fear

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

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

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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.

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI
What’s it Going to Take? – Does Hawaiʻi Have the Will and the Resiliency to Build a Better Future?

 

PBS Hawaiʻi continues to ask What’s It Going to Take?, in an ongoing series of live televised forums seeking to galvanize decision-makers, communities and all of us to make life in Hawaiʻi better. Does Hawaiʻi Have the Will and the Resiliency to Build a Better Future? That’s the subject of our next special edition of INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAIʻI. The numbers are daunting, even scary. Nearly 50% of Hawaiʻi residents barely get by; 62% of all jobs in in the state pay less than $20 per hour; and the crisis in affordable housing drives many people to leave Hawaiʻi for the Continent. But others stay, and some return, drawn by family, culture and the aloha spirit. Join the discussion by phoning in or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter. INSIGHTS is also streamed live on pbshawaii.org and PBS Hawaiʻi’s Facebook page.

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

The Warrior Tradition

 

The Warrior Tradition tells the astonishing, heartbreaking, inspiring, and largely-untold story of Native Americans in the United States military. Why would Indian men and women put their lives on the line for the very government that took their homelands? The film relates the stories of Native American warriors from their own points of view – stories of service and pain, of courage and fear.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lopaka Kapanui

 

“Chicken skin” storyteller Lopaka Kapanui grew up around old Hawaiian legends and ghost stories from his family, and says he’s always been sensitive to spirits. In the 1990s, he was introduced to Oʻahu’s original “chicken skin” storyteller, Glen Grant, and his ghost tours. Since Grant’s passing in 2003, Kapanui has taken up the local ghost story mantle with regular tours, books and community events. Kapanui views his job not just as entertainment, but also as a way to communicate and educate.

 

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

 

Lopaka Kapanui Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

As local people growing up here in Hawai‘i, we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s a negative thing because of, you know, the different ethnicities who come here, who’re still here. My job mainly, is not just to tell ghost stories and to scare people, but also to clear up that misunderstanding of what this is all about which is really, really communication.

 

He says his spooky stories aren’t made up, they’re based on history, experience, and a knowledge and understanding of the unseen. Meet this Hawaiian ghost storyteller next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Robert Lopaka Kapanui is many things including a writer, an actor, a cultural practitioner, and even a former professional wrestler, yet he’s best known as a storyteller whose made a business of taking people on tours of what he calls Oʻahu’s most haunted places. Like many who grew up in Hawaiʻi, Lopaka first started hearing ghost stories at a young age and says he even had a few of his own supernatural experiences. He also experienced a scary start to his own life, but the reason for that was not supernatural.

 

At three months of age, I was severely malnutritioned and they said I was about the size of a rolled up newspapers, and my mother was having an argument with my grandfather and refused to go home. So, instead she chose that we should live in a station wagon behind a bar in Kalihi. But my health wasn’t good and my mother didn’t have the means, financially, to take care of me in that capacity, and so, as hard as it was for her, and she told me this later on, she had to do something, you know, to help me and to make sure I had a better life and her only option was to give me up for adoption, and at an appliance store where my mom worked as a secretary, she met a nice man who ended up becoming my adopted. My adopted parents had a little boy that they’d lost a short time before my adoption and so this sort of all worked out for them. The only condition after the adoption was that my biological mother couldn’t see me. That’s the agreement she had to make, that she wouldn’t involve herself in my life and not try to reconnect at any point, and so she had to agree to that.

 

And so, when did you see her again?

 

I saw her when I was 15 years old and she called my adopted father and told him that my biological grandfather passed away and his last request was to have me at his services, and the funny thing is my biological mother told me later on that she actually had a dream of what I would look like, what I would be wearing at the services for my grandfather, and so when I walked into Hawaii Memorial, there I was in the beige shirt she imagined me in, the white jeans, the slippers, and my hairstyle, of all things.

 

I guess at three months you wouldn’t have any uh, remembrance that you were, that you had a really tough time as a baby, that you obviously were really hungry and you were weak. How do you look back on your start in life? I mean, kind of a tough go.

 

You know, the funny thing is I don’t really recall any of that. I do know that I was sick for most of my early life, to the point that about six or seven years old, I had to go to Children’s Hospital and I was there for a couple of months to have my kidneys cleaned out. You know, I’m a Buddhist, so we believe in karma. And so, I personally think that, you know, somewhere in my past life, I was someone who caused somebody a great deal of suffering and so, maybe it was my karma early in my life to go through this, to eradicate all of that early so I wouldn’t have to go through that later in life.

 

Tell me about your adoptive family, your new family, what are they like?

 

You know, it’s a crazy life. I am adopted by a traditional Portuguese family. I’m a Hawaiian kid and I grew up thinking I’m Japanese.

 

Why? Because you lived in Kaimukī?

 

We actually…

 

Leslie: “You lived in Waiʻanae side, werent you?

 

We were in Waiʻanae, and we spent every summer in Wainaku on the Big Island. And, um, it was toward the end of the plantation era, so, a bunch of us, even though we were different ethnicities, everything we did was intrinsically Japanese. Okazuya, the weekend watched Toyoma no Kin-san, Kikaida, everybody does karate. And so we don’t think about it as being something Japanese, it’s just something we all did.

 

Well you were living with a Portuguese family, so did they have a sense of the ghosts?

