Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Tammy Paikai


Today I am delight­ed to fea­ture my friend, the tal­ent­ed Native Hawai­ian author Tam­my Paikai.  Her five pic­ture books cov­er sub­jects that teach chil­dren impor­tant life lessons but do so in a fun and approach­able way that kids — and their par­ents — love. 

Alo­ha, Tam­my. It’s so good to talk with you! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

I like to describe myself as a kind and good per­son.  I was inspired by my father who was my role mod­el grow­ing up.  He was a gen­tle soul, yet had a wit­ty sense of humor that always made me laugh. 

Being a young mom of three won­der­ful chil­dren, my first career was to help sup­port my grow­ing fam­i­ly.  I worked for 20 years at The Plaza Hotel by the Hon­olu­lu Inter­na­tion­al Air­port as the Senior Reser­va­tions Clerk.  In the hos­pi­tal­i­ty indus­try I could help oth­ers and that gave me the most satisfaction. 

My sec­ond career was for me because I had always want­ed to do some­thing cre­ative in my life.  I worked for Island Her­itage as a Cus­tomer Ser­vice Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Front Office Admin­is­tra­tor for 17 years, and it was such a joy to be around so many cre­ative peo­ple.  I feel so blessed that Island Her­itage gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to write books for chil­dren.  It has real­ly been a dream come true.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?

Although I was born in Hon­olu­lu, Hawaiʻi, my ele­men­tary years were most­ly spent in Rese­da, Cal­i­for­nia.  I returned back to Hawaiʻi when I was 10 years old and attend­ed sev­er­al schools on the West side of the island.  I even­tu­al­ly grad­u­at­ed from Aiea High School.  Liv­ing in Hawaii was where I learned about all the dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties and cul­tures of the islands. 

Who is your biggest supporter?

My biggest sup­port­ers are my fam­i­ly, espe­cial­ly my hus­band of 40+ years.  He always believed in me and my tal­ent.  To this day he loves to share my sto­ries with his young stu­dents.  He has been a Hawai­ian Stud­ies teacher since 1988.  I am so hap­py that he can share these sto­ries with a mes­sage of alo­ha, shar­ing, laugh­ter, fun and self-confidence. 

Why did you become a writer? What inspired you to write for children?

Aloha_IsIt was a desire deep inside of me to be cre­ative.  From child­hood, I drew car­toons and wrote poet­ry for fun.  At Island Her­itage I want­ed to try my hand at being a writer.  The Cre­ative Direc­tor sug­gest­ed that I sub­mit a man­u­script.  I came up with a lit­tle poem called, Alo­ha Is…,and it was accept­ed and pub­lished in 2006.  To this day, it is still one of Island Her­itage’s Best Sell­ers.  This sto­ry is in rhyme and shares the many mean­ings of alo­ha.  Illus­trat­ed by Ros­alie Pruss­ing, the pic­tures are absolute­ly a work of art! I want­ed to write for the chil­dren of Hawaii to give them books about “us.”  I was very lucky to be part­nered with great artists that brought my sto­ries to life.  Their tal­ents helped me share the beau­ty of our peo­ple, our val­ues, our lifestyle and our home. 

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing for kids? What are some of your great­est chal­lenges in writ­ing for children?

Too_many_mangoesI real­ly enjoy when the kids con­nect with my sto­ries. Like in Too Many Man­goes, per­haps they have man­goes that they have shared with their neigh­bors or maybe they have a hard-of-hear­ing grand­pa too.  I am in awe when some­one says that my book is one of their favorites.  Nev­er in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever hap­pen!  It makes me feel so proud that I can bring joy to oth­ers in my own lit­tle way.  My great­est chal­lenge would be com­ing up with an idea for a sto­ry.  I want all of my sto­ries to be upbeat and pos­i­tive.  I want to give a good mes­sage to the chil­dren and make them smile. 

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your writ­ing career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future?

I_am_Kiki_I_love_meRight now I am just enjoy­ing my lat­est book, I am Kiki!  I Love Me! which just came out this sum­mer 2022.  The sto­ry begins with Kiki singing a song to her­self on the beach of Hawaiʻi until a vol­ley­ball play­er teas­es her for being so short.  Kiki loves her­self and won’t let oth­ers bring her down.  Illus­trat­ed by Eliza Fort­ney,  the beach scenes are absolute­ly beau­ti­ful with lots to look at. 

I have been wait­ing a very long time to have this sto­ry pub­lished.  I love this sto­ry because I hope to inspire young chil­dren to sim­ply love them­selves the way they are and not let oth­ers make them feel bad about them­selves.  Also, I was able to add a lit­tle poet­ry in the sto­ry which is a fun touch for Kik­i’s confidence. 

