Herb Kāne Memories
For much of my early publishing career I was afforded the opportunity to know and work with Herb Kāne. Herb was a friend who helped me to succeed with Coffee Times magazine, a publication that supported the local Kona coffee industry, and promoted Hawaiʻi’s history, people, and culture. Generously, Herb would always allow me to use his paintings to help tell my stories in the magazine, and I will be forever indebted to him.
Nearer to his time of death we talked about collaborating on two projects, one being a documentary of stories told by Kona coffee farmers, and the other was the publication of a transcript entitled “Memories of Childhood and Youth in Waipiʻo Valley” written by his dad. Herb worked for years to transcribe, compile, and edit for clarity the written memories that his father had given him prior to his passing in 1970.
It took until the Covid-19 crisis in 2020 and the downtime we are experiencing with the farms and business to finally publish these stories. I know that Herb would be thrilled to know that these stories told by his father are now being passed on to others. I hope this glimpse into Hawaiʻiʻs past will both educate and entertain you.
Learn more about "Herb" Kawainui Kāne
Memories of Childhood and Youth in Waipiʻo Valley
by Herbert Mock “Akioka” Kāne (1895-1970)
transcribed and edited by his son "Herb" Kawainui Kāne (June 21, 1928 – March 8, 2011)
CONTENTSIntroduction by Herb Kawainui Kāne
The Old People of Waipio
The Volcano Stables Stagecoach, Honoka‘a to Hilo
Landing at Laupahoehoe
Hamakua’s Former Population
Salt Water Fishing
Taro Cultivation in Waipi‘o
Father’s Taro Plantations and Poi Factory
A Ride to Honoka‘a with the Poi Train
The Horn Signal and Flag
Lighting at Night
Chinese and Hawaiian Respect for Ancestors
Churches in Waipi‘o
Trips to Parker Ranch and Kawaihae
Kawaihae Uka, Place of Ghost
Father’s Labor Problem and How He Solved It
Social Activities of Waipi‘o
A Visiting Celebrity
Nature or Nurture
Fresh Water Fishing in Waipi‘o
Chinese Food Plants in Waipi‘o
The Ti Plant, Its Uses and Misuse
The Chinese Roasting Oven
Rice Growing in Waipi‘o
Japanese in Waipi‘o
The Great Cloudburst and Flood of 1904
Cattle and Oxen
My First Experience with the Grim Reaper
Serpents in the Garden of Eden (Leprosy)
A Terrible Epidemic
Lulu Pipi (Sharing the Beef)
Aki the Hermit
The Waipio School
Hilo Boarding School
Hunting Wild Pigs
Building of the Hamakua Lower Ditch
Sharks and Dangerous Currents
The Shark Man of Waipi‘o
The Spirit World
Why I left Hawai‘i
Letters from my Father
Herb Kawainui Kāne
After my father’s death my mother handed me a wooden box containing some of his memorabilia and a manuscript of his memoirs. In a brief inspection I found descriptions of his World War II Navy experiences in the Western Pacific, and a series of essays about life in Hawai‘i during his childhood and youth, before he emigrated to the Mainland. I did not read these carefully until recently. Surprised by the amount of material about Hawai‘i Island with special focus on his birthplace, Waipi‘o Valley, I saw that I had been remiss in not giving these memoirs closer attention.
An intensely private person, he enjoyed talking about people he knew and events he witnessed, but was reluctant to talk overmuch about himself. Respecting this, I’ve edited out statements that I believe he intended for my eyes only. Editing has also been done to avoid repetition and correct spelling. I’ve preserved his spelling of Hawaiian words and used the glottal stop only where he used it. I have not greatly changed his grammatical form in order to preserve his “voice” as it comes through in his writing.
When I was old enough to start observing people, at about five, the year was 1900. Although there seemed to be many Hawaiians, the native population was only a fraction of what it had been. Depopulation had started when the first whites landed and brought diseases and liquor.
British convicts from the penal colony in Australia taught Hawaiians to make okolehao, very potent alcohol from the cooked root of the ti plant, which is another cause of the decline. Waipi‘o and Waimanu were great places for the illegal making of okolehao, the pali [cliff faces] are full of ti and the waterfalls and streams furnish cool water to condense the stills.
When we became older, the decline of pure Hawaiians became more evident. There were stone wall enclosures and stone platforms, sites where their thatched houses had been built, all covered by guava and lantana jungle and morning glory vines. Away up towards the head of the valley where Waipi‘o is more of a canyon than a valley are remains of ancient taro patches all covered with jungle.
The oldest Hawaiian in my memory was Mahina. When he passed our house on his way from up the valley to the village store, he would always stop at our house to visit with my mother. When I was very small I would run and hide under the bed because he looked so fierce with his long beard. Mahina was the last of the makers of stone poi pounders.
Then there was Ka‘aiamoku. He was the last man to wear the malo [loincloth]. He used to pass our house on his way to his taro patches wearing a shirt and a malo. He had two sons but both died in middle age in Waipi‘o leaving no heirs.
The last grass house in Waipi‘o belonged to Aikake. It was located back of the school house towards Hi‘ilawe Falls.
And there was old man Kua, the father of my friend Tom Kua of Hilo. Tom used to walk down to our house and play with us. They lived away up the valley at a location called Kahuku where they had a wooden house. Old man Kua was called Uhake Hao, breaker of iron. The story had it that when he was taken to jail for some offense he broke the chain or handcuff that they bound him with. I’d go to his place with Tom and listen to the old man. Tom said his father could read the stars and knew navigation, an art that is now lost to Hawaiians but still retained in some parts of Polynesia to the south.
And there was Kukaileiki and his wife. They were peaceful taro farmers living away up the valley and full of fun. They would go to all the luaus in the valley. He knew the ancient art of buffoonery (the comic male part in the hula dance) and would dance with the girls to the enjoyment of all the folks. He could make people scream with laughter. I often envy the capacity of these people to enjoy life. When I returned to Waipi‘o from Wisconsin in 1922 he was still alive, but he died the following year. I saw him at a luau given to some baby, and he gave a big shiny silver dollar to the baby. He told me that his time was pau and he wanted to give everything to the young. They had no heirs, a sad thing among the pure Hawaiians.
There was Kumukou who always seemed to be breaking some wild mule or horse. He would not use a saddle but ropes to make stirrups and would ride his wild mule past our place.
And there was old man Kala, father of my playmate Solomon Kala. He was from Waimanu Valley. When the population there dwindled to nothing, the last two families moved to Waipi‘o, the Kala and Kahele families. They were great fishermen who knew the sea and its many moods. Old man Kala would teach us how to watch out for undertows and avoid sharks. I last saw him in 1922.
There was old man Pena‘amina who would chant the old chants for us. These chants or oli are as old as the race. After the missionaries came the songs (mele) were influenced by the hymns, but Pena‘amina knew the oli and mele from the earlier time, when the priests could chant the genealogies of the chiefs, the history and exploits of the race in the old days. Instruments accompanying the mele were pahu (drums), ukeke (nose flute), umeke (gourds), among others.
When I was old enough to know my surroundings, there was an abandoned house at the foot of the pali road just before you start the climb up to Kukuihaele. In the house was a big whaleboat. I learned that there was a man by the name of Ha‘alilio who used to make poi and row or sail his boat over to North Kohala to sell it. The story was that when he quit the sea he had an argument about wages owed to him. The captain tried to cheat him. So he just lowered one of the whaleboats and sailed off with it.
There was Oanui and his wife living at the village and Old Man Koloa‘a. These people died without heirs, Koloa‘a was always happy and a great kidder. And there as Kawaimu‘umu‘u. Mu‘umu‘u means a stump—Kawai had a stump where a hand had been blown off while dynamiting fish, using too short a fuse or holding the stick just a fraction of a second too long.
There was Maho‘e and his old wife Ako‘e. They lived over at Ka‘ao just below Neneue Falls. Maho‘e would be working in the taro patch and right out of a clear sky he would let go with a hula song and execute a hula that made everybody laugh.
There was old man Ino, father of Johnny Ino who had a hand blown away playing with dynamite caps. Johnny is still (1953) in Waipi‘o working his father’s taro patches, married to George Hussey’s daughter, Manaia. I visited him in 1945 on my way back from the war in the South Pacific.
There were two brothers, Kalili and Kuali‘i, who lived at the foot of Papala Falls. Kalili died in 1935 when we were living in the Maxfield house in Hilo. I saw Kuali‘i in 1945. He died in 1950. He was the father of William Kahimoku Kuali‘i, my boyhood chum, who lives in Hilo. William [now deceased] is the father of your childhood playmate Dona Kuali‘i [now Don Kuali‘i of Kona] who I hear is a fine musician. The rockwork platform where the Kuali‘i house was in Waipi‘o is still there near the waterfall.
There was Alamanui Maka‘oi and his wife Kapahu who lost their own children but adopted the orphan Japanese baby, David Maka‘oi, and brought him up in Waipi‘o. He speaks beautiful Hawaiian. My earliest memory of David was of a crying little baby with tears streaming down his face and poi smeared on his mouth. He became a teacher in Honolulu.
There was Iowane and Pahi‘a who had gone away as sailors on some inter island steamer and to us kids they were great adventurers.
There was Ha‘a who lived down near the beach almost on the sand hills. He died before I left home. And there was Kalanaina, father of Sam Lia, who planted tall eucalyptus trees around his house back towards Hi‘ilawe Falls. And there was old lady Mamaha whom we all feared as a witch, living alone and murmuring to herself.
There was Noah Nalelehua who had a little education and constantly paraded it. And Pupulenui who had some sons; all died, and he himself went down to the sea fishing and disappeared.
There was A‘alona who owned some bamboo away up at Hi‘ilawe Falls and jealously guarded them, selling them to others for fishing down at the beach. He made a few cents going to Kukuihaele post office to pick up the mail for the people of Waipi‘o. Nicholas Perez swiped his wife and took her to Honoka‘a. The lonely old man used to wail alone at night. Wailing is an old Polynesian way of showing grief. It is very sad to hear.
There was Kepa, grandfather of the Bell boys of Waimea and Old Man Poliahu, a very faithful Mormon who kept the church going in the absence of the visiting elders. These “elders’ were young American boys from Utah on their two or three year mission which every good Mormon is supposed to do at their own expense.
There was Alapa‘i who had three daughters, all married to Chinese.
Then there was a Polynesian from Bora Bora near Tahiti who came with a bunch that was brought in by the sugar planters as laborers. His name was Kalawa so the people called him Kalawa Polapola, Polapola being the Hawaiian way of saying Bora Bora. Kalawa was a skillful fisherman who lived down be the sea near the place where the rocks were taken for the Hilo breakwater, below Kukuihaele.
Then there was Kapule, a very good Mormon who lived near the foot of the Waimanu pali trail. He moved away to Pa‘auhau.
These were the pure Polynesians, all taro farmers and belonged to my father’s generation. When they left this world they took with them much of the ancient customs and lore of Hawaii.
In the days of the whale ships there came a few ChamorroSpanish natives from Guam. Three settled in Waipi‘o and one at Honokina. The three in Waipi‘o were brothers, Andrew, Joseph, and Nicholas Perez, and the one in Honokina was Lucas Lujan, the father of Sam Lujan and Lucas of Oakland, California. Andrew never married. Joseph had many children, all scattered. Tom Lum Ho of Hilo is the grandson of Joseph. Nicholas had two boys, John and Charlie of Pahala in the district of Kohala.
They knew Spanish, and when some Spanish plantation laborers were brought in they were asked to help as foremen. They planted taro and did carpenter work around Waipi‘o. Nicholas swiped Aalona’s wife after his wife died and went to work in Honokaa for old Henry Hall in the butcher shop.
There were two hapa-haole families in Waipi‘o, the Husseys and the Thomas. George Alec Hussey, Sr.’s father was a beachcomber and a drunk. George Sr. and his son George Jr. were also terrible drunks and the only mean people in the valley. They fought all the time. George Sr. couldn’t speak a word of English, although he could pass for white anywhere. George Jr. being only a quarter haole was darker. When drunk they would boast and brag and speak contemptuously of the pure Hawaiians and the Chinese. Everyone else was appalled by this, the only friction of that kind I can remember. But when George Sr. got older he toned down and quit drinking and became a decent sort. They are all dead and gone now.
I never saw the first Thomas, also a beachcomber, but I saw his son, a hapa haole and a decent man. He planted that big banyan tree in Waipi‘o. Thomas the third is also a good man; all were taro planters and lived like the rest of the people. My friend and shirt tail relative John Thomas of Kukuihaele is the fourth generation.
There were hapahaole families in Waimea, the Bells, Mills, Lindseys, Fays, Stevens, Purdys, Cheseboros, who worked on the ranch, most of them descended from Yankee whaler forefathers.
The hapa haole and hapa pake kids had a much better chance of surviving the diseases that sometimes swept across the islands than did the pure Hawaiian kids, so this intermarriage actually saved the Hawaiian race.
THE VOLCANO STABLES STAGECOACH FROM HONOKAA TO HILO
Before the extension of the Hilo Railroad from Hilo to Pa‘auilo, the Volcano Stables ran a stage coach from Hilo to Honoka‘a and Honoka‘a to Kawaihae via Kamuela, the Parker Ranch Village. They carried mail and passengers. The rail extension to Pa‘auilo took place about 19101913 or thereabouts. The Hilo Railroad Company had an extension towards the volcano and to Pahoa before 1910 with a line as far as to Greenwood and a branch to Pahoa. There was a lumber mill at Pahoa, cutting ohia logs into railroad ties. The branch to Greenwood was 10 miles or so short of the Volcano. People going to see the volcano had to walk from the end of the line at Greenwood or were met by a stage. I was told that in the old days before the railroad, people hardy enough to go and see the volcano had to land at Keauhou on the Kau coast and hike or ride a horse up to the volcano.
The stage road along the Hamakua Cost from Kukuihaele to Hilo was a primitive affair in those early days. Hard surfaced roads were unheard of. During rains, which are frequent on the Hamakua coast, the road was muddy, and when dry it was dusty. But we thought we were lucky when we went to school in Hilo as compared with boys before our time, who had to walk.
Sam Ka‘aekuahiwi, who was a teacher, told us that when he and companions went to the Hilo Boarding school they walked. Along the Hamakua Coast other boys would join them, so the three day walk was really a lark. There were many Hawaiians along the coast in those days and since Hawaiian hospitality was traditional, the boys were always assured of a place to sleep and eat.
To start the trip from Waipi‘o, mother would awake us in the early hours, and make a little breakfast of poi or rice and meat and vegetables for us. Father would feed the riding mules with a pail of barley each. We’d then saddle the mules and start the climb out of the valley. After reaching Kukuihaele Village, we’d rest the mules a little after the long 900 ft. climb, then push on to Honokaa, ten miles beyond.
We’d arrive at the Volcano Stables before sunrise. There would be activity at the stables, men would be harnessing the horses. Father would wait and see me off, then return to Waipi‘o with the extra mule in tow.
The stagecoach was fixed up with seats and in such a rainy country it had a top built over it and side curtains rolled up to be let down when it rained. It was drawn by four horses. The driver had one foot on the floor and the other on the brake pedal all the time. The road was a nightmare, narrow and rocky, winding in and out of gulches and some of these were mile long affairs. The Ookala gulch and the Maulua gulch were the longest.
Our first brief stop was Pa‘auilo at the plantation store, where mail was loaded and unloaded, passengers coming and going, then to Kukaiau store, then to O‘okala, where the horses were changed. Then we’d proceed on thru the long Ookala gulch and into Laupahoehoe, loading and unloading mail, and having a brief look at the village. This is the only low tongue of land along this line of continuous cliffs from Waipi‘o to Hilo. There was a picturesque village there, a school, a boat landing, stores and even a hotel. The stagecoach company maintained a stable there where horses were changed again. Then we crawled along the road hewn right out of the side of the pali on to Papaaloa, then down into the long Maulua gulch to Hakalau and on to Honomu where the horses were changed again for the last lap of the trip. We stopped at every plantation store and post office. These were usually together in one building in those days. We would pass sugar mills every ten miles or so. We would reach Hilo after sundown, an all day trip.
Around 1910, the Hilo Railroad Company extended a line to Pa‘auilo. That was quite an undertaking considering all the gulches they had to span with bridges. They also had to dig a tunnel at Maulua gulch. The railroad brought an end to the stagecoach.
Sometimes, to avoid the tedious stage trip as far as possible, some one would take the Interisland ship from Hilo to Laupahoehoe, then continue to Honokaa on the stage. They had the Kinau carrying passengers and freight between Honolulu and Hilo, then the Maunakea, the Waialeale, and the Haleakala. Going out from Hilo, they’d stop at Laupahoehoe and send a boat into the landing, with the ship anchored about a half mile out.
This was a frightening experience for strangers. They could not see the landing ahead, concealed behind a rock outcropping. All they could see from the boat was big surf crashing through jagged lava rocks and booming against the rocky shoreline. The expert boatmen and canoe fishermen knew how to ride the right wave in through the rocks, then make a quick right turn into the landing.
In those days you could see from the stagecoach the remains of taro patches and stone house platforms throughout most of those gulches, mute evidence of a huge native population once upon a time.
Those who say that there were only three or four hundred thousand people in these islands before the White man have not seen what I have seen or heard what I have heard about all the villages and little farms that once covered Hamakua. The Haoles did not see these people because their diseases got there first. When the survivors of the plagues were cheated out of their lands, and their thatched houses fell down, only the rocks of the house platforms and walls remained; and these were scattered when the land was leveled off by the sugar planters. Huge chains were dragged across the land behind many horses or oxen. On the plateaus between the gulches the remains of ancient communities and sweet potato plantations was wiped out without a trace remaining.
There were still some houses in Honolii gulch, near Hilo when we were boys. I wish I knew what all the names mean. I know Paauhau (name of the plantation next to Honokaa) means the enclosure where the common people come to pay their taxes to their chiefs. Auhau means to assess and pa can mean enclosure. Honokaa means a steep bay, Honolii a little bay.
Because of the rough seas off WAIPI‘O on the windward side of the Island of Hawaii, salt water fishing was never as extensive as on the Kona side where the water is calm and sheltered. On the Waipi‘o side the waves encounter their first obstacle all the way from the Pacific Coast of America. Therefore, they hit with tremendous force. On stormy nights we’d hear the booming of the surf away up into the valley like an earthquake, the valley echoing and trembling under the impact.
In spite of the rough seas the people would take advantage of any calm weather to launch their canoes to fish out in the ocean, or to fish from the rocky shore under the overhanging palis, or from the sand beach with bamboo poles.
One favorite method was torch fishing. They would make a torch out of a section of bamboo, filling it with kerosene and plug the end with a rag and light it. Carrying the torch in one hand, they would go from rock to rock picking up octopus, leho shells, and opihi shells. The young octopus are transparent at night and hard to see. When alarmed they make for water like a big spider. They are grasped with a quick movement of the hand and the eye area is bitten with the teeth to kill it. The tentacles are cooked and eaten, or make good bait when cut up into sections.
The women had a way of catching small eels that was unique. They would wear a glove on one hand and lay a tentacle of the octopus in the palm of the gloved hand, holding on to the tentacle with the other hand. They’d lower the gloved hand with the tentacle in its palm into the water between the rocks. Almost immediately, small eels would crawl into the hand between the fingers to reach the bait. They’d tighten the fingers into a fist, strangling the little eels right back of the head, then lower their hand with the eels into a sack and drop them in.
Under the wet sand that is constantly washed by incoming waves there is a little crab called pokipoki. The womenfolk would run their hands under the sand and catch them.
The men would fish with a long bamboo pole, wading out as far as they dare, for moi, a fish with silvery sides. Or they’d use a snag hook and drag it over the spot where a turtle might appear and disappear in order to snag the creature.
Sometimes they’d stand motionless on a big rock, and spear an unwary fish; or use dynamite, which is forbidden by law. They would use it anyhow with occasional fatal results. This was because they used a short fuse to explode the dynamite before the fish could get away.
Over in Kawaihae, the Hawaiians would go out in a canoe and dive for turtles. I saw old man Keahi dive for lobster in Hilo Bay. When the U.S. Government finished dredging up the bay the contractors just rolled the big pipes over the side of the barge. Keahi knew that lobsters would live in these pipes. He’d swim out with a companion and both would dive down. One man would come in at one end, as the lobsters retreated they were grabbed by the man waiting at the other end of the pipe.
I knew a fellow who knew the location of every little hole in the bottom of Hilo bay. He’d dive down with a baited hook and line, push the bait into a hole with a stick and wait until an eel snapped the bait. Then he would come swimming to shore with the eel in tow.
Fishing on canoes off Waipi‘o is dangerous business. To launch a canoe beyond the breakers is a science. They would hold a canoe in readiness in knee deep water and count the breakers as they came crashing in. They would count the waves and find the rhythm. For instance, out of 6 or 7 waves there would be a short space or lull. This they called makena. Just at this lull they would jump into the canoe and paddle furiously and get out beyond the surf before the next wave broke.
From out at sea in a little canoe the valleys and chasms in the cliffs look like cracks in a gigantic piece of cast iron. The valleys are Waipi‘o, Waimanu, Honokane, and Pololu.
Because of the depth they would never try to anchor canoes out in the ocean but let them drift. To keep a fishing line down they used a heavy lead or stone sinker. They would have quite a few short leaders tied to the line, each with a baited hook, and from the bobbing canoe they were expert in feeling the fish bite. A good fisherman would let the line stay down, jerking the line several times to set his hooks before hauling the line up. They would often have a fish on every hook.
I once went out with Solomon Kala, a Waimanu friend, and expert in handling a canoe in that rough sea. He used dynamite that day because he was obliged to provide fish for a celebration, no excuse accepted. He prepared the sticks and put them into a waterproof bag at his house first. Then before we launched the canoe we tied everything movable to the thwarts, where the iako were lashed to the hull.
We went out to sea and when he came to a likely place he let down a bunch of multicolored rags with a heavy weight tied to a line, and we paddled in a circle. We would look into the bottom of the sea with a water glass, just a box with a glass bottom. What a sight to behold. Fishes of every color were drawn to the moplike rags and followed them with curiosity. When he thought there were enough he lit a stick of dynamite and tossed it into the sea and we paddled off a little distance.