 

You know the funny thing is, they would stay up all night with all the other neighbors and talk about ghosts and things that happened when they were growing up and so none of us were ever able to, to listen to that we had to go to sleep, and you know, I used to get spankings for this all the time, I would sneak underneath the kitchen table, because they had the big crochet cover, and I would hide and listen to them tell ghost stories. And so, they were very, very aware of what was going on and for the larger part of my younger years…and you know, in retrospect, I understand now why, but my adoptive father would always remind me that I was adopted and I wasn’t his son, you know, and we’d go out and meet people and he would introduce my brothers and say, oh this is, you know, my adopted son, not my real son. Father and son baseball game, my two older adoptive brothers don’t wanna play, I’m like, dad, we can go do it. No, cannot, you’re my adoptive son, the article says father and son, not you. And so, one of the things that happened is while I was in the hospital, my adoptive father was at work and he went to use the bathroom and he said someone’s pounding on the door, pounding on the door, turning the doorknob, and he says outside, after he yells to cut it out, he hears a voice saying, dad, dad, open the door, let me in, it’s me, dad, let me in. Claims it’s my voice, but knows it can’t be me because I’m in the hospital. And he says, whoever that is, just go away, go away, leave me alone. And then he hears the voice say, I know why you don’t want to open the door, dad. Cause I’m not your real son. And it left. Come to find out they had to call a Portuguese fatsera to come look at the house and she told my adoptive parents, she says there’s three Hawaiian people buried underneath this house and pointed to my adoptive father and said, they’re upset at you because every day they hear you telling the boy he’s not your real son, so they want to take him. They tired of hearing that. And so, her advice was, change your attitude now. He’s either your son or not your son, but you make up your mind.

 

You must’ve been thrilled to hear that.

 

Oh, years later on, you know, when I was a teenager and just had enough and wanted to leave, uh..

 

From Wai‘anae, I believe you lived in…you moved around quite a bit, as a kid?

 

We did, from Wai‘anae we moved to Waimalu, and that was interesting, because we, we lived in a haunted house and it was owned by a local Japanese family, so it had the shoji doors and everything. And nothing quite happened that was scary until one night, we’re sitting in the living room and the door to the hallway is here and we had this stand-up oil lamp, the only way you could make it work was through oil…sometimes the oil is dripping down the thing, and we see this little Japanese boy come out the door from the hallway, and he walks up to the oil lamp and he starts to lick it. He’s licking the oil and he looks at us and he turns around and he leaves. Everybody’s freaked out. We call a priest, he won’t come. We call a kahuna, who won’t come and so we call an odaisan, a Japanese, you know, person with, with gifts, who comes to the house and we explain what happened and that person says, oh, yes, in Japan they have a ghost like that, it’s usually a little boy and the ghost likes to lick the oil of the lamp. Can you get rid of it? Ah, yes, I will ask it to go somewhere else. And he said, same time, please throw away the lamp.

 

Wow, so was that your first experience with the idea of ghosts?

 

That was the first uh, visual experience. Up until then, I always heard voices, would have aromas around me, but never quite had the visual experience up until that time…and soon after that I became sick, about six or seven years old, had to go to the hospital, like I said, and while I was in the hospital, and this is a short story, my adopted grandmother, my adopted father’s mom, would come every day and sit with me and I had a roommate next door, who I would play with, his name was Scotty, and after I get out of the hospital, I found out that my adopted grandmother, grandma Lucy, had passed away while I was in the hospital, but they didn’t want to tell me because we’re really close, and I described what she was wearing and my adopted father went into the living room and brought out the picture, the black and white portrait and it’s the exact muʻumuʻu that I saw her wearing. It turns out that that was the portrait that was displayed at her services. My roommate Scotty, was a very famous kid, back then he was in a commercial where he was singing a Hawaiian song and he was very upbeat, I had no idea he was sick until one evening, the curtains closed and I can see the doctors, hear the family, they’re working on him, there’s crying, they leave. You can see his silhouette sit up in the bed and I see him jump off his bed, his little shadow comes up to the partition and he says—friend, friend, let’s play, c’mon friend, let’s go play. And I start to get off the bed and then I hear my uh, adopted grandmother say behind me, don’t get off that bed. I said, why? It’s my friend Scotty, he wants to play. You get off that bed, your feet touch the floor, you go with him, you never come back. And that’s at the old children’s hospital.

 

Lopaka Kapanui pursued several interests after finishing school including Hawaiian cultural practices, professional wrestling, and working in Waikīkī. But it wasn’t until someone told him about a chicken skin ghost tour led by University of Hawaiʻi professor named Glen Grant, that he found everything he’d learned and experienced up until that point in his life was coming together.

 

The job you have now, the business you have, this is all, it’s based on things that have happened to you all along?

 

All of my life and then I run into this guy in 1994 who’s hosting this downtown ghost tour and I’m working at the Halekulani at that time, and a gentleman by the name of Takeni Oshiro, who’s in charge of the front desk, is raving about this tour, and so I go the following Wednesday and the place is, it’s packed, a crowd of people…and when I hear this gentleman talk and he starts to go on about these stories, I’m astounded, I’m flabbergasted because the majority of what he’s talking about are things I already knew growing up and learned from my mom but the difference was there was documentation and there was history and there was things to back up these claims so that no one could say, well that’s just made up Hawaiian legends, you know, old wives’ tales.

 

What kind of documentation?

