Fishing for Grandma by David Manu Bird

Fishing for Grandma


Some of my favorite pop­u­lar posts when I pub­lished Pūpū A ‘O ‘Ewa Native Hawai­ian Writ­ing and Arts at Lee­ward Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege were per­son­al essays by stu­dents and faculty.

Fish­ing for Grand­ma, by my col­league and long­time friend, Dave Ka’a­puwai “Manu” Bird, was first pub­lished in 2014.  About this essay, one of our read­ers wrote, “I espe­cial­ly loved read­ing Manu’s narrative…brought back some mem­o­ries with my own ʻohana!” I know that in shar­ing his sto­ry, Manu was glad that some­one else con­nect­ed to their own kupuna. 

Manu joined his ances­tors ear­li­er this year after a brief ill­ness. He leaves behind his lov­ing fam­i­ly — wife Mary, son Keoni, daugh­ters Mālia and Tinan, and moʻop­una — as well as his many stu­dents, col­leagues, and friends. E Manu-Tok, nui ke alo­ha ia ʻoe.

Watch our video inter­view with Manu Bird.

Fish­ing for Grand­ma by Dave Manu Bird

“God­dam dis bug­gah!” I exclaimed as the kūkū of the pua hilahi­la dug into my hand. Like the entire old ceme­tery beside the Waikāne Con­gre­ga­tion­al Church, the grave I was clean­ing was infest­ed with the thorny plants.

“Please remem­ber where you are,” Mary scold­ed, tak­ing umbrage with my pro­fane language.

“How can for­get?” I shot back.

“Well, if you can­not respect God, you could at least respect the dead.”

“So?” I mut­tered to myself. “Stay make da kine make guys any­way.” With that, I knew that I was get­ting stink eye from my wife.

My sar­casm was the result of stress, not how I felt. As I sur­veyed the graves around me, I still couldn’t believe that Grand­ma was gone. Her death still didn’t seem real. What was real, how­ev­er, was the pain of the kūkū pok­ing my knees through my jeans. Once again I bent over, care­ful­ly pushed my fin­gers under the branch­es of anoth­er pua hilahi­la plant, pinched its stem tight­ly, and yanked the whole thing out of the ground by its long tap root. I threw the plant on a near­by ‘ōpala pile and reached for another.

It was hot, and I was sweat­ing, but as I worked I could not help but remem­ber Grandma’s voice even though it had been phys­i­cal­ly stilled for­ev­er. I couldn’t help but think how much Mary and Grand­ma often sound­ed alike. They both usu­al­ly spoke that crisp Eng­lish locals always speak when they don’t want to sound local. They e‑nun-ci-ate care-ful-ly.

“When are we going?” 13 year-old Keoni whined, pulling me out of my rem­i­nisc­ing. He was bored and want­ed to get on with our pic­nic and fish­ing expe­di­tion to Kahana Bay, our des­ti­na­tion after the graveyard.

“‘E Keoni, kulikuli, ‘eh,” I responded.

I didn’t need a punk kid’s has­sles adding to my mis­ery. I was wilt­ing because of the heat, the kūkū, and the com­plaints. I was also get­ting tired of the gen­er­al uneasi­ness I felt because only Mary, Keoni, Mālia, Tinan, and I were there at the grave­yard. It did not seem right to me that only our nuclear fam­i­ly was tak­ing part in Grandma’s post-funer­al funer­al with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the extend­ed fam­i­ly, even though no-one else was able to join us.

Grandma’s for­mal funer­al had been held the month before. Fam­i­ly mem­bers hadFishing for Grandma gath­ered togeth­er from Kaʻimukī, Kailua, Kāne’ohe, Nānākuli, and the Main­land. That day, we scat­tered most of Grandma’s ash­es along with thou­sands of flow­ers and prayers off of Kaha­la Beach Park. We gave Grand­ma back to her beloved moana and ‘āina at that place because it had been one of her favorite fish­ing spots, at least in the days when Kaha­la con­sist­ed of groves of kiawe trees, a dairy farm, and a hodge­podge of week-end beach cot­tages. Before the main funer­al start­ed, Mary and I put a kapu on a lit­tle bit of Grand­ma. We want­ed to bring a part of her to the wind­ward side, anoth­er of her favorite fish­ing areas. That day in Waikāne, we had two film can­is­ters filled with Grandma’s ash­es, all that was left of her in this world.

