call me Claire, you can call me Hughes, or you can call me Hey You. I don’t care. So whoo, he was really angry. And he had all these bars on his shoulder. So I just said, Okay, Claire, don’t get smart. You’re playing a game in a arena with people who have skills that surpass yours. So don’t get smart. Go get a degree, so they have to treat you like you’re an equal. And besides that, you will better represent your people. So I bit the bullet, and I went back to school. It took me eight years, because I worked fulltime, and went to school.


In the late 1980s Dr. Claire Hughes collaborated with medical Doctors Emmett Aluli and Kekuni Blaisdell on what was to be groundbreaking work, establishing the value of returning to a traditional Hawaiian diet to restore and maintain health.


They had done in 1985 a cardiovascular study, cardiovascular disease study. And they looked for risk factors, and they found many. And they found many untreated, and previously undiagnosed problems. So, both doctors were trying to devise some kind of a approach to reducing those risk factors. And they were looking for a crosscutting issue. What can we take that would lower the risk for hypertension high cholesterol, overweight, and all of these things. Well, what’s a crosscutting issue? Eating. [CHUCKLE] So they decided, diet. Okay, diet. We studied a lot of Kawena Pukui’s work with the Handys. They were two professors. Kawena Pukui worked with them to identify all of the plants, and then to describe how they were used, and describe the diets usually for children and for pregnant women, and for adults. And so, when I worked with both doctors, we decided that, Okay, this is what the diet was gonna be, we’re gonna include all of these foods. And on that diet, no one was allowed to lose weight. Okay.


Why is that?


They wanted any blood change, blood fat and blood sugar, and all of those changes, they didn’t want it to come from the body losing weight and getting rid of those things.


I see.


They wanted to maintain the body weight, so any changes in the blood would show uh, what was being changed. Which we were, what we were changing was the food that was going in. So with the change in the food, would that be enough to lower blood um, cholesterol. That was the main emphasis. And so anyway, we ran this diet program. One week was adjusting, and then we went to a straight-on Hawaiian food only and traditional Hawaiian food. Didn’t look anything like a luau table looks like today.


No squid luau?


No squid. [CHUCKLE] Well, maybe squid luau, but, no cake—


And no lots of sugar—




—put into the—



—squid luau.


Yeah. Yeah; nothing like that. So it was just plain Hawaiian food. And there was not enough food on that island. So quite often, I’d get a call early in the morning. Okay, Claire, we need so much taro, we need so much poi, can you get it for us? So I’d have to call around downtown and find out what poi factory would be able to give me these items, and then I would run it on my lunch hour, I’d run it down to the airport, and they’d throw it on the plane toMolokai. So the diet ran four weeks, I believe it was. And then, the same people went on the the new regime, which was to go back to what they were eating originally. So all the high saturated fat, all the salt, all the awful things that we had told them were awful. And their blood picture changed. And it frightened them. And so, I would never be part of that again, uh, test on a human test, where you take away things and show people how healthy they’re getting, and then you put back the harmful things and let them see how sick they are. So anyway, what we did find out, that just changing to poi and taro, and sweet potato, and banana, and all the greens, Emmet Aluli allowed absolutely no Western food. So with all of that, we found that their blood sugar dropped, their cholesterol dropped significantly. There were fewer allergies. I mean, there were just a whole array of improvements that the people felt.


Now, what is the magic of poi? Why is that such a great food?


Well, for Hawaiians, of course, it is representing the god Kane, the taro plant. And he is the most primal force that we have in our belief system. That has a spiritual essence that surpasses any other food. We found out with the University studies that were done in the 40s, they found out that it is one of the easiest foods for babies to digest. There are B vitamins in it. There’s a little bit of calcium in it, more than potatoes have. And because Hawaiians ate such a large amount of poi, it actually amounted to something. The calcium amounted to something. If you ate the leaves of the taro, the luau, you’d have plenty calcium. Plenty iron. There’s a little bit of iron in the,taro corm as well. So it’s chock full of all kinds of minerals, as the—calcium and iron being two.