 

He would show photographs of places that were haunted and then produce the map as to what the place was before. For instance, like a…the area around Aloha Tower, there’s some sacrificial temples, there were areas where the spirits would gather late at night, you know, to, to basically frolic, and there was a map he showed regarding that and then it happens to be um, where the First Hawaiian Bank building is now. And as the tour went on, more people started to come and so, sometimes that tour would end like 2 o’clock in the morning. Um, the following Wednesday was when I was at hula with Keoni, because he’s also my kumu hula, and he told us, so listen, by the way, um, this friend of mine, uh, is doing this ghost tour out to Wai‘anae so I’m gonna do the, you know, Hawaiian part and he’s going to do the other part, and he said, so you guys are gonna dance at the heiau at Pokaʻi Bay. And so, he said, oh, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this guy, my friend, his name is Glen Grant. And so, we would do that tour all the time. My cousin and I mainly danced and one weekend, Keoni couldn’t make it and Glen was in a panic—I don’t know your part of the tour, what am I supposed to do. And Keoni says, oh, Lopaka knows it, you know, he can do it. And so that’s basically how it started, after that he called and asked, you know, more stuff to do, would you mind? And so it eventually, evolved into being mentored to basically take over the tour. You know, the thing about being trained by Glen Grant and learning from him, is documentation, research, and he actually said to me, I can get away with mispronouncing Hawaiian names and other things, he says, because I’m haole, so people expect me to make mistakes, but he says, you as a Hawaiian? One mistake you make, your own people will crucify you. So, he said, it’s harder for you than it is for me, so you have to get your facts straight.

 

But he was a professor so he would have to get his science right.

 

Absolutely, so, I remember I made a mistake about a legend about Pele, and uh, Koko Head Crater, and in front of a room full of people, he got up and told me I was wrong. And he said, what are you doing? You didn’t research that. He goes, don’t do that again.

 

Glen Grant described himself as a Jewish guy from…

 

From Hollywood.

 

Oh Hollywood, that’s right, I can see your cultural interest but what was his?

 

Glen’s story was when he moved here he was living in a dilapidated old, beat up house, on University between these high rise condominiums and again, the short story is immediately after they moved in, things started to happen, uh, roommate is taking a shower and he sees his girlfriend coming towards the shower curtain, he opens it, he’s got soap in his eyes and someone slaps him in the face and he turns around, no one’s in the shower, no one’s in the bathroom because it’s locked. Things being thrown around the kitchen and so they finally call a landlord over and explain to her what’s going on and she says to them, oh, I’m so sorry, I forget to tell you, before you come to this place, uh, some lady live here, her husband fool around, she hang herself in the kitchen, she hate men, so sorry.

 

That would’ve been nice to know earlier.

 

Yeah, so, Glen is telling me this in the old store and he says shortly after that, all those guys that were his roommates, one by one they were all killed in car accidents and he had a ’55 Chevy Belair station wagon and when it got creamed by this truck, like 2 o’clock in the morning, he just walked away with a scar. So, he’s the only one who survived and that peaked his interest in uh, ghosts in Hawai‘i. Primarily it started to be Japanese ghosts and then it became Hawaiian, Portuguese, and all the other cultures. And so, he even admitted himself that he was a big chicken, first one probably to run if anything happened.

 

Before this career there was another one, could you tell us about that?

 

Oh my god. I can’t believe, ok…um, I had a career as a…as a professional wrestler for 17 years, when I was still working for Glen Grant, I was still doing this, it was towards the end of my career, it wasn’t becoming fun anymore, and um, his secretary, when I’d tell her listen, I’ve got something this Saturday, like a match or something, don’t book a tour, she’d book it anyway, and we always figured it out. But one weekend, I could not get out of the tour and I could not get out of wrestling the match. So, I had to figure something out, so I got on the bus and before I got on the bus, I called the booker at the venue and I said, listen man, I’m stuck, what are we going to do? The booker says, I don’t know. I said, ok, let’s do this, I’m gonna bring my tour to the venue and I’m gonna do the match and instead of the main event, make the match first. And he says, ok. And I said, but, I’m gonna bring my tour with me. And he’s like, oh man, I don’t know about that…it worked out. So, I got on the bus and I said, listen everybody, we’re going to this venue, it’s a professional wrestling match, when the bus pulls up, you guys get out, go to the front door, sit in the front row. I’m gonna uh, run into the ring, beat the guy up, I’m gonna win the match, and then you go back to the bus and we’ll do the tour. And that’s exactly how it happened, I run in, beat the guy up, 1-2-3, get the belt, run out, people go on the bus, finally get out to the bus and get in and I’m looking at everybody and I get on the mic and I said, so, is anybody gonna give me a hard time? No, no…then you know, big round of applause.

 

Lopaka Kapanui says his knowledge of Hawaiian history and culture and the supernatural have come about through research and his own experiences as well as the encounter of others who share their stories with him.

 

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe that there are actually ghosts? And what are they?

 

A ghost is uh, something that’s residual, that’s a recording that just plays itself back during certain times.

 

And where did it come from? It died and then part of it is left? I mean…

 

I have to honestly say it’s like working for the State and the joke is you work for the State, you die, no heaven or hell, you go back to work. So, a ghost is someone who’s been in a place for a certain amount of time and some part of them is still there, they’ve made some sort of impression of themselves. Like a psychic thumbprint.

 

Deliberately? Or this just happens?

 

Yeah, it just happens, you know, not intentional. And so, when you see a ghost, you’re seeing a recording, you know, an imprint of an event that’s happened in the past. Uh, when you see an apparition, an apparition is aware, it’s cognizant. It knows it’s not here anymore, it knows it’s not human, but it’s here for some reason, some unfinished business. And so, if it senses that you’re psychic, it wants to communicate with you.

 

And what’s the downside of communication?

 

The downside of communication is sometimes it leaves marks. Fingertip bruise marks, scratches, sometimes no matter where you go, you will hear a voice calling your name, you know, and it won’t stop until you answer the phone call, so to say. It’s trying to get through all this stuff to get the message across. And so that’s where uh, misunderstanding takes place and people think it’s evil, it’s demonic, but really, it’s just communication.

