The Gospel Tradition


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The Best of Israel


America’s leading authority on European travel, returns to transport viewers to bustling cities, quaint villages and picturesque countrysides. Each episode contains Rick’s valuable insights on art, culture and history, and his practical, experience-enhancing travel advice. 


The Best of Israel 
We start in Jerusalem, alive with religious tradition and passion – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. We then visit cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, the fortress of Masada and the Sea of Galilee. We’ll also pay our respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, drop into an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood to savor the local cuisine.



Nā Mele

Traditions in Hawaiian Song. PBS Hawai‘i conceived and developed Nā Mele to preserve Hawai‘i’s extraordinary music in its purest form – live and impromptu – as performed by some of our Islands’ best talent.

From Vienna: The New Year’s Celebration 2015


PBS continues the cherished tradition of ringing in the New Year at the opulent Musikverein with the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of guest conductor Zubin Mehta, and featuring everyone’s favorite Strauss Family waltzes accompanied by the beautiful dancing of the Vienna City Ballet. In addition to the Musikverein concert setting, the broadcast features a picturesque range of Vienna landmarks. Stage and screen legend Julie Andrews returns as host.



Rejoice with Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot


Legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman and celebrated cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot join forces for a musical exploration of liturgical and traditional works in new arrangements for both chamber orchestra and klezmer settings.





There was a time when traditional Hawaiian music could be heard throughout Waikiki. Today, there is still a place where traditional Hawaiian music is played, where the mele of our home are sung, and where the moolelo of hula and Hawaiian chant are shared: Na Mele, on PBS Hawaii. Na Mele Moments shares a treasure of memories, including: an impromptu jam in Waimea, the beautiful voice of Mahi Beamer, and the pure joy of Aunty Genoa Keawe. To honor the late Dennis Kamakahi and Aunty Genoa, David Kamakahi and his group Waipuna, and Pomaika‘i Keawe Lyman and the Keawe Ohana, perform live in the PBS Hawaii studio.



Peter Rockford Espiritu


Original air date: Tues., Jan. 22, 2008


Tau Dance Theatre Founder


What does it mean to be an artist? For Peter Rockford Espiritu, it’s a lifelong journey of creative expression through dance. Peter is founder, choreographer and artistic director of Tau Dance Theater, a dance company that combines ballet, modern dance, hula and Pacific Island traditions into something completely original.


Peter Rockford Espiritu Audio


Download the Transcript




You ready?




Okay. Let me just ask you; um, off the top, I noticed you’re wearing a hala lei of a color I’ve never seen before.


It’s uh, um, it’s an orange-red, but it’s more red, and it’s very rare to see that color these days. I think it was more common before. And uh, I’m partial to hala. A lot of people that know me know that I—I’m—I love hala. Um, the—the—the … what it represents, about beginning and endings. And uh, for me, a lot of my life is about beginning and ending. So I thought hala might be appropriate, and the color is certainly is beautiful and very Hawaiian.


Beginning and endings; you mean your productions?


My productions. Um, I feel like uh, a lot of times we start from uh, just a little seed that’s planted, and it grows into this big tree, an—and it is unveiled to the public. But eventually, it has to—I have to let it go and—and move on to the next thing. And uh, and so that—that semblance of—of—the Hawaiians say hulihia, where things turn over or um—that is uh, I think uh, kind of uh, hala represents that—that uh, what we—we do in the—in the business world of—of the arts.


You’re known for mixing and compiling uh, genres of music, and—and dance. Um … let me—let me just say that again.




Uh, you’re known for combining and mixing genres of dance. But I think I’ve heard you say that you’re a traditionalist; how does that fit in?


Well, you know, I—I think to uh, respectfully—and I—and I’m all about that, respect—it uh, to do this, you have to be really heavily grounded down here. And uh, I—I take a lot of um … I do a lot to make sure that my—my con—my connection to the base is strong. And so in those ways, I still uh, study the art and the—the form, and the life of hula, and I feel that I dedicate myself to that. I still take uh … dance classes, I still go to uh, ballet classes, and I—and I keep myself regimented in those forms, because uh, I have to express myself in a different way. I have to be able to have um, tools at my disposal. If I don’t understand the base and where the base is, then I can’t abstract and—and uh, take it to another place. And uh, that’s where I love, uh, my love of—of the artform is, even if I’m creating a new artform.


Do you take flack from traditionalists who don’t want you to take their form anywhere?


Um, actually, a lot of—if I do, it’s probably someone who doesn’t know me or the um, the … the process, and the—the respect that give that process. Um, a lot of times, my answer to them is, It’s your job to keep the traditions alive, and keep that … base solid. It’s my job to identify for today and possibly tomorrow. And so um, I—I—I will always um, stand behind my work and always try to uh, explain where I’m going with something, and why I’m going there. And uh, if they can show me that I’m causing trouble in—in the wrong sense, I will stop what I’m doing.


You collaborated with a traditionalist Hawaiian kanakaole hula family on what a sense—what in a sense was a modern hula.




How did that happen?


Well, uh, I—I uh, sought them out. I wanted to do something that honored the new island—well, it’s gonna be a new island maybe in twenty, fifty thousand years. Um, which they named Loihi. Um, I wanted to honor that island, and I identified with that island because it is a new … entity.


Beginning. [chuckle]


Yeah; it is. It’s, once again, hala.




There’s gonna be a beginning and eventually, it’s gonna break through the water, and it’s gonna be part of the Hawaiian chain. What does that mean to us as m—now? Well, it should mean something to us. And I—I felt that there should be something that would honor that island, and I thought … what better people to go towards and ask to help me um, honor this island than to the—the traditionalists of hula, uh, the kanakaole. And uh, they thought about it; they thought about it for two years before they took that step. And uh, I’m grateful f—to them. They felt it was their kuleana because of their connection to Pele, and the lava flows, and that is what is causing this island to come. So now there are chants and um, that will honor that island. Why not honor—that island comes if we as uh, human beings survive ourselves. I hope that those—those dances and chants will survive um, that island to honor it when it does become an—a truly—truly an island.


By that time, today’s modern chants will be ancient chants.


It’ll be kahiko.




And there we go again, full circle.


How did you translate Loihi in dance?


You know, uh, we actually … uh, uh, we’re always talking about—I always talk about identity, because that’s what I struggle with. And um … uh, Auntie Pua and—and Nalani, what they did was identify—they actually enti—ended up calling the island uh, Kamaehu, the reddish child. And they—we called the project—it went from being O Loihi to Hanau Kamoku, meaning an island is born. So what we had to do was start to write new chants and identify what h—that island and what it meant to us inside as Hawaiians. And then uh, translate that to movement. And uh, as they started developing their side, I had to identify what we were doing, what—you know. ‘Cause the hula is very restrictive. And uh, they have to adhere to those restrictions. Me as—as a modernist, I don’t necessarily have to; I can wear lights on our heads and move around, and—and we could be the sludge and the—and—and the—the—you know, the coral polyps. We can do those things, we can stand on top of each other and move. So it actually helped to tell a story in a broader—uh, wider sense of the word. And uh, that was my—that was my goal, to help tell that story.


You say you struggle with identity as an issue in general.




I’m just trying to imagine you as a kid from Aiea—




–who wanted to grow up and be a ballet dancer.


M-hm. Um, yeah; I struggled—it’s funny, because I always walk that really fine line. I was a uh, three-year letterman for Aiea High School for the um, soccer program there, uh, for the varsity team. I was team captain when I was a senior, but I always also a band geek. You know, I was in the marching band. Um, I studied hula, I was part of the drama department, and—and I was kind of … just in everything, but everything artistic. And uh, as I got older, wanting to do ballet, a local young … kinda punky kid, local, from Aiea, wanting to go to New York and dance, I had to struggle with what that meant to—to me. I was fine with it, but what did that mean to my family? You know, they certainly didn’t want me to go off and go move to New York and do ballet. You know, that was the furthest thing. My father is a—is a uh, you know, he’s a welder, you know, by trade. And he’s a local, you know, young, great man from Maui. Certainly, ballet was not in his, you know, vision for me.


He didn’t want to tell his friends at the—




–construction yard; Eh, my kid’s gonna be a—






Or, he’s gonna be in Nutcracker; go check him out.




You know? But uh, actually now, he proudly says that, you know, My son is a ballet dancer, and he—he—he’s in—a director and artist. You know, he—he’s an artist and he—he’s a dancer. And he’s proud of me.