There are not a lot of sto­ries for or by Native Hawai­ians and Pacif­ic Islanders. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?

We should always encour­age peo­ple to share their own sto­ries.  Like my co-work­er sim­ply encour­aged me to sub­mit a man­u­script, I thought it would be hard­er than that.   Years, lat­er I encour­aged a friend to sub­mit a man­u­script, now she is a pub­lished chil­dren’s author at Island Her­itage too. 

What advice do you have for aspir­ing writers?

 If I can do it, so can you!  Write what you know about, what you enjoy, what you love, etc.  Also, read it out loud to your­self, over and over again to make sure it is just right.  Have a good mes­sage or moral if it is a chil­dren’s sto­ry.  Take pride in your work! 

Which of your books did you have the most fun writ­ing? Which were the most challenging?

I enjoyed writ­ing Too Many Man­goes, a sto­ry about shar­ing.  Grand­pa has so many man­goes that he asks his grand­chil­dren to share the man­goes with the neigh­bors.  Illus­tra­tor Don Robin­son’s char­ac­ters are so delight­ful. I was able to incor­po­rate my fam­i­ly’s names in the sto­ry, and I real­ly did climb my Grand­pa’s man­go tree when I was a child.  By the way, my grand­pa’s name was Mr. Wong, just like the in the story! 

Grandpas_mixed_up_luauWhich were the most chal­leng­ing?  I want­ed to do a fun­ny book with rhymes.  Grand­pa’s Mixed-Up Lūʻau is what hap­pens when a lov­able, but hard-of-hear­ing Grand­pa tries to help Grand­ma get ready for a lūʻau.  Also illus­trat­ed by Don Robin­son, the sto­ry unfolds with his beau­ti­ful pic­tures. At first things were flow­ing nice­ly:  “boy” rhymes with “poi,” “Malia” rhymes with “hau­pia.” But I strug­gled with a rhyme for “kalua pig.”  Then inspi­ra­tion came from above, “Canoe that’s big!” 

What’s your expe­ri­ence with pub­lish­ing your books?

It’s been excel­lent!  The Cre­ative peo­ple at Island Her­itage, a.k.a. The Mad­den Cor­po­ra­tion were not only pro­fes­sion­al but super cre­ative and extreme­ly tal­ent­ed.  I’m sure it helped me by being a co-work­er/friend to the Cre­ative Depart­ment.  Their web­site has not only my books but also they have beau­ti­ful Hawai­ian themed gifts and souvenirs. 

Where do you get ideas for your books?

Honu_honu_where_are_youHon­esty, I believe my inspi­ra­tion comes from “above.”  Some­thing hap­pens and the title pops in my head and the writ­ing part comes easy after that.  For exam­ple, one day my neigh­bor came to our house and asked if we saw her pet tur­tle that they lost.  I thought to myself, Honu, Honu, Where are You? and then wrote the rhyme for that play­ful sto­ry about baby dol­phin look­ing for his friend, Honu, the sea tur­tle.  Yuko Green who clev­er­ly illus­trat­ed the book using flaps to help hide the tur­tles in  this story. 

Anoth­er time, my daugh­ter was telling me that she put capers in her salmon dish.  I heard “papers” and ques­tioned her about what kind of papers?  She was annoyed, but I thought it was fun­ny.  So I came up with Grand­pa’s Mixed-Up Luau.    

Which char­ac­ters do you relate with eas­i­ly? Why?

Kiki would be the char­ac­ter that I most relate too.  She is short, wears glass­es and is hap­py-go-lucky.  As a young girl my broth­er would tease me and I did­n’t stand up for myself.  I wrote Kiki want­i­ng young girls to love them­selves so that if oth­ers tease her, it would not affect her self-esteem.  My daugh­ter was work­ing on a project a few years ago about empow­er­ment for women of col­or.  That project inspired me to write I am Kiki! I Love Me!  

This is great, Tam­my. Any­thing else?

Maha­lo to my long time friend, Kamalani Hur­ley.  I am so hon­ored for her to share my hum­ble sto­ry.  Also, many thanks to the peo­ple of Hawaii for mak­ing me feel spe­cial and embrac­ing my sto­ries that I real­ly loved writ­ing.  Dreams do come true, thanks to you!

Maha­lo to YOU, Tam­my! We look for­ward to many more of your sto­ries for kei­ki! To con­tact Tam­my Paikai and learn more about her books, please vis­it the Island Her­itage website

Ka Maile, a Mele Aloha by Kahaulahilahi Vegas

Lahi Vegas

pupu-a-o-ewa-logoNative Hawai­ians look to our kūpuna — our elders — to help us find our path­ways through life. They guide us by their spir­i­tu­al wis­dom through per­son­al, famil­ial or com­mu­ni­ty dif­fi­cul­ties. Kūpuna are the source of expe­ri­ence, knowl­edge, guid­ance, strength and inspi­ra­tion to the next gen­er­a­tions, a rich resource to con­tribute to the bet­ter­ment of the Hawai­ian people.