 

So there is, there are no ghosts that will harass you and drive you to your death?

 

Not that I know of. I’ve never heard of anyone yet, losing their life because of an encounter with something otherworldly. According to Hollywood and reality shows, it might happen, but in real life…not so much.

 

And there are ghosts of every ethnicity and background around the world?

 

Oh, absolutely, especially here in Hawai‘i. I mean, you may not believe it, but the most famous ghost story here in Hawaii is a Japanese ghost story.

 

Which one is that?

 

The woman with no face.

 

Tell us the story.

 

So, the short story is 19, uh, 1956, the Wai‘alae Drive Inn.

 

Yes, that’s the one. Ok, that’s the obake in the restroom, right?

 

In the women’s restroom. Uh, the double feature was Love Sways in the Amazon and Monolith Monsters, according to the article from Bob Krauss, who was a great guy, and it’s the intermission, the woman goes to the bathroom, doing her business she says she sees a woman in a white summer yukata come up to the sink, wash her hands, and the woman says when she looks in the mirror, the lady takes her hair back like this, has no face.

 

That is really spooky.

 

Yes, and so, to fast forward that event, uh, today that ghost is still haunting that area.

 

There’s no drive inn anymore.

 

There’s no drive inn, but there’s a Times Supermarket. And she’s been seen in the walk-in freezer, and the employee bathroom, and there was also a shopping mall. After the drive inn was demolished in ’94, she had nowhere to go. So, she went to Times Supermarket, and then the mall, and so, she’s been seen in the women’s downstairs bathroom at the mall, uh, at a department store and the 8-plex theatre. So, she’s still around. Apparently, she’s haunting theatre number six.

 

Why is it not okay to take pork over the Pali, according to legend?

According to the legend, and this is the short version, Pele and Kamapuaʻa were once boyfriend and girlfriend.

 

Ok, she’s the Fire Goddess, he’s the Pig God.

 

Right, right, and so, even though they were in this relationship, Kamapuaʻa has not changed his ways and so he’s out cavorting and Pele finds out and one afternoon he’s coming home and he says, what a wonderous sight, a tidal wave coming from the mountain, and he realizes it’s a tidal wave of lava, he says, oh my god, she found out. And so he’s running for his life, Pāpa‘ikou, Puna, Panaʻewa, and a hill outside of Hilo called Kauku is where the pig god lies flat and begins to pray and the Hilo rain, the Ua Kani Lehua begins to fall, they say roots from grey trees rise up and hold back the lava, the lake of fire, and finally, when it’s all cooled off, they say Pele appears and says, well, I can’t kill you, so what are we going to do. He says, let’s make this agreement that from this moment forward, the Koʻolau side of the island, the Windward side is mine, lush, green with rain and the Kona side of every island will be yours—hot, arid, dry. And none shall cross into the other’s territory. And Pele says, a ō ʻia, agreed. And so, if there’s any truth to this, it is really that you can’t bring pork from the Windward to the Leeward side. But to be more specific, you can bring pork through the H-3, the Wilson, the Pali tunnels, but you can’t bring it up that road at the Pali Lookout, that’s coming from the Windward, because technically, there’s a road at the Pali Lookout that crosses that meridian that makes it Leeward. I will send you a picture of someone who brought pork, over the Pali, coming from that side. It’s someone who unknowingly thought he was doing a good thing by making an offering, but come to find out his offering was pork to the pig god, which I later on told him, you realize you’re making an offering of pork to the pig god, do you understand that? And he says, why? Does it make a difference? I said, it’s like offering a mother her own children. Under his hand, in this picture, you see a green swirling mist, like this…um, I actually had to go back 4 o’clock in the morning to do prayers of apology for that guy and supplication. Because on these adventures, I’m pretty familiar with ghosts and spirits and other things, but a lot of times, it’s foolish people that worry me.

 

Are there certain pathways or interject points that are known for ghosts?

 

Yeah, they’re called ao kuewa, and the ao kuewa is an opening between worlds where after you die, your spirit is escorted to the next world by your family ʻaumakua.

 

What about the jumping off places? There’s several on the islands. One of them is at Mokulēʻia by KaʻenaPoint, and then Maui has one known as the jumping off place for souls?

 

Yes, that’s Kahekili’s Leap, the other one we’re talking about is, leina a ka ʻuhane at um, right on the cusp of Mokulēʻia and Kaʻena. Another one is Kalaeloa, Barber’s Point, and yet, another one is now the cafeteria of Moanalua High School, and so that’s another leaping place and Moanalua High School used to be on my list of the three most haunted public schools on the island but it’s fallen off since King Intermediate has taken its place.

 

Because of what happened there before?

 

Mainly because of the history, for instance uh, ʻAiea High School, the famous battle of Kaeokulani and Kalanikūpule months before the battle of Nuʻuanu, it takes place from ʻAiea High School all the way to where Pali Momi is. The unfortunate thing about that battle is when Kalanikūpule wins the battle over his uncle, every warrior that’s been slain on the uncle’s side, they’ve all been left, out in the open, they have not been given the proper burial of respect. And that’s uh, the sign of disrespect and so the large majority of that is the grounds of ʻAiea High School, the part of that freeway that always has accidents, Kaʻahumanu, Kaonohi overpass, which happen to be night-marcher trails. And so, the trauma that has caused by an incident makes a psychic thumbprint on the environment and depending on the kind of people who are around the area determines as to if that trauma becomes residual or cognizant. And so, what we’re talking about when we say residual is a-a-an event just repeating itself, it’s not aware that you’re there. Cognizant means the event is aware that it’s passed away, it’s aware that it’s not human, and when it becomes aware of us, it wants to interact and communicate and that’s when hauntings happen.

