Hawai‘i

NA MELE
Peter Medeiros

NA MELE Peter Medeiros

 

Slack key artist Peter Medeiros, accompanied by guitarist Josh Silva and bass player Nate Stillman, presents a fun evening of traditional slack key. Joining the trio are the dancers of Pua Ali’i ‘Ilima, led by kumu hula Vicky and Jeff Kānekaiwilani Takamine. Songs performed include “Ulili E,” “He’eia,” “Ke Ala O Ka Rose” and “Kananaka.”

 

NA MELE
Hūʻewa

 

When you hear their name, you can’t help but smile. The young trio Hū‘ewa is comprised of Kupu Dalire-Na‘auao, Kekoa Kane and Kahi Lum-Young.

 

“‘Hū’ is to hum or to make sound, to make music. And ‘ewa’ is to go off course or to find your own path,” explained Hū‘ewa member Kane. “…that’s what we do with our music…we make music on our own path, on a different style.”

 

The trio performs songs including “Kaulana Ni‘ihau,” where they’re accompanied by the dancers of Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniakea; and a medley consisting of favorite songs of each member: “Kaulana Moloka‘i,” “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua” and “Meleana Ē.” Dalire-Na‘auao explains, “The Hawaiian music that we chose, the type of songs that we chose…we just like to pull things from back in the day.”

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Florence “Johnny” Frisbie: Life Lessons from Pukapuka Atoll

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie was only 15 years old when she published her first autobiography in 1948. Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka is an account of her life on the little-known Pacific island of Pukapuka, part of the Cook Islands. The adventurous daughter of an American writer father and native Pukapukan mother, Johnny discusses the beauty and hardship of her remote island upbringing.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 24, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, May 28, at 4:00 pm.

 

Florence Johnny Frisbie Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Most of the time, it was a kind of challenge that was exciting. It was. I think it’s because, you know, we live on small islands, and we go out on the reef, and the big waves wash suddenly, and we’re down and struggling to get up again. And it was perhaps that background and upbringing that we had this great sense of excitement, you know. And yet, it’s partly survival.

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie grew up living far away from the comforts of a traditional population center, surviving on whatever food a small coral atoll and the ocean might provide. The odyssey of Johnny Frisbie, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu has spent her entire life on an odyssey. Born in Tahiti, Johnny traveled the South Pacific, spending her childhood on small remote Cook Islands like Pukapuka, and the virtually uninhabited Suwarrow. At age twelve, she started documenting her adventures. At fifteen, she was a published author, the first Pacific Island woman to accomplish that. Her autobiography was Miss Ulysses of Pukapuka. Johnny was born to a native Pukapukan mother and an American father, Robert Dean Frisbie, who was a writer and South Seas trader.

 

I understand your dad was from Ohio.

 

Yeah.

 

And your mom was from Pukapuka.

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

How did that happen?

 

Well, he left San Francisco and ended up in Tahiti. Yes, yes, yes. And so, he arrived in Tahiti and met James Hall, and they became very close friends. But then, he lived there for many years, many many years, and also could see where Tahiti is becoming a place where a lot of ships and sailors, and wanderers, explorers are ending up in big parties and drinking, and all that. And he was disillusioned, and wanted something even simpler and quieter, and a culture that suits him with you know, his dream. And he ended up on Pukapuka.

 

Can you tell us about Pukapuka? When we talk about Pacific Island neighbors, Pukapuka is far, far from Hawaii. Can you tell us about it, and your life there?

 

Pukapuka is a small atoll, north of all the Cook Islands. It’s the most northern island of the fifteen islands. My mother comes from Pukapuka, and her mother before her, before her.

 

She was much younger than he?

 

Yes, yes; she was sixteen. Yeah.

 

And how was that? So, there was an age difference, a cultural difference. How did that work out?

 

That really is not important, you know, the age. Women don’t sit around thinking about their age and worrying about growing old. That’s not in the picture, you know. It’s whether it works; something works. And my father being a White man, you know, Oh, hey, this is very nice, you know, and he wants our daughter. This is the family and the tribe talking about, you know, What are we gonna do, you know. We don’t know him. You know, they didn’t know anything about the White man, as they called him. And so, it was so foreign to them.

 

How many White men or White people—

 

Only one. Yeah.

 

On the island?

 

Only him. Yes.

 

I see.

 

Yeah. And they’d come and go. They’d come on a boat, and leave the next day. But he stayed. And so, they wonder, What do we do? You know, he wants to marry our daughter, and the sixteen age didn’t come into the conversation whatsoever. So, they all assessed his ability to fish, you know, and ability to paddle, and ability to husk coconut, and the way that he speaks softly. But they kinda wondered about him, because he didn’t go to church. He wouldn’t go to church, and they thought that might be a problem. But no, you know, the fact that he could do all these other things Pukapukan men do, is sufficient to give our daughter to him. That’s how it happened.

 

All right; so he passed the test.

 

And the marriage was a success?

 

Yes; very much so.

 

How many children followed?

 

Five; five. The eldest is Charles, and he was taken away from my mother when my father was away, when she gave birth to him.

