Molokai

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.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Melveen Leed

NA MELE: Melveen Leed

 

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

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Melveen Leed

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Melveen Leed

 

Melveen Leed’s music career spans over five decades and has taken her around the world. However, in many ways, she says she’s still “da tita from Moloka‘i.” She opens up about life’s challenges: a childhood spent in two households and on two islands, a “nightmare” performance in Russia, and why she’s found a new sense of peace and personal happiness in her life.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 25, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Melveen Leed Audio

 

Melveen Leed Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We know what your nickname is.

 

The Tita?

 

Yeah; The Tita.   Now, tita means …

 

Sister.

 

Sister.

 

Yes.

 

Does it mean that, or fighter?

 

Both.

 

And both are true.

 

Yeah; both are true.  Yeah.  But you know what?  In those days, you know, we didn’t get—I know, I didn’t, I never got into real big trouble.  Yeah. And I fought for my rights.  Yeah; we all did, yeah?  But it made me more confident.  You know what I mean?  Because there were a lot of bullies in those days.

 

Melveen Leed has made good use of that confidence, entertaining audiences for over fifty-five years, from Waikīkīto Carnegie Hall, and around the world.  Melveen Leed, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Melveena Ku‘uleipuanani Leed, better known as Melveen, is an icon in the local entertainment industry.  As a young girl, her first performance venue was kanikapila night at her grandparents’ home on Molokai.  Since those childhood days, life has dealt Melveen Leed her share of highs and lows, but the one constant, the unwavering achievement, is a talent that moves easily across musical genres, from Hawaiian to Jazz, to Gospel, to Country.  She can sing and perform all of them, and at high level.  Melveen Leed, the vocalist, musician, and composer, grew up in the 1940s and 50s, having the best of both worlds with her family on Oahu, as well as with her grandparents on Molokai.

 

 

I was born here.  My mom was very young; she was only seventeen years old, and she was a child herself, you know.  And so, she couldn’t really, you know, mother me as much as she should have, you know, because she had her career and her life to think about.  And I don’t blame her.  So, my grandparents came and took me away, and raised me on Moloka‘i.

 

What part of Molokai?

 

‘Ualapu‘e; it’s the eastern part of Moloka‘i, God’s country.  And so, every vacation or anything, my grandparents would put me on the plane. It was Cockett Airlines at that time, small little airline, rubber band airline, we call it.  And they’d send me to my mom, to spend vacations with my siblings. I have my sisters and my brother who was children of my stepfather; yeah?  And so, we spent time like that together on Easter and Christmas, and summer vacation, and all that.  And then, she’d send me back to go to school on Moloka‘i, at Kilohana School on the eastern part of Moloka‘i.  And I was brought up a real, real old-fashioned way, and I’m so glad I was. Washing our clothes in the streams, you know, growing up like that, growing our own vegetables and fishing, hunting, you know.  And we knew how to work hard.

 

What did the family hunt for?

 

Well, my uncles and them, especially.  I went on just a few, but I would never do that again. As I said, my grandfather used to say: You carry down what you shoot.  Oh, shucks.  You know, no, I’m not going carry the deer down by myself.  Uh-uh.  So, I wasn’t interested in that.  I was more interested in fishing.  And my grandfather taught me how to make fishnets, from scratch.  Yeah.

 

Did you try to throw them, too?

 

Oh, he taught me how to throw.  And so, we had a needle to make the nets; that’s called a hia. Okay?  And then, we had the rectangular wood, and that was the size of the eye of the fishnet.  And that was called the ha ha.  See? So, my grandfather would teach us how to patch the nets, and he had a pocketknife that he used and we made the hole, and we patched the nets, you know.  And so, things like that.  My grandfather was a remarkable man, and he was the one that actually made an ukulele for me when I was only about three years old.  And so, I played the ukulele and sang for all my grandparents’ guests.

 

How did you learn; did you watch somebody else?

 

My grandfather; yeah, I just watched him. For some reason, I’d watch someone play an instrument, and I’d grab the instrument and I’ll play it.  You know?

 

From the beginning?

 

Yeah; by ear.

 

From an early age?

 

Yeah; early age.

 

Did your family teach you all kinds of songs?  ‘Cause you’re good at all kinds of genres.

 

Well, my grandparents, you know, they had kanikapila nights, you know, and so, they’d have people come over, and they all played music, and I would watch and I’d grab the ukulele, and I’d play with them, you know, and everything, and learn all these beautiful songs.  And Lena Machado used to come over to the house, and of course, you know, we had musicians friends that came over, and our family.  You know, everybody knew how to play the ukulele and guitar.  You know, my auntie could play slack key, and it was really nice. And so, I learned all this.  And plus, my mom now, in Honolulu, she had those 78s.  And so, I’d listen to all of the jazz music, so I was raised with jazz music; yeah? That old music, and I love it. And so, I’m so glad that I learned how to sing jazz; I learned by myself.  And then, I was very fortunate, years later, to hang out with Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae.  You know.

 

How did that happen?

 

Because I was working the SS Lurline.  You know, the ship.

 

Yeah.

 

And they were the main stars in on there.

 

And what were you doing; you were singing too?

 

Downstairs; yes.

 

Oh, different—

 

Yeah.

 

Different floors.

 

Yeah.  So, we hung out together.  So, we went off the boat, and I took her all over, and you know, we hung out and I’d sit and watch her, and I learned a lot just by watching them.

 

That’s a great opportunity.

 

They were so professional.  Yeah.

 

You were in two households.  You were in your grandparents’.