Final­ly we could read the inscrip­tion on the grave head­stone that I was cleaning:

Martha Koolau
Died Dec 10, 1931
Age 50 Years

Martha Ko’olau was Grandma’s moth­er; Grand­ma had lived to be 92.

My clean­ing work fin­ished, I stood and stretched. One of the kids retrieved a dis­card­ed pua hilahi­la and used it to brush the dirt off of the gravestone.

I sud­den­ly felt strange­ly light-head­ed and absent mind­ed. “Pau dis,” I said. “Mu fek ea nunuw nga. . . I mean time for da lei and stuffs.”

With­out think­ing, I had momen­tar­i­ly switched into our hānai daughter’s native lan­guage. Then as I looked down at the grave, it struck me how kapakahi we all were – and are. We are like cul­tur­al schiz­o­phren­ics who switch per­son­ae seem­ing­ly with­out rea­son. We were exact­ly like what Grand­ma had been. For years I tried to under­stand Grand­ma, the last fam­i­ly mem­ber born in the 19th Cen­tu­ry and the only one we knew who had seen, talked to, and had even sung for Queen Lili’uokalani. But Grand­ma had been like a mo’o that changes its col­ors. She was hard to see because she blend­ed in with her imme­di­ate sur­round­ings. She nev­er told us very much about her­self. She was exces­sive­ly ret­i­cent about her child­hood and ear­ly adult life. She nev­er talked about her moth­er. So what about us?

My sud­den ques­tion was a rev­e­la­tion. If Grand­ma was an enig­ma, then so are we. Who was Grand­ma? By exten­sion, who are we?

Mary and the girls began lay­ing lei, flow­ers, and lā’ī around the head­stone. As they did, I looked out at the vehi­cles roar­ing past on Kame­hame­ha High­way a few yards from us. The sight of the cars pulled my thoughts back to long ago when we were trav­el­ing down the same road …

… Has it real­ly been 20 years since we passed here in Mom Z’s old Chevy II sta­tion wag­on? We were head­ed for Uncle AP and Aun­tie Sam’s beach house in Ka’a’awa for a week’s worth of fish­ing and swim­ming, a mid-sum­mer break and the ‘oama sea­son we always looked for­ward to. Grandma’s voice and Grandma’s words that day are still as clear to me now as a Kāne’ohe Bay reef when there’s no run-off pol­lu­tion to silt the water. She was scold­ing me.

Aun­tie is stu­pid. You are stu­pid for let­ting her make you take these bananas. I would nev­er have got­ten in the car if I had seen them. You nev­er take bananas and manure to the beach. When you “ go to the moun­tains,” you must do things properly.

I no like take kūkae no place, espe­cial­ly holoholo.

Boy, no tok lai’ dat! Speak pro-per Eng-lish .…

That was vin­tage Grand­ma. Rarely, though, did she raise her voice like this to me or her oth­er mo’opuna. She didn’t have to. She nev­er touched us, but she could whack us aside the head with a with­er­ing look if we did some­thing that dis­pleased her or vio­lat­ed her sense of pro­pri­ety. To this day, she is alive. I know so. I can no longer give her a hug or kiss her on her vel­vety cheek, but there is lit­tle I do unless before­hand I ask myself If I do this, would Grandma’s maka smile at me or give me stink eye?

But who was this woman? And by exten­sion, who are we?

Occa­sion­al­ly Grand­ma would pass on to us snip­pets of Hawai­ian lore and pro­to­col, espe­cial­ly about fish­ing – her life-long pas­sion. But what about the rest of the mana’o she had gath­ered dur­ing the course of her long life? What about grow­ing up in rur­al Puna, attend­ing Saint Andrew’s Pri­o­ry as a board­ing stu­dent, and singing on the Hawaii Calls radio pro­gram in the 1930s and 1940s? What adven­tures did she have? Whom did she know? Why could she under­stand spo­ken Hawai­ian but not put two words of the lan­guage togeth­er to speak it?

