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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]

 

 

 

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Transcript

 

And we are, aren’t we, the state that has the most quickly-disappearing species.

 

We continue to be an endangered species capital.  The Bishop Museum, not that long ago, had an exhibit on feather work and Hawaiian birds, and they also had a timeline up on the wall of when birds went extinct.  And … it brought tears to my eyes to stand there, and to look at when I was born, and I don’t remember the number of birds, and to see the number of birds that had gone extinct in my life.  That was hard to look at.

 

She grew up tagging along with her father as he worked on nature preserves.  And now, she is protecting many of those special places of Hawaii. Ulalia Woodside, 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.  Ulalia Woodside has dedicated her career to managing and protecting the lands and other natural resources of Hawaii. She’s also a kumu hula with a deep connection to the Hawaiian culture.  In 2016, Woodside became the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, overseeing forty thousand acres of preservation areas, not only Hawaii, but as far away as Palmyra Atoll, which is a thousand miles south of the Hawaiian Islands.  Her love of the land and her culture came to her early and easily, taught by example by her parents.  Her mother, Leiana Woodside, was a kumu hula and curator at the Queen Emma Summer Palace, and her father, David Woodside, was a wildlife biologist and naturalist.

 

I was very fortunate to be born and raised in Waimānalo.  I think I had a unique upbringing.  My parents had me a little later in life.  My mother was forty-four when she had me, my father was forty-six.  Now, that’s nothing, but back in the day, that was considered late.  You know, my mother was born and raised in a Hawaiian lifeway.  Her mother, and her mother before her, they had this vision of what it means to be a Hawaiian woman.  And in our family, my grandmother embodied that.  She embodied what it meant to be a Hawaiian woman, or this image of Haumea, the goddess, the deity, that energy that is the life source of creation and of birth.  That Haumea takes many forms.

 

What was your grandmother’s name?

 

My grandmother was Ida Pakulani Kaaihue Kaianui.  And you know, she was born in 1888, and she passed away in, I think it’s 1974 or 1976.

 

So, born during the days of the monarchy, and died after all the cultural unrest of America.

 

And statehood; right.

 

And after Hawaii’s statehood; yes.

 

Yes; until statehood.  So, you’re exactly right.  And because my mother is the youngest daughter of fifteen children—she’s number thirteen, and my mother has me at forty-four, what this means is, I have this really short linkage back to 1888, in a way; right?  And so, our family traditions really compact in these two generations, is the way that I was raised.  And I think that’s quite unique.  It made it challenging going to school at times.  You know, your parents are listening to Frank Sinatra, and your friends’ parents are listening to, you know, the Beatles or, you know, Neil Diamond, or something a little bit more contemporary, and we didn’t have a television when I grew up.  My mother wanted to have a yard that had Hawaiian plants in it.  She wanted a loi, so right there on the beach in Waimanalo, my father created a loi for her.  So, I grew up working in the loi there in Waimānalo.  We went fishing.  My father and I would lay net back in the days when, you know, you still could lay net. In my community, there weren’t a lot of children my age, so I went to work with my parents, I went to board meetings with my parents.  I went to Audubon Society Christmas bird counts with my father from a young age. I guess it’s a shift in how we raise our families nowadays.  My parents didn’t spend their days taking me to my activities, except hula.  You know, my upbringing was going with my mother as she would develop hula productions for State Foundation Culture and the Arts, or for the Aloha Week Festival.  And she would really have the leaders and the influencers of kumu hula, and they’d design these productions together.  My father would help with the staging and the plants.  And you know, those were the things that I needed to participate in.

 

Now, hula is very intensive, and if you’re passionate about it, you can’t have enough of it.  But there are some kids who say: Oh, no, do I have to go today again? What was your situation?

 

You know, I started dancing hula before I could remember.  I have pictures of me, very young, dancing hula.  And it was non-negotiable.

 

Nobody asked; right?

 

Nobody asked.

 

You just did it. 

 

And there was never gonna be a time when hula was not gonna be a part of my life. So, that connection with hula, that responsibility to hula, was there from the beginning, and will be there ‘til the end.  But it was not something that I could in any way step away from by choice.