 

So many people think this is all balderdash, it’s just, you know, ridiculous. How do you explain to them that why you know this is true?

 

What I always tell them is, give me a chance to change your mind. Spend some time with me, come to the event, come listen, and give me a chance, give me that opportunity to change your mind. You don’t have to like it, uh, I would encourage that you at least respect it, but that’s the first thing I say, let me change your mind, and they usually end up becoming believers at the end.

 

We close this program with a spooky story that Lopaka Kapanui told a group at a Japanese cemetery in Mōʻiliʻili, Oʻahu during a full moon on the night of a Friday the 13th. Mahalo to Robert Lopaka Kapanui of Kaimuki, Oʻahu for sharing your life stories and chicken skin accounts with us, and thank you for joining us. Aloha nui.

 

There was a teacher and one night she’s home, sitting at the kitchen table, correcting papers and she’s sort of watching TV, and all of a sudden, the TV screen goes…white poltergeist and the wind suddenly dies and the sound is gone. And from behind the house, somewhere near the mango tree, she hears the tinkling sound of the chimes. Dum, dum, dum, and it’s coming around the house outside her bedroom, the bathroom, coming around from the living room, dum, dum, dum, and now coming up the steps, ding, ding, and she tries to get up to see what the source of the sound is, but she cannot move. Something is holding her down at the kitchen table. Not even her head can move, only her eyes can record the front door. chimes in return, there’s a skeletal fist with flesh falling off of it, and it walks into her living room, skeletal remains of a woman in a faded bloodied white kimono, clumps of hair are falling off of her skull, teeth bare, and she stands just in sight of the front door in the living room and she says, leave my house now.

 

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.

 

 

 

[END]

FRONTLINE
Documenting Hate: New American Nazis

FRONTLINE: Documenting Hate: New American Nazis

 

FRONTLINE reports on a neo-Nazi group that has actively recruited inside the U.S. military. The investigation shows the group’s terrorist objectives and how it gained strength after the 2017 Charlottesville rally.

 

Preview

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kalaupapa Memories

Program

 

In this special edition of Long Story Short, we recall our 2009 stay in the Kalaupapa community on Moloka‘i. Members of the dwindling population of former Hawai‘i Hansen’s Disease patients shared what it was like, many years ago, to leave their homes and families. Norbert Kaiama Palea, Elroy Makia Malo, Meli Watanuki and Clarence “Boogie” Kalihihiwa speak of isolation, loss, community, hope and renewal.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 28, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from this program

 

Clarence “Boogie” Kalihihiwa

 

Elroy Makia Malo

 

Norbert Kaiama Palea

 

Kalaupapa Memories Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Meli Watanuki:

 

I pray a lot when I came here.  I pray so much, you know, for sad of me, and take away all that sad to me.  Yeah.

 

Because you had so much sadness, and you needed it to be gone.  And? Did the sadness go away?

 

Yes. Now, I’m happy right now.

 

Elroy Makia Malo:

 

This young boy asked me: Why you wearing dark glasses?  I said: What?  Why you wearing dark glasses?  I didn’t know what to say.  I said: Oh … you wouldn’t want to know.

 

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa:

 

I met some good people; good people.  I mean, they’re all gone, and you know, we have to carry on what their dreams.  That’s what I feel today.

 

Norbert Kaiama Palea:

 

Look around you; look what God gave.  Look around. You know, lots to appreciate for about. You know, I still have a good mind. Thank God for that.  You know what I mean?  It’s the way you think; the way you think, the way you perceive things.

 

These are four of the last individuals from the dwindling population of Hansen’s Disease patients in the Kalaupapa community on Moloka‘i.  We’ll hear more of their memories, and find out how each found a sense of peace after much sickness and sorrow, coming up next, on a special edition of 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.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we’re recalling our 2009 trip to the remote Kalaupapa Peninsula on the north shore of Moloka‘i, where we talked story with some of the last remaining patients there. Kalaupapa is a place of great natural beauty, and yet, it will always be linked to the once dreaded disease leprosy, also called Hansen’s Disease.  Starting in 1866, thousands of Hawai‘i residents diagnosed with this disease were ripped from their families, and quarantined in Kalaupapa.  When I spoke with these four residents in 2009, they were preparing to travel to Rome for the sainthood ceremony for Father Damien. He was their hero, who cared for patients in Kalaupapa, and ultimately died of leprosy.  First, we visit with Norbert Kaiama Palea, who was just a keiki when he was taken to the old Kalihi Hospital detention center.  His next stop was Kalaupapa, where his father had already been forced to go.

 

My name Kaiama.  When I was a child, maybe about a year old, my grandfolks told my mom I’m gonna be taken away from her.  Just like that.  So, they said: We going give you the name Kaiama; it means strong.

 

Like the ama in the ocean, of the canoe.

 

You’re not gonna fall to the side, and all that.  So, I believed that, you know, the name.

 

So, when you received the name Kaiama, and they knew you had to be strong, and they said you’d be taken away, what was that all about?

 

I know my name is Norbert, but all my brothers and sisters, my family, they don’t call me Norbert.  Only the family call me that name.  So, all my brothers and sisters began to call me that every time they come.  You know, so I become it.  I don’t know, but they start calling me that name.

 

Do you think it was destiny that you came here, fate, or was that just a lucky guess that somebody thought you were gonna be taken away?