 

Yeah.  And my mom.

 

Oh; and so, you’d go on the rubber band airline.

 

Yes; the rubber band airline to Honolulu.

 

Okay; now, where did your mom live?

 

Halawa Housing; you know, where the Aloha Stadium is?

 

Yes.

 

That’s where we stayed.

 

Halawa Housing; bit of an urban tone there.

 

It was a very rugged district.  It was; yeah.  But we all took care of each other; we watched each other’s backs, you know, all the children.  You know, so they all knew me, ‘cause I went on vacations, yeah, and stayed there. And then, I went to fourth grade. My mom decided she wants me to go to fourth grade to Halawa Intermediate, or whatever.  And I got kicked out of the school because I got into a fight.

 

With whom?

 

With a girl.  I went on detention.  I’ll never forget that big Peterson Field.  We had to crush all the white chalk, and then we had to pour the chalk, ‘cause it was a baseball field; yeah?  So, we had to put the chalk in.

 

Now, what was the fight about?

 

I’m so embarrassed to say that.  But yes, I was a naughty girl.

 

What was it about?

 

Oh, well, this girl was rocking her chair, and she kept bumping to me, and I was sitting in back of her.  And she had long braids.

 

Uh-oh. 

 

And she kept telling me to shut up.  You know, kept telling me to shut up, and she kept banging me.  So, I grabbed her hair, and went boom, right down, and I finished her off.  And then, I got into big trouble.  Oh, my god, I got called in.  And then, a note was sent home to my mom, so my mom sent me right back to Molokai, which is what I wanted anyway.  I wanted to be with my grandparents.

 

And you didn’t really mind the disruption?

 

No.

 

When you went back to the school, did you worry about another run-in with her?

 

Oh, no; it didn’t bother me.  She was scared of me already.  I don’t even remember her name.

 

Well, what about a bigger bully; did you ever have to deal with that?

 

Yes, I have.  Yeah, I have.  But the problem is, I’m not afraid of anybody.  You know what I mean?  So, I got into trouble, yeah.  But it’s okay.  You know, it’s cool.  Yeah.

 

I remember one story, when I was going to Radford.  And this one girl got into a phone conversation with me, and she was from a bad district.  I won’t even say where.  And so, she wanted to meet me in Foster Village, ‘cause I went to Radford; yeah? So, I told my friends, I said: Hey, you folks coming with me, there’s gonna be a big fight.  And they said: Yeah, okay, okay, we’ll come.  Nobody showed up; only me.  So, was waiting on the corner.  I wore my sweater and, you know, put my hair in a ponytail, I made sure I was—

 

You were ready.

 

–all ready; oh, yeah.

 

Can’t pull it; right?

 

So, I thought to myself: Yeah, okay.  So, I waited and waited, and nobody showed up. Years later, I was performing at the Garden Bar, Hilton Hawaiian Village, and the waitress comes to me: Oh, Melveen.  I was really skinny at that time, but before, I used to be hefty; yeah?  And I used to lift weights and I took, you know, martials arts and stuff.  But anyway. And so, she said: Oh, Melveen, there’s a couple over there that wants to see you, and they want to say hello.  And I said: Oh, okay.  Was dark; yeah?  So, I went up and I saw this massive woman in the dark, and her skinny little husband next to her.  And I said: Yes?  And she said: Eh, you remember me; my name is so-and-so.

 

 

I said: Let me see, the only name I know, I said, was long time ago.  She said: Yeah, that was me.  And she had tattoos on her arms.  And I went: You?  And I said: You know, I showed up that day.  She said: Yeah, I know; we saw you.  And she said: I told my friends, Anybody can show up by themselves, they must be good, they must be, so we took off.  She said: We just left, we left you alone.

 

That’s right; you kept the date and stayed there, even though you didn’t—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–have any backup.

 

Yeah; knowing I was gonna get beat up anyway. You know what I mean?  But oh, that was something I never forgot.  And we became good friends.  You know, it was really nice.  Like, whew.  Oh, god.

 

You’ve had a chance to meet a lot of people again; right?  You’ve met them at different stages of your life.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

You must have had some surprises about how people turned out.

 

Oh, yes; of course.  And you know, especially because I’ve been singing all over, and for everything, and doing a lot of charities, you know, and people that I haven’t seen.  But I remember … my classmates, I remember their names, and I remember their faces. Yeah.  And the kids that I grew up with, you know, I remember them.  And they’re amazed that I do, you know.

 

Some of them have changed a lot, so that is really surprising.

 

Oh, yeah.  Oh, listen; there was one—I must tell you about this one.  Okay; I was at a class reunion.  Now, in high school, I wasn’t that popular; yeah?  I mean, I sang and everything, you know, but because my stepfather, he was quite strict with me; yeah?  And it’s understandably so, because they don’t want me to get into trouble, you know.  So, my mom and her husband, they were really strict.  When I had to go and perform, you know, it didn’t bother me to sing in school.  And we used to go to different schools and perform.  But the thing was, this one guy I had a crush on in high school, but he never knew I was alive.  And we used to walk down the hallway, and the guys used to stand on each side of the hallway and look, and hey, and whistle at us, and we don’t pay attention.  We wanted them to pay attention, but we just walked.  And then so, years later at the class reunion, I was standing with my friends and they said: Eh, there’s so-and-so over there.  And I said: Where?  I looked, and I went: What?  He was kinda bald, and he was big, he had a big belly.  And I went: No; really?  And they said: Yeah.  I said: Follow me.  We went there, and I knew that uh, he would call me; yeah?  So he says: Eh, Melveen.  And I said: Yes?  And he says: You remember me?  And we all had our little patches on with our high school picture on; yeah?  And our little buttons, yeah, big buttons, you know. And I said: Um …  I already knew who he was.  I said: No.  I said: I’m sorry.  And I looked at his.  He said: Yes, you remember me, I was, I played football.  And I looked at his picture, I went to his face, I went to look at his picture again, I looked at his face.  I said: Oh, yes; what happened?

