March On, a Short Film by Courtney Takabayashi

March On

Come along with Joe and Mara as they hunt for the night marchers in March On, the hilar­i­ous­ly spooky video by my friend, the writer and sto­ry­teller Court­ney Tak­abayashi. Be sure to watch through the cred­its for the lov­able eccen­tric, Uncle Kimo. Court­neyʻs video is a past win­ner of the Hal­loween Video Con­test spon­sored by the Hon­olu­lu Star-Adver­tis­er and Hawaii News Now.

The work­ing mom of a tod­dler and a cou­ple of fun-lov­ing cats, Court­ney admits that her web­site is a bit out of date, so to con­tact her, fol­low her on Insta­gram

Post­ed with per­mis­sion by Court­ney Takabayashi. 

Moke Action, by Award-Winning Native Hawaiian Filmmaker ʻĀina Paikai

pupu-a-o-ewa-logoHawaiʻi Cre­ole Eng­lish — called “pid­gin” by its native speak­ers — dates back 100 years to the sug­ar plan­ta­tion days. Immi­grant work­ers, first from Chi­na, then Japan and oth­er coun­tries, need­ed a way to com­mu­ni­cate with their fel­low work­ers and with the peo­ple who lived among them, the Native Hawai­ians. Pid­gin is still spo­ken in Hawaiʻi, and being flu­ent is a source of great pride by its speak­ers. Pid­gin is what makes us local.

One of the most pop­u­lar videos we pub­lished at Pūpū was this lit­tle gem, Moke Action, an ear­ly film direct­ed by the tal­ent­ed Native Hawai­ian film­mak­er ʻĀi­na Paikai. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, ʻĀi­na would go on to make many award-win­ning short films, includ­ing the won­der­ful Hawai­ian Soul in 2020. Moke Action, star­ring Bru­tus LaBenz, Brah­ma Fur­ta­do, and Liona Arru­da, is the tale of two young men who near­ly get into an unfor­tu­nate scuf­fle. Hap­pi­ly, they are pre­vent­ed from com­mit­ting vio­lence, thanks to their respect for their elder. Or, in pidgin:

Two guys like scrap til aun­ty wen scold dem.


Post­ed with per­mis­sion by ʻĀi­na Paikai. 

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!)

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.

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.

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

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