 

It was destiny.  And I have no regrets about it; none whatsoever.  I feel this way: that, you know, when something sad happens to you, you know, you grow from that.  Sadness is a good thing, you know.  Lot of people say: Oh?  Sadness changes your whole outlook in life.  So, my mother said: Don’t turn around.  So, when we got on the plane—I remember that, just before coming—everybody was crying, you know, and I was singing.  Just like their wails, their crying was above my voice.  So, I remember, I just looked back.  And then, I still remember their faces, my mother and my … in fact, before, they was crying, my mother said: Remember now, Kaiama, don’t cry, now.  I said: Ma, how come they’re crying?  But nobody’s crying; I don’t see no tears, but I can feel it.  And she said: Oh, because they love you.  You know, my mother had all the answers for everything. She was a wizard.

 

Here’s a mom who lost her husband, and the eleventh child.

 

Yeah; my mother was a very strong lady.  She believed in God and everything, you know.  So, she instilled in me something that no professors of mine that I’ve had over the years can ever give you that kind of value.

 

Your mom, you say, was very strong.  And of course, she had other children; you were the eleventh.  But I can’t believe she would have been that strong for so long, not being with her little boy.

 

Every time when I used to go home for funerals—and I just went to two recently. Every year, I’m going down for funerals. There’s so many of us; there’s hundreds of us.  So, I go to the funeral, and then my grandnieces, my great-grandnieces, they always say to me: You know, Uncle, every time Grandma used say she’d cry every single day, even ‘til now.  You know.  My mother used to say: They cheat me of you; they robbed me.  You know, the relationship between us.  And my brothers and sisters, too.  And when I talk about this place, and I want to come back, my brothers and sisters would cry.  My mother said: You didn’t have the sick, you know; remember that, you did not have the sick. You know, you didn’t do anything wrong.

 

There’s such loneliness here, and yet, such a sense of community, too.

 

I don’t feel.  And you know something?

 

You never felt lonely?

 

Never, ever.  It’s like this; I’m home here in my house.  Now, I know a lot of people that’s here, I’m younger than them; right? So, I look up to them, I respect them. Not because I have a better education, that I’m better than them.  No, I’m not. I’m below them.  So, if I know they’re sick or something, I go and take something to them, or give up some time and go there.  We don’t have time to worry about getting sad.  To me, you know, when you help other people, you’re actually helping yourself.

 

You know, it sounds like you’ve made the very best of this, and you have appreciation of abundance, not scarcity. But what about some of the folks who were here at the same time?  I mean, that can’t be that common a reaction, just acceptance.  You must have seen a lot of defiance and—

 

Oh, I’ve seen a lot of—oh, it’s heartbreaking.  I’ve seen it.  But then, as the years go by, because we have all these great leaders here, you know, one word from them, they can calm everybody down.  A‘ole!, they would say.  Don’t think, and don’t feel that way.  This is just a new beginning.  That is a beginning.  And why we’re here, we are not to question God; why you’re here.  It’s not for or me to say: Oh, why did you give me this sick? You know, the thing is to accept it, and make the best out of it.  And then, appreciate everything that’s around you, and then one day, you’re gonna see the beauty.  You see? Even if he sent us here, but look around.  You know what I mean?  Look, he gave us the most beautiful woman in the world.  That’s the icing on the cake.

 

Thanks to the discovery of effective treatment in the late 1940s, Norbert Kaiama Palea was eventually able to leave Kalaupapa to attend college, and pursue a successful career in fashion design.  He traveled widely, and returned.  He told me several times during our conversation that he was kolohe, or a rascal; not a typical patient.  Not long after we spoke near the large breadfruit trees in his yard in Kalaupapa, he was arrested.  The Feds took him into custody on suspicion of possession of meth amphetamine, with intent to distribute it.  He pleaded guilty in August of 2010, and served almost five years before his release in 2015.

 

Next, we chat with Clarence Kahilihiwa, better known by his nickname, Boogie.  Just a bit older than Norbert, he was diagnosed two years later, and by then, many patients were being treated at the Hale Mohalu facility in Central O‘ahu. Still, that meant uprooting the eight-year-old boy from his home in Kalapana on the Big Island.  Boogie had already said goodbye to three siblings, and eventually, he would follow them to Kalaupapa.

 

Why do they call you Boogie?

 

The real story.

 

Long story short; long story short.  Okay.  World War II … I think I was about three years old.  You know, we come from Kalapana, and we had the old type gas masks. And going school, even kindergarten, we still had to carry our gas mask.  But my sister them used to, you know, scare me, and then they call me Boogieman, Boogieman.  That’s how I got the name.

 

Did you actually get diagnosed?

 

Yes, I did.  Yeah.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was about nine.  Yeah. Or maybe I was eight in ’49, you know.

 

Was there a lot of worry on your part, on your family’s part, that you were going away to be checked out for a blemish, and when your sister and brother went, they didn’t come back.

 

I think it was more on my mom’s side.  In fact, in a way, I was kinda happy that I was in Honolulu, because you know, Honolulu was a different island to me.  And it didn’t bother me, really, that I was separated at that time, until maybe about two, three days.  Then my mom them left me there, and then they came back a short while afterwards. Maybe about a month, they came back to Honolulu.  And that’s when I really … I saw my mother crying.

 

And you were the third child she had lost to isolation.

 

I was the fourth.

 

Fourth child.

 

Fourth; yeah.

 

So, at that point, you were living in Hale Mohalu in Pearl City.  Didn’t they have a fence around it?