 

Oops. That’s the last reunion he went to.

 

I said, that’s the ultimate revenge, you know.  I was terrible but, oh, we laughed, we all laughed and it was so funny.

 

So, your mom was seventeen, but along the way, she—

 

Yeah.  My mom had a career.  Because she was working.  Oh, she had to work; she worked two jobs, you know.

 

Did she finish high school after having you?

 

No.  But she went to Farrington for a while, and then they finally gave her, her diploma. Yeah; years later, yeah.  So, it was nice.  But anyway, so she had to work.  She moved to Honolulu from Molokai.  Because in those days, it was a disgrace to have a child when you’re young. You know what I mean?  And all your family’s out there; you know that, yeah? But my mom held her head up high, and she went to work.  I give her credit; she worked hard.  Yeah. And then, she had all these children; yeah?  And she still worked.  Yeah; she worked until she retired.  And even when she retired, she went back to work again, you know.

 

What did she do?

 

Well, she was a cashier hostess at the Hilton Hawaiian—well, it was the Hawaiian Village, Kaiser Hawaiian Village before. And so, she was a cashier hostess, and then she went to the front office cashier.  And then, she went to the main office, accounting.  And so, she was always working with figures; yeah?  And she was good at that.  And then, she finally retired from that.  And then, she was working also at Leed’s Shoe Store. Yeah.

 

She was very—

 

Yeah.

 

And to have a lot of children.

 

Yeah.

 

How many children?

 

She had five; yeah, with me, five.  Yeah.  But she had four from this man; yeah.  And then with me, five; yeah.  But she was a great dresser.  I think that’s why I like to dress up, you know, because my mom was like that.  She never left the house not looking nice. She was a beautiful woman; very gorgeous.

 

Tell me, did you know your biological dad?  Was he in your life?

 

I learned about him only when I was about fifteen years old.  That’s when I knew who my real father was.  ‘Cause it was kept a secret from me.  Walter Chun Kee; that was my dad.  He was from Maui.  And then I found out I had siblings on Maui.  So, I have one sister and three brothers.  And so, one brother, we lost; that’s Jimmy.  So, I found that we have siblings, siblings there.  And then, we found one more sister in Puerto Rico.  My dad was busy.  My mom never married my real father.

 

I see.

 

So, she married Palmer Leed.  He was from Tacoma, Washington, and he was in the Navy.  So, my mom married him.  And I was named after his brother, and he had a high official position in the Navy, and they named me after him.  His name was Melvin.  So, my real name is Melvina.  And my grandmother gave me my Hawaiian name of Ku‘uleipuanani, and then they took the name Leed.  So, that’s how I got that name.

 

Did you find it confusing to have two different families, two different islands, or did it all seem normal?

 

It was normal to me.  Yeah.  I was looking forward to seeing my mom, and my sisters and my brother, yeah, every trip that I took, yeah?  And I was lonesome for my grandparents and my uncles and aunties, you know.  And so, I’d go back home, you know.  It was like that, so I had the best of both worlds. Let’s put it that way.

 

Melveen Leed started her professional singing career when she was invited to the stage to sing with the band at the Garden Bar of the old Hawaiian Village Hotel. She soon left her secretarial job and became a fulltime entertainer, singing, recording albums, producing music shows, and traveling the world.  Yet, while Melveen’s career was hitting high notes, her personal life often too a different direction.

 

You’ve been married several times.

 

Yes.

 

Do you have stepchildren and …

 

Oh, yes.  They’re all like my children, still, you know.  Yes.

 

Lots of family, all along the way.

 

Yes.  And you know, it was a learning time for me, too.  Because I had gone down to the bottom.  I picked myself up, you know, every time and I said: I can do this. Yeah?  And I’d start from scratch.  I’d leave everything behind, and I’d start from scratch.  I mean, everything; my clothes, everything behind.  I just walked out and started from scratch.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.  It’s not easy to do, but you gotta have that willpower.  All you women out there, you can do it.  You know, you have one life to live; you push your own buttons. That’s what I say.

 

So, each time, you could have packed, you could have taken some things.

 

Yeah.  But I’m not like that.  Because they had children, so I didn’t want to take anything away from them.  And they could have my stuff.  It doesn’t matter; it didn’t matter.

 

So then, what did you do when you walked away?

 

I just started from scratch again.  I was still singing, working, making good money, you know, and I had to go on my own and find my own jobs; yeah?

 

What’s the hardest thing you’ve been through up ‘til now?  And we’re talking in March of 2018.

 

When I had to leave my daughter, and I had to move to Tahiti.  That was the hardest thing I had to do in my whole life.

 

How old was she then?

 

She was just … senior, high school.  Junior or senior.  And I had gone away to start a new life.  And it was a big mistake in my life, of course.  I realized that after, yeah, I’d gone there.

 

You were getting married.