Well, at that time, who were your influences? Who did you look to in art to emulate and learn from?


Um, Martha Graham; um, in ballet, Baryshnikov certainly was—you know, started to uh, ho—hold the torch for uh, male dancers. Um, I—uh, you know, I looked to—because I uh, love different forms, from uh, you know, uh, uh, a Gregorian chant, the beauty of that, to the—the other side of it, which would be uh, a basic ha—beautiful Hawaiian oli, you know, the—my—I—I struggled with identity because what does that mean? I want to be a ballet dancer, but I still love my hula. You know, so I had to find—I had to go off and look for who I was and why I was. What was my—what was my function here, and how can I help Hawaii survive as a culture and as a people?


So you did go to New York, and you did become a ballet dancer.


[chuckle] I did; I was crazy, and—and—enough to—and energetic enough to uh, move to New York and—and start to follow that dream. And uh, I—I—put—got a scholarship at the School of American Ballet, which is a feeder school of the New York City Ballet that was founded by uh, George Balanchine. And uh, I pursued that dream.




Until I found out that—well, I … eventually realized I wasn’t going to be the—the prince. I wasn’t gonna play the lead role. There was a chance, a big, big chance that I might, but uh, the furthest—the—the highest I felt that I could go, given my stature and all of that, uh, would be—


Stature and all of that; please explain.


Okay. I have to—I—I—I—I really think that in the ballet world, at that time—and you’re talking early to mid-80s. I was brown, I was short, and I wasn’t bl—blond-haired and blue-eyed. I wasn’t gonna be the prince. And I ha—I had to—once again, I had to struggle with the whole thing of, this was my dream. I went to New York to become the—the—attain the highest position I could in ballet. It wasn’t gonna happen.


It’s like the equivalent of be—you would always be a character actor, rather than the star of a movie.


Exactly. And some of those character actors make more money eventually as a star, but you’re—I wanted to be the star. And uh, when I finally be—um, came to the realization that that was not gonna happen, I had to make some hard decisions and say, Well, Plan B, Plan C; what do you want to do? And uh, my whole thing was … uh, move back home. When I left, I knew I was gonna start my own company. And what that company was gonna be, I wasn’t sure. But that started the whole journey towards Tau Dance Theater, which is where I ended up trying to identify myself as an artist, as a choreographer, and as a dancer.


This is a f—uh, a dance company you founded.


Correct. We just celebrated um, ten years last year. And uh, you know, uh, even at the beginning of it, I was heavily influenced by ballet. Eventually, I found modern, and eventually it brought me back to hula.


I’ve seen you do hula, Samoan slap dance, Tango. I mean, what is Tau Dance Company?


It is all about identity. It’s about my—what I am today. And I call myself a modern Polynesian, a modern artist that is uh—contemporary artist that is living in the now, uh, respectfully understanding the base and the traditional base, because that’s my roots. And then trying to project where that will take us, and live—little—leave little gems for our future generations say, That’s what they were about then. And uh, um, hopefully also, the traditional side will survive. Because we—it’s a living culture; the Hawaiian culture is a living culture. And I like to think that Tau Dance Theater will help um … the culture survive on the—on the modern sense of the word. Because I’m—I’m about uh, using Western form to tell traditional stories.


You’ve already mentioned beginnings and endings; uh, when we come back, I’d like to ask you about transitions within your production, and what goes into your head as you—you look to make bridges uh, between genres. That’s when we come back, with Peter Espiritu.



Peter Rockford Espiritu is the founder of the Tau Dance Theater. How’d you get the name, Tau Dance Theater?


Tau is actually my name; it’s a shortened version—it’s Samoan. It’s my middle name. And my name is Ututau, but my family calls me Tau for short. And uh, um, I didn’t know what I was gonna call my—my—my company, and one day it was—I gotta give her credit; it was Melveen Leed who told me, Tau, you should just call your company Tau; Tau Dance Theater. You know, and I said, Well, it’s gonna be Tau Dance Theater. I said, Are you sure? And she says, Everyone’s doing one name thing now; use Tau. It’s Polynesian, it’s easy, you know, and then it’s—and it means more than one thing. So um, I did; I used Tau, and it stuck.


And that’s why you say Pacific Islander, rather than Hawaiian, because you’re Samoan too.


Correct. My father is Hawaiian; he’s half-Hawaiian from Maui. And my mother is actually from Fagatogo, from uh, American Samoa.


Let’s talk about transitions within your productions. You tell stories.




And you go from one genre to another, but those transitions have to make sense. How do you make them flow?


For instance uh, Naupaka, which was the last full evening length work we did, um, the whole idea is to stay open to not trying to just tell a story in one genre, but for instance, uh, uh, when the two lovers meet um, there is tension, um, they’re just meeting, they’re young. And—and uh, and what does that whole scene mean to me? It means that there is uh, entanglement. And what is the genre that I chose? Tango. And I think that that—if you understand the process, um, the—the language that’s singing in is Hawaiian, but it’s still that—that entanglement of it. The—what is that—they’re meeting is gonna cause something, it’s action and reaction. And so uh, in that scene when they dance, uh, we start with tango, but it’s also—there’s a girl on point. Um, uh, what they’re singing about is—is uh, is this love tension happening, and—and with new love, you never know. They’re being drawn to each other, but they don’t know what that is. And—and so a tango was the thing. In the awa section, in uh, Naupaka, it’s about the drink of awa. But what is the cup that is used? It’s a coconut. So we used uh, more of a traditional—well, Samoan coconut style dancing, and—and we used the slap dancing or—or Hawaiian, they use the pai umauma to uh, start it. It’s a very physical kinda male thing. And I use those genres and—to tell that story. So um, my whole as artistic director or as a storyteller through dance and movement is to identify what is the most appropriate movement tool to tell that story. We’re not a halau, so we’re not uh, um, left to uh, confines of one genre. Uh, I use all of the styles possible to tell a story, as long as it helps tell the story, not detract from the telling of it.


Do you ever use traditional Hawaiian music for your modern uh, productions?


I do. Um … now again, you’re talking about tradition. And um, if it’s a—for instance, if it’s a m—if you’re talking about music and tradition, if it’s a mele or an oli that is uh, existing, um, I tend not to touch them. If I do touch them, they—they will pre—be presented in the form that is most um, appropriate. If it’s gonna be, for instance, a Kalakaua chant, it’s gonna be done the way it’s supposed to be in, an olapa style. No changes, no nothing. Um, so we rarely go there. We um, we tend to want to create new uh, oli or mele, and then create—then we can go on from there.


So you write your own music or you have your own music written for your productions.


Correct. Uh, I think it’s safer, and it’s more respectful. That way, um, if you’re gonna touch something, it’s not gonna be um … misused, uh, misinterpreted. And uh, I think it’s safer.


You know, respect is a word you use almost as often as you use identify. But very important to you, both of these concepts.


M-hm. I—I think it’s uh, um, it’s the basis of what Tau Dance Theater is all about. Um, without the—the core base tradition, I’m nothing. Without the traditionalists keeping their traditions alive and—and without people understanding the base, um, I’m just—we’re just a bunch of people jumping around, doing weird things. And that’s not my goal. My goal is to understand that there is a connection. Um, it’s just like modern art against um, against, you know, like a uh, a traditional type of form uh, a s—uh, a study of fruit against, maybe, something like this piece of uh, art. It—there—it could be there. And uh, my job is to help you identify and understand that connection, that piece is connected to this in some way. The hala, the beauty of the—and the scent that it gives off, and the traditions. I’m—I am both of these things. And as a—as a modernist, my job is to uh, help you understand that the reason why I’m here is because of the connection to these. And uh, I wa—I—I’m asking for respect also. I’m ak—and I’m asking for pe—to understand that you have to understand both, and uh, I am asking for respect to um, my genre and where I’m going. ‘Cause I’m not just doing anything; I’m—I’m trying to keep the traditions alive by identifying who I am. So …


To do this, you have to understand all of the genres and yourself.


And not be afraid to take those steps. ‘Cause um, you know, you put something out there, you’re leaving yourself open for people to uh, you know, not agree. And I don’t need you to like my work or agree; I need you to understand that this is one person’s view, my view. I don’t expect to be correct; I just expect you to understand that I’m expressing myself artistically, respectfully, and trying to find my own identity.