Soon there was a muffled explosion and an upheaval of water and the sea was white with the fish turned belly up. We would pick them up as fast as we could because the sharks came right after the explosion. We could see the dorsal fins of the sharks cutting the water around the canoe as they took their share of the fish.
To return with the laden canoe to the shore through the breakers was another thrill. We would paddle the canoe up to just beyond the breakers and keep it in check while waiting for an unusually big wave. When that wave was right under the canoe we would paddle furiously to get on it, and could ride in on top of it in a mass of foam right up and on to the sandy beach.
According to Sam Punahu of Kukuihaele, the sharks were vicious at night, more so than during the day. He said that while fishing at night he even had the ends of his raincoat grabbed and torn by sharks.
Punahu kept his canoe at Honoka‘ape where the old quarry is below Kukuihaele. It could be reached from Waipi‘o by a dangerous trail along the base of the cliffs but this is now covered by landslide. Honokaape is where Kalawa Polapola, the Tahitian from Bora Bora, made his home until he died.
I’ve heard of certain sharks being aumakua (protective ancestor spirits) for this clan or that, and wonderful stories of certain sharks coming up at night to fishermen to have their backs scratched and be fed, but I have never seen this.
Men like Solomon Kala and Sam Punahu could right a canoe overturned in a heavy sea, bail the water out and climb back in again.
Because of the rough seas and dangerous coast, from time to time some fishermen would go out to sea and disappear. The sea takes its toll. The old timers taught us to avoid undertows and what to do if caught in one. we were to swim with the tow out to sea where the current is spent, make a wide detour, and swim back.
Skin diving with goggles and spear was introduced by the Filipino boys who brought the sport with them when they were brought over for labor on the plantations. The Hawaiian boys took it up with gusto. There is some danger to fingers from eels in this technique which happens when a diver is holding on to a rock to keep himself from floating up. An eel, seeing the finger from a crevice will take a bite at the finger. Their teeth are so sharp that they will go right through the finger. If the bite is at a joint, a stiff finger will result.
In the old days canoes were made from koa logs, but by 1895 when I came into the world many canoes were being made by 1 x 12 or 1x14 redwood boards with high sides. The tradition of making the ama (outriggers) of the lightweight hau wood continued. The inner bark of the hau was used for making rope.
To the Japanese goes the credit of being the best deep sea fishermen in Hawaii in my time. These commercial fishermen ventured out to sea in very seaworthy sampans equipped with diesel engines and ice compartments. They would go to sea for a week at a time and make a radius of hundreds of miles, and supply the islands with deep water fish.
The Hawaiians on the other hand were less commercial, fishing only for their own needs as was the custom for centuries. When we were kids we used to watch the canoes come in to Waipi‘o and everyone would give the fishermen a hand hauling the canoes up on the sand (hapai wa‘a). It was customary for the fishermen to give all those present a few fish to take home. Stinginess (pi) was almost a sin. This custom existed throughout all Polynesia and was taken advantage of by the whites as anyone who reads the history knows. I’m not just talking about a few fish, but about land as well.
Around 1910 I spent two weeks with the Kama family in Kalapana, Puna. There I learned to dive for vana, the sea urchin. Since it is full of spikes like a porcupine, they used a wire hook to take them from the sea bottom. This is done in the season when the vana is full of roe, which is eaten with great relish.
I once went fishing in Hilo Bay with Tanaka, the brother in law to Bill Kualii. We located his fishing ground using a hollow pipe filled with soft soap and dropped over the side. When it came up with sand stuck to the soap he moved on and kept sounding until it came up with bits of coral stuck to it. There he anchored and we started to fish, because he knew that the deep feeding fish hang around the coral growth.
Then he prepared the surface for the surfacefeeding fish. He opened a can of cheap salmon and mashed the contents thoroughly. Then he took a light small bamboo pole, baited it and held it aside for instant use. While fishing over the side, he would watch for a school of opelu, the little mackerel, swimming by. As soon as he spotted a school he tied the deep line to the side, threw out a pinch of the mashed salmon, and instantly the sea boiled with the opelu fighting for the feed. We cast baited hooks among them with light poles and hooked them in as fast as we could unhook the fish and throw out another pinch of salmon to keep the fish interested. This kept on until the opelu took the notion to depart, Whereupon he went back to tending his deep line.
When I first went to Hilo in 1906, the sand beach extended from the Wailuku river all the way to the Waiakea River. The waves came in with tremendous force. It was a good hard sand beach; I learned to ride a bicycle on that beach. The Japanese fishermen in those days put out to sea with little sampans rowed or sculled from the stern with a single long oar. This was before the building of the breakwater. After the breakwater was completed it changed the currents in the bay and the sand disappeared leaving the lava rocks.
Taro must have been grown in Waipi‘o from the time of the first Polynesians. Waipi‘o is an ideal place for it because of the water supply. In detailed maps of Waipi‘o I’ve seen taro lands belonging to ancient chiefs. One parcel near Muliwai where Nelson Chun plants taro is called Lo‘i koele o Umi (Umi’s taro patch). Umi’s heiau in Waipi‘o was Pakaalana, near the beach and entirely covered with sand today.
With its everlasting water supply the whole valley was once given over to taro cultivation. Trade was not part of the Hawaiian culture, but when Chinese came to Waipi‘o, my father among them, they saw the possibilities of trade. Some, like Akaka, grew rice. After rice failed due to competition from California rice, much land that had been put into rice by Akaka was returned to taro. It was a time when the upland plantations were devoted entirely to sugar cane, and Hawaiians in Hamakua became a ready market for Waipi‘o poi. My father leased lands from Hawaiians and grew taro, pounded the cooked taro into poi, and delivered it to Hamakua and Waimea for sale. That was the beginning of the poi industry.
The Hawaiians had many varieties of taro, more than 100. Some made a pink poi, others made a white poi. Some ripened earlier than others. Some taro have markings on the stalks that look like the multi colored fishes of the sea, so they were named after those fish that the markings resembled.
All taro will cause an itching of the skin until one gets used to it, and if it is not cooked thoroughly will cause distress in the mouth and throat. The young unfolded shoot of the plant (luau) is very delicious, similar to asparagus. This also has to be thoroughly cooked.
When we worked in the taro patches, especially harvesting the root in mud and water, we’d bathe ourselves at night in the hottest water we can stand to get the poison out of our hands and legs, still it might itch at night.
Taro can be grown on dry land. Along the Hamakua Coast and in Hilo Hawaiians raised a lot of dry land taro, but they are not as productive as those grown in water. Along the Puna coast they even planted taro in the lava cracks.
In the South Pacific, taro is cooked and eaten as is, but Hawaiians developed the art of pounding the cooked taro into poi. This was stored in wooden calabashes. After the haoles came, Hawaiians borrowed the idea of the barrel for the purpose. Poi is better slightly fermented.
In Waipi‘o poi is made from taro alone, but in Puna they make poi out of ulu (breadfruit). This is light in weight and yellow as butter and gassy when eaten. In Puna they sometimes mix taro poi with ulu poi.
On the ranches, a hard poi, ai pa‘a, was carried by the cowboys for lunch when working far from the settlement. It is taro pounded without water into a solid mass and wrapped in ti leaves. The ranch furnished each cowboy with a piece of roasted or dried beef and a package of ai pa‘a to take along when they went out. This custom may be a hangover from ancient times when Hawaiians had to go into the woods to hew canoes, or up to Maunakea to make stone adzes.
About the adzes: the adze quarry is well known, but I also know of a cave, Ke ana ke ko‘i, where the stone adze was made in ancient times in shelter from the cold winds. Few people know about this.
For commerce the Chinese planters chose two varieties, the ouwaouwa and the api‘i. The ouwaouwa is tough, the roots adhere to the taro, but it will keep and not rot in the field as fast as the api‘i. The ouwaouwa takes about 24 months to mature.
The api‘i is a hard taro, the roots are brittle, hence it is easy to harvest, but they ripen sooner than the ouwa ouwa and will not keep in the field.
Taro was planted continually so that some would always be ready throughout the year. To prepare a taro patch for planting, we let the stalks and roots rot in the water for a while, then plowed the mud with a harrow drawn by an ox or water buffalo. My father always kept an ox for that purpose.
The huli, the lower stalk, is used for new plants. It is a part of the plant that is often thrown away or cooked and fed to the pigs. A quantity of huli are prepared and planted in the mud, and water is continuously let into the patch. The patch must be weeded from time to time, and after eighteen months the water is shut off and what water is in the patch is allowed to remain stagnant and warm. This hastens the maturing of the taro roots.
In China the lower part of the bulb with the root is used for seed. All taro in China is dry land taro. A few varieties of Chinese taro have been tried in Waipi‘o with good results.
You remember the big variety, the ape, pronounced “ahbay” a huge plant with leaves two feet across and growing on dry land. When you were a child you would pick a leaf for an umbrella. The Hawaiians only ate this in times of famine, the poison being so strong that ordinary steam cooking will not neutralize it. The people in Waimanu Valley cooked the roots in a stone oven, imu, the same kind used for roasting pig. The terrific heat from the hot stones will neutralize the poison. The root is yellow, like breadfruit.
Taro farming and poi making is hard work. All the taro is transported from the field to the factory on muleback. After the taro is made into poi, it was packed up the pali to Hamakua on muleback. It’s no wonder that many Waipi‘o boys left the valley to find education and an easier way of life.
FATHER’S TARO PLANTATIONS AND POI FACTORY
When I came into the world my father had his taro and poi business in full operation. He had from eight to twelve Chinese working steady.
There was a bunkhouse for the workers, a cook house separate from our house, the poi factory, a storehouse, a stable for the mules and horses, our house—the only two storey structure, chicken coops and duck pens—in all, about eight separate buildings in the compound. Because of the frequent rains, most of the buildings were connected with covered walkways. A wooden flume brought a constant supply of cold, fresh water from a stream at a higher elevation in the interior of the valley.
My earliest recollection is of playing in our parlor and looking out at the high. steep cliff and Nanaue waterfall on the other [northern] side of the valley.
Father had taro growing all the time, the planting being carefully timed so that some was always ready for harvesting twenty to twenty four months later.
Water was diverted from streams at higher elevations into ditches and directed to flow from lo‘i to lo‘i.
Father’s schedule was to harvest taro every Wednesday, make poi on Thursday, deliver the poi on Friday, harvest again on Saturday, make poi on Monday, and deliver again on Tuesday. Besides this regular work, he had men weeding young taro, cutting grass for the mules, preparing lo‘i for planting and sundry work that kept all hands busy.
The taro was cooked in a big wooden box with an iron bottom. The box was made air tight and a fire built under it. Men took turns getting up at 1 AM and starting the fire, and keeping the fire up until a good head of escaping steam was noticed, then banking the fire until daybreak.
Hawaiian women, usually six, would come to peel the taro for poi. They enjoyed this because they could get together and gossip and laugh and have a good time. They were paid in cash and in poi. My older brother and I were fondled and kissed by them, and learned the Hawaiian language early. The taro peelings were fed to our chickens and pigs.
But the regularity of field work did not appeal to Hawaiian men, most of whom were busy enough with their own taro. One exception was Hanai, a man who worked for us for many years.
My father and his employees made poi by the ancient method, pounding the cooked taro on a wide, shallow kukui wood poi board with a stone pestle. About 1912 labor became hard to get. Hearing that they used a sausage grinder and grist mill with success in Honolulu he bought a grist mill which he could run by water power—a water wheel. Later, he bought a kerosene engine.
The method was to pound the taro without adding water until the mass became consistent and even, like wellmixed dough, then add water and mix until the right consistency, hoowali, was obtained. The poi was then put in barrels and calabashes and fermented. It was kept covered in a cool place. In preparation for each meal, some was taken out and mixed up with water to the right consistency for eating.
Sometimes we made the sweet pudding, kulolo, out of raw grated taro mixed with coconut milk and sugar. This was wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in the imu. We always made it whenever a feast was held.
A RIDE TO HONOKAA WITH THE POI TRAIN
Father delivered poi to Honokaa every Friday, and when we were small we looked upon the trip as a great event. My brother and I would get up about 3AM. The men were loading up the pack mules and feeding them barley, and Mother would get breakfast. Pack saddles were strapped on the mules, over which the poi bags were hung. The mules were driven with their usual grunts in the dark to the foot of the pali where they started the climb to Kukuihaele. Climbing the pali trail in the darkness, we let the mules take their time. That was long before the trail was widened and paved, and the grade was like going up a step ladder and was slippery during the rains. By the time we reached the top of the pali, 1,000 feet up, it was daybreak.
Those mules in the habit of going to Honokaa would stay on the road through the cane fields, while those that were used to going to Parker Ranch would start the climb at Kukuihaele through the cane and up into the forest on Mud Lane trail.
As we passed through Kukuihaele, Kapulena, Kuilei, and on to Honokaa, Hawaiians would come up from near the coast to the road and wait for their poi. The mules were always happy to stop when they knew their load would be lightened. The road in those days was always dusty in dry weather and muddy during rains. We’d pass field hands and see the different operations in the plantations all along the way. We’d pass Japanese, Filipinos, Portuguese, and some Chinese. The Chinese were getting fewer, either returning to China after their contracts were up or going into business, much to the displeasure of the Big Five companies.
We kids were always fascinated by the steam plows used on the plantations. As I recall, these were made in Scotland, and looked like locomotives with high lug wheels, and a cable drum underneath. They would have two steam plows spaced about two hundred yards apart. The plows were set into a framework attached to cables. As one engine wound the cable in, dragging the plows across the field, the other engine would unwind it. Then they would move forward to start another row of plowing, and pull the plows the other way.
At Honokaa most of the poi was unloaded at the Lin Yick Store, but one man would take some mules as far as Pa‘auhau and Pa‘auilo where there were some Hawaiians.
After the mules were unloaded, they were tied to ironwood trees along the road, and we were free to look around. Honokaa was a wonderful metropolis to us kids. There were stores, blacksmiths and other trades, and people we didn’t know. The District Court of the District of Hamakua, the jail, the tax collector’s office, were all there.
I remember seeing great wagon loads of wood driven through the village by Portuguese homesteaders from Ahualoa, the forest above Honokaa—wagons hauled by oxen, one pair to the tongue of the wagon and two or three more pair hitched to a long chain extending from the tongue, making six and sometimes eight oxen lumbering along with saliva dripping from their mouths, prodded along with Portuguese cuss words. Fire wood was sold from these wagons to the Chinese restaurants and stores in the village.
Father would buy us dinner at Ah Fook’s restaurant—a big plate of beef stew with onions and potatoes, a slice of pie, bread and butter, and a big cup of coffee—all for twenty five cents. That was quite a treat, a change from the poi and rice fare at home.
When the mules came back from Paauhau and Paauilo, we would release those kept at Honokaa, and all would head for home on their own without much urging. They would take a big bite of grass, then run ahead of the others for another bite. If the road was dusty, they were constantly snorting, blowing their noses.
Sometimes we’d pick a jackfruit from the roadside. These trees from India, as well as silver leaf oak, ironwood, rubber, and eucalyptus, had been planted alongside the government road for shade and windbreak. We’d put the huge fruit in a bag and hang it to the saddle horn. At home, we’d cut it open and take out the seeds, which look like very large beans. We kids liked to eat the sweet fruit that clung to each seed. The seeds were cooked, and tasted like chestnuts.
Sometimes just before descending the trail one of us would turn into a cane field and snatch a piece of sugar cane. Experience taught us how to find the softest for chewing. If we were thirsty we would chew cane all the way down the trail.
There might be freight for us at Kukuihaele, some sacks of barley for the mules, 100 pound bags of rice, boxes of kerosene—two five gallon tins to the box. All would be packed on the mules. Sacks required a certain way of roping them to the packsaddles, boxes another. If the weight wasn’t evenly balanced, we’d find the load would under the mule’s belly when going down the steep pali trail.
When we reached the top of the pali the sun, which had come out of the sea as a fiery ball that morning, was setting behind the mountains. We would dismount, tighten the cinch straps, and remount before descending the pali trail. One slip on that trail could mean a fall to death.
Our horses would walk on the inside of the pali trail, staying away from the edge, but the mules, like donkeys, insisted on walking along the outside edge. The advantage was that the their loads did not bump against the cliff wall. But it could give one a fright to see them nimbly walking right on the trail’s edge. If one were riding a mule, one looked straight down for hundreds of feet. It did not help one’s composure when a mule’s hoof would occasionally slip on a muddy rock, but as long as he kept the other three on the trail all was well.
On moonless nights, with any light from the sky blocked out by the palis, you cannot see your hand in front of you. If we were caught in complete darkness we would give our sure footed riding mules free rein, leaving it to them to pick their way down the trail and find the path home. We could tell by the downward jolting movements just where we were on the trail.
Far below on the valley floor we could see a few lights from houses; otherwise it was total darkness with the constant booming of the waves echoing up the pali, or the occasional distant barking of a dog.
But in bright moonlight, the entire valley would be lighted with a white ghostly light. Far below, the white foam of the surf would be plainly visible, and if it was misty we could see a beautiful rainbow or even a series of rainbows. Waipi‘o is the only place where I have seen rainbows in the moonlight. We could see the shadows of clouds moving silently across the floor of the valley.
Descending on a clear moonlit night, we could even make out the dark shape of Maui on the horizon and see the blinking light of the light house on that island, more than fifty miles away.
Reaching the valley floor, we’d pass through stands of wild ginger, awapuhi, and if it were in bloom the fragrance would be almost overpowering. We’d pass through the little village where a few lights were showing, and begin to cross streams. On the first stream the mules would stop to take a long drink. All the tales of ghosts would come crowding into my mind, and on the moonlight I could imagine something lurking in every shadow.
Then we would be home, and Mother or one of the hands would come out with a lighted lantern.
Sometimes when Waipi‘o school was not in session a gang of us boys would make an allday trip up the trail to Kukuihaele on foot. We’d meet and play along the valley trail, eating guavas and papayas and throw rocks to knock down mangoes. We’d leisurely climb the pali trail, throwing stones and watching them fall away below us.
Here was an optical illusion that always puzzled us. Common sense says that a stone will fall straight down, but a stone thrown from the edge of a cliff will seem to curve inward as it falls.
After reaching the top of the pali, we’d walk about a mile through cane fields coming to the village, passing some Hawaiian homes, then J.J. Silva’s saloon. He came from the Madeira Islands, father of Dr. Silva, the dentist at Honokaa. Then we’d pass Hino’s store (Japanese), some Chinese stores, then Jones’ store (a Welshman married to a Hawaiian). Then we passed the school, the Congregational Church and cemetery, the Kukuihaele Plantation manager’s house, and, passing beyond the village, we came to the plantation store.
In those days the plantation stores were quite an institution. They were a means of taking back from the workers the wages paid to them by charging terrific prices for goods. The workers had charge accounts at these stores and the balances were deducted from wages. Imprudent workers could end a month’s hard labor with no wages and money owed to the store.
The plantation stores were generally dirty. Each plantation store seemed to be managed by an Englishman or Scot. The manager at Kukuihaele introduced me to the prejudice of his kind during that time. His contempt for anyone not of his race, expressed to another White man in words I overheard, was shocking to me. In retrospect, he was probably one who had failed at everything else, and managing a little plantation store was the end of the line for him. Having no standing among his own people, he tried to gain some status by putting down everyone else. My experience has been that those who have the least personal success, the “white trash,” are usually the most virulent in their prejudices.
Except for that experience, these plantation stores were wonderful places to my child’s eye. With the few cents our parents gave us we would buy soda pop, crackers, or a piece of smelly cheese—sliced from a round of cheese standing on the counter, not covered or refrigerated. Portuguese women would come in to buy baccaleau (dried codfish) and cheese and flour for their wonderful baking. Puerto Ricans and Japanese would come in for foods of their liking. It was interesting to see these newcomers and hear their languages.
On our way back through the village we would stop at the Chinese stores for candy, preserved fruits, or little cakes. Then back down the pali trail, chewing cane and throwing stones. We never wore shoes, and it was fun to see the dust or mud come through the toes.
When I was in my teens, I met a white couple, man and wife, coming up the trail one evening as I was descending. They were mounted on horses borrowed from the sugar plantation. We stopped our mounts and chatted for a while. He was interested in the valley and its history. As we parted, I learned that I had been talking to Jack London, the famous author. I had read some of his writing at Hilo Boarding School.
In 1922, on my first trip home from the Mainland, I saw Mr. Silva for the last time. Prohibition has closed his saloon and he was a man of enforced leisure. He made a passionate appeal to me to stay home and not leave the islands again. He spoke with dramatic gestures, waving both arms. Hawaii had become home to him, but I could not stay and knuckle under to the Big Five.
My father had taro fields scattered on both sides of Waipi‘o Valley with the meandering river in between. He leased kuleana lands from Hawaiian neighbors, and ahupuaa lands from Bishop.
To call the men in for dinner, he had a flag hoisted to the top of a pole as a signal to those working on the other side of the valley, and a horn blown to call those nearby.
Before I was born, I was told he liked to fly the flag of the Hawaiian Monarchy, but after the overthrow in 1893 he took it down out of sympathy to the Hawaiians, replacing it with a Chinese flag with a dragon sewn on it. After 1911, when the Manchu Dynasty was replaced by the Republic, he used a flag of red with a white border. Red signified good luck in those days, long before communism came to China and turned it into bad luck.
A log came drifting into Waimanu, one of those fir trees that fall into the sea from some forest in Canada or Alaska where the trees grow right down to the water’s edge. It was very long, about 90 feet, but not the type wide enough for a canoe—more like those used for utility poles. My father and his friends towed it behind their canoes to Waipi‘o, then brought it up the river to our place. Setting it up as a flagpole was tricky. A large tripod of poles was erected from which blocks and tackle were suspended, by which the pole was swung up to the vertical and set in place. On some of the old photos of the valley you can see this flag pole in the distance.