 

Yeah; I was getting married, yeah, there.  And she came for the wedding, and I could see her face; she was so sad through the whole time, you know.  And I thought to myself: Okay, Melveen, you know, you gotta make this work.  So, what happened was, when I moved to this island, this desolate island; it was an atoll, it was called Aratika.  Because my ex-husband was the luna, the boss of that island.  And it’s a black pearl farm.  He built a house for me on that island, and there was no running water, no electricity.  So, I had to leave all my beautiful gowns and nice clothes, everything, my beautiful things back in Hawai‘i and move there with only pareaus and shorts and tee-shirt. Which I didn’t mind, because I grew up like that on Molokai.  You know what I mean?

 

Yeah; I was thinking before, you were washing your clothes in the stream.

 

And they were all amazed.  The Paumotu people there; they were amazed, even my ex-husband, that I could just adjust immediately.  Then, when I started patching their nets and throwing my net and catching my fish, they were like: Where’d this woman come from; yeah?  So, the Paumotu women would come up to me and say: How come you’re doing this; us women never do that.  And I said: Well, us Hawaiian women do back home.

 

I said: You do what you do, and if you don’t want to watch, you just go away.  So, I’m busy working.

 

Did you pull her braid?

 

No, no, no.  No. And I caught my own fish.  And then, I realized that I couldn’t stay on the island with all these twenty-seven men, alone.  It’s dangerous, you know.  So, he said: I’m gonna teach you how to free-dive, ‘cause we gotta go out fishing.  So, he had a floater on the top, and a rope with knots every so many meters, and down to fifty feet where the big block of cement was on the bottom, sat on the bottom. And my graduation was to go down fifty feet and grab that sand, and bring it up to him, before I could go and fish. ‘Cause I wanted to spearfish so badly. So, I went, and my last day he said: I’m gonna pull that up, and you can’t go out fishing with us.  I was determined.  I went down; I didn’t come back.  And he says: Okay, pull it up.  I said: No, wait; give me one more chance.  He says: You Hawaiian girls can’t do it.  I said: Oh, yeah?  Watch me. I went down, got the sand, came up, and I threw it in his face.  And then, he had a special spear made for me, and he taught me how to spear fish.  And we only caught what we ate.  And so, it was really a wonderful whole year, though, that I learned and I lived there, because I loved the cleanliness.  The water was so pristine, you know, and oh, the air was fresh, and it was wonderful.  It brought back memories of Molokai.

 

You seem like a very hopeful and optimistic person, because you got married again.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, again.

 

Yes.  I probably was looking for like, my grandfather’s image.  You know, ‘cause he was a perfect father, grandfather, husband to my grandmother.  You know, he was a great caretaker, and he was an inspiration.  And I could sit and talk to him.  He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, they were words of wisdom. You know, I look up to him.  And I finally found that man, and that I’m married to now.  Yeah. And he reminds me so much of my grandfather; very dignified, you know, and very caring, and puts me on a pedestal, puts me first like how my grandfather put my grandmother on a pedestal first.  She always came first.

 

Okay; you have to tell us how you met him, then.

 

My husband?

 

Yes.

 

Mike?

 

Mike.

 

We knew each other when I was fifteen years old. When we lived in Halawa Housing, when I was on my vacation, I was only fifteen, and his sister lived right next door to us.  So, that’s how we met.  And then, we didn’t see each other until years later.  I was singing at Chai’s, and he walked in with all of his siblings; yeah?  And his family, and they sat there.  And he was well-dressed.  He’s always well-dressed.  And so, we said hello, but nothing, you know.  I said: Oh, hi.  You know, he came, and I was setting everything up.  He comes on stage, and he says hello to me, you know, and hugs me, and I said, oh, okay.  So, after the show, I usually go and eat at a place; this cook always cooks for me in this small little bar.  And so, I said: Oh; what are you gonna do?  You know.  No; I think he asked me what I was gonna do after the show.  And I said: Hang out with you.  I think that’s what I said.  Yeah?

 

So, that means you made the first move?

 

I think so.  So, I said: Well, I’m gonna go eat; you know, you folks can come out, you know. So, I jumped in his car, and so we went to that place, and we sat together, and we laughed and everything. And then, we started emailing each other.  We exchanged emails, and stuff.  So, that’s how it started.  Yeah. Was really nice.  And after a year, then he proposed to me on one knee.

 

Tell me; was Michael wary of you because there had been several husbands. Three others.

 

You know, I think because he’s so mature, and he’s a smart, very intelligent man, and he had a very good position—he’s a retired quality assurance director for the nuclear subs for the Navy and federal government, and he had a very high, important position.  So, he had a thousand people working under him.  You know, he knows exactly what he wants, and he’s very consistent.  And not only that, he’s very clean and he doesn’t leave a stone unturned.

 

Even if your career had ended twenty-five years ago, you would have had an illustrious career.

 

Yeah; I did.  Yeah.  But you know what?  Getting to where I am now, yeah, if it weren’t for all those curves that I’ve had in my life, I would not be the person that I am today.  Yeah.  And what I love about now is that I have the love that I’ve always wanted, from my husband. You know?  He truly deeply loves me, for me.  And I love that.  You know.

 

You feel like you didn’t really have that before?

 

Not fully.  Something was missing.  But now, it’s just all there.  Everything in the puzzle is there; that last piece is there.

 

In her mid-70s, Melveen Leed confides she worries about losing her voice someday. Yet, at the time of our conversation in the Spring of 2018, the former Miss Molokai says as she’s gotten older, her voice has actually become stronger.  She says she’s able to hit high and low notes that were never part of her register before.  Mahalo to Melveen Leed of Mililani, Central Oahu for sharing part of your life story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

For all you Molokai people out there, this is for you. Yee-ha!