Did you ever miss the mark for yourself?


Oh, man; more often than not. And I—I myself sometimes don’t like my own work. And I’m very honest about it. I’m learning, I’m—I’m uh, still a student. And uh, I don’t think I’ll ever master any of it. But um, if uh, uh, I think that sometimes I do miss the mark, and uh, the other thing to remember is to um, apologize if you do miss the mark. It’s—


Well, how—what have you ever had to apologize for?


Well, sometimes I feel like I um … I uh, maybe get close to a line, and uh, I will um—in the um, liner notes of the program say, If for some reason this offends you, uh, that’s never my intention. My intention is to try to identify that there’s a problem, and that—that—maybe that um, my artistic renderings will help you—uh, us as a people to identify those—those problems. Um, and Naupaka was one of those things where I thought um, understanding that … what you do, your actions, will cause a reaction. And maybe your intentions were not to cause uh … any uh, problems, but uh, you have to understand that whatever you do will cause a uh, a reaction.


So what was a reaction that uh, you wish hadn’t happened?


Um … sometimes on my—what I’m doing is misinterpreted, or you know, uh, I think that um—I mean, I know when I first started, a lot of traditionalists did have a problem with what I was doing. And I uh, I think they thought that I was maybe um … uh … maybe um, uh, causing uh, a uh, a problem with understanding uh, the traditional side. But uh, you know, it’s—I don’t know; it’s hard for me to articulate that.


But uh, you put yourself out there, and uh, and uh, you do become something of a lightning rod.


You do. And uh, you—you have to understand, I mean, um—and uh, you—you have to understand, I mean, uh, that um, you have to do your homework and be able to under—explain what it is that you’re trying to say. ‘Cause you know, people might not get what you’re trying to do.


But you know, and—and probably related to some of the leading figures in traditional hula.


I do. Uh, and I continue to study my—my um—my first kumu hula was the late John Kaimikaua. Uh, my auana teacher was the late Uncle George uh, Kananiokeakua uh, Holokai. Um, I now study uh, olapa uh, traditional with Auntie Cissy Akim, and Mel—Melvin Lantaka. Um, uh, I do take ballet class on a regular basis, and take modern with my original modern dance teacher, Betty Jones, who was a founding member of the Jose Limon Modern Dance Company in New York. So I keep my tradition, you know, base solid. But uh, I also try to keep myself open to new things.


So you’re a dancer and a dance student. And um, Tau Dance Theater is a 501C3 nonprofit foundation, and you do everything, right? You—you choreograph, you do the business side, you—the promotional side—




–must be intense.




You market, you fundraise.


Yeah. [chuckle]


How do you all of that?


You know, it’s a—it’s a matter of survival. I mean, I—I have to believe th—that um, eventually the right people will come into play. Um, it’s—it’s real sensitive, what Tau Dance Theater is all about, and uh, uh, the circle is very small. I don’t do that on—I—I don’t do that on purpose; it’s just, you know, if you’re not—the right people have to come. So uh, unfortunately, I do wear many hats, uh, including grant writing, um, budget projections, final reports, keep—making sure our 5013C is healthy, fundraising, and—and the vision of that, as well as kokua groups that I think are—are important to support. Um, it’s all part of the kuleana, and I—I know you understand that, because um, with Lokahi and uh, a lot of other things, uh, you know, you’re—that’s part of who you are, and that’s important to you. So—


But it’s hard to do all of those things well, because they each take time.


They take a lot of time. And uh, um … sometimes I don’t have enough time for just myself. And uh, and we were talking about fishing, and that’s where I—that’s my—my time. Yeah.


And how much fishing do you—how much ulua fishing do you get to do?


Well, uh, I go once a year to the uh, Hilo Casting Club uh, uh, competition where they—they do a state um, um, island wide competition. So I try to go maybe three or four times a year. And uh, um … uh, an—any time I go to Hawaii Island, even for research, uh, I go out and—and fish. If not ulua, maybe small game; which is always good.


So I noticed that even in your recreation, your hobby, uh, you know, you can catch fish that weren’t predators. But ulua are strong, fierce, smart fish, as fish go.


Uh-huh. And they—


An—and that’s what you choose to try to catch.


Yeah; I never thought about that. I never thought about that. It’s—uh, I think it’s challenging, ‘cause you’re—you’re—you’re restricted, once again, to the shore. We’re not doing off—of the boat.




And uh, the elements, and what have you. And—


You’re trying to get them into your turf.


That’s right; they have to—they have to come into that small, little area that you’re at, and hopefully you’ll be successful in catching. And we’ve been pretty successful.


Does your mind really clear when you are out there fishing?


I call it um—I call it artistic detoxation. Um, I think that uh, when I’m fishing, I—I can let go of all the stresses of—of—and it is stressful—and all the—all the things that are my responsibility and kuleana, and I can actually just look at the elements and—and uh, whether we catch fish or not. And I’ve been lucky enough where we usually always do. But um, it’s just [INDISTINCT]. Places like Kau, or Kalowalo, or you know, Hamakua side, or um, uh, Kalapana area; um, these are all Hawaii Island areas, ‘cause that’s where I choose to go and stomp, and—and—and travel. But um, those are … places where my electronics won’t work. I can bring my computer, but it won’t be able to connect, my cell phone might not work, and uh, that—


And that’s a good thing, right?


That’s a great thing. I look forward to it.


Well, when we come back, I’d like to ask you uh, just uh, whether you’ve ever met anybody like yourself, if you’ve sensed a kindred soul. Because you’re complex, you’re very original, very different. Uh, we’ll find out from Peter Rockford Espiritu when we come back.



We’re back on Long Story Short with the founder of the Tau Dance Theater, and that is Peter Rockford Espiritu. Welcome back.


Thank you.


You’re so … different, yet you meld so many ways and are aware of so many genres. And you say you like to keep the Tau Dance Theater small uh, because you need to work with people who truly understand. How many people do you find who—who are kindred souls?


You know, um … actually, there’s a good uh—on average, the dancers that I used about thirteen to fifteen strong. For a large production um, it usually bumps up to double that. But uh … kindred souls. I think uh, uh, collectively, the people that I work with become one for me.


But they don’t have to have the same vision you do; you just have to tell them of your vision right now, right?


Yeah; and they don’t necessarily have to agree with me. They have to be strong enough to call me on things and say, You know, I don’t understand where you’re going with this. So—and uh … yeah; they have to understand what I’m all about, but they also have to be strong within what they do.


And now you’re taking your efforts out to the schools; you’re—you’re—you’re working with kids.


We are. We’ve always been in the school system, and we’ve always done um, youth and outreach. And all—every production we’ve done has always had a educational element. We are actually now in the process of starting a youth group; it’s called Tau W2, like Y squared. And uh, it’s because uh, after ten years of being uh, a company, I felt that it was time to take a step towards uh, really investing in our future. The ideas that this youth group will uh, not only represent us as youth, but down the line. Uh, hopefully, they will be the feeder uh, company to uh, to the Tau Dance Theater, which is the—the adult company.


Are they more open than others, say, to o—to mixing genres, combining?


You know, the—what we’re doing now is identi—helping them identify the different genres. Truthfully, a lot of these uh, youths do one genre. They’ll take—or they’ll go to a school and learn jazz, ballet, tap, and all that. But I—I think a lot of them tend to excel in one form. Or they’ll go and only do one form; they’ll do only jazz, or only ballet, and uh, not understand how all of those genres can actually create a new form. That’s where Tau Dance Theater um … has evolved to. And that’s where our job is to, one, identify—help them identify what the genres are that make Tau Dance Theater, which is ballet, modern, uh, hula, and—and maybe a little jazz, hip-hop. And then understanding how those genres have helped evolve Tau into what it is now.


How are most dancers that you work with at uh, moving from one genre to another? I mean, you’d think most people would be best at one, and they have a second, and they’d have a distant third.




How easy is that for them?


It’s not easy at all. Uh, a lot of my dancers uh, have one form that they are comfortable with. I push them to be comfortable with two or three. Uh, truthfully, many of the dancers who naturally fall into Tau Dance Theater, um, have had hula background, um, uh, but chose Western form. And so uh, uh, I think uh, a lot of them—uh, or they’ve had ballet, and then have had others. I don’t think I have too many that are just, you know, specialty. You know, that’s very rare when I’m—I’m using a dancer that way.