Hawaiians used the conch shell horn for signaling and Chinese used the bullock horn. My father had both, but used the bullock horn to call his hands from the fields. Both horns made a mournful sound. The Mormon Church used the conch.
The making of the horn was interesting for us kids to watch. On a Sunday when the men were idle, one would take an old bullock horn and scrape off all the roughness, giving it a shine. Then he would saw off the tip until a hole about a half inch wide was exposed. Putting it to his lips, he would try it out for sound. This always brought rude suggestions from other idlers about how to get more air into the horn.
There were still big longhorn cattle around, so horns were easy to get. In those days all the Chinese planters used the horn for the dinner signal. It was a melodious sound to hear the “too,too,too” coming from different parts of the valley.
Once while playing the French horn in the Hilo Band it hit me that the term “horn” for certain musical instruments must have come from the ancient use of animal horns. The Bible mentions the use of ram and ox horns by the ancient Hebrews for signals (Lev. 25:9). In the synagogue on the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hoshanna, the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) is to remind people of the need for doing good and living a decent Godfearing life.
The kukui tree, or candlenut, was brought by ancient Polynesians and grows wild in Waipi‘o and in all the islands. The Hawaiians used to string the oilrich kernels on bamboo skewers and dry them. These functioned just like candles. They were set upright in a stone dish of sand with the top nut set afire, burning with a blue flame, and as each nut burned down it would ignite the nut underneath it. They made smoke, but had a pleasant odor. If someone wanted to make a torch, he would stuff a handful of these kukui nut candles into the end of a bamboo. These torches burned longer than the coconut frond torches used in the South Pacific.
When I was a boy, kerosene lamps were in general use in Waipi‘o, but anyone who didn’t care to spend money on kerosene could make their own lighting with all the kukui nuts that covered the ground. My earliest memories are of candle light (father used to buy candles by the box), kerosene lamps, and a peanut oil lamp.
If someone were walking around the valley on a dark night it was customary to carry a lantern, not just to see the path ahead, but also to let others know of one’s presence. These were barn lanterns which were carried by a wire handle in the top of a metal frame that enclosed the lamp. Mother told us about some old Chinese who was walking one night and his lantern gave him trouble and went out. He was in total darkness. What made it worse was the fact that this happened right in the bush near an ancient burial ground at the foot of the pali, a place full of ghost stories, on a night when one could well imagine that the spirits of the dead were walking about.
Well, there on the jungle path stood the man, helpless without a light. After a while he saw someone coming along the path with a lantern. He waited until the man was very close to him, then he said, “You’re just in time.”
The poor fellow, probably with his mind full of ghost stories, jumped, staggered and nearly died of fright.
Sam Kaaekuahiwi, the last school teacher of Waipi‘o, told me that Kukuihaele Village got its name in ancient times when inhabitants of Waipi‘o could see travelers carrying lights on the pali trail. Kukui refers to kukui nut torches, and haele “to go.”
CHINESE AND HAWAIIAN RESPECT FOR ANCESTORS
I mentioned a peanut oil lamp. This lamp was lighted every night before the ancestral tablet in our parlor. It was hung on a wire bracket and consisted of a water tumbler filled with water with a layer of peanut oil floating on top, and a wick of some kind of dried pith held in the oil by a wire. It gave a feeble light, and with smoking incense, also burned nightly it gave the ancestral tablet an eerie atmosphere.
If this seems like a contradiction to our observance of the Christian Sabbath, I should explain that the business of the ancestral tablet was not really religious, but a custom by which respect was paid to ancestors by the head of a household. Basically this is the respect children should give to their parents, and carry this into their lives by imitating the good qualities of their parents, thus growing in self respect and steering clear of anything that might bring shame on the family. The Chinese and Hawaiians in those days understood each other perfectly, because the Hawaiian aumakua customs were much the same. There were still some old timers who would offer food to their ancestor spirits at the beginning of a meal, and although I never saw any kind of household altar like Hawaiians had before the missionaries forbade it, some of the old folks would very softly call out names of ancestors in a chant and end it by clapping their hands a few times. I think this was a daily observance.
None of this really conflicted with Hawaiians and Chinese becoming Christians, because the Bible says: “Honor thy Father and they Mother.” God is “Our Father.” Hawaiians and Chinese were sympathetic to this, because the concept of father, or parent, is at the root of akua, aumakua, and makua. This veneration of ancestors was once so universal that it may have been the origin of religions the world around, and from what’s happening in the world today, including the way the Red Guard brats are tearing up China and the breakdown of the Hawaiian families, it might not be a bad idea to get back to it.
There were three churches in Waipi‘o at that time: Catholic, Congregational, and Mormon. There was also a little Chinese temple.
The Catholic Church had a very small following, mostly relatives and descendants of Joe and Nicholas Perez, Chamorro-Spanish Guamanians who came to Hawaii with the whaling ships. It was first built away up into the valley at Keaniani, but when the population decreased they moved the church to near the foot of Papala Falls. That was before my time. Then, around 1904 there came a great cloudburst and flood in Waipi‘o. The cemetery around the Catholic Church was washed away and the church washed off its foundation. Then Joe and Nicholas tore down the church and put it up at the village, where over the years it rotted away to nothing. I last saw it standing in 1922.
Congrecational influence began very early when the first missionary to the area, Father Lorenzo Lyons (Makua Liana) made occasional visits to Waipi‘o from his home base in Kawaihae, walking all the way. He founded Imiola Church in Waimea. In my boyhood the Congregational preacher lived in Hamakua and made the Waipi‘o circuit none too often, probably on account of the difficulty of travel. Old Reverend Kakani was the last Congregational pastor. He was a pure Hawaiian from Maui. He lived in Kukuihaele and preached in the Kapulena, Kukuihaele and Waipi‘o churches. He was paid by the Hawaiian Board of Mission. The population continued to dwindle, and after his time the three churches were abandoned for lack of adherents.
The Mormon Church was kept alive by young missionaries from the States on two or three year missions, each at his father’s expense. The reason this religion became so popular with Hawaiians and other Polyneisans is that these youngsters did not put on any airs of superiority. They could not afford to. They were so poor that they had to live with the Hawaiians, sleep and eat with them, and work in the taro patches. They quickly learned the Hawaiian language. The Hawaiians readily took these youngsters to their hearts and accepted them as if by adoption. This is why the Mormon Church did so well with so little money all over the Pacific.
The first Mormon Church was mauka of the Olepau place and had a conch shell horn instead of a bell. It would give off a most mournful sound when blown to summon the worshipers. Later, after the big flood of 1904, the church was moved to the village.
The first Chinese temple was built by Old Akaka, the founder of the rice industry in Waipi‘o, long before my time. The site was just outside of Kaao, on the Waimanu side of the valley, north of Poliahu’s old place. One of the hired men on a nearby rice farm was the caretaker. It was a small building; the interior and exterior appearance was exactly like the temples one sees in rural Chinese villages. I remember the flagpole in the temple yard where the flag of the Manchu Dynasty was hoisted at every ancestral birthday. I remember the paper lanterns, especially the big jau ma dung (running horse) lanterns with bold images of ancient warriors charging on horseback. In this lantern, warm air rising from the candle turns a fan which turns the mounted warriors on the outside of the lantern. There were gongs and cymbals and drums that were sounded for certain occasions. There was a roasting oven nearby where people could have pigs roasted and carried to the temple for the act of gifting to ancestral spirits. Then the roast pork would be taken home.
After the rice business declined, most of the Chinese left the valley, Weary of crossing so many streams to get to the temple, old Chun Hing, father of Nelson Chun, took up subscriptions from the remaining members to move the temple to a more convenient site at Kunaka, just makai of our place. By 1945 there were no more worshippers.
The mule train that went to Parker Ranch climbed the old Mud Lane trail from Kukuihaele. At about 2,000 feet elevation the sugar plantations ended and we entered a forest of trees and tree ferns, very wet because the clouds blowing in from the sea release much of their moisture here. Above this forest the mud lane trail ran through John Baker’s ranch, called Mahiki. Here the forest thinned out and we came to open rolling land with herds of cattle and Mauna Kea looming above in the distance.
John was a friendly man, a hapa haole, said to be part Samoan, and got his land by marrying a Hawaiian alii. He had started out hunting wild cattle. He had a pet monkey, the first I had seen. Above the Baker Ranch we came to the Parker Ranch.
Most of the poi was unloaded at the warehouse at the Ranch settlement, named Kamuela after Samuel Parker. We would eat dinner, usually beef stew, at the ranch restaurant. Going home, the mules were let loose. They seemed to enjoy the good grass and open spaces. They would gallop ahead of us and graze until we caught up, then gallop ahead again.
The longhorn cattle at the ranches were rangey and fast. When the Hawaiian cowboys slaughtered, two men on horseback would chase up a steer. One would lasso it around the horns and gallop off in one direction, while the other would follow, lasso the hind legs and turn off in the opposite direction. When the ropes tightened the steer went down. The first man would dismount and cut the steer’s throat. The rope was tied to the pommel and the horse trained to keep it taut. Then the animal was skinned out, right out in the open.
Father new the butcher well, old man Kamaana, who would give father all the tripe, liver, tongue, and meat that father wanted. Father would bring him luau, the tender young taro shoots, poi, and fish from WAIPI‘O.
The Parker homestead is preserved at Mana. This was the scene of big celebrations in the days when Hawaiian royalty came to enjoy the cool climate. The best hula dancers on the island would journey to Waimea to entertain, and there were many love affairs between the dashing cowboys of the ranch and the dancers. Not far from Mana is the ruins of the old Purdy Ranch, absorbed by the Parker Ranch.
There were times when poi was delivered to a store at Kawaihae, where I saw the way they loaded cattle aboard the InterIsland steamer. The herd was driven down to the shore on the previous night, to escape the heat of the day, and was held in pens at Kawaihae. The ship anchored off shore, and a whale boat was rowed in close to the beach. A cowboy rode into the herd, lassoed a steer, dragged him swimming out to the boat, and threw the rope to a boatman who tied the steer to the side. When four or five animals were tied up to each side, the boat was pulled out to the ship and the steers hoisted aboard.
There was always good fishing in the calm waters off Kawaihae, and good salt was made from evaporation of sea water along that hot, dry shore. Whenever we went to Kawaihae to deliver poi, we’d bring home lobsters, dried fish, other seafoods, and sea salt.
When I was older my elder brother Ernest and I would make the trip, and sometimes I would make it alone. We were always tempted to take so much time to fool around with our paniolo friends that we would catch hell from the Old Man when we got home. There were plenty wild pigs and goats on the Parker Ranch, and later pheasants and quail were set loose. To hunt pigs we asked permission from the ranch office and were accompanied by a ranch hand. My brother would always get his friends David Kaue and Iokopa to take us. We would ride up beyond Mana until we scared up a bunch, then we would chase them down and lasso one. Sometimes we would bring one back to WAIPI‘O alive, keeping it in the pen with the domestic pigs. They would get tame and fatten up, and the wild odor would leave them.
Old John Baker had wild turkeys on his place. We boys used to catch them on our way back from making a poi delivery to Parker Ranch. We’d get off our horses, herd them into the sheep fences, and make a dash for them. They would stick their heads into the wire mesh and get stuck long enough for us to grab them. We’d put them into sacks and hang the sacks over our saddles.
The first Parkers must have attracted a lot of Yankee sailors and beachcombers to the ranch, because when I was a boy we had friends among hapa haole families bearing such names as Fay, Cheseborough, Spencer, Lindsey, Clark, Purdy—most of them working for the ranch.
When I was a boy, the Parker Ranch was in the hands of a managertrustee named Alfred Carter. He was a hardworking, tightfisted, moneymaking manager who made the ranch pay. When he retired he appointed his son for the job. The last heir to the ranch is a boy named Smart who lives on the Mainland and receives a tremendous income from it.
Carter did very well for the ranch, but he rode roughshod over anyone who stood in his way. Old man Nawahi of Kawaihae Uka raised cattle on government land that he rented from the Territory. I was told that Carter pulled strings and got the land out from under the old man and forced him out of business. Poor Nawahi had to drive his cattle to Hamakua and sell at any price he could get. He was the last Hawaiian to leave Kawaihae Uka (upper Kawaihae), where there was once a thriving Hawaiian community raising sweet potatoes and produce for the whale ships that called at Kawaihae Bay. The many stone walls, sites of ancient dwellings, and the ruins of an old Congregational church were all that remained in my time.
It was near here that the missionary Lorenzo Lyons, known as Makua Liana (Hawaiian for Father Lyons), said he saw the night marchers. On Sundays, before dawn, he would leave Kawaihae and walk to Waimea. After preaching at Waimea, he would return to Kawaihae and preach again in the evening.
One morning he was on the trail to Waimea, all alone, and perceived a long line of people coming down the trail toward him. As they drew near he saw that they were all strangers to him. Frightened, he jumped off the trail and threw himself face down, and in Hawaiian said, “I respect you, please don’t hurt me!”
The procession passed him, making no sound. Some of the people glanced at him. When the trail was clear, he took off for Waimea.
I first met old Nawahi when I was visiting in Pahala, Kohala District, with John Perez, a WAIPI‘O boy married to Koo Tim Sin’s hapa pake daughter. Koo’s Hawaiian wife was related to Nawahi, and the old man happened to be there at that time. We were introduced, and he expressed his aloha for my father.
Because old Nawahi was residing all alone at Kawaihae Uka, Koo sent a Chinese hired man to keep him company. It happened that Koo’s son wanted to go goat hunting at Kawaihae Uka, so we got our gear together and rode our horses there.
After we got to the Nawahi house and visited with the hired man for a while, we walked down to a canyon and drove some wild goats out of it, into the open. I shot a few, so did young Koo.
We spent the night with the hired man, who was alone —Nawahi was still at Pahala. The winds whistled down from the Kohala mountains, making an eerie sound. We were scared of the place. The ruined walls and house sites, and the remains of the old church with graves beside it all spoke too plainly of the sad decline of the Hawaiian people. In the moonlight the view looking down to Kawaihae Bay was breathtaking. On a clear day Maui and Kahoolawe can be seen. Looking south is the view of the high volcano of Hualalai in Kona.
The Robert Hind Ranch at Puuwaawaa (meaning hill of ridges) is at the foot of Hualalai. Father furnished poi to him also.
When Sam Lia was young and an occasional hellraiser, he got drunk one night in Kukuihaele. At the end of the festivities he got on his horse and, lurching in the saddle, headed for WAIPI‘O at full gallop. He was so drunk that when he got to the top of the pali he fell out of the saddle and knocked himself unconscious; but the horse kept on going—right over the edge and a thousand feet down.
Next morning the people, seeing the dead horse at the foot of the pali, became greatly alarmed and began searching the brush for Sam’s corpse. The men shouted and beat the brush and swung cane knives, and the women wept.
Then they saw Sam staggering down the trail, redeyed and mumbling, “Where’s my horse?”
Anyone who knows the difference between a horse and a mule will tell you that no mule would have galloped off the edge of that cliff. Mules are too intelligent. If Sam had been riding a mule, the mule would have stopped and lived to see the sunrise. Sam, however, might have been catapulted over the head of the mule and taken the big fall. I met an old man who had been with the Cavalry in the Indian wars. He said that for brains and stamina he would prefer a big mule to a horse, especially on a long trek in dangerous country. He did mention one tactical disadvantage: a mule can give your position away to an enemy. Being half donkey, they can, with no warning, let out a bray that will shake the air.
My father usually kept about twenty five mules. They are a hybrid between the horse and the donkey, having the strength of a horse was well as many physical characteristics of the donkey. A mule combines the intelligence of a dozen horses with the devilish mischief of a dozen naughty boys. When they take a notion to be stubborn, all hell cannot move them.
For riding, mules have more stamina than horses and a smoother gait, and for surefootedness on the steep pali trails they are the next thing to a goat. A mule will subsist where a horse will starve to death. They can be mean—one minute two of them will nibble at each other’s necks, then like lightning they will turn end to end and hooves will fly, both squealing like pigs.
When I was small, my father raised a patch of sorghum and chopped the stalks for their feed. It was a favorite place for us to play hide and seek, but we lost it when California grass—I think the right name is Pampas grass —was introduced, a coarse grass which looks like miniature bamboo and which substituted for the sorghum.
The mules were never tied when in the stable, a big shed with corrugated iron roofing, but could wander in and out. From our house we could hear them chomping grass and passing gas all night long. Before making a trip they would be individually fed with barley. Each mule had a different personality. When loaded with poi and driven up the pali trail, they were never tied head to tail in tandem, but each allowed to pick its own way at its own pace, stopping to catch its breath frequently on the long climb. They were driven to Honokaa and to the Parker Ranch in this manner. A mule will gladly stop for unloading. After being relieved of their load, especially up in the highlands of the ranch, they would kick up their heels and run to graze on the good Bermuda grass.
When automobiles arrived in Hawaii, I remember how the mules stampeded at the approach of one; but they quickly became accustomed and would pay no attention to a car except to move leisurely to the side of the road, giving it barely enough room to pass—no more, no less.
Father never tried to breed his own mules, but replaced them by purchase as needed, usually from Hawaiian breeders or from the Parker Ranch. We named them after the original owners, so they all bore Hawaiian names— names which we could frequently hear accompanied by fancy Chinese cursing from our hired help.
When mules became too old to work, they were taken up to Parker Ranch where Father had some understanding with the cowboys whereby they were let loose to graze and finish their days peacefully. Sometimes they would find their way home. We would let them stay, occasionally using them for light loads over short distances. When one died, we all felt like we had lost a member of the family.
We had horses, too, but Father had a special mule that he liked to ride, named Pakana after Frank Pakana Spencer, a ranch cowhand and its former owner. Pakana was so tame that we kids could run between his legs, climb up on him, and swing ourselves down while holding on to his neck. He would submit to all this abuse with a bored air and his eyes half shut. When Father worked in the taro lo‘i he would let Pakana graze on the dikes and the animal would come home with his belly full and round. Father had Pakana as long as I could remember. The mule survived Father, who died in 1922. I was on the Mainland at the time. When I went home soon afterwards, Pakana was really “on pension.” He hung around the place and bossed the other mules until he died.
There was a mule the hired men called Da Gou Kui (Cowhand devil) because he was formerly owned by a Hawaiian cowboy. And one named Waimanu, which Solomon Kala had brought when he moved from Waimanu Valley. Solomon would ride her from Waimanu to Kukuihaele to work. Having to stay in Kukuihaele for some time, he would load up the mule with groceries, give her a whack on the rump, and Waimanu would head for home, down into WAIPI‘O Valley, across the rivers, up the zigzag pali trail on the other side, across the plateau, and down into Waimanu Valley where Mrs. Kala would be waiting.
The Kala and Kahele families were the last Hawaiians left in Waimanu. Later, they moved to WAIPI‘O.
As everything had to be packed in and out of WAIPI‘O on muleback, some fancy ways were invented to lash everything from 100 pound bags of rice to wooden crates to the pack saddles. When jolting down the trail, if a load is not securely fastened it will slide down on the mule’s neck; in which case the mule will stop and stand still until it can be unloaded, the saddle adjusted, and the load replaced. When away from home, a loaded mule will always head for home where it expects to be relieved of its burden; but an unloaded mule may go astray, to be found later wandering somewhere in the valley, eating some succulent grass it has discovered.
Their talents differed. Some were expert at jumping fences, and others could crawl under fences. No matter how tame they might be, I learned the hard way to keep away from the business end of these animals. They could let fly a pair of hooves in a flash.
Once we bought two mules from Mr. Keola, one black and one reddish brown; so the hands called the black one Hak Keola (Black Keola) and the brown one Hung Keola (Red Keola). Hak Keola was a very good riding mule, but just naturally thin and bony, no matter how well she was fed; and Father came in for some good natured teasing about it from friends who knew the mule, but would beg him to quit starving her. Hung Keola could not be ridden, but was a good pack mule.
By their habit of picking their way along the very edge of the steep pali trail, mules must enjoy living dangerously, especially if the trail is wet and slippery. Now and then a hoof will slip, the mule will lurch, and a rider may break into a dizzy sweat watching dislodged pebbles fall hundreds of feet down the steep side of the pali.
Many of them have a trick of inflating themselves when the cinch straps are tightened, and later pull in their stomachs and let the entire pack load or rider slide over and down. All will turn their head and try to nip you with their teeth to show their displeasure when the cinch strap is tightened. To avoid this, one must examine the cinch straps when they are saddled, and again later when they are loaded. When they came home after a day’s work and the pack saddles were taken off, they would look for a piece of dusty ground and roll about.
I’ve often looked into those half-closed eyes and wondered what mischief was being hatched. But for all their patience, and all the abuse that was heaped upon them, I hope they found green pastures in the Hereafter.
FATHER’S LABOR PROBLEM AND HOW HE SOLVED IT
The shortage of Chinese labor was what hurt my father. Chinese were allowed to come to Hawaii on labor contracts until annexation, after which the U. S. Exclusion Law applied to Hawaii as well, stopping Chinese immigration. That hurt the plantations. This law was rescinded in 1943 by President Roosevelt.
The Chinese exclusion law was passed back in the hysterical times after rioting and killing of Chinese nationals all over the West. It was started by politicians looking for a scapegoat. These Chinese were brought on labor contracts to open up the West, building railroads and farms. When the job was done, most returned to China, but many drifted to the cities and formed their own communities as immigrants usually do. Some could not afford to go back to China, having gambled away their money; others saw a land of business opportunities. The Whites had no further use for them, so to get rid of them, all sorts of wild accusations were laid to the Chinese.
Just like the poor Indians, when the Whites wanted their land they found all kinds of excuses to kill them off. After they had gotten everything from the Indians, they called them noble red men. It was the same in the Pacific. After they had hoodwinked Hawaiians out of their lands and reduced them to poverty, they called them the Vikings of the Pacific. Before that, they were only kanakas.
