practitioner

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puna Dawson

 

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

 

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

 

More from Puna Dawson:

 

Hawaiʻi Is All People

 

Whatever You Need, You Have

 

A Simple Smile

 

Puna Dawson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

Puna Dawson often happened to be in the right place, at the right time, meeting remarkable people.  Was it chance, or part of a greater design?  Puna Dawson, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

With eleven children.

 

With eleven children.

 

Up to eleven at a time.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My dad; yes.

 

Your dad would …

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Big bush.

 

Bound up behind your head.

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

And who was she?

 

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

 

The Sound of Music family.

 

The Sound of Music.

 

The actual one of the kids.

 

Actual; yeah.

 

Grown up.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I see.

 

I promise you, I promise you.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wow.

 

These people were—

 

They traveled with you and worked with you.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Correct the record.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

’92; that’s a long time.

 

That’s a long time.

 

So, you were there …

 

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

 

I’m leaving anyway.

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wow.

 

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

 

Oh, that was so precious.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And in fact, he was …

 

He was the Dalai Lama.

 

Dalai Lama.

 

Yeah.

 

And he was sitting in the back of your Subaru.

 

Yes.

 

Holding your pikake plants.

 

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

 

Because you worked in a flower shop.

 

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

 

What was the Dalai Lama’s reaction to that?

 

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

 

And covered him with plants.

 

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

 

Did he make a comment about it?

 

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

 

It is pretty funny.

 

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

 

 

 



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kūhaʻo Zane

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Kūhaʻo Zane

 

Hilo designer Kūha‘o Zane is navigating his own path in both the design and Hawaiian cultural worlds. On his mother’s side, he is descended from an unbroken line of Kanaka‘ole cultural practitioners, while his father, Sig Zane, is a renowned clothing designer. Hear how he draws on his Hawaiian roots while approaching his design work with a modern vision.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 21, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Program

 

More from Kūhaʻo Zane:

 

Q and A

 

Keeping Culture Alive

 

Negative into Positive

 

Kūhaʻo Zane Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

From what I understand currently, in a heiau, there’s always a caretaker of the heiau.  And that person that is the caretaker usually is housed on the heiau. But also, that person is the one that usually receives the signals or, for lack of better words, receives the messaging. And then, that messaging is then translated to the people.  And that person, since he is the one that talks to the gods, is not technically human. So, it’s kanaka ole.

 

Kūhaʻo Zane, a member of the Kanakaole family from Hawaiʻi Island, 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.  His full name is Kuha‘oimaikalani Keli‘iaweweu Tien Chu [PHONETIC] Zane, better known as Kūhaʻo Zane.  He’s a Hilo designer whose work is emblazoned on airplanes, and used on aloha shirts and company logos.  His grandmother was hula master, Edith Kanakaole.  The Hilo arena where the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival is held is named after her.  Kūhaʻo’s mother is Nalani Kanakaole, a respected kumu hula and chanter.  And his father, Sig Zane, was inspired by Hawaiian cultural knowledge to create striking and popular aloha attire sold through his longtime Sig Zane Designs Store in Downtown Hilo.  It was clear that Kūhaʻo would be expected to follow in his family footsteps, but he says his parents didn’t push him while he was growing up.  They gave him the freedom to explore his own interests.

 

It wasn’t too crazy of a childhood.  But being born definitely to my mom Nalani, and then to my dad Sig, there was definitely some large shoes that came along with this. But they were pretty good at kind of sheltering me from that, from the pressure of it, and not necessarily putting in too much attention to it, but just trying to like, usher me right into, I guess, the career that I have today, but ushering me into something that I liked.  And it took me a little while.  School was kinda rough for me; I wasn’t really the best student at all whatsoever.

 

You grew up traveling because of hula.  So, something as Hawaiian as hula didn’t keep you here; it let you go all over the place too.

 

Yeah; yeah.  I got left behind a few times.  There was a couple Tahiti trips that I really wanted to go on, but my mom just left me home.  But no, that is true.  And it’s weird that even going to Paris at such a young age, it kinda like sparked a lot of like, artistic energies.  Like seeing the Mona Lisa, like, understanding that there’s that much regard for art at such a young age, maybe that fueled a lot of my career, I guess you could say.  Like, oh, maybe I’m interested in art, for some reason.  Or maybe I’m interested in design.  Like, why is this building designed this way.  And so, travel definitely had a part to play with it, but of course, the roof of all of that was sharing hula, or sharing our culture.

 

And who would have thought that hula would be literally a ticket out.

 

Being able to travel at a young age is so important, and such a pillar of my character now.  And I can definitely see how, even with my mom in her traveling at such a young age too, she had that same type of exposure.  So, yeah, I could see how it added to her personality.

 

Your mom does hula.  And your dad did, too.

 

Dad started dancing, too.

 

When he married your mom, he started dancing.

 

Yeah.  I think he originally moved to Hilo for college.  He always tells me the story about he went to Puhi Bay with a couple of his friends, and there was a paina or a party happening there.  And there was a halau dancing, and he was watching from, you know, in the dark, and he was like, looking under the tent, and he was watching these like, people dancing.  And he said it was like, so energetic, like raw type of energy.  And he was like: I’ve never seen this in Waikiki, like what is this?  Is this even hula?  And so, he remembers the energy of that, and he wanted to be a part of that.  And the crazy thing is, he went to stand in line for food at the party, and there was this joyous like, auntie at the poi bowl, and like, scooping the poi, and he remembers that joyous like, infectious like, personality that that auntie had.  And that ended up being Edith Kanakaole.  So, it was my mom’s mom.  And I think from there, he started to go to college, and he went to class under Edith. ‘Cause my grandma was teaching at the college at that time.  And I think it was grandmother told my dad to start dancing.  My dad’s pretty high-strung.  You know, like he’s a typical dragon, Chinese dragon.  But he’s very speeded, and he’s always trying to get things done.

 

Really productive.

 

Yeah; really productive.  He cannot sit still watching TV.  That’s like torture for him, to watch TV.  And like when I was growing up, he would be ironing, or doing something, folding clothes during TV.  I was like: Dad, can’t you just, like, chill out?  And then, my mom is like, very laid back in her demeanor, as far as her day-to-day personality.  I mean, of course, in halau, very different.

 

We know that kumu hula are dictators—

 

Yep.

 

–of the world.

 

Exactly; it’s a dictatorship.  I tell that to people all the time.  This is not a democratic scene at all.  [CHUCKLE]  And you have to do what they say, period.

 

No voting.

 

Yeah; no voting.

 

I’ve heard that your mom is a very strong woman.

 

She has a really strong will for life, I guess.

 

You know, your father shared with me a really nice thing he says about her. That she gave him this great gift, which was to say: Your words have consequences, whether they’re bad or good; so be careful what you say.

 

Yeah.

 

Because they will live on.

 

Yeah.  I believe that came from my grandpa on my mom’s side.  ‘Cause he was a man of like, very minimal words; he did not talk much at all.  But yeah, words are consequence, and that’s something that was kinda ingrained in me, too.  And honestly, like today, especially with youth today, and even with social media, that amplifies it, that you have to share so much, you have to talk so much, you have to be around.  You know, it’s almost weird to have that upbringing that, like, my mom drilled that into me, that like, word is consequence, you know. And even on a business level, like when you’re trying to market something, that you have to kinda be conscious of that.  And I think that definitely adds a different tone to how we market ourselves, or how we share with share with the world ourselves.  But yeah; that was something that my kuku used to say.

 

Hula and other Hawaiian cultural practices are at the root of Kūhaʻo Zane’s career as a designer.  The hula tradition started in his mother’s family many generations ago, and continues to be as vital now as it was then.

 

Who was in the family before Edith?  I mean, what’s the family line like?