Is there any dance form that you say, Forget it, I’m not putting that in one of my productions? Tap dancing; anything?


Uh, we haven’t done tap yet, and I’m not gonna say no. But uh, also cultural—you know, it’s—it’s hard to fake something, and I don’t ever want to fake something. Um, and so uh, there’s many genres we haven’t done. There’s some that I—uh, there’s not one that I have said no to. There’s some that I would like to, you know.


For example?


Um, I think um … Balinese would be interesting. You know, very, very interesting to add into. Uh, I’ve been Bali a couple times, and I—I really like the genre of—of how they move and the—and the expressiveness of the hands and the—and the fingers. And the eyes.






Sounds like that would be very hard to get a grasp on in a short number of years.


I think you’d ha—have to be really selective on how you use it, and—and—and find a special uh, s—uh, someone who understands the movement to help us integrate uh, respectfully, again.


Do you think what you’re doing will always be an alternative form of the arts, or can you see yourself going mainstream with this?


Uh, you know, I—I think um, we, once again, walk that fine line of mainstream. I mean, we do convention work, and we do that kind of um, corporate business kind of thing, where it’s uh—to me, that’s not reality. I mean, and—and I have no problem with that side, ‘cause I …


When’s the last time you used this for a corporate deal?


We just did two major things. We did the Governor’s Ball, which was the March of Dimes uh .. large fundraiser, just this weekend. And uh, my—I—my job was to help connect, once again, the cultural base with corporate identity. And then also, help it … ease into understanding uh, on a fundraising level. A large—


Well, how did you do that?


Well, you know, the—uh, I’m very strong with my cultural ties, and I understand the corporate side. Um, and I understand the connection to it. So for instance, we ended up using uh, elements and uh, for instance, water. Now, culturally sound wise, I—first thing that came into my mind was, ohe, the—the uh, nose flute. So using the nose flute, and going into an oli, going into hula, and then that nose flute transcends into a jazz flute. And now you have a connection. And the jazz flute can go into the corporate—the uh, phonetic movement of the, you know, of every day kind of thing. An—and uh, my … I kept using those kinds of themes; using fire, using earth, and—and—and trying to help translate the Hawaiian base into a corporate theme. Um, the other thing was, we just did uh, Hyundai, which is the Korean car company. And uh, that was another big challenge, ‘cause we were unveiling cars. And so they wanted two different styles. So you know, uh, reinventing what I do, and then trying to keep our integrity, um, will—even when it’s a commercial venture, um, is challenging, but I—I welcome the challenge.


So you were say Hyundai.




How do you translate art at that point?


Um … that’s a good question. I have to identify the car; what is the—what is their vision to that car, and what—how do they want to connect that. So for instance, I had a halau; it was Sonny Ching’s halau, Na—Halau Na Mamo O Puuuanahulu. And they did—the women did uh … the implement number; I think it was Moku—Moku O Keawe, where they did uh, puili, bamboo, uh, uh, ipu, and—and uh, uliuli, and went into uh, Kamapua traditional, uh, the men. And the men did all this whole oli thing, and we went into this whole other—that when the car came, this was where the transition came in, where we had this beautiful kind of goddess girl bring the car in. And uh, and she did this dance, which was part of—you know. So then it wasn’t disrep—disrespectful to the Hawaiian side. And at the end, they wanted this big celebration thing. I chose a mele mai. ‘Cause to me, it was uh, a birth; it was about creation. And—


What is a mele mai?


It’s uh, procreation. And uh, I don’t think they—to this day, they know what it was all about. They loved it. But it was my creative way of using tradition to—to still uh, continue traditions, but at the same time, you know, maybe use the time to educate them.


An—and not everything has to be literal.


It doesn’t—


In the translation.


–have to be literal. They don’t even have to understand it. And that’s another thing about my productions. Maybe—uh, uh, I try to layer things. You can choose to enjoy just the beauty of the movement and the sound, and the—and the music. Or you can choose to go deeper, ‘cause there’s always gonna be layers, and you can actually dig deeper to try to find the cultural connections to what I’m trying to say.


And you are a person of many layers. You know, I’m—I’m kind of surprised that hala, with its uh, beginnings and endings—




–is—is what you think of. Because you seem to me at the core to be a person of transition and—and bridging.


Uh-huh. But for that transition to happen, there has to be an ending. So it’s not necessarily and ending, but uh, it has to—there has to be a finite thing that happens. I’m good at connecting, and I’m always trying to make it seamless. But at the same time, maybe um, that’s part of what I do, is to make it seem like there is no ending.


And what’s uh, what do you do—what are you gonna connect with next in—in your career?


We are actually working on a uh, piece of work that will honor Poliahu, the goddess of uh, of uh, Mauna Kea and the snow. And uh, we’re going to start to lay down the—the basis to where we’re gonna go with that. That—we’re projecting the winter of 2010.


Well, it’s been wonderful talking with you.


My pleasure.


And you’ve been so patient with me; I’ve had a hard time with—with part of your name, because I pronounce it local style.




And you have an artistic um, interpretation. Could you explain that?


Sure. I mean, a lot of people go, Oh, Espiritu. E—Espiritu—


Which I—




Which I’ve done again, and again, by the way.


Yeah. And—and—and truthfully, a lot of my family members say that. I tend to go more towards the um … the, I guess, Latin version, which is Espiritu, like [LATIN LANGUAGE].


Peter Rockford Espiritu; thank you so much for being with us on Long Story Short.


Thank you for having us. Aloha.






Rachel and Lorraine Haili


Original air date: Tues., Mar. 26, 2013


Leslie Wilcox talks with Rachel Haili and Lorraine Haili Alo, the second generation of the family behind Haili’s Hawaiian Foods. Growing up, their mother encouraged her six children to take pride in their Hawaiian and Chinese heritage. Rachel and Lorraine recall childhood memories of gathering and preparing food with their parents. The sisters say their family’s teamwork, along with business savvy and determination, have contributed to the success of Haili’s Hawaiian Foods, now in the hands of younger sister Lorraine.

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I know that there’s other native Hawaiian business owners out there, but our claim to fame is that we’ve been in business for over sixty years. And my mom and dad always stressed that you’re Hawaiian, you and your sisters are Hawaiian, and you need to make us proud.


Food keeps us connected with our cultural traditions, and an enduring example is the culinary legacy of Haili’s Hawaiian Foods. Rachel Haili and Lorraine Haili Alo, 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, and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Since the 1950s, Haili’s Hawaiian Foods has made mouths water for steaming laulau, chicken long rice, poi, and delicious poke. Founded by the late Rachel Ching Haili and husband, Peter Davis Haili, the family-run enterprise continues to offer authentic and hard to find traditional Native Hawaiian dishes. Growing up in this Hawaiian-Chinese family meant that every family member was expected to contribute their time to help with the family business, located at the Ala Moana Farmer’s Market across from where Ward Center stands today. The second generation of Haili’s to take over the business are Rachel Haili and her sister, Lorraine Haili Alo. They’re Daughters Number 4 and 5 from a family of six girls. They credit the continuing success of the business to family teamwork, determination, and the business savvy inherited from their mother.


Yeah; my father was the silent partner. Whatever my mother said, it was, Oh, okay, honey.


My mother was pure Chinese, and my father was pure Hawaiian. So, you had these opposite personalities. My father was happy-go-lucky, and very outgoing. My mother was outgoing too, but in a different way. And my mother was very task-oriented. But they were both very family-oriented. Like, even though they were busy working, they always made time for us on Sundays. We’d all get into our station wagon. We had one of those green banana station wagons.


It was a Woody.


A Woody; yeah. [CHUCKLE]


With the wood panels.


Green, with wood panels. So, our job was, while they were working in the morning, we had to get baskets of clothes ready, baskets of food ready, so by the time they came home, we loaded everything up and we went to our auntie’s house in Kaaawa. And we’d spend the day there with our cousins. We’d go on a boat to catch squid.


Was the squid for the restaurant, or for fun?


For the store. [CHUCKLE]


Oh, so you were gathering supplies.


We were just talking about that. I remember being in the boat with my dad, my younger sister and I, and he’d have the squid box. And we’d be sitting in the boat watching him dive down there. And we were like five, six years old, we don’t really know how to swim, but we’re in the boat with our dad, and we’re just kinda looking over, watching him go down for squid and come back up with it. And you know, it was these long tentacles moving around. Yeah.


To make squid luau.