As I stood by the grave watch­ing Mary and the kids arrange the lei, I could only spec­u­late. She was not atyp­i­cal for her gen­er­a­tion or the next in her ret­i­cence. Could the effects of 1893 have silenced them all? Hawai’i was once one of the most lit­er­ate nations on earth with an active Hawai­ian lan­guage pub­lish­ing indus­try and cit­i­zens who were avid read­ers and writ­ers. In 1896, the haole lead­ers of the Repub­lic of Hawai’i passed a law ban­ning Hawai­ian as a lan­guage of instruc­tion in schools, a law that was not repealed until 1983. Teach­ers phys­i­cal­ly beat chil­dren if they spoke Hawai­ian, and teach­ers vis­it­ed their stu­dents’ homes and scold­ed their par­ents for speak­ing Hawai­ian in front of their chil­dren. The Hawai­ian lan­guage almost went the way of Latin. Were these the rea­sons for gen­er­a­tions of kūpuna silence?

Who was Grand­ma, a per­son who was born in Old Hawai’i but who died in Mod­ern Amer­i­ca? Who was this per­son who worked as a faith­ful cashier at the orig­i­nal Wil­lows restau­rant in Mo’ili’ili for decades until she was in her 70s? She had a strong Amer­i­can work eth­ic, but still she would occa­sion­al­ly drink Scotch before work or call in sick to go fish­ing. What caused her to be kolohe?

And who are we? As we stood by the gravesite, I could not help but won­der what per­spec­tives we no longer under­stood and prob­a­bly nev­er would because of Grandma’s silence. I felt like we were already at Kahana Bay, try­ing to catch fish in deplet­ed and degrad­ed waters.

Mary brought me back into real­i­ty, for the ho’okupu was in place. We stood around the grave hold­ing hands over a prayer, and then we took turns sprin­kling Grandma’s remain­ing ash­es over her mother’s grave. We knew that even­tu­al­ly the life-giv­ing ua would soak her remains into the sacred ‘āina, min­gling her with her mother’s iwi and bind­ing us once again to the long line of kūpuna and ‘aumakua that stretch­es back into antiquity.

After we fin­ished scat­ter­ing Grandma’s ash­es, we once again joined hands for pule. “E ko māk­ou makua i loko o ka lani,” Mary began to intone. But just then a long line of tourist bus­es head­ing for the Poly­ne­sian Cul­tur­al Cen­ter roared past 15 feet from us, drown­ing out Mary’s words. The bus­es’ diesel engines blast­ed us with storms of blue-black exhaust and silenced our prayer to Grand­ma and to God.

Pho­to cred­it: Mary Bird. Inter­view video: Rok­ki Midro.

E Heluhelu Kākou: No ke Anilā


The Hawai­ian lan­guage — ʻŌle­lo Hawaiʻi — is a beau­ti­ful, rich lan­guage. Thanks to the inter­net, ʻōle­lo can now be heard across the globe. E-heluhelu-kakou

Read-aloud ver­sions of chil­drenʻs books in Eng­lish are read­i­ly avail­able online. And now thanks to Kame­hame­ha Pub­lish­ing, books in ōle­lo are, too.

I am pleased to fea­ture No ke Ahilā — Our Hawaiʻi Weath­er, a delight­ful bilin­gual board­book for kei­ki, writ­ten by Kaulana Domeg and Mahealani Kobashigawa and read by flu­ent ʻōle­lo speak­er, and won­der­ful pre­sen­ter, Mak­iʻilei Ishihara.

Cred­its: Used with per­mis­sion from Kame­hame­ha Schools (Maha­lo!)

Interview with Writer Brandi-Ann Uyemura

Our ongo­ing series on Native Hawai­ian and local Hawaiʻi writ­ers con­tin­ues this Brandi_Uyemuaweek with my friend, author Bran­di-Ann Uye­mu­ra. Writ­ing coach, blog­ger, coach and author, Bran­di does it all. Her arti­cles and essays inspire hope, courage and com­pas­sion. An Asian Amer­i­can who grew up in Hawaiʻi, Bran­di brings a much need­ed authen­tic voice, not just for Asian kids in Hawaiʻi but for all kids, everywhere.