 

So, above Edith was Kekuewa, Mary Kekuewa Kanahele. And she was the one that held the hula lineage, basically, and it got passed down to her.  But that’s my great-grandma.  She was the one that was taught in hula kapu, and so, she was taken at birth and had to live away from her family.  But from birth all the way to about nine years old, she was raised in the practices of hula.  And so, she got taught down in Puna.  And understanding too, this was the time when hula was, you know, banned and it couldn’t be practiced.

 

This was all about saving hula.

 

Yeah; saving hula at that time.  So, like, since it was banned by the missionaries at that time, they had to kinda go out into the caves, literally, to practice.

 

And without her parents.

 

Without her parents.  So, she was given away at birth.  But it’s also too, like that concept that if you’re given away at birth and you go to learn hula, that you want to elevate the status of your family for the next generation, and the next generation.  I mean, that’s basically a sacrifice to be able to give away your child, you know.  And so, if it wasn’t for that one little break, I don’t even know where we would be today.  But yeah; so Mary, she was kinda like the beginning of the hula lineage.

 

Your family tends to be matriarchal.

 

Yes; definitely.

 

Lots of strong women.

 

Yeah.

 

So, what’s it like to be a man in the family?

 

I think growing up, it was a little weird.  I was always, like, looking for, I guess a masculine type of entity to look up to.

 

M-hm.

 

And my dad was that, obviously.  But also too, I was like, looking in hula, and I’m like: Why is hula like, so feminine?  And especially like when you come to Oahu, and the movements are very feminine too. But I know that when I’m dancing our style of aihaa, I’m really tired, it’s very athletic as a hula style.  So, I was always like, looking for that masculine entity to like, look up to.  But over the years, I realized that it was up to myself and my cousins that are all male dancers, that it was up to us to embody that.  And I think that we definitely hold it down for our generation, for sure.  And I even look up to even my cousin Ulu, who’s a couple years younger than me, but to me, he’s like just one of the best dancers as far as an image of aihaa as a style. He’s stylistically one of my best dancers, in my mind.  Yeah.

 

And that’s the protected, save the hula, hula.

 

Yeah; yeah.  Our style of our bent knees, and low to the earth type of bombastic—I think that’s a term that they use all the time.

 

And did Mary bring that out?  She brought out the dance, but you interpreted it.

 

I think Mary brought that style, that bombastic style. But I think it was really with my mom guys’ generation that they elevated the choreography to what we have today.  And my mom used hula choreography, as it could stand up against any of the great, you know, disciplines, no matter if it’s ballet or modern dance.  She feels that hula choreography can stand alongside those and garner that same type of respect.  And so, I think a lot of what fuels her for her choreography is to be able to show that to the world, that it can stand up in that manner.

 

And it’s rich and deep; it’s not a simple dance.

 

And it’s also a capsule for our culture and our storylines, you know, that we have.

 

Do you know that your family used to be the guardian of the heiau?

 

Yeah; it’s weird, because you can go to multiple different heiaus all over Hawaiʻi, and you’ll find a Kanakaole there.

 

Very spiritual.

 

When you think about gods as far as like, the understanding of Hawaiian gods, you can also look at it as gods are just energy. And so, certain gods are responsible for that type of energy.  And when you look at it as environmental energies, then it’s not necessarily such a religious thing.  Then it’s more just how well are you in tune to your environment and those energies that are responsible for your environment.  And so, I think that us as Kanakaoles not necessarily just trying to just receive messaging from the gods, but really analyzing what these energies are, and the intersection of these energies over a heiau, and then how to translate that into certain messaging that we’ll be able to translate for the people.

 

There’s a burden that comes from having a huge name like Kanakaole.  You know, so your work has to be top-notch. I mean, I would imagine there’s a lot of judging, good and bad; right?

 

Oh, god; yeah.  I mean … [CHUCKLE] I get kind of told that I’m judgmental at certain points. But not in a bad way; I don’t mean in a bad way.  But like, my mom’s a Merrie Monarch judge; what am I supposed to do about it?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

She’s been a judge all my life; I understand.  But I think it’s more the proper intent to use that judging t … I mean, judging has such a bad connotation to it.

 

Well, it’s analysis.

 

Yeah, analysis; exactly.  And making sure that your judgment is of pure intent to improve. And so, if that’s there, then I think that that’s like the winning factor judging, you know.  I mean, that’s why you go to Merrie Monarch, is to um, get judged by these legends of hula, and hopefully improve your craft just a few steps at a time.

 

There’s so much intellect in hula and in dance.

 

Yeah.

 

And in music.  Do you think people appreciate that?

 

I think about that.  And same thing like, with an aloha shirt.  Sometimes we’ll be designing it, and we’re like: Oh, do you think the customer is gonna like this?  Do you think the customer is gonna understand that story?  And to me, my answer is always like: If they understand it two lifetimes from now, then you did your job.

 

Kūhaʻo Zane started experimenting with designs at a young age.  While this would eventually lead to working with his father, he had to leave Hawaiʻi to better understand the role that his cultural upbringing would play in his design work.

 

Many sons run away from being in business with their dad.

 

I tried.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh, yeah.  Or you try to get away, but it’s your destiny.

 

Yeah.

 

Well, how did it work for you?

 

He tricked me into it, probably.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Something like that.

 

He mentioned you for a long time, before you came along.

 

Yeah.  I wanted to run away multiple times.  [CHUCKLE] Especially when I was a kid.

 

Because your dad made it clear, this is what you’re gonna do; right?  Did he say that?

 

No.

 

Oh, he didn’t.

 

He never said, like: Here you go, this is your job, you gotta do it.

 

But you were expected to come along?

 

I think it was an unsaid, unspoken thing, you know, that I was expected to take this company over.  So, when I was in high school, I started designing tee-shirts, and that’s basically how this whole graphic design thing started.  His partner Punawai Rice, he kinda taught me how to do like the simple things on CorelDRAW, I think it was at the time. But I really had some thoughts in my head.  Like, I would see surf brands out there at that time, and I feel like they weren’t speaking to me specifically.  And so, I wanted to design my own tee-shirt and put my own ideas out there.  And that was like the start of this whole graphic design thing.  And then, so I wanted to open a surf shop; that was my initial thing.  And so, I did a business plan, and like, did a five-year projection, and I gave it to them.  I’m a junior at this time, or a senior at this time in high school.

 

How’d you know how to do a business plan?

 

Oh, my dad kinda like told me what it was, and I drew it together and researched it a little bit.  But it was a terrible business plan, probably.  [CHUCKLE]  But I gave it to my grandpa, my gung-gung on my dad’s side, and asked him for a loan. I think it was like ten thousand dollars, or something.  But he told me, no.  [CHUCKLE]

 

And that ended there?

 

And that ended right there.  And then, I ended up doing more graphic design, and so doing my tee-shirts, and I used to sell them in school.  So, like some people would be selling musubis in school, and I’d be over here slanging tee-shirts in school.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So, that’s kinda how the whole graphic design thing started.  And then, I ended up going to design school in L.A., Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.  And that’s where I really fell in love with design.

 

Did you feel like you found your people there, another kind of creative energy there?

 

I feel like I ran into people that spoke the same language as me.  But in that same vein, didn’t.  Because that’s when I really started to figure out special the culture that we have here, how special it is.  Because I would simply like, go up to people and tell ‘em my name, like Kūhaʻo, or something. And they would tell me that their name’s Joe.  Like, not anything against Joes or anything.  But I would tell ‘em, Kūhaʻo.  And they’d go like: Oh, what kind of name is that?  Oh, what does it mean?  I’d be like: That means rain from clear sky.  And then, they would like, start reflecting upon their own name, and like, I don’t mean to do that or anything, but then I started to really like, realize that you know, what we have in Hawaiʻi is really a treasure, and how do I translate that into design.  And so, although they spoke the same language as me design wise, I realized that I had a unique voice in the culture that I could be able to now use design to communicate.  Yeah. But that was my runaway time.  Two years in L.A. was amazing.  [CHUCKLE]

 

But did you come home right after?