And raw squid.


Raw squid.


Back then, yeah, it was a lot of raw squid. And then, we’d have to learn how to dry it too, so we’d have to learn to pound it. So, even though we enjoyed the beach a lot, we also had to learn to go pick limu. Because that was another thing we needed for the store.


The store went seven days a week, so we never really had family vacations, how people would pack up and fly, and go somewhere, go to the outer islands. It was always a Sunday outing with our parents, so we never really felt like we were being deprived. Because my mom and dad always had time for us. I remember my mother and father taking us to, like, roller derby and wrestling on Wednesday nights. We did a lot of fun things. My mom would just close the business down at five o’clock in the afternoon, be home in time. She’d call us and say, Okay, we’re going to wrestling tonight, or we’re going to the roller derby.


Oh, how fun.


If you want to go, have the rice cooked.


Live action.


Yeah; yeah.


At the Civic Auditorium?


Civic Auditorium.


They used to have the football games at the stadium over on Isenberg. Back then, we had to make our laulau’s at home. So it was the same thing. My mother said, You folks have to get everything ready, because before we can go to the football game, we have to make all the laulau’s. So, after school, we’d come home like on a Friday night. Okay, you set the tables up, you start washing the luau leaves, you start cutting the pork.


How many did you have to make?


Five bags of taro leaves every —


That’s a lot.


You know, that’s like twenty-pound bags. So, that’s a hundred pounds —




— of taro leaves that we’d have to —


And back then, you had to peel all the taro leaves too. So, it was like, Okay, we gotta get organized or we can’t go to the game.


Your reward was the game. Did you resent doing all that work?


No, ‘cause we had to do it.


It was just part of — that was us, that was part of what we needed to do.


And it was fun too, because we’d have friends come over and help us. We’d have our cousins come over and help us.


And aunties, and everybody knew their —


And we had cake afterwards.


— position at the table.


And so, what happened on school days? I mean, you went to Kamehameha, and you went to Punahou and Kamehameha, right?


On school days, my sister Carol and I, it was after school, we got on the bus and we went straight down to Ala Moana Farmer’s Market. And we needed to be there — when we were teenagers. When we were little, we went to school right across the street from our house. We grew up on Gulick in Kalihi. And we’d come home, and we’d have to do our chores at home. Take care of the dog, sweep up the yard, get the garage ready because everybody’s gonna come home and make laulau’s tonight, and we’d have to have the rice cooked. We had chores to do.


And then later, you would go to the store.


Later, yeah. Later, when we were teenagers, we didn’t have time to participate in club sports, or do things after school on campus. We just needed to get down to the store to help our mom and dad close up, clean up.


It was very clear that it was a family enterprise.


Oh, yeah.


And everybody got counted in.




And Saturday and Sundays, there wasn’t any beach time or hanging out time with your friends. I needed to be at work.


And that was life? You didn’t say, Just one time, I want to go hang out at —


Oh, we tried. [CHUCKLE]


Didn’t work?


It didn’t work. [CHUCKLE]


Well, when I was boarder at Kamehameha Schools, so I lived on campus. And then Saturdays, I got to come out for the day. And I went to the market and worked, because that was what I was supposed to do. And I didn’t resent it. It was good. And then, plus, I was like, really popular because I got to go out and bring all the food in to my friends who didn’t go out from the outer islands. So, it was no resentment. It was fun.


The Haili family’s first business venture was a bar and grill called Family Inn. As the matriarch watched her family grow, she decided a liquor business was not an appropriate setting for her daughters. In the late 1940s, she started a fish market that evolved into something else. Established in the 1950s, Haili’s Hawaiian Foods became a kind of second home for the Haili family, and a fixture at Ward Farmer’s Market. Among the many vendors offering an array of food items, Haili’s specialized in traditionally prepared Hawaiian cuisine, and it was one of the first places to offer poke to go.


My father’s specialty was aku, because he was Hawaiian. Way back when, aku was like a rubbish fish. People didn’t eat that; that was like the lowest thing, and it was very cheap. So, he specialized in that, because he learned to do all the different things, like dry it, make it raw, or they could fry it. So, before, you couldn’t go to the store and buy one pound of poke; you had to buy the whole fish. And then, the vendor would clean it for you, and they’d prepare it how you wanted. So we’d have this lady come in from Waimanalo every week. She’d buy three twenty-pound aku’s, and that was for her family for the whole week. And she’d say, Okay, cut one aku for me for frying. So he’d cut it all into steaks. And then the other aku, I want you to cut for drying. So he’d have to cut it. And then she said, And then make me poke on the last aku. Well, my father got to where he was so busy, we couldn’t keep up, and so we had to learn how to clean fish. Then, he figured out, well, let’s just pre-make some of these things. So, he’d have a batch of fish already cut in chunks, so people could come in and say, Okay, I just want poke, I don’t want fish for drying this week. That’s how it kind of evolved. And then, people would say, Oh, I want my poke made with shoyu.


And so, that wasn’t available other places at that time? ‘Cause now, we see it in —


It’s so common.


In every supermarket, grocery store, anyplace.


We’d buy all these different other kinds of fish, and he’d say, Okay, make some of that for poke. And we’re like, Oh, you can eat this for poke too? And he’d say, Oh, yeah, the old Hawaiians, this is how they ate it. You put a certain kind of limu. The combinations with the fish were different. So we had to learn how to do all of that. But nowadays, most people just eat the aku and the ahi and the swordfish. But back then, you did the oio, the awa, you know, the uhu. And so then, he’d have to learn how to do all these different things. Like save the liver from the uhu to mix in with your poke.


When I was little, I would watch my dad clean the aku. And then, he’d save the head for aku palu. And back then, people would use the eyeballs of the fish, and the stomach and the intestines, and the heart of the aku, and the liver. And I would be like, How can anybody eat that? [CHUCKLE] But anyway, all along the intestines, there would be like, little … pockets of the fat of the fish. And that was a delicacy. And my dad would take the time to clean it, and just slide all of that out. And he would keep it in a jar in the refrigerator, and he’d only bring it out when his good really, really good friends came, which was Pops Pahinui, and all of the guys from, Refuse. They would be off of work early in the morning, and they’d come over and they’d talk story with my dad, and he’d bring out this jar of fish guts.


And they would love it.


Yeah, they would love it. And they’d be playing music out in the back, and my father would be sneaking out in the back. And my mom is like, Where’s your father? [CHUCKLE]


And at the time, was Gabby Pahinui a renowned …






— slack key guitar guy?


No, not yet.


And singer.


He was already, a known —


With the locals and his friends, he was like the person they all paina’d with, and stuff.


But he hadn’t gone viral yet.


He didn’t go viral yet.

Wow. Who else came to the shop, that other folks would know?


Auntie Lena Machado. Well, my father’s grandaunt is Clara Inter Haili, also known as Hilo Hattie. And she was always there at the store, coming by to say hello.


What did she like to eat?




Ake was her favorite.


What is ake?


It’s raw liver; raw beef liver. And we’d have to flush all of the blood out, and then you de-vein it. Then you salt it, and you mix it with kukui nut and some limu, and chili pepper, and you ate it like that. So somebody’s really Hawaiian if they can eat ake.


That’s a lot of work, too.


Yeah, it is.


It’s very time consuming.


De-veining it.


Yes, it’s all done by hand, so … my mother was an expert at that.


Do you still do that?






You still do that at the shop?


We still do that; yes.


Wow …


There’s no machine that does that. [CHUCKLE]


And how many people ask for it?


A lot. There’s a lot of people that come in and ask for it. That’s one of our specialties that we still do.


Because a lot of people don’t serve it anymore.




Because of the labor.


It’s a lost art, actually. Not even my children know how to do it.


We make loko too. And not to waste all of the kalua pig when they kalua the pig, so we’d have to learn how to clean the liver. Yeah; and then you saved the blood from the pig also. And then, you had to cook it up with the kalua pig. So that’s like one thing that not too many people eat, that we still do also. And the naau, we still do that. It’s the …


The pig intestines. But now, everything needs to be certified.




We’re culturally certified, so we don’t have any homemade or home slaughtered pork, pork parts.


Organs; yeah, You buy it and you cook it.


I see.


Everything needs to come in from the mainland. We’ve seen a lot of government regulations put on the foods that native Hawaiians are used to eating, so the generation now, they’re missing a lot of the traditional ways of preparing things. But I think health wise, and for the safety of everyone, something needed to be done.