 

Oh, shucks.   To me, looked like one prison.  You remember the picture, Stalag 17, I think it was.  You know, they got the fence up like this, and they got the barbed wire this way.

 

Were there other kids your age, nine years old?

 

Norbert came in not too long afterwards.  Then, another week, a few more came in.  In fact, when I went to Hale Mohalu, looked like they just moved into Mohalu not too long ago.  After a while, I came up here.

 

Did anybody tell you you’re going there, and it’s in effect a death sentence, there is no cure, people get terribly sick?

 

No, not when I was young.

 

And you’ll never come back.

 

No, no; not when I was young.  Because I knew I was coming here to see my sister and my brother.  And I knew I was going back.

 

How many people were here when you came?

 

When I came, well, the first time I came here, I would say about over five hundred.

 

Patients?

Patients.

 

And now, fewer than twenty, this day in 2009.

 

I would say over.  But those days, people was dying too, see?  You know.  When you hear the bell, you know who’s that.

 

What was it like living here?  When were you a kid, what was it like?

 

It’s all right.  You know. Nobody tells me what for do.  We go down the beach, no fences around.  Only thing, we have to be home at a certain time, you know.  There was a little control on the staying up late, we need our nap in the afternoon. You know.  Was good.  I liked it. I met a lot of good people.

 

Was there a lot of sickness?

 

Yeah; there were a lot of people.  I mean, a lot of them at that time had kidney problems, heart failure.  Yeah.  A lot of them was blind; we had a lot of blind people, blind patients.

 

Did that make you afraid of what was ahead for you?

 

No; I didn’t think that way.  In fact, some of them became very good friends, and you know, they began to tell us stories about their time.

 

You’ve been to a lot of funerals in your life.

 

Oh, yes.

 

More so than the average person who does not live in Kalaupapa.

 

I think so too.  You gotta go, because that’s the last time you going see him, whether he’s lying in the coffin or what.  People have this thing about they don’t want to see a dead man.  I know that, but it’s the same when you have a photo.  You wish you could have said something, or you know.

 

So, you go, even though it takes it out of you.

 

Yeah; yeah.  You have to go.

 

In the fall of 2018, Boogie Kahilihiwa remains active in the Kalaupapa community.  He still runs the bookstore, and is president of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit organization advocating on a variety of issues, developing a new memorial for patients, and perpetuating Hawaiian culture in the community.

 

Next, we meet a man who arrived in Kalaupapa the same year as Norbert Palea in 1947, and lived there for almost twenty-five years before returning to Honolulu.  You may recognize Elroy Makia Malo as a noted Hawaiian storyteller.  And many of the stories he’s told relate to coming of age in Kalaupapa.  Makia lived with his large family on Hawaiian homestead land in Papakolea until the age of twelve, when symptoms of Hansen’s Disease appeared, and he followed two siblings to Kalaupapa.  Once there, his symptoms got worse.

 

Is going blind a common effect of Hansen’s Disease?

 

For many, yeah.  Yeah. Was one of the things.  Not everybody became blind, but many.

 

When you felt yourself going blind, and knowing that others at the settlement tended to be shut-ins once they were blind, did you tell anyone?

 

No; not even the doctor.

 

You were trying to keep it a secret, so that you could be out and about?

 

I didn’t know I was blind.  So, the doctor asked me how I was doing.  I said, okay. A whole week, I couldn’t see.  But like I say, my mind was, it was temporary. So, I’d find my way to the bathroom by just hanging onto the wall, and crossing the floor by counting the doors where another bathroom is.  So, that evening, I got up, and I’m looking around—listening, rather.  Nobody in the hallway.  I walk out down the hallway, come to the nurse’s station, and nobody in there.  Right across the nurse’s station, right alongside the continuing hallway down the outside is this pillar.  I can see the light inside the telephone booth.  I walk straight to the light.  I said: Oh, Mama, Mama, this is Makia.  Mama, can you and Daddy come down tomorrow?  Yeah, okay, son.  They came down, and Daddy ended up sitting at the end of the bed, Mama sits on my right. And Mama always did this; she sit by me, and she grab my arm, she rubs my arm, rubs my arm.  And then I say: Mama, Mama … I have something to say. And Mama says: Yes, son.  Mama … Mama, I’m blind.  Yes, son.  She keeps on rubbing.  Mama, you heard me?  She says: Yes, son.  She continues rubbing, and each time it’s getting harder, and harder.  Mama, Mama, I’m burning.  And I could hear her sobbing as she’s rubbing harder, and harder. And my dad, I can tell when he’s crying; he starts sniffling.  You know.

 

M-hm.

 

And that was how I told my parents I was blind.

 

Makia Malo did much more than survive.  In 1971, he moved back to Honolulu and earned a degree in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawai‘i.  Makia’s talent for storytelling caught the attention of master storyteller Jeff Gere, who presented Makia to audiences.  And then, Makia met and married Ann Grant, who provided the vision to bring his stories to school children.

 

Suddenly, I see a face, an almost featureless face, a face whose eyes show the discoloration of one blind, a face whose nose has been ravaged, flattened, and the skin mottled with so many scars.

 

Who made the first move?

 

Oh, her.

 

She wanted to take me to her apartment.  And I was thinking: Oh, jeez, how I going get home?  It was from that day on, she comes see me.  You know, we just kept in touch.  I just couldn’t see what this Haole girl from the mainland coming after me.  I thought she’s crazy.

 

I’m blind, I’m all jammed up.  I have an embarrassing history.  Didn’t matter to her.  But I felt bad for her.  Wow.

 

Sounds like she didn’t complain, her whole long marriage with you.