 

I tried to stay up there.  I did a couple internships while I was up there, but my dad reeled me back in really quick.

 

He was ready for you.

 

He was like: You know, you gotta start working.

 

And how did you folks figure out what work you would do?

 

Well, actually, I came back, and obviously, coming back from college and coming back from design school, I thought I was the baddest designer, ever.  And I quickly got humbled to that point.  But he made me work on the floor.  So, I had to work in the shop for, I think the first two years.  And so, I didn’t even touch a mouse for like the first, like, six months that I was working for my dad.

 

He was trying to let you feel what people want?

 

I guess that’s what it was.  Like, I really got to hear the customers and see what they like and understand our customer psyche to a certain degree.  But also too, like, you gotta have an appreciation from sweeping the floors, all the way to making even like HR decisions, you know.  And that definitely built some sort of perspective for me.  But yeah; that first two years, I didn’t even design anything for Sig Zane Designs.  I was doing my own things, ‘cause he wasn’t letting me.  And I think that that definitely built some perspective, for sure.

 

How well do you get along?  Are you colleagues, or is it still, you know, very much father-son, generational?

 

Mm … okay.  So, that’s a complicated answer.  Complicated order.  We get along. We definitely have a type of chemistry when we work with each other.  But it’s just like any other family business; like, we have our times that we completely disagree.  But I think that hula plays a role into that.  So, in hula, since it’s a dictatorship, it’s almost like these split personalities that like, you have this dictatorship where you have to believe and trust in everything that your kumu says.  So, if your kumu says jump in the fire, you gotta jump in the fire, no questions asked.  And I think that that bleeds over into the business world, as well.  Amongst my team, I encourage everybody to vocalize what their perspectives is, because everybody brings a unique perspective to the table.  But at the same time, when push comes to shove, and you gotta make a call, you gotta have that complete trust, just that exact same thing that you have in your kumu, exact same thing in that trust that, if you’re a leader, you gotta make the decision, and you gotta go with it.  And so, if my dad makes a call, I may disagree with it at some point, and sometimes I’ll vocalize it, but he’s the leader; I gotta follow him.  So, I think that that’s where it kinda plays with each other, you know.

 

And that’s not just because he’s your father.  It’s because he’s … what is the reason for your saying: You’re the guy.

 

Two levels.  He’s more experienced than me; period.  You gotta respect experience; period.  But on the other level, it’s like, especially on the Hawaiian side of things, if you’re given a position, that’s your title, and you’re the one to make those decisions.  And it’s up to you to make the best decision.  If you’re a konohiki of an area, and you make the decision that a kapu is gonna be set at a certain point, then you’re the one that makes the call. If you don’t make a good call, then maybe you’ll be removed from your position.  But it’s up to you as a worker to follow through on that decision, and give it your best.  And if in hindsight that decision’s not that good, then maybe your time will come up that you’ll be able to be a leader.

 

You also do things that really, he’s not around to oversee or to be the dictator at.  I mean, you’re running a shop in Honolulu, living in Hilo.

 

I think that in his time, his energy and his characteristic had to build Sig Zane to what we have today.  And that’s why that personality type was needed or essential to have a certain type of strength, and a certain type of weakness to build what we have today.  But for me, I think that I’m most excited when a team can do it.  I don’t like to do it all by myself.  I can do it all by myself, it’s fine, but I actually am a lot more ecstatic when something is achieved when I’m not there, if the team can pull things off.  We have an event happening next Saturday that they’re doing the installation and everything. And I’m watching it on Instagram, like looking at it happening without me there, and I’m completely ecstatic about it. Like, that means that we had the right chemistry to build a team that can achieve things without you.

 

That’s right.

 

Yeah.  So, that’s the transition point between me and my dad.  Like, my dad had to build Sig Zane to this point of what we have, and then now, I’m trying build a team that can carry on Sig Zane without us.

 

When you describe yourself to people, say in the Western world, I mean, it’s so strange to reduce yourself to a profession; right?  So, how do you describe yourself?

 

[CHUCKLE]  I don’t know; it’s kinda hard to describe myself.  We did a Hawaii National Bank commercial that airs every so often, and they had me say: I am an entrepreneur.  And I’m sorry, but I fought that lady.  I was like: I don’t want to say that; no, I don’t want to.  That’s weird; why are you gonna call yourself something; it’s up to the person watching, it’s up to the spectator to give you that title, not yourself. So, in that vein, I can’t really call myself anything.  It would be awesome if I could call myself a designer or hula dancer, or practitioner. But it is really difficult to describe myself in the Western context.  And a lot of times, like, going to New York Fashion Week or something, it’s hard to put myself into one little capsule.  So, a lot of times, I just tell people I make aloha shirts.

 

It’s an interesting leap into the Western world from a Hawaiian perspective, and yet, I don’t know why it surprises me that this would be something that would be successful and robust.  But I think we really haven’t seen a lot of it.  I mean, you are who you are, and you know, there are so many skills that come from being who you are, and knowing what you do.

 

It’s one of my personal things that, like, growing up, my favorite designer wasn’t Hawaiian.  You know? No matter if it’s even Steve Jobs or something, you know, like somebody that you look up to.  So, I think that when I was growing up, Na Makua, Nelson Makua was the only graphic designer that was Hawaiian, that was getting Pele Awards, that was winning advertising.  You know, so I think that having him as somebody that I looked up to, I had to make sure that I do enough in my career, or achieve enough my career that can stand as a feather in a cap for not only myself, but Hawaiians as a race.  You know.  And I think that that’s definitely what motivates me on a day-to-day basis, is how can Hawaiʻi or Hawaiians design Hawaiʻi.  Yeah.  But no, we haven’t seen full breadth of it yet.  l think it’s still to come.

 

Kūhaʻo Zane is the creative director of his father’s Hilo-based design businesses. Kūhaʻo also is the president of the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation, a Hawaiian cultural educational organization, and he continues to dance hula with his family’s halau.  Mahalo to Kūhaʻo Zane of Keaukaha, Hilo on Hawaiʻi Island, for sharing your life stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawaiʻi 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.

 

What’s expected of you in hula?

 

Definitely when I was younger, it was large shoes to fill. And the pressure would get to me every so often, but not in a bad way.  But I mean, it’s kind of a bummer, like, dampen your mood to know that you’re expected to do so much, you know.  But at the same time, it’s like that’s what kuleana is.  It’s like, it’s a responsibility, as well as a privilege. And I think that it’s up to us, each of us as family members, to be able to convert that from that responsibility into a privilege, And respectful for those, too.  So, on a hula level, what I’m expected to do is definitely to carry on the halau.  And I’m sure that being a kumu—oh, I still cringe when I hear that.  [CHUCKLE]  But I’m sure that being a kumu is somewhere in my journey down the road.

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sabra Kauka

 

Sabra Kauka strives to honor the place Hawaiian values have in our modern world. As a cultural practitioner and teacher on Kauai, she helps sustain and perpetuate Native Hawaiian traditions by sharing her knowledge with future generations.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 21 at 4:00 pm.

 

Sabra Kauka Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My cousin had a science project, and he collected pupu, the kahuli, the land snail. And they have the most beautiful coloring. And it is said that they sing. And what really happens, though, is when they move to edge of a leaf, and the breeze is blowing, it catches in their shell and it hums, it whistles. It does make a sound; it’s a lovely sound. We didn’t know at the time that they would become endangered, and he has a collection now of several hundred shells. And he called me the other day from Maui—he lives on Maui, and he was kinda picking my brain. What should I do with this collection? And you know, we thought about Bishop Museum, but they have quite a big collection already. I said, Find a school on Maui, and continue the story there. Yeah.