Kahaulahi­lahi Vegas is a flu­ent Hawai­ian lan­guage speak­er whose fam­i­ly is from both Molokaʻi and Oʻahu. After grad­u­at­ing from Lee­ward Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu, Lahi is pur­su­ing her PhD degree in Pub­lic Health at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa. Her goal is to help the Native Hawai­ian community. 

Lahi Vegas also loves to com­pose. To hon­or her beloved kūpuna, she com­posed her mele alo­ha, Ka Maile, which we pub­lished at Pūpū A ʻO ʻEwa in 2015. She cred­its her grand­par­ents for pro­vid­ing the foun­da­tion of her lifeʻs path. Lahi says she will always be inspired by her kūpuna: He alo­ha pau ʻole — a love with­out end.

Watch our inter­view with Lahi in both ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi and ʻōle­lo haole. Maha­lo nui, Lahi.

Cred­its: Used with per­mis­sion by Kahaulahi­lahi Vegas. Per­for­mance record­ed by Lee­ward Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege Edu­ca­tion­al Media Cen­ter; bio video by Rok­ki Midro and Mau­na Burgess.

Interview with Award-Winning Author Ilima Loomis


Wel­come to the first in a new series of inter­views with Native Hawai­ian and local Hawaiʻi writers! 

Ilima-LoomisI am very pleased to intro­duce award-win­ning author Ili­ma Loomis. She has an exten­sive back­ground not only in writ­ing for chil­dren but also in jour­nal­ism, con­tent mar­ket­ing, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy. Her goal is to help her read­ers to make sense of com­pli­cat­ed subjects.

Alo­ha, Ili­ma. For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

Alo­ha! My name is Ili­ma Loomis, and I’m the author of chil­dren’s books includ­ing ‘Ohana Means Fam­i­ly and Eclipse Chas­er: Sci­ence in the Moon’s Shad­ow. Along with writ­ing books for young read­ers, I also work as a sci­ence writer! I inter­view sci­en­tists and help explain their research and dis­cov­er­ies for a gen­er­al audi­ence. I start­ed my career as a com­mu­ni­ty jour­nal­ist, work­ing as a reporter for The Maui News. While I was born and lived most of my life in Hawaii, I recent­ly moved to Van­cou­ver, Canada.

Ohana-means-FamilyWhere did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?

I was born and raised in Kailua, Oahu, and I grad­u­at­ed from Iolani School in Hon­olu­lu. Go Raiders!

Who is your biggest supporter?

My daugh­ter is 15, and she recent­ly told me that she was proud of what I do and she thought I was cool. That real­ly meant so much to me! I’m grate­ful to be her mom. She inspires me.

Thatʻs very cool. Why did you become a writer? What inspired you to write for children?

I actu­al­ly start­ed out as a jour­nal­ist. I’ve always writ­ten non­fic­tion because I’m inspired by the real world. My first chil­dren’s book was actu­al­ly a spin-off from a non­fic­tion book I wrote about pan­io­lo and ranch­ing in Hawaii. After I fin­ished the book for adults, I thought it would also make a good sub­ject for kids, so I pitched and wrote a pic­ture book. I loved the expe­ri­ence of writ­ing for kids and was hooked.

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing for kids? What are some of your great­est chal­lenges in writ­ing for children?

I love the chal­lenge of tak­ing a com­plex sub­ject and fig­ur­ing out how to dis­till it into a sto­ry that kids will under­stand and relate to or find inter­est­ing. It real­ly forces you as a writer to think about what’s most impor­tant and what you most want to say. It’s such a short for­mat, there’s no room for any ram­bling or digres­sion. Even though I’m writ­ing non­fic­tion, I still have to think cre­ative­ly about how to say what I want to say, and how to turn these cold facts into a sto­ry that makes the read­er feel emo­tion. It makes me a bet­ter writer. 

There are not a lot of sto­ries for or by Native Hawai­ians and Pacif­ic Islanders. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?

First, I want to note that I’m not Native Hawai­ian; I’m from a mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional kama’aina fam­i­ly. Hawaiʻi is my home, and it meant so much to me to be able to share some­thing about Hawaiʻi’s cul­ture with this book. I also want to cred­it and thank Hōkūao Pel­le­gri­no for review­ing and adding his cul­tur­al exper­tise to the book.