People who love Hawaiian food don’t know some of these Hawaiian foods, because they’re not available in any quantity elsewhere.


Yeah. Like dried fish. Before, on the Big Island, all of the dried akule, everything came from the Big Island, milolii, akule, opelu. Now, there isn’t any, so a lot of the fish that needs to be sold, it’s imported fish from Asia, and then you improvise.


So, you buy the dried fish, and then you do all —


Right. You buy it frozen.


Yeah; you buy it frozen, and then we dry it. Process it in our way. Yeah.


In our parents’ generation, my dad would buy by the pounds. And back then, it was called kau. The Hawaiian way of measuring was the kau.




K-A-U; yeah.


And what was that?


It was like, so many pieces of dried opelu or dried akule was one kau. So, when you ordered it from the fisherman, you’d say, I want three kau’s of dried opelu. And they knew what you were talking about.


Rachel and Lorraine Haili’s mother was of Chinese ancestry, and she encouraged her children to take pride in their Hawaiian and Chinese heritage. After the birth of each of her six children, the matriarch would visit a Chinese temple to ask the fortuneteller to bestow a Chinese name on each daughter, according to the time and day of her birth. All of the girls were given Hawaiian names as well. The Haili family continues to honor this practice.


‘Til today, we still do a lot of the things that my mother respected and taught us to do. You know, like, we still go to the cemetery for Ching Ming, and we do it for my father, my mother, my sister, and my aunties, just because it’s something my mother taught us that we should do for our ancestors.


Do you think your children will do it?


My children, yeah. They’re very involved with the cultural things that we do.


So, you’re pretty sure that’ll be continued.






I think so.


Lorraine is very culturally in tune. She’s a grandmother, and for a young generation grandmother, she wants to be called Popo, you know, which is the Chinese name for grandma.


So, my grandchildren call me Popo, and my grandchildren are multicultural. They’re Tongan, Samoan, Hawaiian-Chinese, and then, my granddaughter is Hawaiian-Chinese, Caucasian. And it’s like a melting pot at home.


Now, why did you choose Popo? Is that because your mom was Popo? Because you could have said Tutu, or Puna for Kupuna.


Puna; right. When my first grandson was born, I said, No, I waited this long, and my children grew up with a Popo. My mother was Popo to all of the grandchildren.


But your father was not Gung Gung.


He was.


He was Gung Gung?


He was Gung Gung.


He was a Hawaiian Gung Gung.








He was Gung Gung. And that’s what my grandkids call my husband.


Oh …


Gung Gung.


In the late 1960s, Rachel Haili had just graduated from college in Ohio. When she returned home to help run the family business, her mother, at age forty-eight, had suffered the first of a series of debilitating strokes, and only a few years later, Rachel’s father died at age fifty-three. Rachel took on the job of supervising her sisters and the other relatives who worked at the store. It’s now her younger sister Lorraine’s turn to carry on with the family business that presents challenges each year.


When I was young, I always said to myself, You’re going to study really hard, and you’re going to go away to college, and you’re going to get a good job. You’re gonna be like a college administrator or something.


You’re never gonna de-vein another liver in your life.


I’m never gonna clean another aku. I’m never gonna do that again. And, it turns out, I had to come back and do exactly what I had said I wasn’t going to do. But, luckily, my family had prepared me for that. They had taught me how to do everything that was necessary to run the business, and then I think going away to college, I learned to be a little more independent and to make decisions. And I had been taught all my life that family is first and you need to take care of your family, so it was a no-brainer for me.   I had to get everybody set. I thought, well, by the time my younger sisters graduate from school, I can go back to school. And time just kinda went along, and I was enjoying doing what I was doing, and it just flowed. So, by then, I was like forty, and I was like, well, do I want to start from the bottom all over and go get a job and work for somebody else? I had already worked for myself.


And look who’s running the business now.


I’m glad she has —


It’s my turn. [CHUCKLE]


I think it’s so wonderful that one sister has passed the baton to another, and now, you are the only sister working in the shop after six did.


But I also have my nephew, Kaulana, who is the son of our youngest sister, Carol. And so, he’s stepping in and learning the ropes. And then, my children come in. My two sons are firefighters, by the way, so they come whenever I need help. And my daughter teaches, she’s a schoolteacher, so she’ll come on weekends or special events. And all of the other grandchildren, whenever we need help, they all step in. And business now, it’s so different as far as the way things are done. There’s no garage laulau making nights. Everything needs to be on a schedule. You have employees, you need to make sure that you have all your materials and supplies there when your employees come in, otherwise it’s wasted time. And time is money when you’re running a business, so that’s what I need to get my children to understand.


And you’ve learned all that on the job. You’ve seen all the transitions.


That was the difference; we learned it on the job.


Well, I chuckle now, because back then, I used to tell Lorraine these things, and she’d just say, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or I tell my sister them these things, and they say, Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so now, I hear Lorraine almost echoing me.


And the kids are saying, Yeah, yeah, yeah. [CHUCKLE]


Yeah, yeah, yeah. [CHUCKLE]


But you’ve done this for a long time, and you have the energy and the spirit to keep going.


This is what we know. And I still have a passion for it. I credit my mom and my father for allowing us, or letting us fly out of the nest for a little while. Rachel got to go away and go to college, she got her degree. My sisters, they all held other jobs. I was able to go to live in Chicago and New York, because I was a flight attendant for United Airlines, and decided this is not for me. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. It was a fun job. When you’re young and you’re in your twenties, it’s exciting. But then, you come back home to Hawaii, and it’s like, I really don’t want to go back to the mainland, I want to stay here.


And so, what made you decide to go back to the family business?


Because at that time, there was a need for me to be there. And my obligation to my family was very strong.


And my mother always stressed that even though she was pure Chinese, she always told us, You’re half Hawaiian, and you need to be proud that you’re Hawaiian. And that was a time when, you didn’t speak Hawaiian, and being Hawaiian wasn’t, something that you kind of touted, I guess. So, she always told us that. Be proud of who you are.   In a way, our family has made a little bit of contribution to helping to preserve this Hawaiian culture, by offering Hawaiian food, good Hawaiian food.


We never thought that —


Yeah; we had no intention —


— Hawaiian food was so important. Any kind of food to a culture, it’s important. It’s very important, because people will sit and share the food, and share conversation. And, it’s always like when you parties.


We always gather around the table.


What kind food did you have?


Right; it’s like a language.






Yeah, it’s a coming together. Like they say paina, and you come and you share. You not only share food, but you share good times, and camaraderie, and everything. But we never thought when we were doing this that, oh, we’re learning this because we want to be able to preserve the limu culture, or whatever.




And it’s just kind of like, when you look back and you say, Wow, when I say limu lipepe, everybody —


People look at you and go, What is that? [CHUCKLE]


Do you have regulars who come for the kind of foods that they don’t see other places, and they come regularly to you for it?


For ake and raw squid.


And you know when they walk up, you know what they want.


Yeah, I already know what they want. There’s a man that’ll come for lomi oio once a week. I have to make sure that it’s there on Fridays. And if I don’t have it, he’ll give me scoldings.


Isn’t oio really bony?


Yeah, but the way that the lomi oio is prepared is, it’s scraped, and then … by hand, all of the pin bones are pulled out of the fish.


Yeah. That’s why you have to learn how to clean the fish correctly, so when you cut it, the bone stays on one side, and when you scrape the meat off, it’s easier.


Ah …


Rather than getting everything in there.


And you’ve got all these other things going on in the shop, but you’re basically making sure the bones don’t go in the meat in this one oio fish.






I really valued what my family had built up, what my parents had established. And I’m hoping that along the way, somebody else in our family is going to recognize, what this is, and what it could be, and what opportunities their grandparents and their parents, and their aunts and uncles have created, and can perpetuate some of this. Because there is value to their lives, if they could just recognize and accept it.


In 2009, after nearly sixty years as a tenant at the Ward Farmer’s Market, the Haili’s Hawaiian Foods family operation lost its lease. The business went through a spell as a lunch wagon, and then found a modest new home in Kapahulu. With its sit-down restaurant atmosphere near Waikiki, a now expanding tourist clientele can experience a first taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine. And of course, Haili’s continues to be a favorite gathering spot for local people to enjoy traditional Hawaiian foods like lomi oio, ake, and raw squid, coming not from a recipe book, but from the heart. Thank you, Rachel Haili and Lorraine Haili Alo for sharing your long story short. And thank you, for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou. ‘Til next time, aloha.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


God, I remember when all the whole beach was covered with seaweed, and you just have to walk on the shore and pick it. We should be concerned about too, is how can we bring back all of these limu’s and preserve our culture. ‘Cause nobody knows now when you say huluhulu waena, or lipoa, what those limu’s taste like.