 

Wow. And don’t keep them in your house, ‘cause now everybody knows he has them.

 

No. Well, now, everybody knows he has them. But they all tell a story. And I’m so glad, because I was up on the range a few years ago, and the kahuli—bless the Nature Conservancy and their project up there to shelter them, and make sure that they continue to live. They’re so beautiful in the wild. So, all of these outdoor experiences, you know, just kinda made who I am today.

 

Sabra Kauka experienced many different cultures living around the world as the daughter of an Army officer, and then the wife of an Air Force pilot. She was enjoying her career as a photojournalist in Alaska when the calling of her Native Hawaiian community brought her home. She landed on Kauai, where her knowledge and care for the environment and perpetuation of Native Hawaiian traditions have made her a respected cultural leader of the community. Sabra Kauka of Kauai, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sabra Kauka is the go-to person on Kauai for almost anything to do with Hawaiian culture. She’s a master kapa maker and kumu hula, and she’s called on as an expert in natural resource management, be it marine mammal protection, preservation of historic sites, or ethnobotany. She will even bless your home or new canoe. But Sabra Kauka was not always a Hawaiian cultural practitioner. For much of her early life, she lived away from Hawai‘i, in places with very different cultures.

 

Dad was in the Army. He was the University when World War II broke out, and so then he had to join the service, and he joined the Army and became an officer. And so, we lived all over the world. It was really a wonderful experience. I didn’t realize how unusual it was until I came home and met people who had never left Oahu.

 

Where did you live?

 

Dad’s first assignment was in Bremerhaven, Germany. And the cool thing is that I am still in touch by Facebook with the granddaughter of a woman who was our nanny there. She’s still alive; she was my mother’s age, she’s in her nineties. And after Bremerhaven, Dad was assigned to San Francisco, and we lived at Fort Mason at the end of Van Ness Avenue, and my brother and I went to school there. And then, after that, Dad was assigned to Saigon, Vietnam, and we lived there for a few years. So, a couple of years ago, I went back to Vietnam, and my guide found the old house that we lived in. It was amazing; it was still in really good shape. Following Vietnam, Dad was assigned to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and we lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a beautiful area. And then, after that, there was a reduction in force, and we moved home to Hawai‘i.

 

What was your family life like as a kid?

 

Phenomenal; really, really phenomenal. I didn’t know how great my family life was until high school years, and I’d bring friends home, and they’d say, Wow. You know, they’d look around, they’d just …

‘cause they didn’t have that kind of support. You know. So, it wasn’t really until high school or college that I realized that not everybody had the support that I did as a youngster.

 

What kind of support?

 

A safe place, a home. You know. Food, education, adventure. Because wherever we moved in the world, it was an adventure. They enjoyed traveling, my parents; they enjoyed learning, they enjoyed going to all these great different places. And they made it an adventure for us, as well. But they were also very cognizant of the community around them. My dad’s first assignment after World War II was in Germany, post-war Germany. And I think it was integral to him as a Hawaiian to feed people, and he brought people home for dinner. My mom never really always knew who was coming home for dinner. And one particular family that he invited home for dinner, they returned the next day with some of the most beautiful crystal, ever.

 

And wherever you lived, your family went outside a lot. You were outdoorsy.

 

Yeah, we did; very outdoorsy. Because when we lived in San Francisco, we went camping up in the Sierras, and that’s the first camping trip I can remember. It was really cold, but really fun, and catching trout in the stream, and cooking it over a campfire, and the trout was as big as the pan. Yeah; good fun stuff. So, ever since then, I’ve loved it. I mean, I love the outdoors; I love camping, hiking.

 

You’re comfortable with just a few things around you.

 

Very comfortable. Very few things; yeah, minimal.

 

Did your family even go hiking in Germany?

 

Oh, yeah; skiing, in fact. Tobogganing, skiing. I was still pretty young, but I can remember the skiing and tobogganing, and the snow activities in the Alps.

 

And what about back here in Hawai‘i?

 

Our recreation was either in the mountains, hiking in the mountains with my uncle Elmer Williamson, or playing at the beach, like down at Queen’s, in canoes and surfing. Mom and Dad were both University of Hawai‘i graduates in the early 30s, I guess; in the 30s. And it was always emphasized that we would get our educations, and graduate.

 

Where did you decide to go?

 

I was first at Oregon; I went to Linfield College for a couple of years. And then, I wanted to major in anthropology; they didn’t offer it there, so I came home to University of Hawai‘i here at Manoa.

 

And why anthropology?

 

It just put together everything that I was interested in. I was interested in different cultures, I was interested in different people, and I had a lot of questions.

 

And you’d had a lot of experience watching people from around the world.

 

Oh, to the max; yes.

 

So, you did graduate with a degree in anthropology?

 

I did.

 

Kauka means doctor.

 

Kauka means doctor.

 

Does that mean you come from a line of doctors?

 

I come from a line of traditional healers. And the name Kauka, though, was given to them when they lived in Waipio Valley. And I have a Chinese grandfather who very quickly learned laaulapaau, or Hawaiian medicinal herbs, and people came to him to be healed, and they called him Kauka Lau; Dr. Lau. And from then on, his sons all became called Kauka.

 

Have you gone into healing at all?

 

Just a bit. I studied with Levon Ohai for a year, and I grow the iplants that I need for some basic healing, like olena, like mamaki. And uhaloa, I know where to find it, you know. I haven’t done as much as maybe I should in that area to explore it a little more, continue it.

 

After finishing college, Saba Kauka got married, and once again, left Hawai‘i, eventually settling in Alaska to raise her family and pursue a career. She was in remote village in Alaska when she saw a newspaper article about the Hawaiian people. That changed her life.

 

I was married then, ’67, and my husband at the time was … this was during the Vietnam Era. Then the Vietnam War came along, he also had to join the service, so he went into the Air Force and became a pilot. And we lived in various places, upper North America over these years, eventually ending up in Alaska, for fourteen years.

 

You were raising two children.

 

Yes.

 

You also became a photojournalist along the way.

 

I did, because I was looking for a way that I could make a living as an Air Force wife, because you move every couple of years, and still be able to stay at home, take care of my children, too. And I had a friend who was editing a magazine. She said, Can you do a story on something? I said, Sure. So, I started writing, started publishing. And every time I wrote and published, they’d want photographs to go with it, so then, I’d start providing the photographs. And then, very quickly learned that one photograph can bring in a lot more money that maybe a story can, even though the story takes time, takes effort, takes refinement, takes skill. They both do; both fields.

 

That was a good call; but it’s not what you do now, at all.

 

No; no, it isn’t. But what happened was, in 1983, there was a Native Hawaiian Studies Commission report that was published. It came out in Associated Press around the world. But in Alaska, there was a fantastic AP writer called Ward Sims, and Ward expanded on this report. And it came out on the front page of a native newspaper. And I was working in the bush at the time; I was working lower Kuskokwim River Delta, photographing the salmon processing ship. And there were Japanese on the ship who totally pre-purchased all of the salmon roe, and they treated it like gold, because it was worth quite a bit of money. But as I’m sitting there on the dock of a little native store reading this story about Hawai‘i, about the poor condition of Native Hawaiians in Hawai‘i, I said, What happened to everybody? What do you mean? And so, it talked about the high rate of high school dropouts, teenage pregnancies, diabetes and cancer, high blood pressure, all of these things. And I went, Oh, yeah, that’s right, isn’t it? Not all of my cousins had the opportunity or the support to continue on to college, like I was, quote, required to do, expected to do, supported to do. And oh, that’s right, my grandmother had diabetes, you know. So then, I began to turn around and look very closely at things that were happening in Hawai‘i. And it just goes to show the power of a written or a spoken word, the power of words. Because that was a turning point for me, is reading that article and beginning to inquire, What happened in Hawai‘i? Because it’s hard to believe now, but in the 60s, I don’t feel that we were really taught the true facts of history, of what happened here in the islands. And when I began to ask questions about it, my mother would, you know, send me books and things.