 

MOLOKA‘I NUI A HINA
Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
Ua nani nāhono a Piʻilani
I ke ku kilakila i ka ʻōpua
ʻO kuʻu pua kukui aia i Lanikāula
ʻO ka hene wai ʻolu lana mālie

Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu

Ua nani nāhono a Piʻilani
I ke ku kilakila i ka ʻōpua
ʻO kuʻu pua kukui aia i Lanikāula
ʻO ka hene wai ʻolu lana mālie

Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E hoʻi no au e pili

Woo-hoo!

 

 

 

HIKI NŌ
Episode # 919: Stella, a homeless dog and other stories

 

TOP STORY

 

Students from Ewa Makai Middle School on O‘ahu tell the story of Stella, a homeless dog who, with the help of volunteers from the non-profit group Fur-Angel Foundation, finally finds a forever home and owner. The story also follows the fate of Stella’s puppies, who were stricken with the deadly canine parvovirus.

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

–Students from Mid-Pacific on O‘ahu tell the story of an ‘ukulele virtuoso who made a life-changing career decision.

 

–Students from Lahainaluna High School on Maui showcase their school’s annual David Malo Day celebration.

 

–Students from Kalāheo High School on O‘ahu uncover a World War II relic embedded in a hillside.

 

–Students from Moloka‘i High School on Moloka‘i show how to make paint using their island’s prolific red dirt.

 

–Students from James Campbell High School on O‘ahu profile a gifted jazz saxophone player.

 

–Students from Kapa‘a High School on Kaua‘i tell the story of a pair of long-distance running brothers who partner in a very unique way.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ is hosted by students at Kalama Intermediate School in Makawao, Maui.

 

 


INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Quality of Life on Moloka‘i

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I presents a series exploring the quality of life on each island, with residents from each island driving the conversations. What issues matter most to each island? These episodes are a precursor to our upcoming Election 2018 coverage. Our Quality of Life series continues with a focus on the community issues that are of most concern for Moloka‘i residents.

 

Join us during our live discussion by phoning in, or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter. INSIGHTS is also live streamed on pbshawaii.org and Facebook Live.

 

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

 

 


PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Sons of Hālawa

 

Feel the pulse of the pacific – the stories of its people, cultures, languages, music and contemporary issues – in Season 5 of PACIFIC HEARTBEAT, the nationally distributed series from Pacific Islanders in Communications and PBS Hawai‘i. The five films in this season highlight struggles, values and victories that draw us together and make our Pacific cultures unique.

 

Sons of Hālawa
Pilipo Solatorio of Molokai is the last to hold the cultural traditions, music and stories of a sacred valley that has been home to his family for hundreds of years. This is an intimate portrait of Solatorio’s search for a successor – before generations of knowledge will be lost forever.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Maui County Council – Moloka‘i / State Senate District 25

 

 

With an unemployment rate of more than 15 percent, the GMO ban would hit Moloka‘i the hardest. Maui County Council incumbent Stacy Crivello and challenger Keani Rawlins- Fernandez discuss how they plan to boost employment opportunities for Moloka‘i residents.

 

State District 25 Senator Laura Thielen and her Republican challenger, Robert Nagamine, are featured during the show’s second half. Theilen has been fighting to preserve agricultural land on behalf of the Windward O‘ahu district, while Nagamine says his top priority is helping people, especially the homeless.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
State House District 14 and State House District 13

 

INSIGHTS hosts live candidate discussions for two hotly contested neighbor island races:

 

–Kaua‘i State House District 14 incumbent Derek Kawakami has opted out of running for re-election, choosing instead to run for Kaua‘i County Council. Kaua‘i County managing director Nadine Nakamura and activist Fern Rosenstiel are vying for this seat. Both are scheduled to discuss how they’d tackle local issues, including Kaua‘i’s rapidly growing population and the effects of agricultural pesticide use.

 

–State House District 13 includes East Maui, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i and Kaho‘olawe. After the late Rep. Mele Carroll resigned last year for health reasons, Governor Ige appointed Lynn DeCoite to the seat; she is now running for election. Opponent Alex Haller says he sees a lack of financial savvy among elected officials, particularly in land appraisals. DeCoite and Haller are scheduled to appear for this discussion on how they would handle local issues including East Maui water rights and equitable funding for rural areas.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Nā Loea: The Masters II

 

From sustainable fishing and land management practices, to preserving traditional language and arts, this program shares the stories of native Hawaiians who have dedicated their lives to practice, preserve and pass on knowledge and expertise accumulated over years. Featured are: Mac Poepoe, a Native Hawaiian fisherman and a community leader on Molokai who has dedicated his life to ensuring that the ocean will be well-stocked for generations to come; and Herbert Hoe, who recognized how the widespread health afflictions of the Native Hawaiian people impaired their ability to care for themselves, and created his ‘Ai Pono diet program utilizing the traditional foods of ancient Hawaiians.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 14, 2009

 

On Location at Kalaupapa

 

Hansen’s disease patient Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa decided to move to Kalaupapa after patients were no longer forced to live there. Today, there are fewer than twenty Hansen’s disease patients living in Kalaupapa, but he remembers when there were more than five hundred patients on the peninsula. He talks to Leslie about living there and his effort to establish a monument listing the names of all who were sent to Kalaupapa. This is the second in a series of Long Story Short shows shot on location at Kalaupapa on Moloka’i.