Each culture has its flaw. If drinking is the Irish disease, gambling is the Chinese disease. Many Chinese may be industrious, honest, reliable, prudent in business; but if they hear the click of the dominoes they go hog wild. Father hired Chinese whose work contracts with the sugar plantations had expired, but whose gambling losses prevented them from returning to China and making a good impression. He would hold their wages until they had earned enough to return home in style. This compulsion to gamble gave my father a steady source of labor until the last plantation contracts expired after the Exclusion Act. To induce them to stay longer, he raised their pay.
Most of the Chinese who worked for my father in Waipi‘o eventually returned to China. Some who had no property or prospects back in China elected to stay, and they are now  almost all in the Chinese cemetery back of the old rice mill site. When I visited the valley in 1945 there were only six left, the youngest was over 70.
Very few Hawaiians were in the valley in 1945. The school was closed. Most of the taro lo‘i were abandoned.
In my boyhood there were mostly Hawaiians and Chinese in Waipi‘o. The ancient Hawaiians had a lunar calendar and every day of the month had a name. Some days were said to be good for fishing, some were for field work, some were kapu days, etc., but when I came on the scene the Christian calendar was long in use and they were observing the Fourth of July, Christmas, and New Year. The Hawaiians of Waipi‘o used to form regular parties to Honokaa during the Fourth, all riding on horseback to see the horse races and get drunk.
For some reason, Hawaiians did not go in much for Christmas, saving their pigs and homemade brew for New Year. Then the whole valley would go for broke. On New Year’s Day they would form little parties and go from house to house serenading and getting drunk. In the morning the fires in all the imu would be lighted and you would see smoke rising at every house. Pigs were roasted in the imus plus sweet potatoes, kulolo, and fish wrapped in ti leaves and baked alongside of the pig; and there would be feasting all day long, the people going from place to place.
Baby first birthdays and marriages were others excuse for celebrations. For days, the womenfolk would gather ferns and ti leaves and flowers for decoration the tables. Menfolk would come to help with butchering for the imu and to make laulau, wrapping pork and salt salmon in taro and ti leaves and steaming it in a big boiler overnight. poi had to be made. Everyone in the valley would come to celebrate, some bringing musical instruments, and there would be feasting with music and hula.
The only sad part of these events was the drunkenness. Besides the wine and liquors they could buy in the saloons in those days up in Kukuihaele, they distilled some very potent okolehao from the ti root. “Swipe” was made from sugar, yeast, and white potatoes, and fermented. They also made it from sweet potato, cooked and mashed with water added and allowed to ferment. It was thick and sour.
Once in a while some orchestra would come to Waipi‘o from Hilo or Honolulu and hold a concert and dance at the school house, playing Hawaiian music with popular stuff added.
Sometimes the Congregational Church would have a Sunday School rally and classes from Kapulena, Kukuihaele and Waimea would come and have a songfest. Foods would be donated by the congregation and there would be a luau after the rally.
The little Mormon Church would hold some kind of rally at intervals also with a luau at the end of the service. Then everyone would drift over to become Mormons for a day.
For these festivities, the members would give a pig for the imu, others gave poi, or gathered fish and opihi for the feast. When the day came, everyone would come to the party regardless of which church they belonged to. After an hour of hymns and numerous recitals of golden texts, all in Hawaiian, the feasting began under a shed of tarpaulin on long hastily erected tables covered with ferns and flowers instead of table cloths. The preacher would give a long and fervent prayer while the people waited impatiently.
The Chinese who attended would chide the Hawaiians who came from the other two churches saying that they are not Mormons or Congregationalists as the case may be. The Hawaiians laughingly would reply “But it’s the same God we’re worshiping.”
One day someone came whipping a mule into the village with the news that a famous musician was coming down to Waipi‘o with some people from Kukuihaele. I can’t remember his name—I was about eight or nine.
A pack of us boys ran to the pali and started up the trail like mountain goats. Before the party came into view around a bend, we could hear shouts of laughter.
I spotted the musician right away, because his was the only unfamiliar face. Most of the party were riding mules. Someone made a joke about the possibility of slipping off the trail and falling down the pali, and someone else said: “Just don’t take the bottle with you!” and everyone laughed. On the way down the trail, the stranger would ask about places in the valley that caught his eye. When the trail made the last bend at the bottom and majestic Hiilawe Falls came into view, he stopped his mount to admire the sight.
At the village, everyone gathered around, some were shy, but all were eager to be friendly. The stranger was first introduced to the old folks present. Mutual friendships and genealogical relationships were explored to everyone’s satisfaction. Invitations were offered with studied casualness and accepted with a nod and a smile, as the man pretended to be busy tuning his guitar.
His was not a heroic figure. When he dismounted, I noticed that he was short and one leg was crippled. His clothes weren’t as fine as those of the travelling salesmen who called at the Akaka Store. But that night, when the music began at the Thomas place, when I first heard his voice and his guitar playing, I knew why he was famous.
We boys crowded around the bottom of the porch steps. In the glow of kerosene lanterns we could see the visitor with local musicians clustered around him, each with a guitar or a ukulele, and the old folks sitting behind them in chairs. People drifted into the yard from out of the darkness.
His fingering of the guitar was magical. When he sang, every rock and tree in the valley seemed to be listening.
Without discussion, people in the valley had begun to prepare food. Impromptu parties were held here and there. Everyone who could lay hands on an instrument suddenly became a musician, and the crowd of loafers that routinely gathered in front of the Akaka Store were strumming ukes and guitars and bursting into song.
Two couples who had been thinking about getting married seized the moment. The musician and the local orchestra that had spontaneously sprung up around him offered music for the weddings and the three day party that followed.
In those days, certain exceptional musicians could wander about and be welcome everywhere. If they needed clothes, or tobacco, or the loan of a horse, these were provided gladly, for they always gave more than they received. And, as a lasting gift, they might compose a song about the beauty of the place, or a merry hula with veiled references to some local scandal that had all the tongues wagging, or perhaps a slack key tune about one of the local girls riding on a galloping horse, her long pa‘u skirt whipping in the breeze—whatever happened to catch their fancy.
I think that how one is raised means everything, and one’s race has really very little to do with it. The story was that a little Chinese lad ran away with the early Chinese laborers to Hawaii and Penaamina’s people found him crying on the wharf, all alone. They brought him up and later he married one of the Penaamina girls and became the forebear of the Aunas. That’s the name they called him. He became completely Hawaiian in his habits and language and ways. I went to school with some of his kids. He was a great Mormon, and I used to hear him give his penny’s worth of talk about it.
On the other hand, there was this little Hawaiian boy who became Chinese. He was an orphan, and for some reason he fastened himself to an old Chinese man who worked for my father. He would follow the old man around in the taro patches all day, and eat meals with him. The two were the best of friends, inseparable.
When the old man was ready to return to China, he asked if he could take the little boy with him. There was a meeting about it, and the Hawaiians said it would be okay. My father gave the old man his wages and away the two went.
Years later we heard about a young Hawaiian man who had landed in Hilo and who spoke perfect Chinese and was skilled in all the Chinese games of gambling. He was cleaning out all the Chinese gamblers along the Hamakua coast. Somebody from Waipi‘o saw him in Paauilo, and came back with the news that this was the little Hawaiian boy who had gone to China. The old man had died in China and the boy had found his way back to Hawaii. The last we heard was that he had made a pile and gone to Honolulu.
When I was a boy the Hawaiians were already influenced by foreign foods, but the old timers still clung to the old ways.
Poi and fish and sweet potatoes were still the standard. Most of the fish, opihi, crabs, and shrimps were eaten raw, or wrapped in ti leaves and broiled over live coals. If men were roasting a pig in the imu they would place the wrapped seafood beside the pig with sweet potatoes or breadfruit. Roasting in the imu, or any broiling of meats or fish, was exclusively men’s work.
By my time, they were also boiling and frying foods, eating bread—mostly the hard tack locally called saloon pilot crackers, canned foods, and drinking coffee and tea. The red hot chili pepper was introduced and growing wild. This they would dip in coarse salt and bite off a little to sharpen their appetite. Another condiment was inamona, the roasted kernels of the kukui nut pounded with salt. Salted salmon, which came in big barrels from the Pacific coast preserved in coarse salt, was lomi (shredded by hand) and mixed with chopped cucumbers and onions. Canned corned beef and canned salmon were delicacies. Chickens were usually boiled. Salt pork was boiled with the tender shoots of the taro. Jerked beef would be roasted over coals.
A pig roasted in the imu was only for special occasions. Breakfast was usually a bowl (not a cup) of black coffee sweetened with sugar, and hard tack. Coffee grew wild in Waipi‘o and people had all they wanted for the picking. The beans were dried in the sun and roasted in an iron skillet.
I was told that in the old days before the coming of kettles, they would boil meat by putting hot stones in a wooden calabash along with the meat wrapped in ti leaves, and immediately pour in some water, causing a head of steam, then covering the top with a fitted cover to keep the steam from escaping.
They were very fond of dried fish, the opelu, akule, and aku that came from the Kona side of the island, either roasted over coals or eaten with poi just as it came.
For diversion they would gather the uhi (a wild yam) which must be fully cooked because of its bitterness, or the edible heart of the hapu‘u fern, or the ho‘io fern shoots—all were abundant in the forests in the back of the valley, wild places full of swiftly falling streams of cold water.
They ate a large variety of seaweeds raw, and shellfish as well as fish. They had a special fondness for mullet. The mullet ponds provided fish for everyone.
In Waipi‘o most of the houses were built along the base of the pali (cliffs), heedless of the danger of huge boulders that might come thundering down upon them, with their gardens on the lower slopes below the pali and their taro lo‘i out in the flat middle of the valley. A Hawaiian garden is mostly onions (eaten raw with salt), chili pepper, sweet potatoes, bananas, papayas, avocados, and melons, and sugar cane. Hawaiians didn’t seem to care as much for leafy vegetables as did the Chinese. Our sugar cane was the soft Hawaiian kind for chewing, not the hardstalk varieties grown on the plantations. Sugar cane was one of the many Polynesian plants brought by canoe from the South Pacific, and there were many varieties, but I’ve forgotten the names. People would carry stalks of it on their travels to ease their thirst. It’s said that the name Puuainako (hillchewthesugar cane) was given to that place because travelers would rest there to enjoy the view and the breeze and chew cane as a refreshment. Coconut and banana are Polynesian, as was a small very fragrant pineapple we called hala—not the fruit of the hala (pandanus) tree, although that produced a kernel that could be eaten also. The breadfruit wasn’t used much in Waipi‘o because taro was plentiful.
There was a wild banana, eholena, and the popoulu—both varieties that had to be cooked—growing along the pali and away up into the interior end of the valley. The mango, guava, rose apple, orange, pumelo, lime, jack fruit, lai chee, long gian, cheremoya, soursop had all been introduced and were growing wild by the time I was old enough to climb trees.
Hawaiians never ate fruit during meals, but seemed to enjoy it at any other time.
There was a wild bean, papapa, which tasted like lima beans when cooked, but I think that disappeared. I never saw it in the valley after I grew up. Waipi‘o people also planted tobacco in their gardens. The old timers dried the leaves in the sun or over a slow fire, then crumbled it and smoked it in their pipes. It was powerful stuff.
Watercress grows wild in Waipi‘o, especially in the springs. Hawaiians ate it, but the Chinese were more fond of it.
Up in the Hamakua highlands, Hawaiians raised sweet potatoes and some dry land taro.
‘Awa (kava in the South Pacific) was the only intoxicating drink before the Whites came. It was used in ceremony and worship, and for sociability. The taste is astringent and peppery. The drink is made from the root of the awa plant, known as kava throughout Polynesia. In the old days, young maidens were made to chew the root and the mash was mixed with water and the pulp strained out through some fiber, but by my time the introduction of diseases had made this custom repugnant, and awa was mashed by pounding in a mortar.
Those who drink it may feel that their minds are clear, and for a while they become talkative, but eventually they lose power of locomotion and become quiet. I could always tell when a bunch of oldsters were drinking too much awa. They would be sitting in a group and no one talking. They would hear my greeting, but only answer with a smile. Awa was also a painkiller, chewed by the farmer after a hard day in the fields with a little sugar cane to cut the sharp taste. It helps bring sleep to persons afflicted with insomnia. Unlike alcohol, it does not cause wild and aggressive behavior.
FRESH WATER FISHING IN WAIPI‘O
I believe that the little oopu fish and the opae shrimp are the original inhabitants of the WAIPI‘O streams, other fish, prawns, and snails being introduced only recently.
The varieties of the oopu fish which I knew were the apuha, napilipili, and alulaliha. Of the opae there was the shrimp with pincers, and the opae kolo, a small pincerless type that climbs right up the waterfalls.
The mullet and the aholehole come in from the sea. In the season when they seek fresh water the small fry, called hinana, less than an inch long, come up from the sea into the river and streams by the millions. Women or children would build a little breakwater in a stream, and when a school of fish would take shelter from the swift water behind the breakwater a woman would spread a piece of mosquito netting, one end held in her mouth and the other two ends with each hand, and would dip them up. They are very good scrambled with eggs and fried.
The womenfolk were very skillful at catching oopu and opae with their bare hands under the stones. The also used a fish trap called the pai, made like a funnel of ieie vines. They would weigh down leaves and branches with stones to form a “V” on a stream bottom with the point turned upstream. At this point they would weigh down the trap. Then a number of women would go away downstream and work their way upstream, each woman carrying an ieie vine basket strapped around the waist. The oopu have the characteristic of hugging the bottom and going upstream when frightened.They would be driven into the “V” where the women would catch some by hand. Other oopu would take refuge in the trap.
For mullet and aholehole the menfolk used the throwing net, one weighted along the edges with lead weights. Holding the net folded, they would creep up to a school of mullet, then give the net a swing, throwing it to spread it out in a perfect circle and cover the fish.
The Hawaiians made dried shrimp out of the clawless variety (opae kolo), boiling them in salt water and drying them in the sun. These would keep for a long time.
Fish were sometimes caught with a trap called an una. A dam of rocks would be built in a “V” shape. At the point of the “V” the water would pour through a little sluice or waterfall, falling on a shelf of stacked rocks before it flowed back into the stream. Any fish going downstream through this “V” would end up in the shallow water below this waterfall. Large rocks would be placed at the base of the little waterfall, these graduating to smaller and smaller stones, so when the water flows a little distance it slips through the stones. The fish can’t get through these stones and are held where they can be picked up.
Folks who lived near the beach would often stretch a net across the mouth of the river where it flows into the sea. Small mullet coming in from the sea could pass through the net, but those which had grown and fattened in the river and ponds and were ready to go back out to sea would get caught in the mesh, and in the morning the people could pick them out of the net.
Goldfish and carp had been introduced, and were plentiful in the taro patches, where we boys learned to catch them by hand. The trick is to watch where they find refuge among the taro and slowly creep up behind them and cover the fish in your hands.
The Chinese workmen built a flume that brought water from a stream at a higher elevation. At our wash house, the water dropped from the flume into a square box. From the box, another flume carried water down to the duck pond and lower taro patches. At night they would set a Chinese carrying basket in the box, and in the morning we would often have lots of fish and shrimp in it.
When I was a boy, someone introduced the Texas bullfrog, and my father introduced the Chinese catfish. From that time, the goldfish and carp began to disappear. I guess their eggs may have been eaten by the frogs and catfish.
The Chinese taught us how to catch frogs with a torch, usually a section of bamboo filled with kerosene and plugged with a rag for a wick. If you didn’t want to spend money for kerosene, you could use a Hawaiian torch made of kukui nut candles. You string some dried kukui nut meats on bamboo skewers, put a handful of these into the end of a bamboo, and light the top nuts. Each nut ignites the nut below it before burning out.
When we heard the bellow of a frog, we would creep up on it. The torch light blinds it and it can be caught with a swift motion of the hand. During the day, we kids would watch them leap into the water and see where they hide among the taro roots and catch them there by hand. We could also lure them to a hook baited with a little red rag, or shoot them with a BB gun as they sat on the big lotus leaves that floated on the water—we grew lotus root for the table.
One Chinese made a side business of buying frogs from the kids and sending them to restaurants in Hilo. Frogs were very plentiful.
The catfish has a habit of tunneling holes through the dikes that hold water in the taro patches. Walking along the dikes, and hearing the roaring sound of water running through such tunnels, we knew we had found a nest of catfish. Later we would return with buckets, shovel and pickax. We would wall off the place with mud, and with the bucket bail all the water out of it. Then we would dig into the dike and expose the tunnel where all the catfish lay. We had only to pick them up and repair the dike.
The Chinese and Hawaiians shared a liking for ponds where they could raise fish. When I was a boy, Old Akaka was using the ancient pond near the beach, called Loko o Lalakea. He kept a man there to look after it and raised mullet and carp. My father did the same with a pond near our house, but time after time a flood caused by some big cloudburst up the valley would overflow the dikes of the pond and the fish would escape.
Sometime after the frog and catfish were introduced to Waipi‘o someone introduced the mosquito fish. We called it that for want of a name. It is about an inch long and was said to have been brought in to eat mosquito larvae. Instead of hatching from eggs the young are born alive and swimming. They multiply by the millions, although they don’t seem to bother other fishes.
We boys found a use for them. We made nets of tiny mesh, using old pieces of mosquito netting or cheesecloth. Placing a net on the end of a little stream or irrigation ditch, then walking down the ditch toward the net, one could frighten swarms of these little fish into the net. We would feed them to the little ducklings and chickens—we had them so full they could hardly walk.
One of the Waimanu Valley boys showed me a plant that was used to drug the fish in the streams. The plant was pounded and soaked in water, producing a poison that would stupefy the fish.
There was a swimming hole back of Paakihi’s place where I spent a lot of time with his kids on our way back from the school, swimming naked as we were born, boys and girls alike. Tired of swimming, we would pile up a big float of water hyacinths and climb on it and drift downstream.
I was told that Edwin Thomas introduced the water hyacinth. It has a beautiful flower, but is otherwise a nuisance. Edwin’s father was a Yankee and mother a Hawaiian. I went to school with the fourth generation of Thomas, of which John Thomas, the Kukuihaele schoolteacher, is the last.
Tired of swimming, we would tie a loop of coconut fiber on the end of a fern stem. Sneaking up behind a shrimp lurking in the water under the big stones, we could slip the noose around its tail and yank it up.
Once one of our Chinese workmen saw a school of mullet swim into a taro lo‘i. We put a dip net in the outlet of the the lo‘i and dammed up the inlet, allowing the water to flow out of the patch and the mullet with it. We caught buckets of fish, and everyone in the neighborhood had a fish dinner that evening.
The Chinese edible water snail (tin lo) was introduced long before I was born. They multiplied in the muddy water of the taro and rice paddies and never seemed to interfere with the native shells (vi), which live in the streams. Tin lo were cooked with Chinese condiments and enjoyed by everyone.
Sometimes we would dam a section of a stream and divert the water source into another branch of the stream. We would make a dam of rocks, then plaster it with sod to make it watertight. Soon the stream would be dry and we would go about turning over the stones in the stream bed and picking up the oopu and opae.
Tom Kua and I often went up into the end of the valley and fished with poles. The oopu of those cold, swift streams are very tasty. We would wrap them in ti leaves and build a fire. When the fire burned down, we would place the wrapped fish on the hot coals and cover them with more coals and ashes. Soon the fish would be cooked, and we would eat them with poi that we had brought along. Tom’s father had taught him many of the old ways.
We also speared o‘opu at night by torchlight with a little two-pronged spear that we made ourselves. The fish seem blinded by the light and lie motionless on the stream bottom, a ready target.
Chinese Food Plants in Waipi‘o
By the time I came into the world, almost all the Chinese food plants had been introduced to Hawaii. Chinese vegetables grew well in Waipi‘o. Fruits included the lai chee and the lon gan for their nuts, the ung nim (star apple) the lo quat plum, and a Chinese banana.
Waipi‘o was an ideal place for Chinese aquatic food plants. Father had a pond of lotus lily for the edible roots, a pond of water chestnuts, and one of buffalo nuts. The si ku, also called Indian potato, was already becoming a nuisance in the taro patches. When we harrowed a taro patch for new planting, the si ku would be pulled up by the harrow and floating. We simply picked up the largest; they are good cooked with pork.
The water chestnut has a season, and is dug when the leaves are matured and rotted down. The buffalo nut sends up a stem, and at the surface of the water leaves spread out like a quilt pattern. The nuts form on the stem just below the leaves. When ripe, they drop to the pond bottom. The best time to dig for them is when the leaves have rotted away.
Watercress was introduced and grows rank and tall in Waipi‘o’s springs. The ong choy is another Chinese aquatic food plant. It resembles the cowslip and is used for greens.
THE TI PLANT, ITS USES AND MISUSE
In the old days the Hawaiians always kept ti plants growing around their houses. They could snatch a few leaves to repair a leak in a thatched roof, or use as a dish on which to serve, or as a food wrapping for fish or poi or kulolo or to wrap food for baking in the imu. Ti leaves were used for bandages, or to make sandals, hula skirts, and raincapes. A hedge of the green ti plants around a house was believed to ward off evil spirits.
In the ancient time, ti was an emblem of mana often worn around the necks of priests. A stalk of ti was carried as a sign of peace, or in time of war as a flag of truce.
The large sweet root was baked and eaten as a dessert. In the early 1790s, two escapees from the British penal colony in Australia fermented a mash of baked ti root and distilled alcohol from it. Hawaiians noticed that the still, made of two cast iron pots set side by side, resembled large buttocks, and named the drink okolehao (iron buttocks). Soon every chief had his still, and there was so much drunkenness that the government tried to put a stop to it.
The inner recesses of Waipi‘o and Waimanu valleys were noted for okolehao—ti plants grew wild in great abundance, the many cold streams provided water for mash and for condensing alcohol from the still, and the jungle provided fuel and seclusion.
The last okolehao king out of Waimanu Valley was Joe Haena, who died in 1921. He bootlegged his product as far as Hilo. My childhood friend Tom Kua had a still for some time hidden near Hiilawe Falls. Farther back in the interior of the valley there were others. Now and then one might see a wisp of smoke or hear a guitar if one was close enough, and know that the “ti root boys” were active. The police never bothered the Hawaiians in Waipi‘o for distilling—they liked the stuff too well themselves.