And then, of course, it’s starchy, so you have a good source of calories for the day.


When you’ve talked about doing things on behalf of native Hawaiians to study diet, you’ve talked about rushing to do it during your lunch hour, or after hours. Is there a reason for that?


Yeah. There was no support for my doing it on company time.


And you worked for the State Health Department.


Yeah. Yeah, yeah.


So you represented all people in the State.




Health wise.




Why wasn’t there support?


Well, it was the particular decision of my boss. So I had to do this when the calls came in from Molokai, they had to be very short. No talking and getting into long, drawn out conversations. That was frowned upon. And then, I would have to make the arrangements very surreptitiously. Is that the word? And make the call to the poi company. And I had one poi company who thought, surely, I was Chinese, and so he’d allow me to have poi. He was Chinese, old Chinese man. And I’d go and ask him if had … You got taro? No. No. And he’d look at me, and I’d have this forlorn—forlorn look on my face, and he’d say, Wait. [CHUCKLE] And then he’d go behind, and he’d get what I wanted and bring it to me. Here. [CHUCKLE] So I just let him think I was Chinese. My mother taught me that long ago. People think you’re something, just say yes. And act nice. [CHUCKLE] And so, I would have to do all of that work on my own time. So lunch, I often had no lunch.


And yet, this is what you’re known for.






Now. Yes.


On the Molokai diet study we called it Hooke ai. Dr. Aluli called Dr. Jack Lewin called—


Department of Health Director.


Yes. And he said to Jack Lewin, We need Claire. And so, Jack Lewin came down and told his boss, Claire is needed. So they had to find money to send me over there, to be part of this. ‘Cause that was what the Department was supposed to be doing, supporting doctors in the community. So that’s how I got to do that.


So you got to be legit on your—




—native Hawaiian diet.


Yeah, and that, Jack Lewin was not too long ago. So that’s in the—


Took a while for this …




—way of thinking—




—to come back.


Yeah. To this, to give support. Yeah.


What do you think people should know, but don’t know, about a native Hawaiian diet?


Our calculations were seventy-five to seventy-eight percent plant food. So if you picture a clock, from the twelve all the way around to ten, on your plate would be full of sweet potato, taro, poi, all the greens in the world, limu, yams, whatever. And we had a few fruit, not many. And many were forbidden to women, like bananas, we couldn’t eat, women couldn’t eat. So, three quarters of your plate would be full of vegetables and plant food. The twelve percent would be for protein. And with Hawaiian diet, it’s fish. And everybody says, Well, there’s pork. Well, pork was a really ritualistic food. I mean, it was saved for the big celebration, it was a ritual food. It was not really eaten every day.


And then the last little bit would be fat. Because the fat was not added. You didn’t put gravy, you didn’t put butter, you didn’t put oil, ‘cause there was no such thing.


So where did the fat come from?


From the food itself. From inside the fish, inside the chicken. There was also chicken, and they ate birds too, and that’s why Hawaiians were not fat.


The first Europeans described them as tall, lean, muscular, very agile, and very athletic. Yeah. We were taller than Captain Cook, who was about five-foot-two, or three.




He was a squirt.




They were very impressed with the stature of Hawaiians.


Outside of her full-time job with the Department of Health, Dr. Claire Hughes helped secure federal funding for culturally-based health and nutrition programs. Her drive and dedication led to a comprehensive report on Hawaiian health care concerns. Dr. Hughes was selected to be a part of a panel called upon to testify before the U.S. Senate. The end-result was the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act of 1988.


You’re a petite woman, but you strike me as somebody who—


I’m formidable.


—I wouldn’t want go—




—against you.


Don’t get me angry. All my friends know, when I am angry, I am a formidable opponent.


What gets you angry?


Oh, I think most of the time, it is discrimination. Yeah. I don’t like that.




Well, I will fight for others. But I don’t like it when it happens to me, either. And in my old age, I will let people know that I am not at all pleased. If somebody gives me an attitude that—




—I know is trying—is dismissive because of who I am, what they think who I am, I’ll let ‘em have it right between the eyeballs.