 

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Was all right, you know. Nobody tell 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 bit–little control on uh … don’t stay up late, and we have to need our nap in the afternoons, you know. Was good. I like it. I met a lot of good people, and um …

 

As a boy he had no say, no choice. He was sent to live in Kalaupapa. A place where so many had been sent to die.

 

As a man, he had the opportunity to leave this place with a history of suffering and untimely deaths. But that’s not how he viewed his home.

 

While the past regards this spit of land on the North Shore of Moloka’i as a place where so many went unwillingly, this man saw it as a place for Hawaiians to go and be Hawaiian… a place to enjoy the bounty of the land and sea, in the bosom of a loving community. He chose to stay in Kalaupapa. Meet Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha Mai Kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, you’ll meet a man who chose to live his life in a place that so many others before him had yearned to leave. Instead, Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa, found happiness and a fulfilled life in the isolated settlement of Kalaupapa, Moloka’i. This is where, for 100 years, those who were found to carry the dreaded Hansen’s Disease— leprosy— were sent to live and die. By the time Boogie was diagnosed at the age of eight, many Hansen’s Disease patients were living at the Hale Mohalu facility in Pearl City, Oahu. But Boogie’s long story short starts on Hawaii Island in his hometown which would later be overrun by lava from Kilauea volcano.

 

Well, this happened back in Kalapana in 1949. And they had this district—they used to have district nurses. And Dr. Hitchcock, which was the doctor at Hale Mohalu at that time, she was there, and two of her aides. And I had a brother and sister. I had two sisters in here, my brother, and an uncle, way back in 1934. I didn’t see one sister; she died in 1942. But I used to ask my mother, who was this, who was this boy in this picture? That’s your brother and your sister. But I was one small kid that time, it didn’t …

 

You don’t remember them being sent to Kalaupapa?

 

I don’t remember, no. So in 1949, when they took a [INDISTINCT]. I don’t know what—I forgot where. But I had a rosy blemish over here or something. And [CLEARS THROAT] … couple weeks later, the nurse came back again, and she talked to my mother. And then when they left, my mother said, Well, you gotta go to Honolulu. You see?

 

Was your mom worried?

 

Yeah; she knew all about it already. But … to me, I feel, wow, I’m gonna ride a plane.

 

But did your mom know at that point, that when you get sent to Honolulu—

 

Yes, she did, she did.

 

you probably won’t come back?

 

Yeah.

 

Because you go to the receiving center, and that’s where they process you?

 

Yeah, and everything was all right, since it didn’t bother me when I went to Hale Mohalu. But the thing was, when I stepped into Hale Mohalu, I couldn’t go back out. Then I knew, oh—

 

Did you actually get diagnosed?

 

Yes, I did. Yeah.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was about nine. Yeah.

 

So—

 

Or maybe I was eight in ’49.

 

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—

 

No, I think—

 

When your sister and brother went, they didn’t come back, they went into—

 

I think it was more on my mom’s side. And in fact, I was kinda happy that I was in Honolulu. Because, 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 when my mom them left me there, and then they came back short while afterwards, maybe about a month they came back to Honolulu. And that’s when I really saw my mother crying. But …

 

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. [chuckle] To me, look like one prison. You remember that picturel, Stalag 17, I think was. They got the fence up like this, and they got the barbed wire this way. But … even then, I made friends easily.

 

Were there other kids your age, nine years old?

 

No, Norbert came in not too long afterwards. Then another week, couple. In fact, three more came in, and in fact, when I went to Hale Mohalu, it looked like they just moved into Hale Mohalu not too long ago. And of course, the way I heard it, they said they about 1949, I think was. And so a short while I was there, maybe my mom them left. I stayed there about … maybe a month. Then my sister and my brother-in-law came down here. Then I don’t know what happened. My brother-in-law stayed in Honolulu with me. After a while, I came up here. And we rode on the [INDISTINCT] airline. It was a four-seater. Similar to Kamaka Air type airplane, but it was you know, a four-seater. And uh, there wasn’t any airport.

 

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

 

No, not when I was young.

 

—you’ll never come back?

 

[CLEARS THROAT] 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.

 

Boogie Kahilihiwa lived at a time when Hansen’s Disease patients were treated very paternally by the State. Their care was shifted from the old Kalihi Hospital to a new facility at Hale Mohalu. There, he met patients who became activists, like Bernard Punika’ia, Henry Nalaielua, and Richard Marks.

 

Then I met some good people, good people. I mean, they’re all gone, we have to carry on their dreams. That’s what I feel today. In the case of Bernard, and you get people like Henry, you get people like Richard Marks, or people who died earlier, a long time ago. All our age, they died young. They died maybe about twenty-two, twenty-four.

 

Did they die of Hansen’s Disease?

 

No, not really actually. But I think because of Hansen’s Disease, the complications—

M-m.

 

—becomes uh, worse.

 

I see.

 

You know.

 

Okay; so you’re at Hale Mohalu, and you’re deciding whether you should go to Kalaupapa. You’re telling me you weren’t banished to Kalaupapa, you decided to move here.

 

Well [CLEARS THROAT], I knew I had a brother and sister, and they wanted—I’m not saying the authorities didn’t want me to come up here—It’s the patients themselves didn’t want me to come. Some of our own people said, Don’t go there, and I said, Well … I have a brother and sister here, and then good thing I came up here. And then I really got down to learning about Father Damien, and although I heard about him too at Hale Mohalu, around the time we used to come up here.

 

What was it like meeting your brother and sister that you’d only seen in pictures before?