When my father started his poi business in Waipi‘o, packing the poi out of the valley on mules, he was faced with the problem of keeping the poi bags clean. He learned the Hawaiian way of wrapping his poi with ti leaves. The poi was first put into a clean flour sack. This was wrapped with ti leaves, the put into a gunny sack. These gunny sacks of poi were hung to the pack saddle of a mule, four sacks to a mule, and each sack weighing about forty pounds.
As an enormous amount of ti leaves were used weekly, my father had a man who spent one day each week climbing the pali slopes to gather ti leaves. For twine, he also copied the Hawaiian use of the aerial roots of the ieie. These are cut to the right lengths, then split and dried in the sun. They are soaked in water for a short time to make them pliable just before using them. A man was also detailed to gather these roots.
When we were kids, it was a great sport to climb the pali and gather a big bunch of ti leaves and slide downhill, sitting on the slippery leaves. It was said that in ancient times the chiefs used ti leaves as well as grasses on their holua slides to make them slippery under the runners of their sleds.
Our cookhouse was typical of those of Chinese in Waipi‘o. Two iron vats rested within a enclosure built of cement and stone, wherein a fire could be built under each vat. There was an open fireplace for heating tins of water for cooking or washing. Flumes led the smoke out through openings in the wall. Above the fireplace was a rack where meat could be hung for smoking. A sink, cabinets for foods and dishes, a chopping block, large round tables and stools completed the furnishings. Back of the vats was a tablet with calligraphic characters representing the kitchen spirit, a tiny peanut oil lamp, and a place to burn incense
There was never a shortage of cooks at our place. Although Mother dominated the cookhouse, cooking is a manly art in China, and all our hired hands could cook and were always eager to show off their skills. Before dawn, lamps would be lighted, incense burned, and fires started. While water was heating for tea, the cooking of rice would be started in one vat, and meat and vegetables would be cooked later in the other. Soup would be boiled in a pot over the same fire that heated the water tins. Ox tail soup was a favorite.
Some specially prepared Chinese foods and condiments were ordered from Hilo or Honolulu, but most of the standard Chinese food plants were cultivated in Waipi‘o. Everyday fare was mostly rice and vegetables with meats more for flavoring than as main dishes. Sundays were special for us, with either chicken or duck for the table, and special delicacies—a variety of little cakes prepared by baking, steaming, or deep-frying like doughnuts. Visitors would drop by on Sundays, and Father always had beer as well as American or Chinese liquors to offer them.
Chinese holidays were observed with special foods, and some with feasts.
On the third day of the third month of the Chinese calendar is the celebration of ancestors (Chin Ming). Some member of the community would get food contributions together for the event. A pig, some chickens and ducks would be roasted and carried up to the Chinese cemetery back of the old rice mill site, where they would be presented with ceremonies and the burning of incense. Then the meats would be carried back, cut up, and distributed to the donors.
The 15th day of the eighth month is the worship of the moon ancestor, which I believe to be a harvest festival. People sit at a table facing the moon with candles and incense and foods, and as soon as the moon comes up they kowtow to it. Then they shoot off firecrackers, eat, drink, and be merry. A special cake is eaten for the event.
There were many more Chinese holidays that I cannot remember.
The biggest holiday that we boys always looked forward to was New Year’s, which takes place at the second new moon after the Winter Solstice. Long before, orders were sent to Honolulu for candied fruits, dried abalone, dried oysters, and many other things dear to the Chinese gourmet; also Chinese sacred lily bulbs and fireworks. The house is given a complete cleaning, and the ancestral tablets are given new inscriptions on red paper.
Father would order enormous quantities of liquors and beer and many boxes of dried lai chee nuts. All his business friends, and anyone who had done him special favors, would receive a box of lai chee and a bottle of liquor. A special gift would go the Parker Ranch manager, Carter, who was Father’s biggest customer.
One of the men would take care of the sacred lily bulbs (narcissus). He would wash his hands before touching them. They were planted in bowls with pebbles and water, and would blossom just about New Years Day. There is a story about the lily, but I’m not clear on it. It seems to do with two brothers, one of whom was good and hardworking. The other envied the good brother’s success and trampled his field. A good fairy came along, took pity on the good brother, and changed the trampled plants to lilies. I suppose the lily promises renewed success in coming year as the result of being a good person.
All day on New Year’s Eve, chickens, ducks, and pigs are roasted. In the afternoon someone from each Chinese family takes offerings of food to the temple. In all rituals, liquor is poured out in little cups and during the ceremonies a little is sprinkled on the floor or on the ground depending on where the ceremony is being held.
The feast starts in the evening. Invitations would go out to all that have no families and to the poor and to the schoolteacher. The men amuse themselves with dominoes and gamble until the midnight rituals.
Just before midnight the ancestral altar is lighted with a blaze of candles and incense, and the table before it is set with wine, liquor, candied fruits, cigars, Chinese tobacco, and edible black and red seeds from some kind of melon. Each of the men, one at a time, would bow before the alter and ask for the blessings of the ancestors for the coming year. Then the firecrackers would start exploding. Everyone would sit down for a meal of rice and fu juk, a dried bead curd dyed in red and other colors. For some reason which I’ve never learned—it may be a Buddhist influence—no meat was eaten at this meal.
All the next day, we would receive visitors and call on other families, everyone wishing everyone else a happy and prosperous New Year. Each visitor would ignite a little package of fireworks as they approached a house. A special fragrant tea would be served to all. We kids especially looked forward to the lai sis, money wrapped in red paper, which visitors gave to children on this day. We would shoot off fireworks all day.
In the evening there would be a big feast with all the most tasty dishes that could be produced. The balloonshaped Chinese paper lanterns would be taken out of storage and hung up, and with all the kerosene lanterns and lamps ablaze the place took on quite a holiday appearance. Because of intermarriage, Hawaiians participated with their Chinese inlaws in Chinese holidays, and Hawaiian guests would come, bringing guitars. Hawaiians would also form little groups and go from house to house, some with guitars, ukuleles, flutes, drums, and harmonicas, and some just singing. Some were on horseback, others on foot. They carried lanterns with the characters of the Chinese New Year’s greeting “Kung hei fat choy” written for them on red paper and wrapped around the lanterns. At each house they serenaded the Chinese with a little song that they had made up in Chinese and Hawaiian:
Kung hei o Akioka e
Ke keiki o ka Aina Pua.
Ai makou e naue mai
me na puuwai palupalu
Kung hei e!
Kung hei la!
Kung hei fat choy la!
Greetings to you, Akioka (Hawaiianized name of host)
Son of the Flowery Kingdom.
We come from afar
With softness in our hearts.
Greetings to you!
Greetings to you!
Happy and prosperous New Year!
At each house they would be invited to eat and drink, and some could get pretty drunk by the end of the evening.
We kids were excited by the explosions of fireworks and the firing of muskets throughout the valley. In those days, Akaka had Chinese rice farms all over the valley, and each group of farmers would light up their firecrackers and the men would line up and load and fire their muzzleloading muskets and rifles as fast as they could. Occasionally above the rattle of fireworks and the banging of firearms we would hear the boom of dynamite, or the juk pau, big cannon crackers wrapped in thin strips of bamboo. The walls of the valley would echo the sounds back and forth.
Another feast was held seven days later to conclude the New Year celebration.
The function is similar to the Hawaiian imu, except that this oven is built up above ground as an enclosure of rock and mortar masonry, with earth mounded up on the outside as insulation.
As with the imu, a fire is built in the oven, heating the rocks until they are glowing hot, A dripping pan is lowered into the oven. Pigs, ducks and geese, dressed and rubbed with salt and other condiments, are suspended above the dripping pan by hooks attached to poles that rest across the top of the oven. The opening on top is covered with a sheet of iron.
On holidays, the fragrance of roasting meat wafted through the valley. Kids were told a little story about how roasting was discovered in China.
In the very ancient time, people ate their meat raw, and were not quite happy about it. Then one day a house caught fire and burned down. There happened to be a pig in the house. People said, “No can waste,” and began to eat the burnt pig. It tasted so good that everyone wanted more. Soon so many people were putting their pigs indoors and setting fire to their houses that the Emperor had to put a stop to it before the kingdom ran out of houses. Necessity being the mother of invention, someone invented the roasting oven.
Old Akaka who owned the rice mill also owned a store. It was the social center of Waipi‘o. At great expense he had extended the telephone line down into the valley to the store; and as it was the only phone in the valley it was used by everyone. The Chinese farmers who were tenants in his rice business came for groceries and charged to the crop. Hawaiians and Chinese would come to loiter and visit. Politicians would hold meetings in front of the store. In those days, all politicians, Hawaiians and whites alike, used the native tongue to gather votes.
When Chinese began to emigrate to seek their fortune in other parts of the world, they were unprotected, indeed disowned by their own government, and had no civil rights in foreign nations. For them, the Chinese store became a vitally important institution. When a man, by his own thrift and industry, had been able to open a store, other Chinese would patronize him, especially those from his clan or district. Having risen to some degree of importance, he became his brother’s keeper. They would go to him to help settle their differences, for help in lawsuits, and even bank their savings in his keeping. His most valuable asset was a reputation for honesty and fairness. The store naturally became a social center for lonely men far from home. Mail from China would be addressed to his store, and he would help them write letters home. Any clansman was welcomed, and if he were down on his luck he could stay there, making himself useful until the storekeeper could find him a job.
It’s an age old custom that the storekeeper feeds his help and provides shelter. In the back of every Chinese store was a kitchen and dining room. They all had the same odor of cooking food and of the spices and dried sea foods that were carried as part of the merchandise. Foods were usually carried on one side of the store, and bolts of cloth and dry goods on the other. As a little boy, I was most attracted to the big glass jars of candied fruit and the sweet and sour pickled “cracked seed,” and the sweet cakes and other Chinese pastries. Father would buy something for me, and I remember hearing him chatting with others until the voices would fade away and I would fall asleep. Later, when I started school, I would be given a few cents to buy treats after school.
Back of the store was a grove of bamboo of the type producing edible shoots, and a star apple tree, and the miu lan flower—all plants which had been introduced by Akaka. There was also a stable and string of mules for hauling goods into the valley. The mule drivers were called mule devils in Chinese, and used some fancy language when addressing their charges that we quickly picked up, and just as quickly discovered that we should not use such terms at home.
As the Chinese love to gamble, there was usually a game going on in the back of the store between mealtimes. When the Chinese newspapers came in from Honolulu or Hong Kong, there was always much discussion about current events.
The store was a great hangout for Hawaiians, too. Their needs were not as great as those of the Chinese. They would buy Hawaiian salt, or salt salmon that came in barrels, saloon pilot biscuits, canned salmon and corned beef. Hawaiian women bought cloth for making their dresses and clothes for their children. Hawaiian conversation was generally of a lighter nature, much of it local gossip spiced with humor; but they also had much of a serious nature to discuss in those days. Both Hawaiians and Chinese had strong grievances against the powerful Western nations. Hawaiians had suffered the indignity of losing their own government, and Chinese had suffered the indignities which European powers had forced upon the Manchurian government of China. Both shared a strong resentment of American and European arrogance.
Kids hanging around the store quickly picked up the feelings of their elders, as well as both the Hawaiian and Chinese languages.
In those days Waipi‘o had two Chinese stores as well as a bakery. Ah Mau, the baker, made pies with pure shredded coconut filling.
In front of the store were the hitching posts to which riders would tie their animals. On both sides of the store were frame houses of Hawaiian families. All these houses were surrounded by stone walls which joined each other. A stone wall ran in front of the store under a large mango tree, and each night people would gather on the wall to chat , sing, and play music.
As the Hawaiian population declined, much of the land once used for taro was no longer in use. Because taro paddies are essentially the same as rice paddies, Chinese immigrants began leasing unused lo‘i and growing rice. Hawaii’s climate being similar to that of Southern China, two crops per year could be produced.
Akaka introduced water buffaloes to WAIPI‘O to pull harrows through the rice patches, preparing the mud for planting. Rice was sown in seed beds.When about six inches high, the plants were pulled and formed into little bunches. These were taken out to the ponds planted in rows, taking about six shoots at a time and poking them into the mud. The men walked backward, bent over to their work, each planting four rows at a time.
The rice patches were continuously irrigated by water turned into them from streams. Men went about weeding and keeping the dikes in order until the grains began to appear. Then the rice birds arrived and made their lives miserable.
These were finches, said to have been imported from Java. When the grain heads began to form, they would come in big flocks. The men would string up tin cans, flags, and even use muskets to scare them off. The valley would echo with shouts and banging.
The muskets were called Towers muskets, made in England, muzzle loaders fired with percussion caps. The men loaded them with black powder and poloke seeds (canna lily seeds) which grow wild and are like bird shot. They would scare up the birds and shoot into the flock. Children could always make a little pocket money by helping guard the rice.
At harvest time the patches were drained and dried. Men went through them with curved sickles cutting the tall stalks. The bunches were laid out in overlapping rows with the lower part of the stalks on the ground and the tops bearing the grain resting on the lower stalks of the previous row.
The stalks were gathered into bundles and, carried to the concrete threshing floors. When dry, they were trampled with horses and the trash winnowed out. The grains were dried and stored in granaries, and bagged for shipment. Then Akaka’s muleteers would come and load up their mules with two bags to a mule, and haul the rice to the mill for processing.
Old Akaka had rice planted in Waimanu Valley also, on lands leased from the territorial government. It was a long haul from Waimanu to Waipi‘o over the palis. Rice was also grown in Pololu Valley by Akina, father of Arthur and Clermont Akina.
The cheapness of California rice, made possible by mechanization, cheaper labor, and a larger, cheaper land base, put the rice industry in Hawaii out of business soon after the first World War, although I heard that it survived on Kauai until after World War II.
Waipi‘o was almost entirely Hawaiian and Chinese. Most of the Japanese brought their wives, established families while working on the plantations, and resided in the plantation communities. Only a few settled in Waipi‘o. One was Toko, the father of William Toko of Kukuihaele, who married a Hawaiian and lived like one. Then there was Kamashima who married Inoa. Another was Haraguchi. And there was Nida, who never married. He worked with the Chinese in the rice fields and when rice culture came to an end he stayed on and planted taro until he died.
When I was a boy, the sight of a ship at sea, far out on the horizon, was a wonder. Although the whale ships were already a thing of the past, there were sailing vessels carrying lumber from the West Coast. These were beautiful, more so than the black smoky steamers that plied between the islands, but even the steamers had their attraction. People would go down to the landings to see the ships and all the coming and going.
My first trip on a ship was when Father had to go to Honolulu on some business and had a notion to take me along—this was between 1901 and 1904. We rode on mules up the pali to Kukuihaele, then down to the mill where we left the animals with one of our men who took them home. We rode down the cable car to the derrick landing and waited for the whaleboat to come in from the steamer, which was standing some distance off the rocky shore. The boat was lowered from the ship’s davits, and manned by big Hawaiian sailors who rowed it to the landing. We got into a box and were hoisted up and swung out on the boom by a steam winch and lowered to the bobbing boat. The sailors, with great dexterity, helped us off. This operation was repeated for freight, also. Then we were rowed out to the steamer. When the boat was lifted by a swell, Father jumped aboard and I was handed up.
When all the freight was in, we sailed for Honolulu. The Hawaiian sailors all knew Father and came and spoke to him. I overheard them talking among themselves, saying that Father was a humble man; “He kanaka haahaa keia.”
Father got a mat from some sailor and we slept on the deck. It didn’t take long for me to have my first experience with seasickness from the motion of the ship as it pitched and rolled through the rough Alanuihaha toward Maui. Being the only one bothered by it made it all the more disturbing.
I don’t remember much about Honolulu except that it was a busy and bewildering city, and that I saw sparrows for the first time and thought that they were some kind of rice bird. I got sick on the way back from Honolulu, too. Father had bought me some red soda pop, and it came up faster than it went down. I told him that I was vomiting blood, much to his amusement.
That trip took all the romance of sailoring out of me. Years later, when sent to Honolulu on different errands, I would take the steamer from Kawaihae. The sea is calm there and except for bouncing about in the channels the route lay mostly in the sheltered lee of the islands.
THE GREAT CLOUDBURST AND FLOOD OF 1904
In Waipi‘o we usually have sunshine only in the morning. Rain clouds gather each afternoon in the upper end of the valley, piling up against the Kohala mountains, spreading over the valley and dropping their moisture. In the back of the valley, vegetation grows profusely. Watercress will grow a foot high in the springs. In that jungle the mountain apple trees grow like masts trying to reach sunlight. These bear fruit twice a year, and we boys gathered them in great quantities.
Sometimes when the lower part of the valley was bathed in sunlight there would be a cloudburst up in the back of the valley. A great roar would be heard and the river would rise a foot or more, sweeping all before it. Although these floods are common enough, some are of such magnitude that they stand out in memory, and the flood of 1904 was one of them.
The buildings on our farm were very close to the pali, so close that rocks from above sometimes rolled down and bounced right into our stable yard. The river was about a quarter of a mile away in the middle of the valley. Taro fields extended almost to the river’s edge.
One day we heard a roar like the approach of a train and suddenly the river was overflowing into the taro patches and over the tops of the plants. Everything was under water. The mules were standing in water and even the floors of the buildings were under water. The men did what they could to save the pigs, chickens and ducks from being swept away.
Rain kept falling. I don’t remember how many days the flood lasted, but damage was high. I remember Father saying that if a certain kukui tree would go, a big portion of his taro fields would be lost. He put on his raincoat, waded out to a place near the tree, and watched it go down. He lost a lot of taro in all stages from young huli to ripe taro.
The Catholic Church and cemetery just outside of Papala Falls was hit. The cemetery was washed away and the foundation of the church, which caused the structure to fall. After the flood the building was taken down and reconstructed at Napoopoo Village where it stood until it fell to pieces years later.
That flood changed the courses of all the rivers in Waipi‘o. The lower part of the valley where Akaka and the Chungs had their rice fields looked like a huge lake; there is only one place where the river cuts through the sand dunes and empties into the sea, and when there is too much water it backs up, flooding the entire lower part of the valley. In this event it also overflowed and cut the banks of the Lalakea mullet pond, and the mullet were taken out to sea.
The wild cattle on the highlands were descendants of longhorns Vancouver brought from California. When I was a boy, old John Baker, the owner of Mahiki Ranch, showed me his heavy rifles, 4570s and 4580s that he used for wild cattle, and I saw heavy rifles at the Parker home at Mana. After Herefords and other shorthorns were introduced the longhorns were hunted out and now I believe they are no more.
Father had a longhorn ox named Kanui that he used for harrowing the mud in the taro patches. He had a terrific spread of horns. Father kept him until he died of old age. When Kanui got too old, Father borrowed Kualii’s longhorn ox. When he needed him, he would send me for him. I’d go to the village and look up old man Kualii and ask him for the use of the ox. Then I’d drive him with a rope through the ring in his nose and over his spread of horns up to a stone wall. Holding him there, I’d climb the wall and make a jump for his back, and as soon as I was on him he would start off.
Riding an ox bareback is very different than riding a horse bareback. A horse has a tight skin and a mane to hold on to, but the ox has a very loose hide and no mane. You roll from side to side, and you can’t get your legs around his big wide back. Once I was just a second too slow in my jump and as he started I landed on his rump instead of his back and slid off on to the rocks and thought my backbone had shattered.
Kualii Opio, Old Man Kualii’s youngest son, developed leprosy and was taken to the leper colony at Kalaupapa on Molokai. The old man drove the ox to Honokaa and sold him to the butcher for cash to help the boy for his personal expenses. A sad fate for both boy and ox.
Old Akaka, the founder of the rice industry of Waipi‘o, ran longhorn cattle at Pawiliwili, the high table land between Waipi‘o and Waimanu valleys.
We had no dairy cows in Waipi‘o. In those days children had no milk other than their mothers’ and after weaning they had to eat solid food. Father used to buy Eagle Brand condensed milk for us, but not as a regular diet—he used it in making chocolate as a treat. However, once in a while a Hawaiian would take a notion to milk a longhorn, which always provided some excitement.
First, the cow had to be roped and pulled up to a tree and tied with the horns butting up against the tree. Then the two hind legs had to be tied; only in that position is it safe to milk the creature. The calf had to be tied away from the cow all night in order to have milk in her in the morning. A lot of effort and some risk for not much milk.
At Hilo Boarding School we had a herd of Holsteins for milking for the table.
The story of rice culture in Waipi‘o would not be complete without mention of the water buffalo. Its association with rice growing in the Orient is very ancient; there are folk tales about water buffaloes, and pictures of them are found in the oldest scrolls.
Traveling in China in 1935, I saw little boys tending these placid creatures. Each buffalo had a small kid on his back and seemed to be unaware of it. The little boys would lie flat on the buffaloes’ broad backs or climb up and down the sides of the large animals without fear. Their job was to keep the animals on uncultivated ground or in marshes or mud holes, away from the rice fields, and to keep birds out of maturing rice.
The water buffalo must have his mud bath, wallowing in muddy ponds or in streams, contentedly submerging with only his nose showing. Chinese make pets of them, and I was told that in robber–infested areas a family may take its buffalo into their house at night, or have someone sleep in the barn; but they have a sharp sense of smell, can quickly identify strangers, and can be dangerous.
Slow but strong, they plow the muddy rice paddies, drawing the harrow to break up clods of earth, the farmer singing to it or cursing it according to his mood.
Their milk is said to be high in butter fat, but the Chinese don’t milk them. When Akaka brought the first water buffaloes to Waipi‘o to replace the oxen he had used earlier, I was just a small lad. After he went out of the rice business, Waipi‘o was given over entirely to taro cultivation, but the buffaloes remained for a time.
It seemed to me that WAIPI‘O, except for the kuleana lands belonging to local families, was in an ahupuaa of land belonging to royalty, the last owner being Princess Pauahi of the Kamehameha line. She married a Yankee named Bishop but died leaving no heirs. So she set up the Kamehameha Schools, supported by her lands, and he set up the Bishop Museum in her name, supported by his.