 

But did you want to?

 

You want to, and then there was a lot of crying involved with hula.

 

Do I have to do that again, you mean?

 

And in that way, you know, when your grandmother—my grandmother was a kumu hula, my mother and two of her sisters were kumu hula, there’s an expectation of how you will perform.  And there’s an expectation of excellence, there’s an expectation that you will grasp quickly the dance or the chant that you need to learn.  And that wasn’t always the case, and sometimes I didn’t want to practice.  Sometimes I wanted to play, sometimes my feet didn’t do what they were supposed to do. But there are so many things that hula teaches you, and it’s something that has existed in my life.  You learn that you can do almost anything.  You can do things you might not want to do, and you can do them well.

 

Now, was your dad Hawaiian as well?

 

My father wasn’t Hawaiian.  But he was born and raised in Kapa‘au, Kohala on Hawai‘i Island, and his father came to Hawai‘i to be a part of the Kohala Mill system that they had.  So they had long roots here in Hawai‘i, but he wasn’t Hawaiian.  This was his homeland; it was the only homeland he knew. He loved this place, and he loved the values and the way of life these islands had created.  So, the forest and those plants created a relationship that we have with them, created this aloha ‘āina, this concept of mālama‘āina, this responsibility to place.  And he embraced that, and that was his career.  My father had spent the majority of his career and his life in remote places caring for Hawai‘i, caring for the natural resources, the forests, the birds.  And so, when they came together, they brought their two worlds together.

 

He let you tag along in his work, which was fascinating and beautiful, out in the outdoors and with the discipline of understanding the environment.  What was that like?  Where’d you go?  What’d you do?

 

I distinctly remember we went out to Mānana, Rabbit Island, right off of Waimānalo and there were rabbits on that island. And one of the things that my father did was spend a lot of time in remote places.  He went to Jarvis Atoll and Rose Atoll, he went up to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Tern Island, Nihoa, Necker, Mokumanamana, and he’d spend long time there.  And one of the things that he would do when he would go to places is he would eradicate small mammalian predators, or he’d eradicate things that were disrupting the natural system there; sometimes cats.  And on Rabbit Island, it was rabbits.  And so, it had been years when rabbits weren’t supposed to be on Mānana anymore, but we’d go there, and there’s a rabbit on the island.  And I remember my father getting the gun out.  And we were with a number of other of his adult wildlife friends, and they’re doing their thing.  We’re on a bird count, and we’re studying.  And I am jumping up and down: Run, rabbit, run, get away, get away, get away!

 

And you know, it … it was dispatched. My father dispatched that rabbit.  And then we cleaned it, he and I cleaned it, and then we ate it that night.  But I got to do these really interesting things with him.  And going to Mānana was one of those really transformational days. You have an ‘ewa‘ewa chick, sooty tern chick, just a puffball of fuzz in your hand.  Rob Shallenberger used to work with my father at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he’s also a great photographer. And he took this picture of me, and you can just see in my face how excited I am to have this little puffball in my hand.

 

As a child, Ulalia Woodside yearned to be like her father, working in the field and watching out for nature.  And that’s the path she started on as a young adult. But she steered in new directions, finding other ways to help the lands and reefs of Hawaii.

 

My very first job was a place where my father worked for a number of years, the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  The Land Division needed student help, a student helper position, so right out of high school, I think two months or so after I graduated, I started working for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  And it was a tremendous experience.  I worked there all through my undergraduate years, until I got my bachelor’s degree.  And I learned about land tenure in Hawai‘i, I learned about state leases, I learned about shoreline issues, I learned about long tenured families that have long deeds that go back to Kamehameha V.

 

Were you doing paperwork, or were you out in the field?

 

It evolved.  So, when was a student helper, I mostly made copies.  I also was a clerk typist for a period of time, and at that time, I got to see the leasing documents come through.

 

So, you were reading the documents as well as processing.

 

Right. You know, file them and understand them, different islands, the different issues that are going on.  And after I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree, I worked there for a little bit of time as a land agent.

 

What does a land agent do?