Where do you get your limu now?


Commercially, we have to buy ogo. We get ours from the farms, the limu farms. And then, there’s still limu kohu in the ocean, so whenever there’s fishermen that come into our store and they say that they have limu kohu, I’ll buy it from them. Because a lot of the fishermen are still dependent on the ocean for their livelihood.


Makia Malo


Original air date: Tues., Oct. 12, 2009


Sharing Stories of Hawaii and of Kalaupapa


Makia Malo is an award-winning, native Hawaiian storyteller who has traveled the world, sharing his stories about Hawaii and especially Kalaupapa, where he lived until recently. Makia talks about being diagnosed with Hansen’s disease and sent to Kalauapapa where he joined three other siblings. He also recalls some of his experiences there and how, after leaving Molokai and earning a degree in Hawaiian Studies, he met his wife Anne.


Makia Malo Audio


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He’s a native Hawaiian storyteller, known internationally. His stories are personal, sometimes in pidgin English, and they’re always embellished for fun—mostly about growing up in Kalaupapa where he spent most of his youth as a Hansen’s disease patient. Elroy Makia Malo, next on Long Story Short.


Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to “Long Story Short.” The Belgian priest, Father Damien, served people with Hansen’s Disease in Kalaupapa a full half-century before Makia Malo was banished there as a child. Yet Makia feels very close to Saint Damien across the span of time…because Damien treated patients like people. And even though there was no cure at that time for the dreaded disease, Damien was not afraid to embrace patients spiritually and physically. Makia Malo was once a boy living happily with his family in the Hawaiian homestead of Papakolea, near punchbowl national cemetery. He probably had leprosy or Hansen’s disease as we call it in Hawaii, years before it was diagnosed.


When we kids used to—we cut short through then, we ran around bare feet. We rarely wore shoes. At least I rarely did. And so what happened was, one day I stepped on this glass and I didn’t know.


How old were you then? Was that shortly before you went to Kalaupapa?


Oh, no. I was about third grade, maybe.


Because that’s one of the signs of Hansen’s Disease—




right? Loss of sensation.


Right. And so that was the first time. But then later on, under the same spot of my foot, I remember I went with Daddy up Tantalus, they had this place where they get the gravel from the kind of pumice from the lava flow. And they had—I guess they call it, black sand—way up Tantalus. And they would haul it off in these big trucks. So we went up there and I was running around inside. The next day, oh, my leg hurt so bad, and Daddy … I went to him, he called me out in the yard, we’re sitting on this table. He said, Look, eh, put your foot up on this table. And I see him sharpening his knife. And then he was prodding and probing at something, and then this darn thing hurt. It just popped out. And it was an ulcer, I didn’t know the word applied, but there was a hole under my heel. And after that, that took care of it, and it healed. And years later when I was Kalaupapa, I realized way back how young I was then, that the sign of the disease was already on me. I was losing sensation.


At what point did Hansen’s Disease come into your life? What do you remember?


When it first happened, I didn’t know what it was. Mama … one day, she said, Makia, tomorrow, you’re not going to school. I said, Oh yeah, Mama? How come? Never mind question. I always needed to know why about things. And the next day, Friday morning, Mama takes me and my kid brother, Pilipili, to the old Kapahulu Theater. Are you familiar with—


I remember, long time ago.






Okay; the Kapahulu Theater. And we went there, and the movie, I still remember until today; They Died With Their Boots On, when it first came out. And so we went to the movie, and then next, she took us to eat ice cream, and then she took us home. Next morning, we had to get on the car, my brother and I, and then I didn’t know Daddy went in the back of the car, and then he got in the car. I heard something slam behind. And then we were on the car, we were driving out. Mama didn’t say anything. And we went straight down to this place. I didn’t know it then, but this was the Kalihi Hospital. We drove right through the open gate and took a right, and then we took a left, and we stopped right in front of this long building. And then Mama says, Pilipili, get out this car, and you stand right here. She’s pointing right outside of her door. And Mama turns and looks behind, and goes like that. [INDISTINCT] And then he gets out of the car and closes the door and stands in front Mama. And then I hear the thing slam in the back again, and I see Daddy putting the small suitcase next to him. Then he gets around the car, get in, and we drive straight down, and turns around, and coming back, and my kid brother is like this; his face up in the sky, and he starts crying, the tears just come. And we were together so often, when one cry, the other one, oh, just automatically cried. And I’m crying; I’m calling, Pilipili, Pilipili. And he’s looking up the sky [INDISTINCT]. And what I saw next was this man coming off the porch of that long building, right across from where we dropped him off, and that man was walking on the steps to get him. And then we went home, and didn’t see him for almost a week.


What did your parents say to you? What happened?




Nothing? Did you say, Why are we leaving—




—Pili there?


No. Well, like I say, when I ask questions you know Mama’s response.


What little Makia Malo did not know, and what Mama was not saying, was that having Hansen’s disease or leprosy was actually considered a crime in Hawaii! If you had the disease, or even if you were suspected of having it, you had to turn yourself in, or you’d be arrested. Beginning in 1865, Hawaii law required that people with the disease, then incurable, be banished to Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on the island of Molokai. It was a place of no return.


And then when it happened to me, all Daddy said was, Makia, tomorrow … you’re not going to school. I said, Oh, how come, Daddy? Don’t ask questions.. I was thinking, oh, jeez, how come? So the next day, we got on the car, and we drove down to Dr. Chun Hoon’s office. He was the head of the Health Department at the time. And we stayed there for about two hours. But when we first got in, we sat down for a while, and then he came out and he took snips from our ears, taking blood sample. They nick the ear. And so he took the blood, and about two hours, we stayed there waiting, and waiting. And when he came out, he said, Oh, Mr. Malo, I got good news for you. You don’t have the disease, but I’m afraid your son, Elroy, does. And he has to go to Kalaupapa next week. He said, He has to go to Kalaupapa. And Daddy jumped up and he said, Doctor, I like my boy go Kalaupapa tomorrow to be with his brothers and sister. And Dr. Chun Hoon said, Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Malo, the flight is full. But he can go next week Friday. But he go next week Friday, he can stay at home. But he cannot go to school. In my young mind, the only part I heard was I didn’t have to go to school.


And did anyone tell you they didn’t expect you to ever leave Kalaupapa, based on the state of the disease?


Oh, that’s what we were told.


You knew that, that—


Oh, yeah.


They were really banishing you as a kid.


Oh, yeah. But nobody said stuff like that to us. We were just there, we’re locked up. We were never told we had choices. And so for me, as I was a teenager, oh, god, I loved that place. I was doing more hunting than anything. Even if I didn’t catch anything, it didn’t matter.


Well, what exactly did you experience and know you were experiencing when you were in Kalaupapa?


Oh, I used to go hunting. I love hunting. And in [INDISTINCT] Valley, the first valley that’s directly opposite from the crater, oh, every day, I can go hunting, even if I had pain in my feet. And I had an ulcer under my heel, and I’d still go hunting, and I’m running in the dry riverbed, jumping on stone to stone. In the morning, I can run free, but by evening, I’m having so much pain that years later, I had five ulcers on my feet, three on one, two on the other. And so the dressings every day. And then we would try to take pain pills on days. The only thing we took [INDISTINCTI can’t think of the name.]


Codeine? No?


No, they never gave us codeine then.


Did you not feel the pain until it went deep?


Oh, yeah.




That’s right.


But in the beginning, you couldn’t feel it, because it was surface—


No, it—




Yeah, it wasn’t as bad. In the morning, I get up, there’s no pain, so I just get dressed, I go hunting. But when I come back from all that running, and climbing, I just get so much pain in the evenings. And that never stopped me from doing that kinda stuff. And then I’d jump in the water, and in salt water. That’s bad for the wound if you go swimming every day, because then, like running around up on the mountain, they don’t heal. And for years, I think no, not seventeen years. Maybe thirteen or fifteen years, I had those ulcers under my foot.