As the Hamakua Ditch Co. had the lease of the head waters of Waipi‘o for the purpose of diverting water through tunnels and flumes for irrigation, I understand that the Bishop Estate made the Hamakua Ditch Co, take over the lease left vacant by Akaka when he went out of the rice business; so they in turn leased pieces of land to taro growers, who came into possession of the buffaloes. The animals were used for harrowing taro patches, and eventually they were either killed for meat or died of old age. That ended the buffalo in Waipi‘o.
MY FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH THE GRIM REAPER
One morning on our way to the little country school in the village of Napoopoo, we heard loud wailing by women, and learned that Solomon Koloaa’s father had died (Solomon is still in Waipi‘o at this writing, 1953). Although we were quite young, we felt very depressed. First one woman would wail, then a few would join in, and soon they would all be wailing.
We saw the deceased laid out on a mat and surrounded by wailing women. One of the men who knew something about carpentering got some 1”x12” boards and started building a coffin. When it was finished, he lined the inside with black cloth.
In the tropical climate of Waipi‘o, where the body hastens to join the elements, burial was almost always done on the day of death. They laid him away in the homemade coffin. The wailing was renewed, the kinsfolk kissed the dead, and they nailed the coffin shut.
There was no preacher in Waipi‘o, so they roped the coffin, put poles through the loops, and four men carried the coffin by placing the ends of the poles over their shoulders.
At the base of the pali under a growth of hala trees, where countless others had been buried, they dug a grave. The little procession followed, the men in their best shirts and khaki or denim pants and the women in their holoku with widebrimmed lauhala hats, all barefoot, threading their way to the grave over the dikes that separated the taro patches. Everyone went barefoot in WAIPI‘O because of the numerous streams that were crossed.
They lowered the coffin into the grave and shoveled a mound of earth over it. One of the men stuck one of the carrying poles at the head of the grave. It happened to be a green monkeypod pole. It took root and sent out leaves, and in time became a big spreading tree.
The mourners returned to the house where a pig had been roasted in the imu. People came, bringing food, and tried to be cheerful. Then someone came with a bowl of water, and dipping a ti leaf into the water went about sprinkling everyone in the crowd. This was to purify, to cleanse everyone of any haumia (uncleanliness or defilement), an ceremony from the ancient times before Christianity.
Then the people began to talk. Some said that he might have been the victim of anaana, or sorcery. Others said never mind—the preacher would give a proper burial service when he came on his next visit, and all would be well.
Some burials were in the churchyard. When we were kids, the churchyard was full of graves and a place of dread for us to pass in the evening. Some ohana preferred to bury their dead on their own land, like the Thomas and the Kaaiamoku families. But in ancient times, burial was done in great secrecy. Caves were used, and burials in the most inaccessible places in the pali. Burial caves in the pali were pointed out to me, most of the openings being hidden by brush. Men said that they could dig anywhere along the foot of the pali and uncover human remains. Away back in my memory, I remember following some working men to a lemon tree and seeing them dig up a skeleton. At the big sand dune that covers the place where Pakaalana Heiau once stood, I was playing with some boys who were digging in the sand and we came up with skulls. It was said that during earlier epidemics the sand dunes were used for quickly burying many of those who died.
Aki the hermit, who knew the plateau region between Waipi‘o and Waimanu valleys, told me that he had come across mounds of opihi shells up there, indicating that there were people living there at one time. It was obvious, even to us kids, that the population of Waipi‘o must have been enormous at one time, and that all of the valley in which we lived and upon which we walked and worked was in fact a graveyard.
We had night herons in Waipi‘o, birds with beautiful pale plumage. They would come out from the interior of the valley in the evenings and wade in the newly planted taro patches or along the river. With all the ghost stories I heard as a kid, these herons could scare me out of a year’s growth. If I disturbed one while walking home on a black night along the dikes of the taro patches, it would let out a sudden loud squawking and haul off with a great flapping of wings. The moonless nights are especially dark in the valley because of the high palis on both sides.
On the sand beach there were ulili, snipes or sandpipers running along the shore following a receding wave or running away from one rushing in. They would follow the river away up into the valley with their song, “ulilili,” for which they were named. The tempo of the song, Ulili E, perfectly matches the way they scamper and dart about.
There were white terns following the coastline, very graceful flyers with forked tails. And the pueo, the solitary owl ghosting through the valley in the evening on silent wings—maybe an aumakua?
One of the finest songbirds introduced to Hawaii is the skylark. They are seen in the open range land of the higher elevations, making their nests in the bunchy Bermuda grass. They will hover in the sky, singing their song, and swoop down to their nests.
We always kept pigeons for squab, but many went wild and lived in the caves of the cliffs and lava flows. My brother and some of his paniolo friends would make a blind at some watering place on the Parker Ranch, and shoot pigeons on the wing as they flew in for water.
The wild ducks and plovers arrived from Alaska in the fall and headed back north in the spring, fattened up for the long flight. Father said that when he was a youth in the 1880s Waipi‘o was full of wild ducks and alae (mud hens). He was so sure of getting ducks that he would start the fire for hot water before going out into the taro patches to hunt them. The mongoose put an end to those birds.
In our area it was a plantation manager named Forbes who was responsible for bringing in the mongoose. That did not make him popular. He carried the name “Mongoose” Forbes to his death, and some of the boys out riding their horses at night and drinking too much would stop and pee on his grave.
We always had three or four dogs around the house and trained them for mongoose by catching one in a box trap and setting the dogs on it. The chickens were allowed to roam and sometimes roost in trees, and when they set up a cackle of alarm the dogs would dash for the spot and keep the mongoose away. A mongoose will put up quite a fight before the dog gets hold and shakes him to death.
I remember old folks who witnessed the arrival of mosquitos to Waipi‘o, and who talked about how good life was before those pests came. The first mosquitos were heard but not immediately seen, and when their stings were felt people thought that they were plagued by evil spirits.
Wasps, scorpions, centipedes, and white ants were also pests introduced in recent times. One of the worst calamities was the coming of the fruit fly. I remember when Chinese truck farmers in Kapulena and Honokaa grew watermelon uncovered in the fields, and when my father took me on trips to Honokaa they would cut the best to treat us. Cucumbers grew almost wild. Hawaiians were still growing gourds to make calabashes for poi and hula ipu. Then someone brought in the Mediterranean fruit fly and that put an end to the gourd vine, pumpkins, cucumbers, and all melons unless we wrapped each fruit in a cloth bag from the time it was in bud until it matured.
I suppose insects fascinate all kids. We’d catch crickets and put them in bottles and watch them sing by rubbing their hind legs. There is a wasp the size of a thumb that makes holes in the fence posts. We’d first find all the holes, usually two, then put a bottle over each hole and pound the post with a rock. The wasps would come out and into the bottles. I was never stung by one but it must be a terrific wallop!
There were mud daubers, and yellow jackets, pesky wasps that make their nests of mud under the eaves and in bushes and trees. One has only to be accidentally near them to get stung. We took our revenge. When we were out hunting with shotguns and came across a nest, we’d stand off a few feet and blow it to kingdom come.
Honeybees were introduced and had gone wild. Big hives might be found hanging from a tree branch high above, but to rob one of them we had to endure a lot of stings. The best time was at night, using a rag soaked in kerosene to put them down with smoke and burn them off the hive, but the singed bees, crawling over the ground and on your legs, could give a good account of themselves.
Once I was hunting wild pigs with William Toko in the rain forest above Kukuihaele. The dogs hadn’t scared up any pigs. We were wet with moisture and sweat, and coming out from under the tall ferns into an open space we saw a honeybee hive high up on a tall ohia tree. There was no way of getting the honey. Like a damn fool I shot at it with my 30–30 carbine, and immediately the bees were right on top of us. We dove into the wet ferns, but the dogs got stung.
Ants had arrived in the islands and were everywhere. Food had to be kept in cabinets or boxes built with legs that rested in cups of kerosene. Cockroaches had also arrived. If they got into the food cabinet we would carry the cabinet outdoors and call the chickens. Then we would take out the food, and brush out the cabinet, and as the cockroaches hit the ground the chickens snapped them up.
SERPENTS IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN
When I started school in the village, there was a beautiful Hawaiian girl belonging to the Oanui family. She was pure Hawaiian, but ehu, fair with a ruddy complexion and light reddish hair—a genetic type that crops up within all Polynesian families here and in the South Pacific. The Ka‘u District was noted for having many ehu folk. Whether she was the Oanui granddaughter or hanai I do not recall now. Because of the dying of the race and the loss of so many infants, children were cherished and loved, and eagerly adopted.
She seemed healthy; but one morning on our way to school we heard a great wailing coming from the direction of Oanui’s place. As we neared the rock wall that enclosed their yard, we saw two policemen from Kukuihaele or Honokaa (there were no police in Waipi‘o) standing outside the house.
Then someone told us that the girl had leprosy, and they were taking her to the leper colony on Molokai. I became sick with sorrow, and a great fear overwhelmed me with its ugly reality. I had heard of the disease. Once when we played a mischievous prank on the hired men by turning their bunks upside down, one of them thought to scare us to good behavior by telling us that we could contract the disease from inhaling near other people’s blankets, and the flesh would rot off our bones. The story had been devoid of reality, but now the reality hit me.
Later I saw two more cases in Waipi‘o. One was a young man who hid away for a long time, sustained by his family. Somehow the authorities found out and he was hunted down. When they took him away, he was in the stage they called “lion head”—the skin of his face was in thick black folds. Then there was the brother of my good friend William Kualii. The poor boy did not show any signs of the disease except a sore in the bottom of his foot that refused to heal. That was when old Man Kualii had to sell his ox to give the boy some money.
Old Man Kualii told me years later that his son had been cured but chose to remain on Molokai. That was a great joy, but my guess is that he was not a victim of leprosy but of the hysteria about it.
While at school in Hilo, I spent Christmas vacation in 1910 with my friends, the Kama boys, at Kalapana, Puna. There I saw a woman relative of that family whose face was in the lion head stage. Her husband kept her hidden in the mountains, but they often visited the Kama place. She was finally caught and taken away. Her husband never developed the disease.
The Chinese, through long centuries of experience, had a mortal dread of the disease, but Hawaiians seemed to have less fear of it. They would keep an infected relative with them, eating and sleeping together, as long as they could. The disease was worldwide, older than the Bible, and no one knows how it got to Hawaii.
Tuberculosis also devastated the Hawaiians. I saw an entire family wiped out in Waipi‘o. They just wasted away, first one, then another, and in a few years they were all gone. Some of Captain Cook’s men were dying of tuberculosis, so we know how and when that disease arrived. When I was at Hilo Boarding School a classmate from Papaikou came down with it. He wasted away fast, followed by his brothers and sisters. The entire family was gone in a short time.
Smallpox came to Hawaii from California back about 1850 and entire communities were wiped out, but when I came into the world vaccination had long been enforced and the disease was checked.
When my brother Ernest and I were small, there was an epidemic of typhoid fever in Waipi‘o —at least that’s what it was said to be—and many in the valley died. We boys became very ill. No doctor could be called. We were given herbal teas, Hawaiian and Chinese, and that was all.
I must have been delirious although I don’t remember a thing about it, but judging from the faces around me and their remarks when I got better I must have been out of my head and talking crazy. The old folks hinted that bad spirits might have been hovering about and had entered into me.
I began to strengthen before Brother, who appeared to be sinking. Father called in old Man Penaamina, an expert in Hawaiian medical knowledge. I distinctly remember the old man sitting beside the bed, chanting and chanting for hour after hour in a language so ancient that I could not comprehend it. Certain potions were given. After a day or so Brother showed signs of improvement, and finally he got well. All of my hair came out.
That was a terrible time. The wailing of women went on continuously throughout WAIPI‘O for over a month. When the wailing subsided in one part of the valley it would commence in another place, then in another, night and day. Until my dying day I will not get that sound out of my ears.
When I recovered and could get around, I discovered that many of my many pure Hawaiian playmates were dead. Those of us children who were of mixed parentage or Chinese stood a better chance of recovery. I have no doubt that intermarriage saved what was left of the Hawaiian race.
LULU PIPI (SHARING THE BEEF)
Most Hawaiians owned a few pigs or a cow or two in those days, and a riding mule or a horse. Everyone had their taro patches and gardens, and fruit grew abundantly and mostly without cultivation. The Hawaiians of Waipi‘o could produce almost all their basic necessities, but because they had to to buy imported commodities such as kerosene for their lamps, salt, sugar, clothing, and the little luxuries, the need for cash confronted them from time to time.
This they earned by working a few days when the Chinese rice and taro farmers needed extra help, or when the County needed men to repair the pali trail, or by selling their surplus catch of fish, or raising a pig to sell or a beef to be butchered. However, because nature was bountiful and the need for cash was not too urgent, they always seemed to have plenty of time for visiting back and forth, with plenty of good natured humor and kidding, and always a great deal of sharing. One could not be seen passing a house, even those tucked away up into the valley, without being called to stop for a visit, and one could not leave without being loaded with fruit.
Without refrigeration, fresh meat was not an everyday commodity unless one was willing to climb the pali and go to the meat market at Honokaa. It was no problem for us as we had poi trains going to the Parker Ranch twice a week and to Honokaa once a week. Old Man Kanaana, the butcher of the ranch, and my father were great friends. Father would take along a sack filled with vegetable produce from Waipi‘o for the old man, who would fill the sack with beef liver, tripe, tongue, and other cuts for the trip back to the valley. But that was not the case for most of the Waipi‘o people.
Needing some cash and having a hunger for some fresh beef, an owner of a steer would go about the valley and invite others to buy a share in the beef. When he had sold enough shares, he would announce the day of the butchering.
Men and women would gather on that day, the women in their best dresses, wearing broadrimmed lauhala hats crowned with leis. It would be an occasion for visiting and laughter and cheerful gossip. No romance could be kept secret in the valley but that sooner or later they would find out—how, I’ll never know.
While this was going on, the men would butcher the beef, skin it out, and cut it up, setting little piles of meat upon fresh ti leaves according to the number of shares sold, then sawing up the bones and distributing these also, everything being equally divided. After some socializing, with food and drink and music, each share owner would tie up his meat in ti leaves or put it in a flour sack and take it home.
Refrigeration being unknown in those days, they would cook as much as they wanted to eat, then make jerky of the rest, rubbing it with salt and drying it in the same way Hawaiians have always salted and dried fish.
Whenever possible, Hawaiians turned work or other activities into social events. Working together in congenial groups, they could accomplish tremendous tasks in a short time, and always preferred this to solitary labor. After a flood, all the men would get together and clean out the brush that would otherwise clog the streams.
If a man needed help, he had only to mention the fact and others would show up to help him. He in turn would reciprocate when others needed help. Women’s tasks were always done in sociable groups. They would get together to do their laundry at a stream, or weave mats, or sew.
If a man died, his brother or some other male relative would take responsibility for the needs of his widow and children.
If an unmarried girl got pregnant, her family took her in with no stigma. Everyone loved children. Social pressure alone would force her lover to contribute to the child’s needs. Having no means to be independent, she would have to live under the authority of her parents—not like today when a girl who gets hapai can get a welfare check, live where she pleases and thumb her nose at her elders. Nothing is destroying the authority of the Hawaiian family as much as the welfare system.
If a youngster needed discipline, everyone would share in that also; usually by treating the youngster as if he were invisible. Instead of getting attention, he would get no attention until he learned that it was preferable to reform than to be ignored and lonely.
There was no crime and no policeman in the valley. There was a jail house that the government had built, so that anyone who might be arrested could be held there until being taken to Honokaa for trial, but it was never used. Its door was always ajar when I was a kid, and the house rotted away to the ground.
Waimanu is even more remote than Waipi‘o. The traveler leaves his modern conveyance at the top of WAIPI‘O Lookout, then must resort to a mule or his two feet to descend a thousand feet to the WAIPI‘O Valley floor— although I hear they are now widening the trail for jeeps.
He will then have to swim across the river or ford it at a shallow place, and walk across the valley, then climb the narrow pali trail on the other side to the top of a plateau 1,200 feet high. There he must cross twelve gulches, and ford a stream at the bottom of each. It is a lonely place. The old timers believed that when crossing that plateau, if you hear a voice calling your name, do not follow it or you will become hopelessly lost.
At last the chasm of Waimanu, charitably called a valley, will be sighted. It is deeper, narrower, and the pali steeper than at Waipi‘o. A dangerous zigzag trail leads to the valley floor. If the sea was reasonably calm, we could take a canoe from Waipi‘o—the prevailing wind will take you there under a little sail; but if the wind and seas kicked up while we were at Waimanu it could be a lot of trouble paddling back.
The native population of Waimanu must have been considerable at one time. I was told there was once a school there.
When Akaka started rice culture in WAIPI‘O, he also leased land in Waimanu, and had hired hands turning much of the valley into rice, packing the harvest on mules to his rice mill in Waipi‘o; but he gave that up when the cheaper California rice arrived. When I first visited Waimanu, there were only two Hawaiian families left, the Kala and the Kahele families, who lived near the beach,
Food was abundant in the valley, much of it growing wild. The river and the sea were full of fish. But the place was lonely; one felt the loneliness like a great weight. Everywhere underneath the jungle—a profusion of vines, guava trees, wild ginger, breadfruit, and kukui—were stone walls and platforms, mute evidence of a large population. There was a silence about the place. One heard the continuous pounding of the surf, and the sighing of the wind. Moving into the interior, into the shade of the high cliffs that darkens the valley, one heard the murmur of the streams, the splashing of waterfalls, the fall of a breadfruit leaf or a coconut frond. But without the sound of a human voice there seemed to be an overpowering silence.
Once in a while my brother and I would go fishing at Waimanu. We’d take a few luxuries for the families such as sugar and hard tack, and candy for the children. They would know of our coming by seeing us coming down the cliff trail, and by the time of our arrival they would have fish caught for supper. We’d unsaddle our mules, tie them to graze, and dive into the river where it empties into the sea for a bath and swim, then sit down for a supper of fish and poi.
Early the next morning, one of the boys would take a canoe out to sea, and be back before breakfast with a canoe laden with fish.
At night, these lonely people would talk for hours, recalling and retelling all the events of their lives. Theirs was a small world but a happy one. War and economic catastrophe seemed far away.
There was a single man, Chong Chui, whom the Hawaiians called Aki okole eleele (Aki of the black buttocks), who lived alone in a shack near a waterfall in the interior of the valley. Why they named him this I have never found out.
Aki would visit the Hawaiian families, but when he felt sleepy he would walk back to his lonely shack through the guava jungle. We knew him because he was friendly to my father, and on his rare visits to Waipi‘o he would stay at our place in the bunkhouse with the hired help.
Once, after the Kalas and the Kaheles had moved to Waipi‘o and Aki was the last living soul in Waimanu, I spent a night at his place. His shack was bare, just a bunk and a kerosene lamp. He did his cooking outdoors like a picnicker. He said little about himself and less about his earlier life in China. He had obviously been in the valley for many years, because he would tell stories about Hawaiians who had died long before I was born. He was known as a maker of good okolehao, which may have brought him a little cash, but he never talked about it, nor seemed to drink it himself.
Knowing that most Chinese are gregarious, I wondered why he chose to be alone. When I asked why he never married, he said with disdain, “They are a bother.” Perhaps he didn’t care about steady work of any kind, knowing that if he lived in a community he would have to work at a job for the necessities of life, whereas in Waimanu the valley provided food in abundance; but whatever his motives, he kept them to himself.
We retired early. Before dawn, he was out in his yard building a fire to make coffee—from wild berries he had dried and roasted himself. I joined him. We sat on our haunches, not saying much. High above us the black rim of the pali cut the graying dawn. The only sound was the booming of the surf and the rushing of the nearby stream from which he drew his water. We drank the coffee black and strong—he had no sugar for it.
He kept a small garden and raised his own tobacco which he cured and cut fine in the manner of the crosscut pipe tobacco of those days, and which he smoked incessantly in a pipe he had made of orange or chili pepper wood. The bowl was hollowed out by burning with a hot iron and carving, the stem by using a hot wire. The mouthpiece was the shell of a 38 caliber revolver cartridge.
For his protein, there were the fishfilled streams and the sea. Opihi (limpets) clung to the rocks on the beach waiting to be gathered. Schools of mullet in the river were easily caught with a throw net, and oopu in the streams he caught by net or hand; and at the foot of Waiakamanu Falls, which plummeted like a white ribbon a thousand feet down the cliff, were pools full of shrimp.
He could not read or write, and was evidently uneducated. Unlike some of our hired men who would recite to us the teachings of Confucius, and back up their arguments with quotations from the classics, Aki knew nothing of these. His talk, if he talked at all, was of Waimanu and the two Hawaiian families.
After the Kala and Kahele families moved to Waipi‘o, Aki lived in solitude for some years. People worried about him being all alone. Finally my father offered him a shack in Waipi‘o on the other side of the valley from our place where he could help by keeping an eye on the taro and irrigation ditches, and Aki accepted. Years later, Mock Chew leased Waimanu and ran cattle there.
When I visited Waipi‘o in 1945 on my way home from the war in the Western Pacific, Aki was still alive, although he was over ninety. His fondness for isolation was his undoing. I heard later that while crossing a swollen river after a cloudburst he lost his footing and was swept away. They found him dead among debris that had been washed up against a fence.
The Waipi‘o School was a two room building, and at its peak may have had about one hundred students. Everything was taught in the English language, through four grades. I remember a succession of teachers, an Englishman with a red face and a moustache, then a Portuguese, then John Kealoha, Solomon Burke ( a hapa haole), and Sam Kaaekuahiwi. Old Sam was still alive and living in Waipi‘o in 1955. All were strict disciplinarians and used the rod freely.
The kids were mostly Hawaiians, followed numerically by Hawaiian-Chinese, Hawaiian-Haole, and Chinese. We were supposed to speak only English on the school premises, but we actually used a pidgin of Hawaiian, English, and Chinese.
We used Baldwin Readers, first, second and third. We read about spring, summer, autumn, and winter without the slightest comprehension of the terms. We read of Jack Frost on the pumpkins, when outside were rose apple trees and the tradewinds brought the fragrance of wild ginger flowers into the classrooms.