 

No, she didn’t complain.  She got angry often, and now and then, I would get angry too.  But she was my angel, man.  Oh, god.  What a life she helped me into.

 

In the fall of 2018, Makia Malo was living in Honolulu receiving special care.  His engaging storytelling helped to share the Kalaupapa experience with young people, and preserve it for future generations.

 

At this time in 2018, Meli Watanuki works in the Kalaupapa General Store. Back in 1952, she was diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease in American Samoa, and left her home and family for treatment in Western Samoa.  Later, she came to Hawai‘i.

 

So, how did you get to Honolulu?

 

Okay. So, when I paroled, you know—

 

They called it a parole?

 

Yeah, parole, just like you’re discharged from the sickness.  Yeah; the Hansen’s Disease.  So, my stepsister was here, and my stepmother.  They know that I was discharged from October 19, 1958. So, you know, they told me to come here in Hawai‘i.  And I said: Well, I’m not too sure.  But they said: You come, come; you just come out from the hospital.  Yeah; so that’s why I came Hawai‘i.  And then, I married, and then I moved out.  So …

 

You thought all your troubles were behind you; you got married.

 

Yes.

 

Did you have a baby?

 

Yeah. I have one child; it’s a boy.  So, 1964, I just see, because I know when I come Samoa, you know, I don’t know where to go pick up my medicine.  So, I thought it’s finished already.  And you know, they said: You’re supposed to go take your medicine.  I said: No, I did not, because I don’t know the hospital.  So, I went go take test, and just few weeks, and then they called me and said: Yeah, you set up something with your baby and your husband, and then you gotta go Hale Mohalu.  I said: Oh, fine.  And I feel that I better not stay there, because with my baby, I don’t want my baby to get sick.  Because he’s too young, I think only three years old.  So, I set up things, and I talked to my husband.  And my husband think, you know, just like you go hospital, you know, and few days come back.  But end up that was not.  Then, he came visit me with my son, and they see all the fence around.  But get plenty other Filipino there too at Hale Mohalu, so they was talking.  And he said: They talk Filipino.  And then, end up that was the last day I see him and my son.  They never come back.

 

So, you didn’t see your son from the time he was three, to the time he was in college?

 

No.

 

You seem so matter-of-fact when you talk about it. How much does it still hurt?  I know you’ve talked about it, you’ve had time to deal with it, but how are you with it?

 

I feel hurt.  It’s hard for me, trying to go help him and tell him, you know, your mom love you.

 

And now, nothing?

 

Nothing.  They never come back, they never call, no write.  So, I just let it go.

 

Why did you come to Kalaupapa?  You weren’t banished, you didn’t have to live here.

 

I feel happy.  Because when I came here, they was really good.  You know, and they tell me: Anytime, you can go Honolulu, you can go Las Vegas, you can go anyplace, but this is your home.  So oh, okay.  And I’m really, really happy, you know, to stay here.

 

And how’s your health?

 

My health is okay.  Only, I have asthma.  So, it’s taken care, you know, every time I go see the doctor.  Yes.

 

So, the Hansen’s Disease is not a problem?

 

No, it’s finished already.  Yeah.

 

So, you’ve had so much loss in your life.  Is that how you see it?

 

I really feel, what’s happened with all this thing they went do, I pray a lot when I came here.  I pray so much, you know, for sad of me, and take away all that sad to me.

 

Because you had so much sadness, and you needed it to be gone.  And did the sadness go away?

 

Yes. Now, I’m happy right now.  Plus, my husband, they are so nice to me.

 

Meli Watanuki chose Kalaupapa as her home.  In 2018, she’s lived in Kalaupapa for almost fifty years with her second husband, who passed away, and later her third husband, Randall Watanuki.

 

About eight thousand patients came to Kalaupapa, and most never left.  In the fall of 2018, we’re told only about nine patients remain in Kalaupapa out of the dozen still living.  It was a pleasure and an honor for our PBS Hawai‘i team to spend time with the residents. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, when did romance blossom?

 

Oh, Leslie.  That was, you know, ’82 to 1995.  Then, that’s why, you know.  And I told him: Okay, you know what?  Time for me. Either you marry me or not, and you stay; you go, you move out, and I stay my house.  So, 1995, the first week of April, I told him: Okay, today is the day; either you move out, or we marry.  If we not marry, you move out.  If we marry, then you stay.  That’s all. You know, I cannot do this, no communion, I only go church and pray.  And then, he said: I want to marry you.  No kidding; are you sure?

 

And he wasn’t kidding.

 

He was not kidding.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Big Burn

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Big Burn

 

In the summer of 1910, an unimaginable wildfire devoured more than three million acres across the Northern Rockies, confronting the fledgling U.S. Forest Service with a catastrophe that would define the agency and the nation’s fire policy for the rest of the 20th century and beyond. The film provides a cautionary tale of heroism and sacrifice, arrogance and greed, hubris and, ultimately, humility in the face of nature’s frightening power.

 

Preview

 

 

 

THE DICTATOR’S PLAYBOOK
Saddam Hussein

THE DICTATOR’S PLAYBOOK: Saddam Hussein

 

Learn how Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron fist for almost 30 years. To maintain power, he used fear, intimidation and violence like few other dictators in history, but he made the fatal mistake of believing his regime could take on the world.

 

Preview

 

 

 

FRONTLINE
Documenting Hate: Charlottesville

FRONTLINE: Documenting Hate: Charlottesville

 

FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigate the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis involved in the 2017 Charlottesville rally — showing how some of those behind the racist violence went unpunished and continued to operate around the country.

 

Preview

 

 

 

1 2 3