 

Well, I didn’t believe that was my brother when I first saw him. And—well, he took the—, You know, I’m the big brother, and so anything I did, he scolded me. And then I said, Oh, okay, okay. But he got his own gang, their own clique, so I don’t mingle with them too much. So …

 

How about your sister?

 

Oh, no after we come up here, my brother-in-law and I, I don’t know what happened, but we stayed at my sister’s house. And they had a fight. Well anyway, long story short, we moved out, and then I moved back. Then afterwards, when I came back to Kalaupapa again, I stayed with my friend’s mom.

 

So—

 

He and I used to come up every time.

 

So you came here for your sister and brother, but that didn’t really work out as … they didn’t feel like family so much.

 

Well, my brother was staying at the Bayview Home. And was packed. Bayview Home was packed. Over here had, oh, so many people.

 

How many people were here when you came?

 

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

 

Patients?

 

Patients.

 

And now, fewer than twenty at this day in

 

Patients.

 

2009.

 

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

 

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

 

Was all right. Nobody tell me what for do. We go down the beach, no fences around. Only thing, we have to be home at a certain time. There was a little bit—little control on… don’t stay up late, and we have to need our nap in the afternoons. Was good. I like it. I met a lot of good people.

 

Was there a lot of sickness?

 

Yeah, there were a lot of people really … I mean … a lot of them at that time had… kidney problems, heart failures. 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 they began to tell us stories about their time, like Steven Dawson. I think you heard of him.

 

M-hm.

 

And he used to tell us stories. Well, they listened to this…they used have the uh, talking book. Remember that?

 

Yeah, I remember the talking books.

 

For the blinds. And I mean, I’m only listening, I can imagine. They put us to sleep. All these stories, he told us the story of the Mohicans and Lewis and Clark … before I ever read the book.

 

A master storyteller.

 

Yeah; it was one of the people I met there.

 

 

While many of the waters of these islands have suffered terribly from over fishing, the remote point of land that is Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i has a well-stocked fishery. Booogie Kahilihiwa says it’s because the people of Kalaupapa practice Hawaiian ways and maintain a sustainable harvest.

 

Tell me about fishing. That’s what all of us from Honolulu want to hear about. ‘Cause we heard you’re the master fisherman of—

 

No—

 

—Kalaupapa.

 

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

 

And we haven’t seen the kind of fish resources you have here in our depleted waters.

 

I know that. I was up at topside not too long ago for the sustainable meeting. And they have a good idea about keeping Moloka‘i, Moloka‘i. And I see, during the summer months, especially when April-May, you have about seven boats over here, you have about eight boats in the back. And lot of these boats all come from Honolulu or Maui. What they do is, they come with their big boat, then send in two small boats. And for this side, you can see they only going pound opihi or whatever; dive. The other side, some guys going hunt, some guys going in the river because I see that in Honolulu. What you call that … the river opihi … they call ’em hihiwai. It’s not openly sold, but they sell ’em in Honolulu. And it’s all on Moloka‘i. And they’re ripping off our island over here. It’s too bad, they cannot control. I like the national park, where maybe off limits at this time, let ’em replenish and …

 

Which has a cultural background, at least for—

 

Yeah.

 

—Hawaii.

 

Because in the Hawaiian system, I think they did the same too. Well, this place is kapu, and then just like cattle, yeah? You let ’em grow and let this other side grow, let ’em graze on this side. But the fishing, I tell you, boy. Let them go. I tell you, the fishing ground over here was really immaculate. Even ’til now. That’s our icebox, so we go and then you take what you want.

 

What do you get out there?

 

Not what you can.

 

Not what you can.

 

No.

Because you can—

 

You take what you want, and not what you can.

 

And you’ve been fishing these waters since you were a kid. Can you tell me a little bit about what the fishing was like then, what it’s like now?

 

Well, that time, was really plentiful. I mean moi. I mean, the old folks, you gotta listen to the old folks. Go catch me some moi, and you just go. I mean you know where all the fishes stay, so …

 

You fish from shore?

 

Yeah, from shore. And then later on, we go on the boat. Yeah, we used to have a group of guys, and we all put two dollar every month, and just to buy rubbers, like that, for diving. Then what we do—mostly I did was—pounding opihi, diving.

 

How big are the opihi? Well, how big were they, how big are they? Opihi.

 

Oh, I don’t see the bigger ones now. And we don’t pick up the real big ones. Just about, I would say about three inches. Sometimes get more. But those are the mamas, we call. Those are the ones at low tide then you can see them. But we don’t pick that up. I mean, that’s the grandpa, the grandmamas, and that’s how we all have all our baby opihis come up. But fishing, I think that’s all we could do, fishing and hunting. And then later on, people got boats, then everybody, Eh, I think maybe I can get one boat too. And the first thing you know, we making crab, Kona crab.

 

How about lobsters?

 

Lobsters all right. But I rather have Kona crab.

 

[chuckle] And did you catch ulua, big ulua?

 

Not really big. Uh, in the medium range, maybe about forty pounds.

 

Change is coming to Kalaupapa, and it’s just over the horizon. Before the National Park Service takes over entirely from the State Department of Health, it’s a longtime goal of Boogie Kahilihiwa and many other patients to create a monument to the thousands who lived, and died, on the peninsula.

 

I think our struggle right now, for me, being the president of the Ka Ohana … we have a nonprofit organization. We’re looking to establish a monument in Kalaupapa. And so our group, our team is a little upset, because I think the National Park didn’t want any monument in Kalaupapa, to begin with. But before, before all of this happened, all the patients wanted in 1985, we talked about having a monument, something to recognize all those who have passed on, the eight thousand names. And right now, we get about–about six thousand something names.