Hi, Bran­di. Thank you for allow­ing me to fea­ture you. For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

Hi! I’m Bran­di, a writer and mom of two young boys. I grew up in Hon­olu­lu, Hawaii and went to Aiea High School.

Go Na Aliʻi! Who is your biggest supporter?

My hus­band. He’s been with me from the very begin­ning when I was get­ting my master’s in coun­sel­ing psy­chol­o­gy and veered off course to be a free­lance writer. The lat­ter and mar­ry­ing him were the best deci­sions I made (besides hav­ing kids)!

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

I think I’ve always been a writer. I just didn’t know you could do it for a liv­ing. It’s fun­ny I coach cre­ative women and I often say that the thing you say you would nev­er do, is often the thing you want to do most. When I got my BA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon, I could have gone the children’s writer route, but I nev­er thought I would write for kids. I even interned at Skip­ping Stones, a mul­ti­cul­tur­al children’s magazine.

One of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries in school was hav­ing to cre­ate a pic­ture book. I think it was about rats or some­thing lol. It was a piv­otal mem­o­ry because I remem­ber think­ing: wow you mean I can write a book?

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

I have fond mem­o­ries of read­ing books in my youth. It was that one moment when I felt that vis­cer­al expe­ri­ence of being in the sto­ry. I think every read­er remem­bers read­ing Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry and want­i­ng to eat choco­late or get­ting chick­en skin from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’ve almost nev­er been able to recap­ture that feel­ing as an adult. When I write for kids, I get that mag­i­cal expe­ri­ence of feel­ing like any­thing is possible.

Oh, yes, I know what you mean. 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 hope to get more of my pic­ture books on sub­mis­sion and my mid­dle grade mys­tery in sub­mis­sion shape. I have oth­er fic­tion nov­els that I’ve start­ed, anoth­er mid­dle grade, and two women’s fic­tion nov­els. Once my kids are in school again, I hope to real­ly get deep into those.

I think I will always be a writer. Fic­tion is new to me and yet, it feels like com­ing home There’s some­thing fresh and deli­cious about writ­ing fic­tion that I haven’t expe­ri­ence writ­ing nonfiction.

There are not a lot of sto­ries for local kids by local writ­ers. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do to change that?

I don’t know exact­ly why that is. And you and I have had con­ver­sa­tions about that. It’s so impor­tant to have these unique cul­tur­al expe­ri­ences on the book­shelves. I think we need to sup­port oth­er local and indige­nous writ­ers with sto­ries to tell. I think what you’re doing: writ­ing about your own cul­ture, work­ing to get them pub­lished and fea­tur­ing local writ­ers and authors on your web­site are piv­otal ways to change the landscape.

I agree! Do you have a web­site? 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 have two web­sites: The Inspir­ing Bee and The Inspir­ing Bee was cre­at­ed decades ago and is all about inspir­ing peo­ple to fol­low their pur­pose. The oth­er web­site is a place for writ­ers. Both have helped me get jobs and con­nect with writ­ers in the decade or so that I’ve had them so I am grate­ful for both.

I’m on Twit­ter, Face­book and Insta­gram all with @TheInspiringBee. I met my first free­lance writer friends over a decade ago through my blog and Twit­ter. I’ve also met IRL mom friends and coach­ing clients sole­ly through Insta­gram. Right now, I’m pre­pub­lished, so I’m using social media as more of a way to con­nect and find inspi­ra­tion from oth­er creative’s platforms.

What advice do you have for aspir­ing writers?

If I were to speak to an aspir­ing writer, I would tell them their words mat­ter. There is always room in the col­lec­tive for their voice and that any­thing they don’t know, they can learn. The main thing is to keep going. The only way to become the writer you dream of, is to write. Write despite fear. Write despite inse­cu­ri­ty. Write despite what any­one else says. And don’t show your work to any­one in the ear­ly process. Give your­self the free­dom to express and put every­thing down on paper. You can always go back to revise.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

I wrote a pic­ture book about the local Japan­ese Bon Dance here in Hawaii. Orig­i­nal­ly, it was writ­ten in third per­son and was basi­cal­ly a doc­u­men­tary on a real scene at a Bon Dance lol. I had no idea what I was doing. It has had mul­ti­ple iter­a­tions since then and is now writ­ten in first person.

What beliefs are your sto­ries challenging?