Eclipse-chaserI absolute­ly believe that there is a huge need for more books for and by Native Hawai­ians and Pacif­ic Islanders. It’s grat­i­fy­ing to see that chil­dren’s pub­lish­ing has embraced diver­si­ty in the last few years and is start­ing to catch up with the long over­looked need for sto­ries that reflect the diverse world in which we live. That push for diver­si­ty needs to include indige­nous voic­es, in par­tic­u­lar Native Hawai­ians and Pacif­ic Islanders.

There’s a lot I don’t under­stand about how pub­lish­ing works as an indus­try, but I do think that orga­ni­za­tions like SCBWI (Soci­ety of Chil­drenʻs Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors) can sup­port this move­ment by con­tin­u­ing to work on being more diverse and inclu­sive in their mem­ber­ship and pro­grams for up-and-com­ing writ­ers and illus­tra­tors. I think the SCBWI Hawaiʻi Chap­ter is doing a great job on that and I hope they con­tin­ue to push even hard­er toward those goals. And of course as read­ers the best thing we can do to show pub­lish­ers that there’s demand for books by and for Native Hawai­ians and Pacif­ic Islanders is to buy and sup­port the books that are already out there. I think it’s espe­cial­ly impor­tant to sup­port local Hawaii pub­lish­ers, because they’re the ones lead­ing the way in shar­ing Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander sto­ries, and that’s where many new writ­ers and illus­tra­tors get their start. Local pub­lish­ers are an impor­tant resource for read­ers and writ­ers in Hawaii, and we need to sup­port them!

Are you on social media? Do social media play a role for you as an author? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say?

I do some social media (where else would I find an out­let for all the pho­tos I take of my dog??). Writ­ing can be a lone­ly activ­i­ty, so I found that social media was a great way to con­nect with oth­er writ­ers and build com­mu­ni­ty. I do some­times hear from read­ers, and I absolute­ly love it when I see peo­ple share that they enjoyed my book. It’s espe­cial­ly cool when I see the book shared by librar­i­ans or teach­ers! As an author though, I try to turn off the social media for a while so I can focus on my writ­ing with­out distractions.

Rough-ridersWhat advice do you have for aspir­ing writers?

There’s no sub­sti­tute for just writ­ing a lot and putting it out there for peo­ple to read. I actu­al­ly believe it’s more impor­tant to write a lot than to write well. You learn some­thing every time your work gets released into the world, so take every oppor­tu­ni­ty you can. Some writ­ers will hang on to their work, pol­ish­ing and pol­ish­ing, because it’s nev­er good enough. Per­fec­tion­ism is a killer. Just let it go.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

I’m work­ing on an idea about pol­li­na­tor gar­dens! I’m inspired by small-scale conservation.

Which of your books did you have the most fun writ­ing? Which were the most challenging?

I actu­al­ly had an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence writ­ing Eclipse Chas­er. I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to trav­el to the 2017 total solar eclipse with Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii solar physi­cist Sha­dia Hab­bal and her team. We camped in the Ore­gon desert, and she allowed me to doc­u­ment her expe­di­tion for the book. It was a once-in-a-life­time experience!

What beliefs are your books challenging?

Inter­est­ing ques­tion! I don’t think I set out to chal­lenge peo­ple’s beliefs, but in ‘Ohana Means Fam­i­ly I want­ed read­ers to reflect on how food con­nects us with each oth­er, with nature, and with the world.

What’s your expe­ri­ence with pub­lish­ing your books?

My first two books, Ka’im­i’s First Round-Up and Rough Rid­ers: Hawai­i’s Pan­io­lo and Their Sto­ries were pub­lished with a local pub­lish­er (Island Her­itage). It was a great expe­ri­ence, and I am real­ly grate­ful Island Her­itage took a chance on my books and gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work on those projects as a young writer. I actu­al­ly orig­i­nal­ly wrote ‘Ohana Means Fam­i­ly with the inten­tion of pub­lish­ing it local­ly as well. But when I con­nect­ed with my agent, Kaimis-first-roundupKel­ly Son­nack, she thought there would be inter­est out­side of Hawaii. She end­ed up sell­ing it to Neal Porter, an acclaimed chil­dren’s book edi­tor. It was an incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty to be able to work with Neal on my first pic­ture book out­side of Hawaii, and I think he did an amaz­ing job with the book. I was espe­cial­ly excit­ed that he select­ed illus­tra­tor Kenard Pak to cre­ate the art, and I think the results were absolute­ly gorgeous.

Where do you get ideas for your books?

I’m inspired by the nat­ur­al world and how humans inter­act with nature!

Which char­ac­ters do you relate with eas­i­ly? Why?

I’m a qui­et, intro­spec­tive per­son, so I usu­al­ly relate to qui­et, intro­spec­tive characters.

Can you share a bit about your next book?