 

Was she one of the old-timers who wouldn’t give up secrets, they wouldn’t tell you, they wouldn’t explain?

 

Definitely, my grandmother was one of those. Whenever she had things that she didn’t really want us to hear when she was talking to her sisters or her family, it was in Hawaiian. And you know, we’d catch a few words here and there, but not the deep meanings of them. And in Mom and Dad’s time too, they were products of the 20s, 30s, 40s, it wasn’t talked about as much. Even though we visited Iolani Palace; Iolani Palace in the 60s was some office building. There desks and file cabinets, and offices in there. It’s not the beautiful place that’s respected today.

 

It’s true; it took the Hawaiian resurgence.

 

It did; it did.

 

The renaissance to bring to light the details of history, when and what.

 

It did; it did. And that renaissance, and you know, the beginning of Hokulea, and all of that stuff. I have classmates, you know, quite involved with all of this. And I had to ask myself, and my friends were asking me, What are you doing in Alaska? I said, Well, I’m raising my family.

 

Had you planned on staying in Alaska indefinitely?

 

I was in Alaska for fourteen years. I was in Fairbanks for elevens years, and Anchorage for three.

 

And were you happy there?

 

Very happy. Great job, working for the statewide system of University of Alaska, and freelancing quite a bit on top of that. And I took some post-graduate classes there in journalism, had some awesome, awesome professors who encouraged me and believed in me.

 

So, you didn’t feel a call at that time to go back.

 

No; not necessarily. Not until I read that article in AP. You know. And then, I started pitching ideas to magazines here. Well, national magazines, of ideas that I could do in Hawai‘i. And Hawaiian Airlines; I asked Hawaiian Airlines, Hey, can I come home and do the story on something on Molokai? They said, You’re in Alaska; please do a story for us up there. So, I pulled out those three interviews that I had in my files, and wrote about the kupuna there who are related to people from Hawai‘i from, you know, over a hundred years ago. And so, I started pitching more and more. Those were the days that you’d write a query letter, and put it in an envelope and send it off or at the most fax, because we didn’t have email.

 

M-hm.

 

And darn if, you know, you didn’t get phone calls back or, We like that idea, go for it, here’s X-amount of time, X-amount of money. I liked that stuff.

That was fun. You know.

 

You’re in Alaska.

 

Right.

 

And you’re concerned about what’s happening.

 

Oh, yeah. Every time I came home, my friends here would ask me, you know, What are you doing up there, besides making money and raising your family, and this kinda thing? They said, We need your help at home. I said, Lawdy me, what can I do? I mean, good grief. But my focus and my interest returned here to Hawai‘i. And eventually, I moved here.

 

When did you move back?

 

Oh, it was after ’87, ’88; in that area, in that time zone. Yeah.

 

When Sabra Kauka moved back to Hawai‘i, she didn’t have a specific career plan in mind. She took one step at a time, trusting that the right path would reveal itself to her when she was ready.

 

I had an assignment from a national magazine to do a story on Kauai. And that was one of my transitions. So, it enabled, supported part of my transition home, and I chose to return to Kauai on my return home to the islands.

 

Did you know anyone, have a job there?

 

I had some friends there. Really, it was the beauty of Kauai that I said, This is where I want to live, this is where I want to make my contribution, for the rest of my days.

 

But you didn’t make a living the same way. I mean, so many things changed.

 

Yeah. I didn’t want to leave Hawai‘i anymore. And what I found in Hawai‘i in the 80s was that it was almost like there was somebody with a camera behind every coconut tree. So, the day rates and the pay that I had been getting in Alaska, or from national, it just wasn’t the same here in Hawai‘i. And then, I realized that I didn’t want to do commercial work; I didn’t want to do weddings, I didn’t want to do portraits and studio. Even though I appreciate that, I admire good work, I wanted to continue to learn and to, you know, share stories. And you know, you reach a stage in your life where you ask yourself, What are you gonna do? You know, you’re in your thirties or like forties, whatever, in there. iWhat are gonna do with the rest of your life? Where are you gonna put your energies? You know. Can you make a difference, and if so, how, when, where, how, why? You know. And so, I returned home to the islands, and I freelanced for a couple of years. I had some fun projects that I worked on. But then, I was very, very honored and very lucky to be appointed as the first public information officer for Mayor Joanne Yukimura, her first term in office. And through that job, I learned quite a bit about the community, I learned lot about protocol, what to say, what not to say, when to say it.

 

And you got connected all over the island of Kauai.

 

Very much; yeah. When I was working in the Mayor’s office, there was a band of merry music makers that came through during Christmas; they were Christmas caroling. And they were mostly Hawaiian, and they were having fun, and I said, Well, who are you people? Well, we teach Hawaiian studies in the schools. I said, Oh, do you, now? Tell me about that. And there was a woman who worked for them, Wilma Place who started to come by my desk once a week, for weeks, and she’d drop off something for me to read, or she’d tell me about something interesting. And I said, Oh, this is cool stuff. So, she said, Well, when you’re finished working here, maybe you want to come work for us. I said, Yeah, let me think about that. And sure enough, you know, the day after I left the Mayor’s office, I went to work in Hawaiian Studies.

 

Why did you leave the Mayor’s office?

 

Because my heart was leading me over there to Hawaiian Studies.

 

And you had a Hawaiian upbringing in many ways, but were you trained to be a Hawaiian educator at that point?

 

No; no. As a matter of fact, my mother was a teacher, and as a child, I thought, No way, I’m not gonna do that. Lookit, she’s always got papers to correct. She had a long dining table, you know, and there were always projects on that table. And I said, No way; I’m not gonna do that, that’s too much paperwork. And she’s working all the time, you know. But it turned around, and I found my calling as a Hawaiian Studies kumu, teacher. I was offered a job at Island School, I think in ’95, after the hurricane, to teach Hawaiian Studies, kindergarten through fifth grade. And uh, it’s a great schedule, because I teach there every other day. And on my even days, then I go and support Department of Education, the public schools, and I have a great job of coordinating the Hawaiian Studies Cultural Personnel Resources, they’re called. They’re known as kupuna and kumu in the schools all around the island, from Hanalei to Kekaha.

 

Did you go to school?

 

No; it’s all been on-the-job training. I mean, I picked up classes here and there. Like, I took evening classes in olelo Hawai‘i, in the language. So, at this stage of my life, it’s also my objective to pass it on. You know, to share with the next generation, as well.

 

You’re known for many things; your lauhala weaving.

 

Oh, I love lauhala.

 

Kapa.

 

I love kapa.

 

Which is just …

 

I love kapa.

 

I mean, you beat the kapa, but it beats you up too; right?

 

Really does; it really does. So, that’s why when I have a project now, I open it up to anyone who wants to learn.

 

So, Sabra Kauka, who at the time of this conversation in 2016 doubles as a Hawaiian studies teacher at Kauai’s private Island School in Lihue, and as a public school coordinator of Hawaiian cultural personnel, found her passion and her livelihood in sharing the Hawaiian culture. With her students, she embraces the Hawaiian value of observing silently first; not the Western style of students piping up with questions as they occur.

 

As part of my lesson, I always begin with an oli. And there are so many to learn. And then, they go to looking, actually, the lesson itself, what the basis of it is. But at the end of it, I do observations. And my classroom is adjacent to a reservoir, and in that reservoir, we have alae ula, which is endangered; alaekeokeo, the ones with white head; I have aukuu, the heron that come in.

 

Those are beautiful.