I think cul­ture, courage and being and accept­ing your­self. It’s a sto­ry about con­nect­ing with your ancestors.

What is your inspi­ra­tion for your stories?

My own life as a mom rais­ing two boys for sure. And my family’s life grow­ing up in a sug­ar plan­ta­tion in Kauai. It’s a mix of every­thing I’ve read, researched and lived.

Which char­ac­ters do you relate with eas­i­ly? Why?

I can relate to my main char­ac­ter being afraid to dance in front of every­one. I real­ly grap­pled with this sto­ry for years until I had an amaz­ing men­tor, Andrea Wang from PBChat. She helped me to get to the heart of my story.

That’s cool. Are you work­ing on a new writ­ing project? Can you share a bit about your next book?

I am revis­ing a mid­dle grade mys­tery. It’s about six years in the mak­ing. What moti­vat­ed me was receiv­ing a SCBWI men­tor­ship and High­lights schol­ar­ship. These came right when I was about to throw in the tow­el. It’s a sto­ry that blends my own past expe­ri­ences work­ing at a choco­late store, as a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor and mid­dle school ther­a­pist. It’s a choco­late mys­tery about an Asian Amer­i­can girl grow­ing up in an almost all white com­mu­ni­ty where she befriends her for­mer neme­sis and bul­ly, and learns that we’re all a mix of bit­ter and sweet. None of us immune to the evils of the world.


That sounds intrigu­ing Bran­di. Maha­lo for shar­ing your man­aʻo and best wish­es always! To con­tact Bran­di-Ann Uye­mu­ra, vis­it her on social media or The Inspir­ing Bee and

A Nation of Our Own, Spoken Poetry by Chris Oliveira

pupu-a-o-ewa-logoNative Hawai­ians have a rich oral tra­di­tion that spans over a thou­sand years. Our sto­ries are told in many forms: songs, chants, hula, leg­ends, ʻōle­lo noʻeau, and word play. Mod­ern Hawai­ians con­tin­ue our ancient tra­di­tion by weav­ing their sto­ries into beau­ti­ful spo­ken poetry.

Chris Oliveira is a flu­ent Hawai­ian lan­guage speak­er and a ded­i­cat­ed Hawai­ian activist. Hail­ing from the Waiʻanae Coast, he is the Vice Pres­i­dent and Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Koa ʻIke, a com­mu­ni­ty non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that focus­es on place-based, ser­vice learn­ing edu­ca­tion­al ini­tia­tives and stu­dent exchanges.

First pub­lished in 2014 by Pūpū A ʻO ʻEwa, A Nation of Our Own is a pow­er­ful, provoca­tive lamen­ta­tion on the loss of our sov­er­eign­ty dat­ing to the 1893 U.S.-backed coup dʻe­tat that over­threw our indige­nous gov­ern­ment. Maha­lo nui, Chris.

Watch our inter­view with Chris

A Nation of Our Own, by Christophor Oliveira

When will there be an end to this occu­pa­tion, a nation of our own choosing

Imbed­ded in the pop­u­la­tion were wait­ing for retribution

Sus­pend­ed in ani­ma­tion by paper­work so confusing

Their faulty doc­u­men­ta­tions for fak­ing a revolution

Pre­tend­ed the annex­a­tion with a blem­ished joint-resolutions

The same old oper­a­tion they’ve been using since since back with Newlands

A gen­er­al paci­fi­ca­tion intend­ed as restitution

But we want repa­tri­a­tion and the rein­state­ment of our constitution

Now we con­tend with the aggra­va­tion, the sen­tence is destitution

With the falsest of alle­ga­tions imple­ment­ing our execution

We suf­fer from mass enslave­ment they prof­it off institutions

Were put in for mis­be­hav­ing, but their guiltʻs already been proven

Much more than edi­fi­ca­tion were offend­ed and disillusioned

So we focus on edu­ca­tion and noth­ing less for our future

Look to our past in admi­ra­tion in rev­er­ence for our kupuna.

Cred­its: Post­ed with per­mis­sion by Chris Oliveira. Per­for­mance record­ed by Lee­ward Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege Edu­ca­tion­al Media Cen­ter; inter­view video by Rok­ki Midro.