 

Oh, you want to have a—it’s a large monument with the names of everybody?

 

If we can, yeah. Maybe it could be one or two rocks, or something like that.

 

Now, why would the National Park Service object to that?

 

Well, I think it’s the location that they’re against. And …

 

I see.

 

So we have one location that most of us, the patients feel like in the old boarding home at Kalawao. And that was right in front of Damien’s church. And we know that there wasn’t any graveyard, there was buildings there. On the side of the same side of the Catholic church, all that area, it looks like corral, which was afterwards. That was all graveyards. That was all graveyards. And I don’t know what letter it was when Father Damien…children were playing on on the graves, like that. And Father Damien loved children. And that’s my other thing that I wanted … to bring the children, forget about the age group. There’s no kids over here. I think Norbert and I are the youngest over here.

 

He says he’s—

 

Okay.

 

—younger than you by forty days.

 

Yeah, a month or so.

 

[chuckle]

 

But by the same token, I feel for me, I like to see children come, here before before all of us gone. Because when we’re gone, they’re gonna have children here, walking these streets. They’ll be on these streets, walking, but where’s the Hawaiian family, where’s the Hawaiian children?

 

They haven’t been here for … as long as—

 

No.

 

—the settlement has, unless you—

 

I want—

 

Unless you have—

—the Hawaiian children to come here while we’re living. And I want to—but some of our people, our own people who talk about compassion and all that, they’re strongly against having children here.

 

That was a bitter division, and—

 

Oh.

 

—the folks like you who wanted the children here lost that battle.

 

Yes. But I still am in fact, I having a hard time even to talk to Dr. [INDISTINCT] because they think the council—we have a council here.

 

M-hm.

 

Which is the chair. And to me, the council doesn’t run the settlement. They’re only advisory. But they get in their heads, that they run the settlement. No, they don’t. I go—that’s why—the one reason I’m outside of the box. And you may think we have conflicts. That’s the only thing I’m against about. I’d like to see not only the patients’ children, but the workers’. And eh, bring ’em down now.

 

On October 11th 2009, Father Damien who lived, worked, and died among the patients at Kalaupapa, was sainted by the Roman Catholic Church. Our conversation with Boogie was taped two months before Damien’s canonization in Rome.

 

I never thought that Father Damien was going be saint this soon.

 

You didn’t think you’d live to see it?

 

Well, yeah. Well, you can put it that way.

 

And did you have doubts about whether he would be accepted as a saint?

 

No, because I think there were a lot of small incidents where things happened, and it wasn’t even recorded. Where people said, I prayed to Father Damien, and he helped me in a small way, maybe, but when people believe that, then something must be happening. I mean, you gotta believe that. There gotta be something. If you believe you going be sick, then you going be sick. Yeah? If you believe you going get well, and at least, you know, that you just go for it, and you going be well. But I think it’s mind over matter too. I believe in Damien. And oh … that will be an exciting time.

 

And it’s coming up.

 

Yeah—

 

We’re right before that event.

 

That’s true; that’s true. And a lot of people, too bad they’re not here now. And I think our going to Rome and to see this, I will do it for them too. A lot of them wanted to see this day come.

 

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

 

Oh, yeah; yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

So you go—

 

Yeah.

 

—even though it takes—

 

Yeah, it takes—

 

—takes a lot of you.

 

Yeah. You have to go. I mean Norbert, not only Norbert, not only Norbert now. I think Gloria … of all, I think Meli is older–oldest. Let me see, now. Meli is older than …

 

Meli is seventy-four, as we speak.

 

Yeah; something like that.

 

Is she one of the older ones?

 

She’s one of the well, I think Pauline older by months.

 

What about Gertrude?

 

I don’t know. I think Nancy Chang—you know Nancy Chang?

 

I don’t know Nancy.

 

Yeah. I think she’s the oldest, though. Because Edwin is about eighty-two, eighty …

 

Well, right now, it seems though, there’s only one patient in the convalescent center.

 

That’s right.

 

It seems like everybody’s doing okay at this moment in time, in 2009. Is that your impression? All of the remaining patients are doing pretty

 

Yeah.

 

—pretty well.

 

Pretty well, pretty well. Except for, I guess for some of our patients, they have to go to the hospital to take some kind of injections or what. But not to be uh, bedridden or hospital bound. But I think most of us know that there’s a place down there that if anything goes wrong, you can always reflect back to that home or what. But if they, I guess, like Leahi, we have two patients, but they cannot come back now. Because otherwise, people have to go down and carry them from the plane. I think they can do that.

 

For many years now, patients have been free to leave Kalaupapa… some have saved up their State benefits and traveled the world. I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit with Clarence “Boogie” Kahili-hiwa, …and that you’ve gained some insight into why, for some patients, Kalaupapa was not always a place to dread, but, an inviting place they called “home.” For Long Story Short and PBS-Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

Why do they call you Boogie?

 

[chuckle]

 

The real story.

 

Long story short, long story short. Okay, World War II, I think I was about three years old when we come from Kalapana. And we had the old type gas masks. I don’t know if you folks ever … we had the megaphone type, see, where the canister was in the front here. And going school, even kindergarten, we still had to carry our own gas mask. But my sister them used to scare me, and then we call it boogeyman, boogeyman. And so then that’s how I got the name.

 

[chuckle]

 

My older sister gave me that name.

 

I thought you were a boogie dancer.

No.

 

You boogie down.

 

I got that name a long, long ago.

 

 

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