 

And there’s fish in there. I mean, you know, it’s tilapia; it’s not a native fish, and there’s bass in there. But they observe, and I have them record what they observed. And they point out butterflies, dragonflies, birds. We have kolea that come on our campus. So, our campus, we have two or three, four, endangered species that lay their eggs there, nest there. I was always a curious kid, and always observant, and always asking questions; sometimes too much, as a child. ‘Cause in a Hawaiian home, you’re kinda raised to not be niele, not be too inquisitive, not just ask what, what, why, why, why everything. So, it took me many years to kinda curb that.

 

Why is that, anyway?

 

It’s polite; it’s not being nosy. Don’t ask people too many questions. Oh; oh, my god. Okay. When I first came home, I was in a halau with Roselle Kaniihonipua Lindsey Bailey; right? So, I’m getting this new chant that we’re learning, and I’m asking all these questions. And the answer came back … don’t ask too many questions, the knowledge will be clear to you when you are ready for it. I went, oh, man, this reminds me of my childhood, you know. But she was right, and if you just keep quiet and observe … in other words, observe, listen.

 

But that was very different from how you were trained in the other areas where you lived and traveled.

 

Oh, golly. Oh, yeah. I mean, you know, that’s Western world. Western side, and then Hawaiian side. Yeah. It was like, yeah, be inquisitive, ask your questions, da-da-da-da-da.

 

Be proactive; right?

 

Be proactive. But this Hawaiian side which is, observe, listen, the answer will come.

 

The knowledge will come to you.

 

The knowledge will come to you when you’re ready to understand it.

 

How do you teach? Is that how you feel, too?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

You do? You switched?

 

No; no, no, no, no, no. Yeah, there are different times in the lesson and different times in the class, there’s different techniques. You know. I’m like, Save your questions for the end, or Save your comments, I’ll give you time. Yeah. Yeah.

 

You’re a person of tradition, and then you’re completely open to new ways that don’t conflict with your values.

 

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I think you have to be. You have to maintain some flexibility, or you’re gonna break. You know, someone years ago told me, You gotta do what brings you joy. You know, whether you get paid or not, do what you love. And so, when I have high school seniors or whatever come to me, and you know, need a letter of recommendation for college, or need advice on their senior projects, that’s what I tell ‘em, that’s what I tell my grandsons. Find out what it is that you love, and follow that path. I certainly have.

 

Mahalo a nui loa to Sabra Kauka of Kauai for sharing your stories of keeping Hawaiian culture alive through traditional practices, and inspiring the next generation on Kauai to find their own passions. And big mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, 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.

 

I did a lesson recently on ha, on the breath of life. And I asked the children to tell me what words they knew that have the letters H, A in them. And they were good; they were pretty good. They said, Oh, aloha, mahalo, Hanalei. You know. And then, I had them hold their hands to their mouth like this, and exhale. What does that feel like? Oh, it’s warm, it’s moist. I said, That is your ha. Then we continued, and I said, Where does it come from? The air, oxygen. I said, Where does that come from? Oh, the trees, the plants. So, they’re making these connections. And then, I had them blow bubbles, ‘cause they could see it. And it was just a fun lesson; it was a quick and fun lesson. But I think it’s important that our children know that they have a place here in Hawai‘i, that they have a purpose here in Hawai‘i. And it is my hope that the children that I teach grow up to appreciate the beauty that we have here, the unique communities that we have, the unique cultures, and that they want to come home and take care of the place.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Keone Nunes

 

How deep is a tattoo‌? Does the ink only go skin deep‌? Practitioner Keone Nunes seeks to learn more about his subjects before settling on a design and putting ink to skin. He looks to their genealogy, their personal story, their vision, before deciding on a design that he deems appropriate to the individual. For practitioner Keone Nunes, a tattoo is more than skin-deep; it’s a representation of who that person is.

 

Keone Nunes Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, there’s a lot of lore that has been built up around you.

 

Really? [CHUCKLE]

 

You were the first to do this that I’m aware of. And people wanted you to do their tattoo, and this is what I’ve heard, that they wanted you to do a certain design, and you’d say … No.

 

Yeah; that’s true. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why?

 

Primarily, it is because I’m not a tattooist, I’m a practitioner. And … as a practitioner, I have certain responsibilities. And if I know that design is not appropriate for you, I’m not gonna do it, because it’s my responsibility to give you something that is appropriate.

 

Keone Nunes of Waianae, Oahu, has made hundreds of tattoos on Native Hawaiians and non – Hawaiians. Yet, as he says, he is not a tattooist. His cultural practices didn’t initially include tattooing, but his life journey took him in that direction. His dedication to the practice has made him instrumental in reviving this Hawaiian art form that was nearly lost. Keone Nunes, 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. Since the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, Native Hawaiians have revived many of the traditions that had been nearly lost when Christian missionaries banned Hawaiian cultural practices. Tattooing is one of the customs that has been revitalized, and many Native Hawaiians today proudly display their cultural identity through their tattoos. Keone Nunes is a well – known Native Hawaiian tattooist not only in Hawaii, but through Polynesia, and even in Europe where tattoos are also popular. He was raised in Waianae on Oahu, but that isn’t where his story begins.

 

I actually was born in Japan. I was born in Morioka, Hirata – ken, Japan. My father was in the civil service; he was actually stationed in Japan at that time. And my mom was from Morioka, and so, I was born there. And I came to Hawaii when I was two and a half years old.

 

Who was the Hawaii connection; your father?

 

My father is Hawaiian, Portuguese. And the interesting thing was that before, there was this term that really meant something, and it still continues. It’s FOB, fresh off the boat. I actually was fresh off the boat. [CHUCKLE] We came over on a boat, and I remember that journey. I went back to Japan in 1980; the early 80s. And I was very surprised at how much I remembered, even though I was like two and a half. My mom took me over to her friend’s house, and I looked at her, and I immediately knew who she was. So my mom asked me, Do you know who this is? And I said, Yeah. And the woman was very, very surprised. She says, No, I don’t think you know who I am. And I said, No, I remember you. She said, Well, you used to do one thing, and can you tell me what it was? I said, Yeah, sure. I used to chase you with a bamboo snaking saying, Hebi, hebi, hebi. Hebi is Japanese for snake. And you used to run away. [CHUCKLE] And she was very surprised, but I remember that.

 

Is that your earliest memory?

 

Yeah, pretty much. I remember taking a lot of joy in doing that. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] ‘Cause she ran; right?

 

Yeah; she ran. [CHUCKLE] Yeah.

 

So, when you got off the boat, you moved to Waianae.

 

Yes; our family land was in Waianae.

 

Your last name is Portuguese, but you don’t identify as Portuguese, I know.

 

No; I was never really taught Portuguese things. It’s kind of sad in a sense, but I don’t know that much. My grandfather kinda identified more with being Hawaiian; he spoke Hawaiian and he was very dark. My father also is very dark, and unfortunately, my father and mother split up in the early 60s. And so, I never was raised with my father. My grandfather died shortly after; I was about seven years old, I guess, when he passed away. And so, his identification was more along the lines of being Hawaiian. He was a paniolo in the west side, in the Waianae side, and so I remember him making saddles and seeing the saddles, and things like that.

 

And you were close to your grandfather?

 

Yeah; I was very close to him. And I remember him rolling cigarettes [CHUCKLE], and how quickly he did that.

 

With one hand?

 

With one hand. Yeah. [CHUCKLE] And I remember that kind of stuff. And he actually spoke to me in Hawaiian. So, I didn’t really have a real good comprehension of English until I was in the first grade. Because my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Onzuka, gave me instructions in Japanese.

 

Why?

 

Because I couldn’t speak English.

 

Oh, so you spoke Japanese in the home, and then your grandfather …

 

Yeah; Japanese, and pretty much Japanese, Hawaiian, with a little bit of English smattered in. But my English was not as prevalent.