Playing on the way to and from school, I remember crawling under the lantana and guava and gathering up morning glory vines and using them for reins, harnessing up another kid and imagining him to be a horse, or using the vines as lariats and lassoing kids, dogs, fenceposts, everything in our way. Hearing about the RussoJapanese war, we bought cap pistols, and when that got too tame we started throwing rocks at each other. The teacher put a stop to that.
We memorized the alphabet and the multiplication tables. We studied history and learned that George Washington was born in Westmoreland, Virginia—why that stuck in my head I’ll never know. All of us felt sorry for the American Indians and Negroes. We also learned something about Hawaiian history.
In those days the history books were very antiBritish in their accounts of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. We read about the Massachusetts Pilgrims, Jamestown, Captain John Smith, Abe Lincoln and Stonewall Jackson in the Civil War.
School hours were from nine to twelve and one to two. On the way home we lingered, climbing trees for tamarinds, guavas, papayas, avocadoes, and mangoes. My older brother and I were often given a few cents to buy muffins or little cakes at the bakery, and we’d share them with Tom Kua and Kama‘e, who lived beyond our place toward the upper part of the valley, and walked with us.
At Jack Paakiha’s a deepening of the stream made a wonderful swimming hole where we would go swimming right after school with his children, Miriam and Paakiha Liilii (junior), stripping off to our birthday suits. Once a doctor came to the Waipi‘o School and vaccinated us all for smallpox. He cautioned us not to go swimming for a while, but he might as well have been talking to ducks, so some kids got swollen arms. Brother and I took him seriously, but when Father asked me about the sore on my arm, I lied, so he put a Chinese plaster on it. Suspicious, he queried me until I told him that a white doctor had come and scratched the arms of all the kids. He then knew that it was a vaccination and took off the plaster.
The Chinese kids were the better students, especially in arithmetic, whereas the Hawaiian kids were good in music and singing. The teachers would write out the music in four parts and the kids sang it beautifully.
Every Friday afternoon for one hour we would have a work detail, repairing stone walls, dusting erasers—a general cleanup of the school. Once we unearthed human skeletons under big stones in the school grounds.
Mr. John Kealoha was a great teacher. He would work up programs toward the end of the school term and the whole valley would be there to enjoy it. Once he went to the expense of holding a luau after the program. Everyone made quite a day of it and talked about it for days afterward.
One of my friends was a kid named Johnny Kawala, adopted by the Aalona family. We would pass their place on the way to school, and he would be cooking sweet potatoes in a pot resting on three rocks with a fire built under it. He would take a stick and poke a potato, and if it went through it was cooked, and that would be his breakfast. A poor family, but they made up for it in laughter and gaiety—there wasn’t a happier kid in the valley.
There was John and Charlie Perez, part Hawaiian, Chamorro and Spanish. There were hapa haole kids of the Stevens, Clark, Thomas, Hussey, Bell and Purdy and Hind families, three or four generations removed from white grandfathers. These were more rascally than the pure Hawaiian kids for some reason, but none were bad. The Chun boys were the top students—the Chinese kids took school more seriously. The only Japanese boy was the orphan, David Makaoi, adopted as an infant by a Hawaiian family. After completing the four grades in Waipi‘o, he and the Chun boys would climb the pali every day to the Kukuihaele School which had six grades. Mr. James Kamakaiwi, a teacher at Kukuihaele and a truly Christian man, took a special interest in these boys and out of his own pocket helped David to go to school in Honolulu. David and the Chuns all graduated from the University.
The only times school was called off was when the valley was badly flooded. I only played hooky once. One noon, Tom Kua and I were so engrossed in watching Old Man Pritchard stringing a telephone line into the valley that we followed him and forgot to go back to school that afternoon. We thought we were in for a licking the next day and worried about it, but we were lucky—the teacher never missed us.
Around 1907 my father thought I wasn’t learning fast enough in WAIPI‘O so he sent me to the Hilo Union School. After a year I entered the Hilo Boarding School, attracted by their manual training program.
This school was founded by the missionary David Belton Lyman around 1828 for the education of Hawaiian youths. When I was there, his grandson Levi Lyman was Principal. We had classes from grades 1 to 8, teaching manual training and the three Rs. During the five years I was there I took up blacksmithing, carpentering, and wood turning.
Classrooms were in the ground floor of a long building, and the sleeping dormitory was on the floor above. There were about ninety to one hundred boys from all parts of the island of all races and mixtures except the pure Whites.
We raised most of our own food, the staple being poi made from dry land taro. We had milk from our own dairy herd, bananas, pineapples, avocados, and Mr. Lyman had a big grape arbor in his yard that we loved to raid in the evening when all the teachers were at supper in Mr. Lyman’s dining hall. For breakfast we had cereal, milk and bread with fruits in season. For lunch we had poi and beef, and for supper poi and salt salmon with vegetables and fruit. There were many varieties of bananas on the school farm. When picked, they were kept in a special room for ripening. But we boys were always hungry and some made duplicate keys to the banana room and sneaked fruit at night. There was an abundance of fruit growing on the school property— mangoes, avocados, coconut, to name a few—that we would try to swipe before it found its way to the table.
The father of Moses and Keawe Kopa was the minister of the Congregational Church in Kohala, and a very religious man. When he came to see his boys he would take them into a room and they would all kneel down in prayer. But for mischief, these two boys made up for fifty. Moses would steal a whole bunch of bananas and hide them by burying them in a field. In that case the banana will ripen just as it will if hung in the shade, but for some reason the skin does not turn yellow.
The students were formed into two companies and taught military drill. We used wooden rifles until Mr. Lyman got Hawaii’s delegate to Congress, Prince Kuhio, to ask for some old Civil War rifles, 4570s, to drill with. Mr. Lyman made trips to the Mainland to give lectures and raise donations for the support of the school.
On Sundays we would put on our white uniforms, form into companies, and march down to Haili Church in time for Sunday school and service. The Reverend Stephen Desha, Sr., a hapa haole, was the preacher. The Chinese boys would leave in a group for the Chinese Congregational Church, and the Japanese boys do the same. On Sunday afternoons we had some free time, then military drills. In the evening we had Christian Endeavor meetings and marched down to the the First Foreign Church for evening service.
I always dreaded going to church because in Hilo’s humid heat, sitting among the closepacked bodies, I generally fell asleep. Sometimes I would pretend illness to be excused from Sunday school and church. It was a treat to have the run of the buildings and grounds and do as I pleased.
Roll call was at 6 AM followed by some farm work. Then we would clean up for breakfast. The rest of the morning would be spent in the classrooms. Lunch was followed by shop training alternating with farm work and poi making. On Wednesday evenings we had bible studies, and occasional talks be missionaries stopping in Hilo while on their way to some other part of the world. We had basketball and baseball and hikes to Rainbow Falls, the Kaumana Cave, swimming at Coconut Island in the bay, and an occasional overnight trip to the Volcano, where we slept near the crater and boiled our breakfast eggs and coffee in the steam cracks.
We would have programs. Hawaiian boys would form quartets and sing beautiful melodies accompanying themselves with guitars and ukuleles. Once the Korean boys staged a harvest festival. Years later, attending an Indian pow wow in Wisconsin, I discovered the intonation of the chanting to be virtually identical with that of the Korean performance.
We were allowed to go to town every Monday afternoon, and, being always hungry, we would always go to a chop sui restaurant and get filled up. We would go to a Japanese barber shop for haircuts and I’d always fall asleep in the chair. Our khaki uniforms and our white dress uniforms were made by a Chinese tailor in town.
Once in a while Mr. and Mrs. Lyman would invite girls from town for a candy pulling party at their home, at Halloween or Christmas; and although we were generally a bunch of rowdy boys, when confronted by girls we became a bashful lot , not knowing what to do or say.
On Christmas holiday and summer vacation I would take the stagecoach to Honokaa where one of Father’s hired hands would meet me with a riding mule or horse. After the railroad was completed I could take that as far as Paauilo.
Among those of us who graduated from the 8th grade in 1912, my best friends were Sam Lujan of Kahalau, Sam Kunane of Kohala, Hamada, who later went to Honolulu, and “Yama” Yamasaki who has a fishing shop south of Kailua in Kona, and has built some fine canoes. Poor Sam Kunane died two years later at Kamehameha Schools.
The school went out of existence around 1920. The public schools improved, offered manual training, roads and communications got better, and with the start of high schools the Hilo Boarding School had outlived its usefulness. But my friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Lyman continued. She died in 1947 and he followed her a few years later. They were wonderful people. At school he was a great encouragement to me, opening my eyes to the English language and to the world of literature.
After finishing Hilo Boarding School, I rented a room and went to the Hilo High School for a year, very much against my father’s wishes—he needed help on the farm and poi factory. I took up boxing, and to build myself up as well as support myself I worked for the blacksmith, Gouveia. He was also well known for his Portuguese sausage, and eventually gave up blacksmithing and went into the sausage business and did well with it. I also worked for Old Man Beamer at his hardware store, patriarch of the talented Beamer family. He was the first to bring a motorcycle to Hilo. He had the curious habit of carrying an unlit cigar in his mouth all day long.
At the high school I met white kids for the first time. I had known Portuguese and Spanish kids at Hilo Boarding School, but the term “white” applied at that time only to persons whose ancestral origins were in the British Isles, Northern Europe, or Scandinavia. I got along well with most of them, but some were stiffnecked, and considered themselves superior, although there was nothing in their scholastic or athletic performance to support that idea.
Later I would come to believe that their feelings of superiority originated in the technological achievements that had been made in their part of the world. This was in fact the result of a series of historical accidents; but having a superior technology gave Europeans a material advantage over others, one which they interpreted as evidence of an innate superiority. From this they derived a tremendous self confidence and audacity that gave them a psychological advantage over other peoples.
I remember a young haole who told me flat out that the white race was superior because it was the most civilized. Civilized? World War I was soon going full blast, and Europeans were slaughtering each other by the millions in the most uncivilized manner imaginable.
Wild pigs were plentiful in the upland rain forests and ranch lands, living on wild bananas, ferns, roots and nuts. Hunting them in the forest required the use of dogs, and the ability to overcome a dislike of getting soaking wet. The tangled mass of the rain forest swallows you up and you’re soon wet either with rain or perspiration. It’s easy to lose all sense of direction.
Some of the boys preferred using long knives instead of rifles. They claimed that in the jungle a rifle is of little use, and the chances are that a dog can get shot in the melee. They would wait until the dogs corner the pig and hold it helpless, then stab the quarry with their knives.
I much preferred hunting pigs on horseback out on the open ranch lands. My brother Ernest and I would ride to Waimea and stay overnight with one of our paniolo friends. At that time, around 1917, we frequently stayed with our friends David Kauwe or Iokopa.
Very early the next morning, we would ride towards Mauna Kea. After going through several gates we would be beyond Makahalau by daybreak. We would top each rise cautiously, and when we saw a bunch of pigs in a hollow we would quietly circle them, trying to stay downwind so they wouldn’t catch our scent, until we were on the mauka side of them. It was easier on the horses to chase downhill rather than uphill.
Then we would get out our lariats and with a whoop we would gallop right into the midst of the surprised pigs. Each of us would pick out his own pig and lasso it down, drag it silly, and tie it up. Those we took home alive were put into sacks and slung over the saddle, and the others were butchered right there, gutted and slung over the pommel of the saddle.
We didn’t use rifles because the ranch frowned on the possible consequences of bullets flying around the land. Moreover, using the lariat was more sportsmanlike, and the banging of rifles would spook other herds of pigs for miles around.
After the hunt, we would ride back to Waimea village, then take the road towards Honokaa, turning down to Kukuihaele on Mud Lane—aptly named because it goes through the rain forest and we generally got soaked.
David Kauwe and Iokopa were big men, good humored, and wonderfully skilled paniolo. They were born on the ranch and spent all their lives there, pensioned off in the late 1930s.
BUILDING OF THE HAMAKUA LOWER DITCH
When we were kids we learned that there was a ditch tapping the waters of the Kohala Mountains above Waipi‘o for irrigation of sugar cane in Kohala, and another ditch flowing southward toward Honokaa and Ahualoa for the same purpose. The excitement began when the Hamakua lower ditch was under construction.
To a child’s eye, this feat of construction was a marvel. The system would tap water from the canyons behind Waipi‘o Valley. Water would be carried across canyons in elevated flumes, and conducted through tunnels burrowed through solid rock. A long tunnel would be cut along the edge of the pali and behind Hiilawe Falls, gradually descending, to emerge in an open ditch above Kukuihaele, from where the water was carried to irrigate sugar cane south of WAIPI‘O.
To cut this long tunnel, a narrow trail was first cut in the face of the cliff at the exact elevation where the tunnel would be cut. This trail was used for transporting workers and machinery. There were numerous openings from the tunnel to this trail through which the spoil could be hauled from the tunnel and dumped down the face of the cliff.
All the workers were Japanese. They used air drills and dynamite to cut through the rock. All day and at night we would hear the thundering sound of rocks rolling down the pali. Heavy machinery was carried by suspending it from several long poles which were hoisted on the the shoulders of large gangs of men. Heavy pipes and poles were carried by mules harnessed in tandem.
We kids were thrilled to see men all shouting and singing as they carried machinery along the trail high on the face of the pali. We would follow, climbing these trails to some outlet and watch the men drilling and blasting in the tunnels. One day we sneaked up to the outlet near Hiilawe Falls. This waterfall is roughly 1,500 feet high, a ribbon of water falling straight down. The trail led to an outlet about 1,000 feet high. It was a fearful experience to walk on a threefoot wide trail with one side dropping into a void and not even a tuft of grass to hold on to.
It was here that a workman fell to his death. A group of Japanese workers had a camp near Hiilawe Falls across from the little Mormon Church. One morning one of them told his fellows about a dream he had in which the entire Hiilawe Falls was on fire. That same morning he fell off the pali trail near the tunnel outlet where the cliff wall is the steepest. There wasn’t much to pick up when they hacked their way to the bottom of the falls.
Tom Kua and I would go to the foot of the pali and play at digging trails and tunneling. Johnny Ino swiped some dynamite caps one day and blew his hand to pieces. They had to call a doctor from Honokaa who amputated his hand. Johnny married Maaia Hussey and is still alive today .
There were a few white men, probably skilled miners and mechanics who maintained the gasoline engines and air compressors that drove the air drills. They were camped in a tent in a canyon in the back of the valley. One day, one of them got roaring drunk at J. J. Silva’s saloon in Kukuihaele, then rode back into Waipi‘o, through the village, and followed the trail to their camp. As he passed the village, he was so drunk that he almost fell off his horse.
We kids started to laugh, and he stopped his horse and gave us a cussing. We followed him for a while, expecting to see him roll off his horse, but he hung on. Later we heard that while crossing a raging stream opposite his camp, in full flood after a heavy rain, he was swept from his horse and drowned. The riderless horse arrived at the tent and a search was started. They found him the next day lodged between some rocks and buried by debris.
The grave, concrete with an iron fence around it is away back in the valley. I’ve forgotten the name on the head stone, but remember a bronze marker which said “Army & Navy,” indicating that he had been in both services.
There was an outlet above the Waipi‘o –Kukuihaele pali trail. A sort of shed roof was built over the trail to prevent rocks dumped from this outlet from falling upon the trail. An electric bell was rigged up to warn people on the trail when the tunnel men were ready to dump rocks from the outlet. Old Man Kapukana was stationed there and would warn people on the trail to stop and stand close to the cliff wall until the last rock had passed, tumbling down the pali.
Day and night we would hear the thunder of rocks tumbling down the south side of the pali. I think the construction of the WAIPI‘O section of the Hamakua Lower Ditch was around 1905.
Around 1913 the Hamakua Ditch Company and the Kukuihaele Sugar Plantation merged with the Honokaa Sugar Company. Wm. J. Payne, an arrogant little Cockney, had been the engineer for Honokaa, and now took over as engineer for both the upper and lower Hamakua Ditch. Around 1914 (I was 19) I got a job helping him as rod man and we surveyed the entire upper and lower ditches. That’s when I learned in detail how the system worked.
A lonely Japanese ditch tender was assigned to each intake away up in the three canyons of Waipi‘o. There was a meter at each intake measuring the inflow of water, registering it on a sheet of paper mounted on a drum. The entire system was connected by telephone. Each outlet weir along the Kukuihaele. Honokaa and Paauhau plantations also had meters. The sheets were changed weekly, providing a record of water flow. Collecting these records gave me the opportunity to ride the entire length of the system.
On the upper ditch I rode trails above Waipi‘o, and looking down into the chasms from that height was a breathtaking sight. In the morning I could see the three canyons of Waipi‘o. Inland was Mahiki Ranch, and towering Mauna Kea on the south and the Kohala Mountains to the northwest. Wisps of fog would enshroud me from time to time and in the afternoons it would often become so dense I couldn’t see the trail ahead. Then it would rain, and it was up to my mount to pick its way carefully along the steep trails.
My earliest memory of a typical Chinese–Hawaiian marriage celebration goes back to when I was about six years old. There were many Chinese in the valley then, most of them working for Old Man Akaka, who had several groups of men growing rice in different parts of the valley, each group with its own camp and granary. Most of them eventually returned to China, but a few decided to stay. Because the Chinese usually came without wives in those days, some of those who stayed married into Hawaiian families.
To satisfy the local Chinese community, the groom had to have a Chinese ceremony, and to satisfy the Hawaiians he had to have a luau. This wedding occurred at a place called Muliwai, near the sand dunes and the beach and close to the foot of the Waimanu pali trail. I remember following one of our Chinese workmen, walking along on the dikes between the taro and rice paddies.
Chinese cooks were preparing Chinese foods, and Hawaiians were preparing kalua pig and all the trimmings. Everyone was laughing and having a glorious time. A Christian ceremony had already been concluded by the time we arrived. The bride was beautifully dressed in an elaborate Chinese gown which must have been specially made by a tailor in Hilo, and was wearing gorgeous leis.
After the feasting the bride went through a ceremony in which she was led by an elderly Chinese woman into a circle of men, all sitting in chairs and smoking. Before each man she made a little bow and handed him a cup of tea. A woman stood beside her carrying a tray of little tea cups and a pot. This ceremony was called bai sun neong.
After this was concluded, she went into the house and reappeared wearing a full length holoku, and the hula dancing started. In the evening the openair concrete threshing floor was brightly lit with kerosene lanterns. Everyone was happy, singing and dancing to the music of guitars and ukuleles, and the night air was filled with laughter. There were kids of my own age to play with, and we chased each other until I was tired out.
This kept up well into the night. Just how I got home, I don’t remember, but I think I was carried home asleep on the back of our Chinese workman.
Another big wedding luau that stayed in my memory was the marriage of Vicinta Lum Ho to an Americanborn Chinese boy from Honolulu. Vicinta’s mother was Anna Perez, daughter of Joe Perez and his Hawaiian wife. Anna was a wonderful hula dancer. Anna married Lum Ho, who had come from China, but in his early wanderings had been to French Indo China and could also speak the Anam dialect.
Lum Ho was cultivating rice for Akaka, and when the rice business died he turned to taro. His house was just a quarter of a mile from us. Lum Ho adopted Anna’s nephew Thomas, the son of her sister Kalei and a Chinese boy, Lau Yik. Tom Lum Ho is still alive in Hilo at this writing . I visited Lau Yik in Honolulu when I came back from the war in the Western Pacific in 1945.
Preparations for the wedding went on for days. Women spent many hours gathering ferns and flowers, and ti leaves for decoration and for laulau. Men prepared pigs and steers. A tent was put up to shelter all the tables. Chinese cooks prepared the Chinese feast.
The wedding was performed with Christian rituals, without the Chinese formalities. Music and dancing and feasting went on for days. We kids enjoyed all the food and excitement. Mr. Kukaileike’s comic hulas had everyone roaring with laughter.
Another memorable wedding luau took place when Johnny Ino married Maaia Hussey. The first Hussey was her great grandfather, some British sailor. Maaia had made the remark that she would marry Johnny despite his losing a hand from a dynamite cap. When Johnny heard of it he proposed, and the match was made. It was a purely Hawaiian luau, but it seemed that everyone in the valley was there, Chinese and Hawaiian alike. Sam Lia, who had an orchestra in Honokaa at that time, furnished the music, and there was dancing all day and all night.
The east coast of Hawaii Island is one of sheer black cliffs all the way from North Kohala to Hilo, interrupted by a series of canyons, or valleys, Waipi‘o being the largest. Facing the trade winds, this coast is continuously battered by huge waves sweeping all the way from North America. At night the booming surf can be heard away up in the valley, and when the waves are high the sound seems to shake the island.
Except for black sand beaches at Waipi‘o, Hilo, and Kalapana, the shoreline under these cliffs is strewn with huge rocks, and the backwash of the surf creates powerful undertows and rips. To get opihi we would pick our way along the foot of this pali, the rocks slippery with moss and wet with waves—a fearsome place if one looked up at the towering rock face above, or at a wave striking where one had been a moment earlier. We were always glad to get back to the open sand beach of Waipi‘o.
Fishermen sometimes took their canoes to sea along this coast and disappeared. I remember when Pupulenui, a good swimmer, went out fishing and never came back.
In 1930 two haole girls, teachers from Hilo, went swimming off the beach at Waipi‘o and were drawn out in an undertow and drowned. Manuel Jesus, a Portuguese of Honokaa, while fishing below Honokaa Mill, was pulled out by a wave and drowned while his companion watched helplessly. Waves will come of a certain size and regularity, then when you are off your guard a huge wave will come out of nowhere. A man who was throwing his net for moi along Waipi‘o Beach waded out too far to cast his net and was caught by a big wave and drowned.
The old timers taught us that if caught in such a current we must not fight it but let it carry us out until the force is spent, then swim across it and circle back. This is easier said than done. One danger is panic—the impulse is to swim against the current, and become exhausted. The other danger is sharks.
We were warned very sternly against swimming in the sea, but we would sneak off with friends and go surfing anyway, although the surf at Waipi‘o is not very suitable for it. We would stay clear of the river mouth, because that’s where sharks congregate.