As I men­tioned, I’m work­ing about a book about pol­li­na­tor gar­dens. For inspi­ra­tion, I plant­ed some native wild­flow­ers in a planter on my deck. Now that I live in the Pacif­ic North­west there are so many plants and ani­mals that are new to me. I love watch­ing the bees buzzing around the flow­ers, and I’m espe­cial­ly excit­ed every time hum­ming­birds come for a vis­it! They’re so tiny and cute! I love the idea that humans can inter­act with nature and sup­port con­ser­va­tion even if they live in small spaces or in the mid­dle of a big city.


Maha­lo nui, Ili­ma, and best wish­es for your con­tin­ued suc­cess! To con­tact Ili­ma Loomis and learn more about her books, vis­it her web­site,

Her Name was Violet, by Stephanie Namahoe Launiu



One of the activ­i­ties Iʻm most proud of is found­ing and pub­lish­ing Pūpū A ‘O ‘Ewa Native Hawai­ian Writ­ing and Arts. Everyone—students, fac­ul­ty, staff, and com­mu­ni­ty members—was invit­ed to sub­mit, regard­less of eth­nic­i­ty, and the only require­ment was that the work be some­how relat­ed to Native Hawai­ian cul­ture. From 2011–2016 we pub­lished over 100 videos, music, pho­tos, and sto­ries. Those works are archived at Pūpū, but I think my blog is a good place to fea­ture some of them again. The works and their cre­ators deserve to be seen and appreciated.

In her beau­ti­ful per­son­al his­to­ry, Her Name was Vio­let, first pub­lished at Pūpū in 2014, Stephanie Nama­hoe Lau­niu describes writ­ing about her grand­moth­er, Vio­let Wong Hoe, as a spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence: Grand­ma was born only two years after annex­a­tion at a time when Hawai­ians weren’t free to speak their native lan­guage or open­ly prac­tice their cul­ture. She was so very Hawai­ian to the core. Stephanie and her fam­i­ly live in Hilo. Now retired, she vol­un­teers with non­prof­its to help Hawai­ian inmates and their fam­i­lies on the Big Island. A free­lance writer, Stephanie is writ­ing episodes about Hawai’i for an audio trav­el app com­pa­ny, “doing my best,” she tells me,  “to sen­si­tize vis­i­tors to wahi pana and kana­ka oiwi.” Maha­lo nui, Stephanie.

Her Name was Violet

Violet-Wong-Hoe-1919Her name was Vio­let Kawaikoeahiokekuahi­wi Wong Hoe, and she was my father’s moth­er. Born in 1900 to a pure Hawai­ian woman and a Chi­nese labor­er who came to work on a sug­ar plan­ta­tion, Grand­ma was the sin­gle most influ­en­tial per­son in my life. She was my link to being Hawaiian.

Grand­ma was tough stuff, born just sev­en years after a group of Amer­i­can busi­ness­men ille­gal­ly over­threw the Hawai­ian monarch, Queen Lil­i­uokalani, and insti­tut­ed a straw gov­ern­ment rec­og­nized by the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. At five years old, she cried on a boat dock as her father (who she said looked like Hop Sing on the old Bonan­za show) jumped onto a ship to return to Chi­na. His con­tract with the plan­ta­tion had end­ed, and he most like­ly had a wife and chil­dren back home. We haven’t had any luck trac­ing our blood­line to Chi­na, so it’s one of those things we just had to let go. She remem­bered the day when she was nine and some men came to her house and dragged her moth­er away, kick­ing and scream­ing. She nev­er saw her moth­er again. And as Hawai­ians of the day were taught, she nev­er talked about it.

After years of research, we found out last year that our great-grand­moth­er had been dragged away that long-ago day and tak­en on a boat to Kalau­pa­pa, Molokaʻi, where she was checked into the lep­er colony for Hawai­ian cit­i­zens and nev­er allowed away from that iso­lat­ed spot again. She died there after remar­ry­ing and hav­ing three more chil­dren. We don’t know if she ever had lep­rosy. In the ear­ly 1900’s when the fear of lep­rosy was ram­pant, Hawai­ians were rou­tine­ly arrest­ed and tak­en to Kalau­pa­pa for the rest of their lives on a whis­pered sus­pi­cion that the spot on their face was lep­rosy. I vis­it­ed Kalau­pa­pa sev­er­al years ago before I ever knew my great-grand­moth­er died there, and it is a beau­ti­ful but God-for­sak­en place sur­round­ed by blue, blue ocean and sheer cliffs that humans couldn’t escape.

Grand­ma fin­ished high school, mar­ried my grand­fa­ther, and had 12 chil­dren with­out ever see­ing the inside of a hos­pi­tal room. I told you she was tough stuff. But on top of that, she had a pay­ing job! My grand­fa­ther was the jail­er at the Hilo jail on the east­ern side of the Big Island, and she was what they called the ‘matron’. They lived in a house on the jail grounds and she took care of the women and girls who dared to com­mit such crimes as run­ning away from home, pub­lic drunk­en­ness, or worse yet, pros­ti­tu­tion. She nursed her babies while over­see­ing the meals for the male and female inmates.