Well, I went into a doctor’s office one day, and apparently, I didn’t have an appointment. But I had to stop in downstairs and it was a new situation, and I got my chart, which was an irritant for me. And then I went into the doctor’s office, and this very officious woman came up and she says, You have an appointment with the doctor? Who gave you that appointment? And I said, I don’t know. So she turned to one girl, she said, Did you give her this appointment? And the girl said, No. And then she went to the other. Did you give her this appointment? She said, No. And so, I could see that the girls were kind of frightened of her. So she goes, Who gave you this appointment? I said, I don’t know. It was on the phone. Some officious woman gave me an appointment. And she goes [GASPS]. [CHUCKLE] So she knew I was quite angry. And then she didn’t want to give me my chart back. So I said, Give me my chart, please. And she said, No, this is my chart. I said, Excuse me, who handed you that chart? And she said, You did. I said, Then hand it back to me, I want it now. She gave it back to me. And I walked out, and I took my chart back home, and I threw it away. Never went back there.


Wow. Why would people be dismissive of you?


Well, I don’t know. I can only presume. Okay? ‘Cause my appearance is a dead giveaway. Okay, who I am. And that’s what they see of me, and they treat me like that.


You’re saying you’re native Hawaiian?




Even in this day and age?




And you’re a professional woman.


They don’t see the professional woman. They don’t know I have a doctorate. And so they treat you like they presume who you are. Now, I’m known, so when I go into certain circles, they’re a little bit nicer. Some of them are very much nicer to me.


But …


Discrimination ….


—people are …


Discrimination is alive and well. And I can only tell you that there are many Hawaiians that have no means of being recognized. They’re just ordinary people, which I was apparently to this woman, and they don’t like it, and we hear that often. We will hear from people about their treatment when they go to get services somewhere. And it always is the same, that I felt.


Where does it come from?


I don’t know, people do that because they want to feel more powerful, I guess. I have no clue.




I have no clue. I think they’re annoyed maybe, by certain things Hawaiians want to do, or are doing. I followed Kekuni Blaisdell once, talking to some professionals about the Hawaiian diet. And he said, Well, Hawaiians believe that their foods represent the gods, the four primary gods. And so he said, When we eat our foods—he’s so cute. When we eat our foods, we become godlike, and—


I can see him—




—saying that.


Isn’t he cute? And so, I saw the look on everybody’s faces, you know, in the front row. There was like—there were—revulsion on some cases. So I—I loved it, because it was my turn next.


And I said, You know, um … I don’t know what you were thinking, but by faith, I’m an Episcopalian. And I said, When I go to the communion rail, I’m offered a wafer. And it is called the … and I had to respond, the body of Christ. And I said, Then the minister says, Take and eat it. Ooh, eat it? And I said, And then a chalice of wine is passed, and they tell me this is the blood of Christ. Blood of Christ? Take and I made them say, drink it. I said, [GASP] How heathen. I said, This is the same thing, exactly. And I think it’s a wonderful thing that people picture the foods that they’re eating as strength-giving representations of the gods. I think it’s a beautiful thing. And how wonderful that you can take this in three times a day. Take in this strength, to make you more godlike. And I think it’s a wonderful thing. Puts you very close to your gods.


Dr. Claire Hughes is a Living Treasure honoree—she’s polished, with a bit of an edge. She has fought for respect as a Hawaiian and as a professional in her field. She credits her colleagues and teachers with providing support and direction in her career. In retirement, Dr. Hughes continues to advocate for healthful lifestyles in her column for the OHA publication, Ka Wai Ola. Mahalo piha, Dr. Claire Hughes, for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


And quite often, when they ask me for my CV, I’ll send it to people, and they go right down the list of what degrees I have. You can just see the kids get just so bored, like, Okay … I said, What does that mean? So I said, It means that you could learn your entire life long. You don’t have to stop. You can keep on going, and keep on going, as long as you want to. You can always learn. So I thought, Oh, good one. The ancestors sent me that one I think.


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