The old timers also warned us that sharks are most dangerous when there is little daylight. At night they would tear a fish off a hook and line, thrashing right up into the shallows or beside a canoe. Sunlight drives sharks out to deeper water, but when the light is low, even on a cloudy day, they will move in toward shore. At night you can be struck by a shark while wading in the surf.
In the ancient time, Kamohoalii, the shark god, came up from the sea into the river at Waipi‘o, and swam into a stream that ended at a pool at the base of a waterfall. There he saw the beautiful Kalei bathing. He changed into the shape of a handsome young man and courted her. He spent several months with her. When he departed, he told her she would have a baby boy; He instructed her to keep a tapa cape over his shoulders at all times.
The infant was named Nanaue. There was a crescent shaped birthmark on his back, but no one knew of it because she kept it covered with a little cape. All went well until the boy became old enough to eat with the men, at which time he had his first taste of meat. He developed an insatiable hunger for it.
As a youth he would go swimming with others, but his friends began to disappear. One day a wind lifted the tapa cape and the people saw a shark’s mouth on his back. They chased him as far as the pool at the base of the falls. There they saw him dive into the water, change into a large shark, and slip out through the stream into the river and down to the sea.
As a shark, Nanaue swam to Hana on Maui where he attacked swimmers; then to Molokai where he killed people all along the coast. The Molokai fishermen made a huge net and caught him. When they dragged the shark ashore it turned back into the shape of a man. They killed him, and cut up the corpse into small pieces which they burned.
Nanaue Falls, the major waterfall on the Waimanu side of Waipi‘o Valley, plummets down the pali into the pool where the shark god came out of the water to court the beautiful Kalei, the same pool where Nanaue turned into a shark and made his escape.
There is also a story connected with Hi‘ilawe Falls. A chief from Laupahoehoe came to Waipi‘o to kidnap a beautiful princess. but the elepaio bird warned her kahuna of his presence. The intruder was sneaking into the valley by an unexpected route, sliding down a long rope from the top of Hi‘ilawe Falls, when the kahuna cast a spell which turned him into stone. A rock which interrupts the plunge of the water about one third of the way from the top of the falls is supposed to be that chief.
When I was a boy, long before movies, radio, and TV, Waipi‘o folks amused themselves in the evening hours by visiting, playing music, and storytelling. At night, we kids would listen to the grownups talk and watch the insects hit the kerosene lamps, until our eyelids were too heavy to keep open. If the talk got around to psychic happenings and ghost stories, however, our eyes would be wide open.
The Hawaiians had their legends intertwined with spiritual or with just plain unvarnished scary ghost stories. The Chinese brought their stories from their homeland, as well as tales of local happenings experienced or imagined. The result was that we kids got it from both sides—a double dose of spooky stuff.
Most of these stories were told with all sincerity, and were a real part of the lives of the people. There were graveyard stories, stories of ghost fires, of praying people to death, of the mana of certain kahuna, both ancient and recent.
There were stories of the throwing of pebbles by unseen hands at night, of seeing a dog with a body that would lengthen out to unusual proportions or grow to frightening size, of hearing people talking in groups but seeing no one, of seeing a woman in a mu‘umu‘u walk to a gravesite and disappear, of hearing your name called at night, of hearing ukeke and pahu music (nose flute and drum) coming from the sites of ancient heiau, of the certain death of anyone desecrating graves, especially those of ancient cave burials.
Lonely places were the localities of frightening events. I may have mentioned that on the high plateau between Waipi‘o and Waimanu Valley’s is a growth of ohia trees. Here, if the traveler hears his name called, he should ignore it and keep on walking. If he follows the voice it will lead him away from the trail and he will become hopelessly lost. The same is said of certain other lonely places in Hamakua.
Because of our distance from the volcano, Pele, the goddess of fire, was not prominent in Waipi‘o lore; but when I visited the Kama family in Kalapana during my years at Hilo Boarding School, the stories of Pele and Kamapuaa the pig god were much in evidence. Old Man Kama would tell stories of the courting of Pele by Kamapuaa and the battles between them.
We were told that on the 25th day of every lunar month, po kapu (tabu night) the ghosts walked the earth again and reenacted the events of their lives. On that night, a headless chief had been seen marching over the ancient trails with his warriors. If you meet such a procession, you must recite your genealogy, and if there happens to be a dead relative in the procession your life will be spared.
James Kamakaiwi, now of Hilo, told me that during the po kapu he had seen ghostly processions walking over ancient trails. They seemed to walk right through houses and yards where the trails once lay.
Old Nida, a Japanese farmer who had a shack not far from the heiau of Pakaalana, told me that on certain nights of the month he could hear voices coming from the heiau, as if from a great multitude of people. If his door was closed, the sound of voices would approach until they seemed very near; but if he opened his door the voices immediately became more distant, coming from the ruins of the heiau.
The heiau of Pakaalana is best known because it existed into historic times. It was destroyed when the kings of Kauai, Oahu, and Maui attacked WAIPI‘O around 1790 in a futile effort to wipe out Kamehameha. It lies near the beach under sand dunes and ironwood trees about a hundred yards from the Waimanu side of the river. Pakaalana was a pu‘uhonua, a place of refuge, like the one at Honaunau which is being restored as a National Park
At Honaunau was the mortuary of chiefs, Hale o Keawe. Another mortuary of chiefs was the Hale o Liloa at Pakaalana.
Between the river and Pakaalana was Honuaula heiau, a luakini where ceremonies were held dealing with affairs of government. At the base of the pali on the Waimanu side of the valley and about a half mile from the ocean is Moaula heiau, where Umi sacrificed the bodies of Hakau and his followers after Umi defeated them in battle and took over as king.
There were at least six heiau in Waipi‘o that were important in their time, but I only know the names of these three. All were regarded as fearsome places when I was a boy, and generally given a wide berth by passers by.
Floyd Eaton, who came from Michigan as a boy with his parents in 1885, told me of something that happened when he and his Hawaiian wife were living in Ka‘u, where he worked at the wharf at Waiohinu Landing. One night he retired early, while his wife and another Hawaiian woman were seated on the floor in the parlor, weaving lauhala mats by the light of a kerosene lamp. Sometime during the night he was slowly awakened by the sound of a nose flute and soft drumming. Going to the window, he determined that the music was coming from the direction of a large kukui tree about a hundred yards away. The lamp was still lit in the parlor. Curious about the attitude of his wife and neighbor to this sound, he crept softly to the doorway. The two women had halted their weaving was were also listening, making no movement, their faces without any expression. He quietly crept back to bed. The soft sound of the flute and drum lulled him back to sleep.
In the morning he related the event to some neighbors and was told that a heiau once stood under that kukui tree. The ruins of the rock enclosure were pointed out to him.
Makai of our house, at the foot of the pali where it makes a turn into the canyon of Hiilawe Falls, stands a grove of hala trees which was an ancient burial ground. A spring gushes out into the nearby stream. It is a dark, gloomy place, called Kunaka.
It was here that Sam Kaaekuahiwi, the village schoolteacher, on several occasions saw a woman in a mu‘umu‘u in the evening when he walked home from his taro patch nearby. She would be walking just ahead of him as he crossed the stream, and she would stay ahead of him on the trail as far as Kaaiamoku’s place, where she would turn behind a large stone and disappear. Sam questioned Kapewa, the son of Kaaiamoku, about it and was told that some woman had been buried behind that stone.
It was also at this same place that people passing by at night, afoot or on horseback, would have pebbles thrown at them. That place was an ordeal for me to pass whenever I was late getting home.
Walking home one evening along in Waipi‘o, Old Man Chun, Nelson’s father, saw the figure of a tall Hawaiian woman walking ahead of him. He turned to look at something else, and an instant later, when he looked ahead again, the woman had disappeared.
Nelson himself tells about seeing the akua lele (flying spirit) one night from the top of the pali trail overlooking Waipi‘o Valley. A ball of light hovered over the valley, then moved toward the sea, then seemed to plunge downward and disappear.
Victor Hoopili, a playmate of mine, told me that while descending into Waimanu Valley one night he saw ghost fires. Perhaps he had seen “fox fires” that come off swampy ground.
Sam Kaaekuahiwi said that one night he followed a, unfamiliar figure and in front of Akaka’s old abandoned store it suddenly went up into the air and disappeared in a shower of sparks.
Strange lights are also seen hovering near the openings of burial caves.
I was told that the Kukuihaele Plantation Manager, the despised “Mongoose” Forbes, ransacked a Waipi‘o burial cave and took some things from it. No calamity seemed to befall this British grave robber, but I wonder what would have happened to Hawaiians who went to Britain and raided some burial ground. Forbes, with the arrogance of some of his kind, considered himself above the law when in other lands.
Forbes’ punishment came after his death. He’s remembered only for bringing mongoose to that part of the island, an act which passers by often commemorated by dismounting from their horses and peeing on his grave.
Burial was done in great secrecy in earlier times when it was believed that great harm could come to a family if an enemy were to gain possession of the remains of a dead relative. There are chiefly burials in high caves in the cliffs around Waipi‘o and facing the sea that can only be reached by descending from a rope from above.
A story frequently heard today is that in the old days a slave or commoner would be lowered to the cave from the top of the pali. Once the interrment was made, and the servant climbing back up, the rope would be released, plunging him to his death and preserving secrecy.
This is nonsense. No slave or lower caste servant could be employed in the burial of a high chief, because such handling would defile the corpse. Only family members and others of equal status could serve in a funeral party. All would have the same interest in preserving secrecy, so there would be no reason to put anyone to death.
In my time one did not enter a cave except to take care of family relics.
There was a deserted house in Kalapana that everyone believed to be haunted. Old Dan Maxfield, a Californian who had come to Hawaii to work on the building of the railroad into the Puna District (he married a Hawaiian, and was the father of Mary Kualii) told me that a white man who worked with him, upon hearing that no one could sleep in the house, took bets that he could do it.
He rode his horse to the house and prepared for the night, keeping a kerosene lantern burning. During the night an invisible hand turned the light high, then low, then high again, and a voice in the same room told him in plain words to leave. He saddled his horse and left.
Maxfield also told of seeing ghostly lights at night in Puna, appearing first on one hill, then on another. He could never figure out any kind of explanation for them.
The mind can play tricks on a scared boy. One night in Waipi‘o, after playing too long with some kids who lived near the beach, I was walking home in moonlight. My path passed a large tree which grew on the site of an ancient battle, and was associated with ghostly appearances. There was a clearing around this tree, and I walked quietly around its edge, keeping as far as possble from the tree itself. In the moonlight the dense foliage cast a black shadow on the ground. Suddenly, out of this shadow, I saw the figure of a man crawling out into the moonlight on his hand and knees.
I took flight, running through the darkness, leaping over rocks, splashing through streams, dashing along the dikes that separated taro patches, never pausing until I had reached the door of our house. How I managed to get home without breaking a leg, I’ll never know.
Reflecting on the experience later, I believe that what appeared to my frightened mind as a man on his hands and knees may have been only a dog.
Father was returning late one night from a poi delivery trip, and told us that as he neared the cemetary next to Kapulena School and mauka of Saffrey’s home, he saw a dog cross the road. The dog seemed to have an elongated body; when its head reached the other side of the road, the rear end had still not appeared. Father took another route home.
Both Hawaiians and Chinese believed that when dogs howl in the night, death is near. I can remember my father getting out of bed at night and whipping the dogs for howling.
One of Father’s friends was walking home one night, carrying a lantern. A little puppy came out of the darkness, scampering back and forth ahead of the man. After a while it trotted alongside him, then dropped behind him. The man heard the dog’s panting become a deeper sound, and turning, saw a huge dog behind him, growing larger and more menacing. It became as large as a horse. Its eyes were glowing and its jaws were open and drooling. The man shouted with alarm, and at the shout the dog vanished.
An apparition of a dog was often seen just below the top of the pali trail, at the first bend. It would appear as a white dog or with yellow fur, sometimes small and inoffensive, other times suddenly growing large and threatening. Folks said that this was Pupualenalena, a dog that once served the King of Waipi‘o, Liloa.
During Liloa’s reign, spirits would congregate at the top of the pali and carouse all night long, blowing a conch shell trumpet. The sound of this shell was like the shouts of battle and the groans of the dying, and it would echo among the cliffs and keep people awake. Liloa could not sleep, no matter how much ‘awa he might drink.
One night the dog Pupualenalena rushed up the pali trail, snatched the shell trumpet, and scampered back. That put an end to the disturbance. But on certain nights one can still hear a mournful sound of a shell trumpet in WAIPI‘O Valley, faintly echoing above the sound of the surf. I have heard it, and the old folks say it is the shell, and someone will soon see the ghost dog near the top of the trail. Some say it means a change in the weather.
Once, when I was a boy, I was playing with the Ah Choy children at their home near the rice mill, where Ah Choy was the miller. Ah Choy and his Hawaiian wife invited me to stay overnight. After dark we kids were all talking and playing on the lauhala mats, and Ah Choy was calmly smoking his pipe, when we all distinctly heard the sound of a conch shell being blown. The mournful sound seemed to come from a long way off, but the way sound echoes among the cliffs we could not tell from where it came.
In the ancient time, the conch trumpet was used to call people together. In my time the Mormon Church used it to summon worshippers; but that was not the shell I heard at Ah Choy’s house.
Hawaiians and Chinese in Waipi‘o discovered that the ghost stories of both cultures were very much alike. Later I would learn that many of these stories were told throughout the South Pacific. In America I would meet Indians and rural whites who told very similar stories. When my good friend Stewart came to Hawaii, he was astonished to hear stories that were almost identical to stories he had heard as a boy in Scotland. What conclusions can we draw from the universality of these stories which differ only in their settings? They must be as ancient as Mankind.
The night before the great flood of 1904, loud lamentations were heard along the river. The next day the flood came and washed away the Catholic Church and cemetary and uncovered other burials in the valley. Among the debris were human bones.
One of our hired men frequently visited friends who lived about a mile away in the interior of the valley. Walking home one evening, he met an elderly Hawaiian man with a long beard walking the other way. It was someone he had not seen before, most unusual in a community where all faces were familiar. He spoke a word of greeting, but the old man passed by silently, taking no notice of him. After this happened a second time, he mentioned it to some people who lived nearby. They recognized his description of the old man as someone who had died years earlier. After that, he took a different path when visiting his friends.
My older brother Ernest, who remained in Waipi‘o, told me that he had heard the ukeke and pahu more than once. He also believed that he had received a visit from our father’s spirit three nights after his death. Ernest had got into bed and turned down the lamp, and closed the mosquito netting around the bed. As he lay in bed, a gust of wind came through the room and blew out the lamp. Then Ernest felt a hand caressing his forehead, the way Father showed affection toward us when we were kids.
Old Man Hanai, who lived across the valley from us, told Ernest that he had seen our father the night before his death dressed in a new suit of clothes.
The ancient Hawaiians believed that there was a hole in Waipi‘o where the spirits of the dead descend to the other world. Eventually, they gather at the the western tip of the island and from there make their flight to the ancestral homeland. The western point of each island is the jumping off place for the people of that island.
Joe Haena told me the story of Mrs. Kaiehalio of Hanaipoi, a lonely Parker Ranch cattle station on the slopes of Mauna Kea. Her son Solomon was a schoolmate of mine at Hilo Boarding School. It seems that during an illness she apparently died but came to life again. When she revived, she told of her journey into Waipi‘o Valley. She met relatives and acquaintances who had died earlier. They threw pebbles at her, and told her that she was not ready to join them and should go back to her home.
When I was a boy, people believed in aumakua, benevolent spirits of departed ancestors who may appear in time of stress or trouble to ease the distress of their descendants or warn them of impending danger. When such spirits need to become visible in some tangible and mobile form, they may appear as a certain creature, a bird, fish, or insect. People will not harm a particular creature that might be a manifestation of their aumakua.
There is a chant to invoke the presence of an aumakua. The ancestor must be called by name.
To some families the owl was regarded as a possible manifestation of an aumakua, but to all other Hawaiians it was believed to be a bird of ill omen.
Hawaiian veneration of ancestors is not unlike the Chinese attitude. Respect for parents extends also to those who have died, going back for centuries. The good person is one who strives to emulate the fine qualities of ancestors remembered for exceptional talents, strengths and virtues, and such striving will bring help from the spirits of those ancestors.
Now let us examine the other side of the coin. Some Waipi‘o people seemed to have no fear of ghosts. Old Man Kualii once said he was more afraid of “ke kanaka ola,” living persons. Aki the hermit, who lived alone by choice, denied ever seeing a ghost. If a Chinese had died and been buried in Waipi‘o, and later some clansman wished to take the remains back to China, Aki would always be employed to dig up the grave and collect the bones in a wooden box for shipment. “Bombay” Kahele of Waimanu Valley would take a notion at any time, day or night, to walk to Waipi‘o. When exhausted, he would lie down and sleep anywhere along that lonely trail. He said that he had never been bothered.
When working for the Ditch Company I would make weekly visits to the back canyons to change the record sheets on the water intake gauges and wind the clockwork. I talked to the lonely Japanese ditch tenders, who were always eager for conversation. When asked if they had seen anything like a ghost, the usual reply was, “no more obaki.”
When I was a boy, people strongly believed in the malevolent power of kahuna. No one seemed to die a natural death. At every funeral there was the whisper that the deceased may have been prayed to death because of committing some offense, real or imagined. Furnished with a lock of hair, or fingernail clippings, or something belonging to the victim, a kahuna could pray the victim to death. The kahuna was always a person of unknown identity, someone residing away from the community.
The people were very secretive about their plans and movements when fishing. If a man was going down to the sea to fish, and someone out of politeness asked where he was bound, he would not answer, but would hold his finger to his mouth as a sign to be quiet. It was believed that the fish can hear or know of their coming. When returning with a canoe laden with fish, it was also believed that spirits hungry for fish might waylay them. This unpleasantness was prevented by offering a fish to the spirits immediately upon landing.
The Chinese and Hawaiians both believed that the spirit of a victim of violent death, such as drowning, will remain at the place of the tragedy, and not be released from that spot until some other person dies a similar death. There are tales of spirits heard crying out or moaning in distress at their place of death.
One of the old tapu which continued in full force was the tapu against molesting the dead. The people would not touch anything in burial caves, nor would they enter caves in which their own ancestors were not interred. They believed that the ancient kahunas laid a curse on all who desecrated these burial places.
I must confess to a prank.
When we were living in Hilo, in the middle 1930s, a certain loudmouth took it into his head to dislike me—why, I could never figure out. This waha nui went about making some defamatory remarks about me, and of course the words were carried back to me. The old folks used to say that the spoken word takes on a life of its own; when used as a weapon, it can fly back to injure the speaker.
This man was very superstitious. Next to his house was an open area in which grew a large mango tree and some brush. One dark, moonless night, Bill Kualii and I sneaked under that tree, carrying a hula drum. After the lights went out in the house, I began to beat very slowly on the drum, softly at first, then gradually louder.
The lights in the house came on again. Then Bill began to chant, very softly, in a high, trembling voice. We saw heads appearing at the windows. We kept this up for a few minutes, then quietly departed.
The next day this man was all over town with his ghost story. But word had already been passed that someone had played a prank on him. People would listen to his story with feigned attentiveness, hardly able to contain their laughter, and some would draw him into embellishing it. The more he talked, the more he became the fool. That was my revenge.
In my description of the Hamakua uplands I described how the Hawaiian communities there were com-pletely erased by the sugar plantations.
Just as the high walls of the pali made Waipi‘o a fortress in ancient times, they protected its people in my day from the landhungry plantations. If there were any way to grow cane in Waipi‘o and get it out to the mill economically, the Waipi‘o I knew would not have existed. Honokaa Sugar would have found some way to dispossess the small landowners of their kuleana.
The politics and economy of the islands was completely in the grip of the “Big Five” companies. When I was twenty, working in the plantation office, there was a Hawaiian named Makekau who every month would come to the office and draw a check for $25, equivalent to a month’s pay for a laborer in those days. I found out through Arthur Brickwood that he was on retainer to help the plantations swindle Hawaiians out of their lands. This Makekau was a senator from East Hawaii to the Territorial Legislature, a man with a silver tongue. The poor Hawaiians voted for him, and he swindled them out of their lands. Brickwood’s father, a Cornishman, was Postmaster in Honolulu in the time of the Monarchy, but because his mother was Hawaiian Arthur could never rise higher than timekeeper at the plantation.
Benny Duncan was a straw boss at the plantation. There was no way he could rise higher because he was hapa haole. When Benny was getting old, they brought in a young Scot, told Benny to show him the ropes of his job, then fired Benny. His wife was a Waipi‘o girl so they moved to Waipi‘o.
The young Scot, who had been starving in his homeland, was put on the payroll at twice what Benny had been making.
My lifelong friend Stewart was one of many boys from Scotland and England who had no prospects at home, but found in Hawaii a system of racial bias which gave them every advantage. Many of these youngsters were good people and were not resented personally. It was the system, one which disadvantaged local people, that was resented.
When I started at the plantation in the engineering office I worked for William Payne. He was not easy to like, but he was very competent. He married a Hawaiian girl, the pretty daughter of Kamakawiwaole, the Pastor of Paauhau Church—a love match for which he suffered ridicule from his haole associates, and that was the end of his hopes for promotion in the company.
Old Lin Yick had a little store in Honokaa, and thinking to make some extra money, he leased a piece of land and planted cane. One day the manager of the plantation walked into the office and ordered the head bookkeeper to overcharge Lin Yick a large amount, saying that he was making too much money. World War I had started, and the price of sugar was high.
Right there I knew that I would have to leave Hawaii. Later, at the Ford Motor Company in Michigan, and in business in Wisconsin, I experienced no ceiling of racial bias.
It was my good fortune to have been born in Waipi‘o, and able to witness some of the old ways of two cultures. Hawaiian customs survived a little longer in Waipi‘o’s protective isolation, while elsewhere they were being swept away by the relentless tides of change. The Chinese in Waipi‘o were also left to themselves, and able to practice the customs of rural China.
© copyright 1994 Herb Kāne Family Trust