It was after my grand­fa­ther died and she retired as matron that I was born. She was 52 by then, with lots of time on her hands to dote on her many grand­chil­dren. Grand­ma was thrifty and fru­gal, to say the least. She didn’t need to get 5 cents back on a bot­tle to make her recy­cle; she lived sus­tain­abil­i­ty. When she caught a fish, she ate every bit of it includ­ing the eye­balls. She didn’t believe in waste, and she nev­er wast­ed a minute either. Some­how between rais­ing 12 kids, super­vis­ing women inmates and feed­ing the male ones, she learned how to make things. She sewed, cro­cheted, quilt­ed, knit­ted, baked bread, canned and pre­served. She knew which type of fish could be caught where, and she gath­ered the ocean’s boun­ty and ate it all – opi­hi (limpet), limu (sea­weed), pip­ipi, vana. If some­one caught too much fish in a day, she gave away some and dried the rest. A meal for her was some dried ahi, chili pep­per water, a lit­tle limu on the side, and a bowl of poi.

I grew up in the Hawaii of the 1950’s before state­hood. Life was sim­pler for every­one back then. We lived in Hilo but every week­end we’d dri­ve the 50 miles or so over the vol­cano to Punalu’u in the Ka’u dis­trict where Grand­ma had a beach house. The rou­tine was to park the sta­tion wag­on, open the house and all the win­dows to air it out, light the Cole­man lanterns (no elec­tric­i­ty), my dad would spray a lit­tle DDT to get rid of any mos­qui­tos in the house, get water from the well and make the Fri­day night din­ner. We’d spend a lazy week­end on Punalu’u’s black sand beach fish­ing and swim­ming. Tur­tles weren’t a pro­tect­ed species then; we ate tur­tle soup and kept the shells as a sou­venir. At night we’d crowd around the lantern to pore over the Sears cat­a­log or to play cards. I have nev­er seen a more star-filled sky than from Punalu’u in the 50’s. Of course, I had plen­ty of time to look at the stars dur­ing trips to the outhouse.


With­in a few years after Hawaii became a state in 1959, my father moved our fam­i­ly to Los Ange­les for a new job. I cried for days. Hat­ed it. After being free to run and swim until after dark, we lived in a duplex apart­ment on the way to my father’s dream of a bet­ter life. I heard a lan­guage I’d nev­er heard before – Span­ish. I saw my first “col­ored” per­son. I rode a bus. I went to Disneyland!

Days turned into years, and I got used to Cal­i­for­nia, but my heart nev­er left Hawaii. We had become trans­plant­ed Hawai­ians – lis­ten­ing to Hawai­ian music, eat­ing Hawai­ian food, and look­ing for oth­er Hawai­ians in crowds. Our fam­i­ly got big­ger with more babies born, and my par­ents nev­er made enough mon­ey to send us back to Hawaii to visit.

Grand­ma trav­eled to Cal­i­for­nia every year to vis­it her grow­ing fam­i­ly there. Many of her oth­er chil­dren had also moved there over the years and she soon had more grand­chil­dren on the main­land than she did in Hawaii. Grand­ma nev­er changed. She was authen­tic in every way. She enjoyed a Big Mac but missed her dried ahi when she was in Cal­i­for­nia. When it was time for her to return to the Big Island, she sobbed qui­et­ly at the air­port and waved her white hand­ker­chief in the air­plane win­dow so we would know where she was sitting.

Called Home

By 1990, I was mar­ried with six kids and a full-time job. I thought of Grand­ma often and I missed her. My par­ents had moved back to Hawaii to help take care of her as she got more frail. It had been almost five years since I had seen her when that call came in April that Grand­ma had died just a few months short of her 90th birth­day. As the Gods would have it, she nev­er got sick. She just went to sleep one night and woke up in heav­en. I would like to think they had a plate of dried ahi, chili pep­per water, a lit­tle limu on the side, and a bowl of poi wait­ing for her.

In 1990, we were all inno­cent trav­el­ers. There was no TSA. The twin tow­ers still stood in New York City. You didn’t need an I.D. to get on a plane. You could even buy an unused air­plane tick­et from some­body and fly under their name with a bot­tle of water and a box cut­ter in your purse. I don’t remem­ber how we scraped togeth­er the mon­ey or even who watched our kids, but my hus­band and I along with my broth­er and sis­ter flew home to Hawaii for Grandma’s funeral.