 

So, at that time, I was helping process shoreline certifications.  So, people who would like to build or develop on coastal properties, you frequently need to identify where the shoreline is, because there are specific regulations about setback.  It really taught me a lot about, you know, how things happen.  It was an incredible growth period for me.

 

All while you’re going to college and learning.

 

All while I’m going to college.

 

What were you studying in college?

 

In college, I was studying political science.  And then, I also got a second degree in Hawaiian studies, and I got a certificate in Hawaiian language.  And so, at the time, with the political science, I was thinking of going to law school at the time.  And had some other friends that were in political science, and they were moving on to law school, but I was working, you know, with the state.

 

So far, you’re following a similar path to your father, but you’re taking it in a different direction, ‘cause you’re interested in the decision-making and the issues involving regulation.

 

At that time, I was, you know, I really was interested in that.  And shortly after I finished high school, the State of Hawai‘i workforce went through a really large reduction in force.  And so, I had only been now in my permanent land agent position, was the bottom of the rung position for just a couple of years.  Not even two years, I think.  And so, there was somebody else with greater seniority than I did, and so with that reduction in force …

 

You got bumped.

 

I got bumped.  I got bumped out of that position.  And you know, if that hadn’t happened, I do think about, would I still be working at the Department of Land and Natural Resources today if that hadn’t happened?

 

After losing her position with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Ulalia Woodside entered graduate school at the University of Hawaii to study urban and regional planning.  From there, she took a new job in the private sector, where her interests expanded beyond land management and conservation and into cultural preservation.

 

And then, I went to a private planning and engineering firm that worked with the Department of Transportation to repair highways or build big highways, and you know, DOT Airports, and you know, had to go out to the community of Keaukaha and talk about the runway that’s next door, to speak to people who want to build industrial parks in areas, and large resort developments, and golf courses.  And so, seeing that side of the equation gave me another level of understanding of our lands here, how decisions are made, why we see that building where we see it. And it was a hard time.  When was working there, the requirement for a cultural impact assessment became law.  And prior to that, it wasn’t a requirement.  Being able to be a part on that front edge of trying to put this into place, and going out and speaking to people of place, and gathering their stories, and then coming back and finding ways in which by incorporating what is about this place actually creates a project.

 

Why was it a hard phase?

 

It was a hard time because at times, you know, you’d sit across from somebody that had a piece of property, and you know, in the environmental review process, you do a biological assessment, you do an archaeological assessment.  You see all of these, all of these treasures that they have on their property.  And I remember sitting there, and I remember the gentleman looking at me and he said: I just want to cut it up and sell it.  And I, you know, was jazzed.  We had found, you know, this ‘ilima on the property, and this.  And it made me think about the other skills that we might need in those conversations. And it also made me think about how the energy within our community helps to shape the change of something. And what I mean by that is, that awareness of what you have on your property of natural resources and cultural resources, that’s also known by the community.  And that community can inspire a developer or a landowner to create something that is even better than what they may have had in mind in integrating and incorporating that unique plant that you found, or that portion of a trail that happens to come through their property.  And that really, really got me inspired.

 

In 2002, Ulalia Woodside joined Kamehameha Schools to work on āina-based educational programs, which ultimately changed how Kamehameha Schools and other Hawaii landowners managed their natural resources, including lands.

 

I was very fortunate at that time, as I was going through that work and starting to get itchy, to be able to be proactive.  And at that time, the Kamehameha Schools had gone through a redevelopment of their strategic plan in 2000, and their land division that managed their agriculture and conservation lands was revisiting how they manage those lands in line now with the new strategic plan that really saw those lands not as separate from the mission.

 

Not commodities, but part of who Kamehameha Schools is.

 

And also, a platform through which the mission could be achieved.

 

I see; with people.

 

With people, and with education.  I was very fortunate to be invited there by Neil Hannahs.  Enjoyed working with him for … almost fifteen years.  There was a kīpuka, there was this stronghold on Kaua‘i, and one of the first projects I got to work with was out in Waipā, Kaua‘i on the north shore of Kaua‘i with the Sproat family and the Mahuiki family at that time, and the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei.  And they recognized the value in their ahupua‘a, and it had been used for, you know, ranching over the years.  But that community remembered the taro traditions, and they still raised kalo, and that’s what they felt was the abundance and the wealth of Waipā.  But they were talking to Kamehameha Schools, I think, in the 80s or so, and you know, it was at a time when Kamehameha Schools was actually considering putting in a development.

