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, Sept. 22, 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.

 

 

 



SKINDIGENOUS
Samoa – Peter Suluaʻpe

 

Western Samoa is one of the few places on the planet where traditional tattooing continued unimpeded through the colonial era. Sua Peter Suluaʻpe is a contemporary master of the craft. With his father and brothers, he works out of a cultural village in the heart of Apia, the Samoan capital. The Suluaʻpes are one of only two Samoan families who are authorized by tradition to create tattoos in accordance with ancient custom. Embracing their role, they carry on a sacred practice whose origins lie in legend, and which continues to shape the character of Samoa today.

 

SKINDIGENOUS - Samoa: Peter Suluʻape

 

 

 

SKINDIGENOUS
Toronto – Jay Soule

 

Jay Soule is a multidisciplinary artist known as “Chippewar” in the Indigenous community. His internationally-recognized work expresses much of the angst of today’s Indigenous population in Canada. Adopted at five years of age, Jay was taken from his birth mother and grew up outside his home community. He is considered part of the “Sixties Scoop,” a period in which Indigenous children were removed from their families and assimilated into non-Indigenous households. As a teenager, Jay left his home and opted for a life on the street. For a few years, he lived among the street kids of Toronto, eventually finding refuge in one of the city’s Indigenous shelters.

 

 

 

SKINDIGENOUS
Prince Ruppert – Nakkita Trimble

 

Nakkita Trimble is the only tattoo artist from the Nisga’a Nation. Along with elders from her community, she hopes to revive the traditional process of tattooing known as gihlee’e. Ts’iksna’aḵs—the tattoos—were usually composed of crests, known as ayukws, and of adaawaḵs, which are stories, legends and history. She plans to teach someone else the art of the Nisga’a tattoing so that more people can reconnect with this ancient practice.

 

 

 

SKINDIGENOUS
Mexico – Samuel Olman

 

The ancient city of Palenque was once a hub of Mayan civilization. For centuries after its decline, it lay hidden under layers of tropical vegetation, until modern archaeologists peeled back the jungle to reveal it to the world in the last century. Today, Palenque is both an cultural centre and a sacred site. It was here that Indigenous artist Samuel Olman chose to set up his traditional Mayan tattoo practice. Living in the heart of the jungle near the ancient ruins, Samuel heads up the Olman Project, which aims to revive the art, knowledge and wisdom of Mesoamerican tattooing, while adapting it to the modern world.

 

 

 

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, Aug. 18, 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]

 

 

 

SKINDIGENOUS
New Zealand – Gordon Toi

 

In the twentieth century, the Maori of New Zealand all but lost their tattooing tradition. Only the women who continued to sport the traditional chin design ensured that the art did not disappear completely. Today, a tattoo renaissance is underway, and artist Gordon Toi plays a key role in the process. Using modern machines to weave ancient patterns reflecting the powers of the natural world, Gordon has made it his life’s quest to ensure that the art of ta moko can continue to flourish in the twenty-first century and beyond. His studio House of Natives is more than a tattoo shop—it is a cultural institution and a place where one feels the presence of the sacred.

 

 

 

SKINDIGENOUS
Alaska – Marjorie Tahbone

 

Marjorie Tahbone, an Alaskan artist of Inupiaq heritage, was first among the living women of her family to get her traditional chin tattoo. Because no one was practicing the tattooing art at the time, she had to get her markings from a non-Indigenous artist in Fairbanks. Significant as the experience was, it ignited in Marjorie a desire to revive the practice for her community. Following this desire, she took up the tools and the old methods and became a full-fledged traditional tattooist working in the Inupiaq tradition. Thanks to Marjorie and other culture bearers across the North, the tradition of inking women’s skin to mark major life events and to symbolize spiritual beliefs is once again a part of Indigenous life in the region.

 

 

 

SKINDIGENOUS
Seattle – Nahaan

 

Seattle-born artist Nahaan sees tattoo, like many other forms of artistic expression, as a political act and a form of resistance. This artist of mixed First Nations heritage draws on traditional teachings to create new work using modern and traditional methods alike. Born and raised in an urban environment, Nahaan uses the city as a platform for upholding and revivifying cultural practices that colonization once threatened to wipe out. Drawing on the symbology and aesthetics of the Indigenous West Coast, his tattoo work becomes “permanent regalia” on the bodies he works on, expressing through image and symbol the deepest beliefs of his ancestors and the forces that give life to his people and the land.

 

SKINDIGENOUS - Seattle: Nahaan

 

 

 

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