Home on the Big Island

Grand­ma had been liv­ing in a lit­tle plan­ta­tion house in Kapa’au on the north­ern tip of the Big Island. She had grown to love the Koha­la dis­trict after she remar­ried at the age of 60 and moved there with my new Fil­ipino grand­pa. I told you she was tough stuff. Grand­pa had died years before and the beach house in Punalu’u had long ago been car­ried away in a tidal wave, so Grand­ma spent her lat­er years there in Kapa’au.

When I walked into that small sin­gle-wall house after dri­ving from Kona air­port, it struck me how sim­ple the house was. I had nev­er been there before. But it was just like Grand­ma. Doilies on the couch, pic­tures of grand­kids on the walls, kitchen as clean as a whis­tle, and Bible by the bed.

We were going to be on the Big Island for a week, and Grandma’s funer­al was a few days away, so we want­ed to make the most of every­day and soak up what we had missed all those years. We began the next morn­ing by going to Naito Store. Naito’s was a coun­try store that allowed locals to run up a tab, so we set­tled Grandma’s bill and left a lit­tle extra.

Then we drove to where the orig­i­nal stat­ue of Kame­hame­ha the Great stands. This stat­ue in Kapa’au is the orig­i­nal cre­at­ed by Thomas R. Gould, a Boston sculp­tor. The oft-pho­tographed stat­ue of Kame­hame­ha in Hon­olu­lu is a copy. Just like Grand­ma, the real deal was in Kapa’au.

Although he was dubbed a “King”, Kame­hame­ha was an ali’i nui, the high­est of high chiefs. Ancient chants say that he was born in the month of ‘Ikua on a storm-tossed night in North Koha­la when a bright star they called “Kokoi­ki” appeared in the skies, trail­ing a long tail behind it. His­to­ri­ans have found that in Novem­ber 1758, Halley’s Comet streaked across the Hawai­ian heav­ens and this has been con­sid­ered his year of birth in his­tor­i­cal accounts.

Because of the prophe­cy sur­round­ing his birth, the baby was believed to be in dan­ger if he was allowed to grow up and chal­lenge the polit­i­cal play­ers of the day. Ancient chants tell of how his moth­er Chiefess Keku’iapoiwa wrapped her infant son in soft kapa cloth and entrust­ed him to Nae’ole who ran with the baby through hid­den lava tubes into the val­ley called ‘Awi­ni north­west of Waipi’o Val­ley where he was raised in secre­cy until return­ing to Pololu Val­ley at the north­ern tip of the island to train for greatness.

We drove to the look­out at Pololu Val­ley and mar­veled at the panoram­ic ocean view and sheer iso­la­tion of the val­ley below. The north­ern­most tip of the Big Island is known as Upolu Point. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, the major island of the Samoan Islands is named Upolu. Could the Samoan canoes have been the first to land at this point cen­turies ago, and would they have named the place for their home­land across the sea?

The Funer­al and the Ride to Hilo

Neigh­bors and Grandma’s friends from church had been bring­ing us food for days. We nev­er had to cook. We spent the days rev­el­ing in the mem­o­ries of a life well lived.

The hearse arrived at the church and for the next two hours Grand­ma lay in the church hall sur­round­ed by those who loved her. She looked young and beau­ti­ful again. Chil­dren ran up and down the halls. Uncle Kindy Sproat, who was known for his beau­ti­ful falset­to voice, sat at the foot of Grandma’s cas­ket play­ing the ukulele and singing Hawai­ian songs for two hours straight. Peo­ple sang along; oth­ers would walk up to the cas­ket and bend down to kiss her or talk to her.

None of us real­ly want­ed to close the cas­ket because we knew that would be the last time we would see her on this earth. But the time had come.

I don’t remem­ber much of the funer­al ser­vice itself, but I do remem­ber that some­one read from Proverbs 31..”who can find a vir­tu­ous woman”? And it seemed to describe Grand­ma to a T.

After the funer­al, we pre­pared for the two hour ride to Hilo. Grand­ma was to be buried at Home­lani Ceme­tery over­look­ing Hilo Bay. The hearse would lead the way. We looped back around from the church to go past Grandma’s house one more time. The hearse stopped and my Dad got out to pick some flow­ers and put them in the back with Grand­ma. She loved her garden.

I will nev­er for­get the 90 mile ride from Kapa’au to Hilo. Every sin­gle car com­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion pulled over to the side of the road out of respect for the funer­al pro­ces­sion. No cars behind sped up to pass us. Every­one allowed us to dri­ve Grand­ma to her rest­ing place in dig­ni­ty. Just for a lit­tle while, the world slowed down.

Com­ing Home

For me, it was see­ing strangers pulling over to the side of the road to let a griev­ing fam­i­ly pass by. It was the coun­ty work crew remov­ing their hats as we went past. For my hus­band, it was the beau­ti­ful sight of Hilo Bay as we round­ed a bend on the Hamakua coast. Both of us knew instinc­tive­ly that the Big Island is where we want­ed to live.