 

I remember that.

 

And they had to find a way to develop a use that would be productive on the lands, would recognize Kamehameha Schools’ needs, but also leave room for being proactive about the growing the community and also where we could be.  So, one of those great lessons, you know, I learned of my time there is, when you work for a perpetual organization that at that time had been around for a hundred and fifty years, you know, your spot is about this big on that spectrum.  You know, what are you gonna do in that spot on that spectrum, and are you gonna do some things that make it harder for those that come down the spectrum, or is what you’re doing keeping the door open, setting the table?  Is it creating an opportunity for those that are going to come after it?  And that’s what the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei and those families did, is they found a way to be productive users of the land, create capacity within their community, and start to pilot and showcase what a thriving ahupua‘a looks like, with students and learning happening there, which then set the table for us to take that to a whole different place.

 

So, those were very important years for Kamehameha, and those decisions that were made.

 

Yeah.

 

In 2016, Ulalia Woodside was selected to be the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. Big job, overseeing the protection of nature preserves across the ridges and reefs of Hawaii, and in many of the same areas that her father helped to protect.

 

In working at Kamehmeha Schools, being able to think about this return on investment, and the changes that we were making to create this abundance in place, we had worked alongside the Nature Conservancy as partners across the table with the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance, working together in developing management strategies. We frequently visited each other’s property to see how species were being managed, how they were thriving, to learn those lessons from each other.  And so, when there was the opportunity to join the Nature Conservancy, I valued the work that had been done there.  And also, you know, working at Kamehameha Schools, even when you work for the State, you’re carrying on a legacy.  And I really thought about the legacy of the Conservancy in Hawai‘i since 1980, and the change that they had brought to Hawai‘i, the idea, the concept that there are certain lands that are so special that we should set them aside, and we should protect those lands so that what’s unique about them gets preserved.  Now, at the Nature Conservancy, one of the places that we manage is Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i. I knew my father went to all of these atolls, but I came to learn that he was a part of the group that went out to Palmyra and identified the biological importance of that place, and integrity of that place, and was part of the effort to protect it, and to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize that place as an important place that needs to be protected, and to help to encourage and work with the Nature Conservancy in order to set that place apart so that those rare species, those coconut crabs, the largest breeding colony of red-footed boobies in the world, that that continues to exist, a reef like no other.

 

It just seems like everything you’ve been through took you to this place, this job that you hold now.  Do you feel like that?

 

I think life finds its way.  And I do feel like I have stayed a course.  I have followed in the footsteps of my parents.  But I have evolved along the way.  I have been that Haumea and that shapeshifter that has moved along the way. I try to find places where I can be relevant, where I can help improve the condition of our world that we live in, that I can make connections between people and nature so that we might be inspired to have a home that is thriving along with us.  And I’ve been very, very fortunate to find people to spend time with and to find employers and places where I can work towards that mission, work towards that mission of ensuring that we have Island Earth, our earthly home, our earth home and our island home, our Pacific home thrives in that way.

 

Not an easy job.  And it takes constant management.

 

It’s not an easy job.  It takes constant management.  But if we come back to hula … it is about the collective, and it is about recognizing that together, we produce something that is amazing.

 

Ulalia Woodside says she’ll continue to use valuable insights from her hula experience to bring together different people and organizations, and preserve and protect the natural resources of Hawaii and beyond.  Mahalo to Ulalia Woodside of Waimanalo, Oahu.  And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, between regular school and summer school, I would go with him to work.  And he was managing Ki‘i Refuge.  Now it’s known as James Campbell Refuge out in Kahuku.  California grass would grow very, very quickly, so driving the tractor and mowing the berms, and keeping the grass down was one of my responsibilities.