 

Did your mom speak English, though?

 

She did.

 

Along the way.

 

She did. And in fact, after I started learning, she kind of felt bad, because she thought that I was having a hard time during first grade, and she felt that it was her fault because she was speaking to me in Japanese. And so, she spoke to me more and more in English.

 

After your father left, and your grandfather passed away, did you have other father figures in your life?

 

I did. And it was kind of interesting, because throughout elementary, it never really bothered me, because I was surrounded by a community that was very, very caring. When you mention Waianae, you don’t think of a caring community, but it really, really was. And it still is, to a large extent. And our neighbors would watch out for us, and all of that. And when I was growing up, if we were coming home from the beach, oftentimes, neighbors would see us walking up; they would tell us, Come over and eat. And we would do that; me and my brother would go over there, and we would eat dinner and stuff. They would call my mom up and say, Don’t worry about your boys, they’re over here, and all of that. And so, that actually was a reality for us. And so, I never felt that I was lacking anything.

 

You just felt embraced by a community.

 

Exactly. And when I went into intermediate school — I went to Waianae Elementary, Intermediate, and Waianae High School. And when I went to intermediate school, there was one teacher that took a liking to me, Mr. Ben Lapalio. And he really kind of mentored a lot of young Hawaiian boys.

 

I’ve heard his name before.

 

Really?

 

He’s had a wide influence, I think.

 

Yeah; he was great. That’s how I started knowing what the responsibilities were expected from me. And so, that’s the first foundation that I had.

 

As a student, as a boy, as a man?

 

Yeah; as student. He instilled that to us. And he instilled the importance of education. And so, that was really, really important to me. Then, when I went to high school, I had another really strong male influence by the name of Kona Smith. And he passed away several years ago. But he was another one that instilled pride in who you were, and things of that nature. And he kind of got me started dancing hula and such. There were other influences in high school, too. I think the educational influences was basically from Kona Smith and also from Mrs. Korenaga. She was my counselor, and she influenced me a lot, and she wanted me to go to college, whereas other counselors felt that it would be best if I went into the military or something like that.

 

Because?

 

Probably because I came from a single parent family and other issues.

 

They thought that was your best shot.

 

Yeah. I don’t really fault them for that type of thought, but I think that if a person shows interest in bettering themselves, then you be as supportive as you can. And Mrs. Korenaga was; yeah.

 

Keone Nunes graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His career path went in a direction that he was not expecting.

 

I majored in anthropology, and I had a certification in Hawaiian language. I taught Hawaiian language at Hilo Community College for a while. Then after I came back, I worked for the Bishop Museum, then Kamehameha Schools. And also, a year with Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I landed at Kamehameha Schools, and I was working for a program that did a lot of outreach to Hawaiian communities. And so, it was really an opportunity for me to give back to the community. And I always wanted to do that, so I took that opportunity. And it was there that I really got a little bit more focused. It offered me the opportunity to give a presentation where we had some national facilitators from Washington, D.C. who was in the audience. And they approached me afterwards, and asked if I would be willing to facilitate on a national level. And I told them, Sure.

 

Were you surprised?

 

I was very surprised; yeah.

 

Did you know you were good at what you did? Because obviously, that’s why they asked you; right?

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah. I didn’t know that I was good. I think that there’s a lot of local people that have good facilitation skills, but they don’t know about it until somebody tells them.

 

What do you have to have to be a good facilitator?

 

You have to have the ability to listen. You have to have the ability to think on your feet, and you have to have the ability to put things in ways that will not offend anyone else. And so, as far as that’s concerned, that’s the path that was opened up to me, and I chose that path.

 

How did you develop that style?

 

I don’t know; I really don’t know. I can’t really say. A lot of it is from talking story with a lot of the older people. Because when I graduated from high school, that was one of my passions. When everybody else was going out to nightclubs and such, I was talking to elders, a lot. Auntie Muriel Lupenui was a tremendous influence to me. That’s Darrell Lupenui’s mother, and I danced for Waimapuna. And so, she was a very, very strong influence for me. Auntie Emma Defries and I had a lot of good conversations. Papa Kalahikiola Nalielua was another. Uncle Herman and Auntie Frieda Gomes really, really took me under their wings and taught me how to do musical implements, and things of that nature. And so, I had a lot of different influences. I think part of the facilitation skills that I picked up was through them. And I definitely know a lot of the cultural things that I know was definitely through all of them.

 

And so, you got noticed by national people, and trained by them?

 

Yes. I went for training in 1990, and I was working freelance with them until 2006. Yeah; about there.

 

And then?

 

I started working with ACO Incorporated, and they’re the largest Native American corporation. They needed someone in Hawaii to work the Pacific region, and so they asked me to do it. And they kind of mentored me and encouraged me to have my own company. And so, I opened up my own company, and that’s what we do now.

 

Was that a passion for you, the facilitation?

 

Yes. Facilitation has always been a passion, I guess because I could see the good things that would come out of it. As far as my cultural work is concerned, I can only reach out to a finite group of people; whereas if I do something like facilitate a meeting that’s, say, for a nonprofit organization, that network really, really spreads out.

 

Keone Nunes’ ability to work with organizations to help them understand their common objectives and achieve their goals is a skill that came naturally to him, not only because he was a good listener, but because the kupuna had also taught him how to resolve conflict without taking sides. Yet, he is better known in Hawaii and the Pacific for doing something else that stirs his passion.

 

You’re running a business, and you do all these other cultural things. Are you the kumu of your halau?

 

Yes.

 

And you do what else?

 

A lot of people know me for tattooing. [CHUCKLE]

 

Because of all the Keone Nunes tattoos I see around town, you must be busy.

 

Yeah, I’m pretty busy.

 

But you only do it …

 

On weekends.

 

— in your off hours.

 

Yes; for the most part.

 

Non – hula, non – facilitation, and non – grant – writing.

 

Right; right. And so, I hardly have days off. And sometimes when I have one day out of the week off, I cherish it. [CHUCKLE] But it’s important work, I was really, really fortunate to have strong influences along those lines. I learned a lot from a lot of these kupuna, many of which I mentioned before. People like Auntie Muriel Lupenui knew quite a bit. And Papa Kalahikiola Nalielua; he knew quite a lot also. As well as Emma Defries and Auntie Martha Lum Ho, Johnny Lum Ho’s mother; she remembered family members that had traditional tattoos and all of that.

 

So, when you were just talking story with these elders because you enjoyed it, you were actually learning something that was to be a game – changer for you, and also for many people who are looking for tattoos that spoke to their family and their genealogy.

 

Exactly. At that time, I never recognized the importance of what they were

 

saying. I never thought that I’d be a tattooist. It’s not something that I would have chosen. And it was really interesting, because these people would talk about it, but not force it upon me, but just give me enough, just enough palu, enough bait for me to ask more questions. It was really, really important.

 

Do you think they were trying to pass that on to you?

 

In retrospect, yeah; definitely. And because I know with several of them, they never passed it on to their blood relatives. Although, I was related to Auntie Muriel Lupenui, the others didn’t really pass that much of that information on to their blood relatives.

 

That’s so interesting, because many kupuna have passed on without passing on their knowledge, because I think they perceived that no one was interested in taking it forward. But you’re saying, that’s not what you were planning, either. But you must have shown interest.

 

I think part of it was that I was willing to sit down and listen, and I would ask some questions afterwards. I think a lot of kupuna, and I can kind of understand that now as I’m getting older; a lot of the kupuna didn’t want to just give the information out to everyone. They wanted to give their information out to someone that they felt would appreciate what was being told to them. And I did appreciate things. I didn’t have full comprehension of it, but I did appreciate every second that I sat on the foot of all of these kupuna.

 

When they spoke of tattooing, did you get into the details? Like, what kind of bone did you use for your tool, and all of that?