With­in a year we had moved our kids and every­thing we owned to the Big Island.

It’s been over 20 years since Grand­ma died. I still think of her near­ly every­day. All of our kids are mar­ried with fam­i­lies of their own now. Some of my grand­chil­dren live in Hilo but most live on the main­land. I know how that feels now when I make my year­ly trip to see them.

Maha­lo, Grand­ma, for show­ing me the way home…

Pho­to cred­it: Stephanie Nama­hoe Launiu

Monday is National Spam Musubi Day (Thanks, L&L!)


Mon­day August 8 is the Sec­ond Annu­al L&L Hawaiʻi Nation­al Spam Musubi Day, and that means a free musubi from L&L Hawaiʻi. Launched by the ven­er­a­ble Hawaiʻi com­pa­ny and licensed by Hormel Foods, this it-should-be-a-hol­i­day is anoth­er quirky and fun Hawaiʻi thing. 

And because I love both spam and his­to­ry, letʻs have a lit­tle of both in todayʻs blog post. Spam_musubi

Spam musubi  is sticky white rice topped with a slice of sea­soned cooked spam, wrapped up in a piece of crunchy nori sea­weed. In my post on 12 Things Native Hawai­ian and Hawaiʻi Kids Like, — my addi­tion to chil­dren’s author Tara Lazar’s 500+ Things That Kids Like — spam musubi is right there near the top of the list. Thatʻs because itʻs a con­ve­nient, inex­pen­sive, pack­able lunch. 

Canned spam first became pop­u­lar in Hawaiʻi dur­ing WW II. Soon home cooks were cre­at­ing dish­es made from the salty canned meat. When I was grow­ing up, we ate spam all the time, includ­ing fried with eggs and rice (which is a favorite break­fast order at Hawaiʻi McDon­alds restau­rants.) The first time my col­lege room­mates saw me fry­ing up spam, they freaked out, that is, until they tast­ed it. 

Hawaiʻiʻs Bar­bara Funa­mu­ra is cred­it­ed with invent­ing spam musubi in the ear­ly 1980s for the Joni-Hana restau­rant on Kauaiʻi, accord­ing to the Gar­den Island news­pa­per. Mrs. Funa­mu­ra had no idea that her hum­ble recipe would, like many great inven­tions, become so popular.

My kids grew up pack­ing spam musubis to eat after hula and soc­cer prac­tice, and to this day, itʻs a sat­is­fy­ing treat. Our sim­ple method was sim­ply splash­ing a bit of shoyu into the pan as the spam cooked, but a search on the inter­net reveals lots of fan­cy recipes.

Oh, and did you get the August 8/8–08 shout-out to our area code? Hap­py Spam Musubi day! Pho­to cred­it: L&L Hawai­ian BBQ

I am a Farmer, Revisited, by Sheila Arasato

I am a Farmer

pupu-a-o-ewa-logoThe best years of my pro­fes­sion­al life were as a pro­fes­sor at Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawai’i — Lee­ward Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege. I taught lin­guis­tics and busi­ness writ­ing cours­es to thou­sands of stu­dents, who impact­ed me in such pro­found ways. I was so lucky to have a job I loved.

One of the activ­i­ties Iʻm most proud of is found­ing and pub­lish­ing Pūpū A ‘O ‘Ewa Native Hawai­ian Writ­ing and Arts. The web­site has a dif­fer­ent look and mis­sion now, but dur­ing my time, everyone—students, fac­ul­ty, staff, and com­mu­ni­ty members—was invit­ed to sub­mit, regard­less of eth­nic­i­ty, and the only require­ment was that the work be some­how relat­ed to Native Hawai­ian cul­ture. From 2011–2016 we pub­lished over 100 videos, music, pho­tos, and sto­ries. Those works are archived at Pūpū, but I think my blog is a good place to fea­ture some of them again. The works and their cre­ators deserve to be seen and appreciated.

One of my favorite videos is I am a Farmer, a thought-pro­vok­ing and visu­al­ly stun­ning video cre­at­ed by Ke Ala ʻIke Schol­ar Sheila Arasato and based on an orig­i­nal work per­formed by her sis­ter, the tal­ent­ed Uʻi­lani Kumuhone. We first pub­lished this video on April 10, 2016, I asked Sheila why she revis­it­ed her sis­terʻs poem. Her reply? “There was more sto­ry to tell: who you are in this ʻāi­na, and what are you doing to make it a bet­ter place?” Excel­lent ques­tions. Maha­lo nui, Sheila and Uʻilani.

Pho­to cred­it: Sheila Arasato