So you were a young guy living an active lifestyle—


Yeah, very. And we never had that kind place in Honolulu. No place to hunt. We used to go hunt for birds.


So you were going crazy with hunting, but meanwhile, the disease was making itself felt?




In the sense that you couldn’t feel in your outer extremities?


Yeah. The skin level, and being unaware of it. And there was no one telling you how to be careful. They don’t caution you about what things to do, what not to do.


I thought there were—


So I—


—medical people.


Oh, yeah, there were.


But they didn’t tell you about lifestyle—




—changes you should make?


No. And even the time too, I wouldn’t listen to them too.




But what I’m saying is that they never cautioned the new patients, no one was cautioned about doing things. It’s after you did it, and it happened to you; then they tell you, because you went—did this, and did that, and that’s why it happened. And that’s it.


So you learned by pain.


You learn it on your own, you had to. Because there wasn’t anything around to really stop you.


I’ve heard there was a needle test, to see if you’d lost sensation in your face, in your hands, your feet.


Yeah, they would do that at the hospital.


Your hands, you don’t have full fingers, right?


That’s right. Because I don’t feel, they were damaged. Starting a blister, and because they don’t feel, you keep using your hand. Even you have it dressed. Sometimes you get the pain, but it doesn’t last forever. And then next thing you know, you lose one finger, you lose the second finger, and you always have these slits on the bottom. Bottom of the base of the finger, in the palm. And ulcers in the feet. So those two places on the body suffer the most damages.


A drug cure for Hansen’s disease came to Kalaupapa in the late 1950s. It was great news for the newly diagnosed.   But for Makia Malo and those who developed the disease before the cure, the nerve and other physical damage to their bodies was irreversible.


Is going blind a—




—a common effect of Hansen’s Disease?


For many. Well, it’s one of the things. Not everybody came blind, but many.


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


No; not even the doctor.


You were trying to keep it a secret, so that you could be—


I didn’t know I was blind. And I thought this was just temporary. So the doctor asked me how I was doing. I said, Okay. A whole week, I couldn’t see. But like I say, in my mind was only temporary. So I find my way to the bathroom by just hanging onto the wall, and crossing the floor, by counting the doors where I know the bathroom is.




I go in the bathroom, I take a bath. And the soap, because my hand didn’t feel it, it kept dropping all over the damn shower while I’m taking a shower. Oh, god, was so hard. And then after that, I bathed in a bathtub.


So then, I’m in my bed. I’m thinking, how the heck I going tell my parents? Oh, man. Oh, jeez, I know. So that evening I got up, and I’m looking around. I listening, rather. Nobody in the hallway. I walk out to the hallway. I come by the nurse’s station, and nobody in there. And right across the nurse’s station right alongside the continuing hallway down to the outside is this pillar. I can see the light inside the telephone booth.




I walked straight to the light. I walked inside, close the door. I turned off the light, and I thought, How the heck I going call Mama them? And then I thought, I know what. When I used to dial, I didn’t even bother looking at the telephone, so I going try the same thing. I did and I got through. I said, Oh, Mama, Mama, this is Makia. Mama, can you and Daddy come down tomorrow? She said, Oh, yeah, okay, son. They came down and Daddy end up sitting at the end of the bed, Mama sits on my right. And Mama always did this; she sit by me and she grab my arm, she rubs my arm. You know, rubs my arm. And then I said, Mama, I have something to say. And Mama says, Yes, son. Mama, I blind. Yes, son. And keep rubbing. Mama, you heard me? She said, Yes, son. She continues rubbing; each time it’s getting harder and harder. Mama, Mama, I’m blind. And I could hear her sobbing and she was rubbing harder and harder. And my daddy, I can tell when he’s crying; he starts sniffling.




And that was how I told my parents how I was blind. And then I spent the rest of the time trying to figure out how to survive.


Makia Malo summoned up personal resilience and inventiveness, and he persevered. In 1971, after the drug cure, Makia bravely set off for Honolulu. He rented an apartment and earned a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies, plus a teaching certificate. He also started his career as a Hawaiian storyteller. That’s when a cultural treasure whose name often turns up in recollections on this program, the late Auntie Nona Beamer, introduced Makia to somebody named Ann Grant. Indeed, Makia Malo fell in love with Ann. She had eyesight and she had never had Hansen’s disease…they got married.


Who made the first move?


Oh, her.




She wanted to take me to her apartment, and I was thinking, Oh, jeez, how I going get home? And anyway, she finally Auntie went tell me. She said, After we finished performing, Oh, Makia, I have to go to this, birthday party, so I going drop you off with Ann, okay? I said, Okay. She dropped me off with Ann. Went into the house, and Ann had these videos she wanted me to listen to. It was some professor. I forget what kind videos. And I was listening, and by the time I went back to Hale Mohalu, was after eleven. And it was from that day on. We just kept in touch and I just couldn’t see this Haole girl from the mainland. I thought she crazy.




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


Sounds like she didn’t complain.




Her whole long marriage with you.


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


Ann Grant Malo managed her husband’s career as a storyteller.


What kind of stories? Here’s one of his favorite tales…he’s refined it over the years.


It came out of one of the kids asking me one day, and I was waiting for my turn. ‘Cause Ann was starting to talk to open up our program. And this young boy asking me, Why you wearing dark glasses? I said, What? Why you wearing dark glasses? And I didn’t know what to say. I said, Oh you wouldn’t want to know. And then I walked away. And then I kept thinking about it, then I had a fabulous line. And my line was, The reason why I’m wearing dark glasses is that I’m so ugly, I stop traffic. And the kids all laugh. I say, You guys believe me? No. I say, Oh, good. If you guys believe me, then I no can tell you the story. But if you no believe me, then I gotta prove it to you guys, right? And when I say, right, I waiting for answer. Then the kids, they start thinking. Oh … something up, you know. [chuckle] And so then, that’s when I really pace. So here’s what I—I going count ‘til three. If you’re not scared, please look and enjoy yourself. But please, if you’re scared, please do not look. And by this time, I told them guys and they were kinda scared already. By this time, I says, Oh, by the way, you boys, if you’re scared, you can jump in the girls’ lap.




Ann told me after that, the girls all grabbed their chairs—




—moved to the other end of … so when the time, I started counting. Oooooone …




Twoooooooooo …




I scream. Oh, they all scream.




Then I yank off my glasses and they look at me.


What’s the biggest mistake people make when they’re reacting to someone who, today, is a former patient?


Well, it’s not only us. The same thing happened to those who had AIDS. Another of that kind of contagion, you know. But for us we ended up in the Bible. And that’s where so many people, I believe, use that as almost like a right to call us by that L-word.


I know what the L-word is.




I think the reason it is such a horrible word to residents and patients of Kalaupapa is because it describes a person in terms of the disease.


Right; right. You’re not a person anymore; you’re a disease.


What about the term leprosy, the disease?


Well, they know the word. They know the word, but that other word describes you.


So calling the disease leprosy or Hansen’s Disease, no big deal. But it’s describing—


The person.


—the person as a leper.




Has somebody said to you, You leper? Have they done that?


Not me personally, but describe me as part of Kalaupapa. You lepers of Kalaupapa.


Do you say anything when they say that? Do you correct them?


Oh, yeah.


What do you say?


I cuss them all out by saying, F you.


Very succinct. [chuckle]


Yeah. And I say, you and your family too.


It’s that terrible a word.


Oh, it is.


‘Cause it reduces you to a disease.


To a disease. And it’s out of hate or fear. It’s not because they embrace anything. Just because hate or fear, that’s it.


These days, the disease that for so long separated so many Hawaii families is treated in office visits, with drug therapy. But patients say the stigma remains. Thank you Makia Malo, for your candor, and thank you for watching Long Story Short. For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox.   A hui hou kakou.


But at the time the patients have all passed, and it is what would you like to see happen to the settlement?


My preference is that Kalaupapa go back to the Hawaiians, as intended. When the program started to take over Kalaupapa, the Health Department, no, I think the Homestead program offered the Hawaiians who were given designated spots in Kalaupapa. They gave them homes on other islands.


I see.


Wherever—whichever island they wanted.



Nathan Aweau, Award-Winning Vocalist


Nathan Aweau, award-winning vocalist and former member of music group Hapa, performs in this special recorded at the PBS Hawaii studio. In between songs, Nathan reflects on his work from scenic Kahana Bay on Windward Oahu.


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