 

 

NATURE
Pets: Wild at Heart: Secretive Creature

 

The second of a two-part series, Secretive Creatures looks into how our pets experience their world through hidden channels of communication revealed with ultra slow-motion, photography that makes smells visible, X-rays that reveal hidden powers, and ultraviolet light

 

 

NATURE
Pets: Wild at Heart: Playful Creatures

 

In this program filled with innovative photography and scientific revelation, we investigate how our favorite pets get in touch with their wild side through play. From talkative budgies, marathon-running hamsters, wall-climbing cats and diving dogs, discover how our pets’ playful games are just a whisker away from the wild.

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Kahauiki Village

 

Faced with the highest rate of homelessness in the nation, Hawai‘i needs new, bold ideas to solve the state’s homeless crisis. One breakthrough vision was inspired by a specific lifestyle with deep roots in Hawai‘i’s history – and one business leader’s personal memories of growing up during that era. It took a public/private partnership unlike any other in the country to make Kahauiki Village a reality.

 

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

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
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Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

What Drives KEN BURNS?

 

CEO Message

What Drives Ken Burns?

 

Ken Burns, Photo courtesy of Justin Altman

 

Filmmaker Ken Burns, who’s coming out with an 18-hour Vietnam War film to be shown over 10 evenings this month on PBS Hawai‘i, freely admits that he’s a workaholic; that he’s obsessive in his pursuit of archival material for his films; that his detractors dismiss him as long-winded.

 

And Burns can laugh at himself.

 

As he did when he was being honored as the greatest American documentary filmmaker of his generation. Stepping up to receive a lifetime achievement, he joked that he’d prepared a nine-part response.

 

He had to learn about laughter, since sadness and loss were prevailing childhood themes.

 

Burns, 64, is clear about what drives him and his compulsion to look at the past. It is the death of his mother, Lyla Burns, just before he turned 12. She had suffered from breast cancer for nearly a decade.

 

Burns remembers coming home from school or play every day and telling his ailing mother stories about what had happened, in effect sharing life with her. After she passed away, he recalls watching movies with father, Robert Burns, and seeing him cry, which was something his father didn’t do in other circumstances. That’s when young Burns says he grasped the storytelling power of film.

 

In a short video posted online at creativeplanetnetwork.com, Burns says: “I found myself becoming a documentary filmmaker, trying to tell stories and using American history to tell those stories that I wanted to tell. When you look back at it, the job that I try to do is to wake the dead. And it doesn’t seem too far a leap to understand, from that early decision to be a filmmaker, who I really want to wake up.”

 

From the earliest time that he can remember as a child, he says he knew his beloved mom was sick. He was not close to his father.

 

As a young man, he rejected chasing a Hollywood-type career. He says he innately knew, and was taught at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, that “there’s much more drama in what is and what was, than in anything the human imagination can dream of.”

 

Delivering the commencement address at Stanford University last year, Burns explained that delving into history can lead to personal and professional breakthroughs.

 

“The past often offers an illuminating and clear-headed perspective from which to observe and reconcile the passions of the present moment, just when they threaten to overwhelm us,” he told new graduates.

 

Burns wants this newest film with his creative partner Lynn Novick, about the divisive Vietnam War era, to spur national healing.

 

As he told an interviewer from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee:

 

“We caught something during the Vietnam War – like a virus – and we are still suffering from the effects of that virus today. I’m hoping my film is a bit like a vaccination – that it exposes you to a little bit of the disease to permit you to go past it and heal from it.”

 

I invite you to join me in viewing this new Burns/Novick film series, starting at 8:00 pm, Sunday, September 17, on your TV station, PBS Hawai‘i.

 

A hui hou (until next time),
Leslie Wilcoxʻ signature

 

 

SOUNDBREAKING
Sound and Vision

 

This wide-ranging, eight-part series explores the extraordinary impact of recorded music on our modern world. The series offers unprecedented access to more than 150 artists and producers from across the music spectrum, and features rare archival studio footage and an extensive soundtrack.

 

This series was the last creative project for Sir George Martin, the producer who was instrumental behind many of The Beatles’ albums, before he passed away in March.

 

Sound and Vision
Trace the rise of MTV and see how music videos transformed our experience of music – from David Bowie, Devo and Madonna to the Eurythmics and Nirvana. Learn how a marketing tool became an art form and a powerful mediator between artist and audience.

 

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