 

I got more into the design element. Auntie Muriel knew about the tools, and she talked to me a little bit about that, and also the making of ink and all of that. So, I knew those type of things from one source, and that’s my one source for that. But everybody else knew about the patterns, the meanings, what families was connected to, and all of that kind of stuff.

 

Did you sit down and look at patterns with them?

 

Yeah. They actually drew some patterns for me, and all of that.

 

Did you keep any of the drawings?

 

Yeah; I have them. It was quite exciting. And I never realized, though, how close we were to losing that. Because at that time, I thought it was common knowledge. I thought people in all families were having discussions like I was. And it wasn’t until much, much later that I realized that that was not the case. And so, it’s important to understand these things, especially when you’re going through it, because I think if I had not recognized that, then you know, I might be doing something else. [CHUCKLE]

 

But you saw it was a need.

 

Yeah.

And it would be lost.

Yeah.

You eventually did.

 

I eventually did, and that came about in 1989 when I got my first tattoo. I was looking for about eight years for someone to do work on me. Auntie Muriel gave me a pattern that she said would be appropriate for me.

 

Appropriate is a vague word for me. What does that mean?

 

Sometimes, some people will give me a design and say, Oh, well, this is a family design, and all of that. Then I look at it, and I recognize that it’s borrowed pattern from other cultures. We never had curvilinear designs, with the exception of round and half – round designs. If I wouldn’t want someone walking around with patterns that belong to my family, then what makes it right for me to appropriate patterns from another culture, that may belong to someone else’s family?

 

I guess it goes to what one’s reason is for having a tattoo; right?

 

Exactly.

 

I think you think of it as identification.

 

Yes.

 

And other people may just want a cool design.

 

Yeah. And that’s fine. If you want a cool design, that’s great. But there’s hundreds, thousands of other tattooists out there that would probably be better than me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Does that mean if somebody who is not Hawaiian comes to you, you won’t do their tattoo? You won’t give them a tattoo?

 

If they’re a good person, it doesn’t matter to me. Because they have to defend, and they have to defend who we are as Hawaiian. And so, I think it’s a good thing. It was done traditionally; it wasn’t just Hawaiians. There are noa designs, there are designs that do not belong to anyone, or that signify certain aspects in life. And with those noa designs, just about anyone could wear them.

 

Did everyone have tattoos in the ancient Hawaiian culture?

 

Not everyone. I think to one extent, a lot of people did. But all of the intricate extensive tattoos were primarily for the people of the upper echelons. Because they could afford to have it done, one, and they were people that didn’t need to go out to the loi, they didn’t need to go out to the taro fields, they didn’t need to do any of that kind of stuff, so they could heal properly. So, I think that that’s important to understand, is that the people of higher status oftentimes had more tattoos. One of the things that is unique being someone putting on uhi, putting on tattoos on someone else is that that was the only class of people that could spill the blood of alii without being killed. And it was us that controlled the protocols. And a lot of people don’t understand that, because we had to control the protocols. The protocols were important for us; we could not adhere to other people’s protocols because it might not be congruent to what we needed to do. So, we set the tone. And a lot of people don’t realize that.

 

And what’s the tone?

 

The tone is, we determine who comes, who goes, where it’s done. and even to an extent the designs. I mean, at this point in time, if you were to come and watch me tattoo, I would make several lines, some hash marks on a person, and not draw any of the design on, because that’s all in my mind. And the people who are getting it do not know until it’s done what it’s gonna be. For a lot of people, they have a hard time with that.

 

‘Cause it’s forever.

 

Yeah; it’s forever. But for other people, they trust me enough to put something on them that would be aesthetically pleasing, as well as significant. And that’s how it was traditionally. And so, in that regards, it’s moving back towards how it was before.

 

The Hawaiian kupuna passed on their knowledge of tattoo patterns and designs to Keone Nunes, but no one was left who could help him with making traditional tools. He would have to find the knowledge elsewhere if he was going to truly revive this ancient art of Hawaiian tattoo making.

 

The person that taught me how to do traditional tattoos was Paulo Suluape. Amazing tattooist.

 

That’s a Samoan name.

 

Yes; he is Samoan. You see, we had not had anybody that had tapped in Hawaii, from what I know, since the 1920s.

 

It’s like Hokulea folks.

 

Right; exactly.

 

Nainoa going to a Micronesian.

 

Yeah; exactly. And I never, ever, ever expected to learn. I mean, because when I first started on this path, I made tools and I tried, and it was so difficult. And so, I realized I couldn’t do it. So, that’s why I turned to machine. And in 1996, I went to Samoa, and I saw his brother Tele Suluape tattoo. But I knew that they would not teach someone outside the family, so I never even asked. But in that same year, this gentleman by the name of Henk Schiffmacher, Hanky Panky, who is from Holland, he was running through Hawaii, and he videotaped me explaining some of the tattoos, and videotaped me working. And he told me that he was gonna visit Paulo. And I said, Oh, I met Petelo. He said, Well, Paulo is his older brother. And I said, Oh, okay. So, he went over there, and he showed Paulo the footage that he took while in Hawaii. Paulo got excited, and called me.

 

That’s cross – cultural Polynesian right there.

 

Yeah; exactly. He got excited, because his vision was that he wanted to teach someone from each of the island groups in Polynesia. Because it was our right to do, it was our culture. It was who we were, and who we are now.

 

That’s interesting; but he couldn’t put out an all – points alert, ‘cause it has to be the right person.

 

Exactly. And so, he called me, and we spoke on the phone, then he invited me to take a trip with him to Samoa. And I did. And on that trip, he taught me how to make tools. The first tool he took, and he put it in his rack. And he said, Oh, this is really good. And he said, Okay, make another. So, I made another. And he looked at it, and he said, This is good. He said, There’s only one thing missing. And I said, What? I was excited to get some criticism. And he said, The only thing missing is that you don’t know how to use it; would you mind if I taught you? And there was no question; that’s when I first became his student.

 

Do you believe you’re the first to start doing the cultural tapping for tattooing?

 

As far as I know, yeah, I’ve been the first one that has done that. I started in 1996 as far as using traditional tools. At that time, I was still learning, and so I had the traditional tools as well as using machine. And I think in 1998, my teacher Paulo came to Hawaii and saw what I was doing, and he gave me a set of tools. He encouraged me to start using it more. Since 2000, that’s all I’ve been using.

 

There are hundreds of people who wear the traditional designs that you gave them now, and other people have come up inspired by you and now, I think you probably trained them. Did you train all of them?

 

Yeah; there’s a couple other people tapping, and I did the initial training. I have not yet graduated anyone, but I have students. And so, my whole vision is to be able to pass this on. Because it’s way too important for us as a culture, for it to be lost. And so, it’s gonna be passed on. I’m very confident in that. But even with that, we’re not strongly established; still handful of people. Sometimes that’s concerning for me, and other times I think, Well, you know what, that’s how it should be.

 

The kupuna passed on their knowledge to Keone Nunes, and now he’s sharing it with the next generation, helping to assure that this Native Hawaiian cultural practice of tattooing will never be lost. Mahalo to Keone Nunes of Waianae for sharing his 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.

 

What part hurts the most? That’s what I want to know.

 

For everybody, it’s different. For some people, it’s a walk in the park for the whole thing. For others, it’s a struggle. So, everyone has different sensations, so I really can’t answer that. It depends on you.

 

I’ve heard people talk mostly about their ankle. That hurts over there.

 

Any place that’s right by bone will be a little bit more sensitive.

 

So, the knee, too?

 

The knee; the knee hurts a little bit. But for some people, the knee doesn’t hurt at all, and the ankle doesn’t hurt at all. So, it really is different for everyone.

 

Have you had people who say, ‘Nough already, I can’t finish?

 

That happened only once, and that was about ten years ago.