 

Um, you want to hear that story?

 

Yes; I don’t know that story.

 

Oh, oh. Oh—

 

Charles was taken away from your mother?

 

Well, there’s a custom on Pukapuka. The first and second children of the couple is the father’s share. And then, he gives them away as a gift to his parents or grandparents, or a brother who, you know, can’t have children, his wife cannot have children. And then, the third and fourth children are the mother’s share, and naturally, this is a gift, the ultimate gift, to to her mother, to her parents, and sister or brother. And so, when my mother and father moved to Rarotonga, my father had a job offered on another island, copra making, making copra out of coconut, the coconut meat. So, my mother, she was then seventeen, eighteen years old, was left on Rarotonga in the care of a grandaunt who did not have any children. So when my mother gave birth, Pikipiki took the baby and said, This is our share; I’ll take this baby. And my mother coming from that culture, and my father not being there said, Yeah, okay; yeah, you take. And so, she took the baby, Charles, and disappeared into the valley. When my father came back, found he had no firstborn, he was devastated. So, he asked two policemen on the island to please go fetch this woman, and bring back his son. And those men, knowing the culture, understanding fully what this natural process was, just kinda walked in the valley, looked around, came back and said, Oh, can’t find her.

 

So, he never saw his son?

 

No.

 

Until how long—

 

Not until he was thirteen; he was thirteen.

 

Oh …

 

He came back thirteen years later.

 

Well, you’re number two. Were you given away?

 

No; because my father made sure that he was there.

 

No more culture like that; right? So, all the other children …

 

Yes.

 

Two, three, four stayed.

 

M-hm; yeah.

 

What was everyday life like when you and your dad, and our mom and siblings were there? What did you do during the day? What was family life like?

 

We were very busy kids. You know, the kids were busy. We played a lot; climbed trees, and hide-and-seek, and swim in the lagoon, swim out to the corals way out. But we had duties, too. You know, we had to help the women in the taro patch. Yeah.

 

Oh, that’s hard work.

 

Yeah, well, we played most of the time.

 

In 1937, Johnny Frisbie’s mother gave birth to her fifth child. Two weeks later, she fell ill, and her condition worsened. She passed away the following year.

 

Your mother was so young when she passed away of tuberculosis; twenty-six.

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

What happened in your family at that time? What were some of the effects?

 

Well, my father took total control of the family. You know, he became the mother, father, because my mother had asked him before she died not to separate us. ‘Cause that is commonly what happens with families, and her parents were very eager to take two of us as their share. And my father said, No, no, you know, these are my children too, you know, and I don’t belong in that. And that was the reason why my father decided that we leave Pukapuka.

 

What was the thing you missed most about your mother after she was gone?

 

When I think about her, what I remember of her, I just … remember her looking at me, you know, just like looking at me. You know.

 

Like she loved you.

 

Yeah. And so, I’m happy when she looks up at me like that, and all this love and a faint smile. Oh; I take a breath, and I run away, then disappear for hours and play with my friends, you know. And then, I’ll think about it, and I’ll come back and just stand in front of her to get this …

 

M-hm.

 

I missed that.

 

Johnny Frisbie’s father moved the family around the South Pacific to places like Fiji, and even settled on Suwarrow Atoll in the Northern Cook Islands. They lived on tiny Anchorage Island, which had a landmass of less than one-tenth of a square mile. It was there, that the motherless family faced a terrible storm.

 

This was Suwarrow, uninhabited island.

 

And were you the only residents?

 

There were four others. And they were sent there by the New Zealand government to keep an eye on the war activities. You know, Japanese, maybe submarine, whatever it is.

 

I see.

 

And so, they were on that island, and on other islands as well. Yeah.

 

Your father ended up lashing you to trees.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

All the kids; right?

 

Yeah, yeah. M-hm.

 

Tying you up there.

 

Well, before that, before preparing for the hurricane, he tied ropes around our waist, and there was plenty left here to put around the coconut tree. Okay; and then, when the seas rise, it takes us up, and when it comes down, brings us down. That was the plan. But before nighttime, before dark, the wind was just wild. He noticed that the coconut trees were being uprooted or broken in half. And so, he said, Ooh, that’s not gonna work.

 

You can laugh now.

 

So, that plan was thrown out. When a big wave hit the house, the thatched roof house we were in, it was nighttime, but it was light because of the lightning; it was just constant, so there was light. We left the house and crawled. You couldn’t stand up; you crawl and just cling to the gravel and the sand, whatever you can, towards the three trees that were still standing.

 

What kind of trees?

 

Tamanu trees. So, he just tied us to the branches. Yeah, to the branches.

 

How many kids did he tie?

 

Four.

 

And then tied himself?

 

No; no. He just hung on. Yeah; he just hung onto a branch when the wind was powerful.

 

But wasn’t the sea level up over the sand? I mean, basically, the island got covered, didn’t it?

 

We went way up. Yeah; we climbed up to the top. Yeah, the top where the branches snake off like this. And he had his hut right on top of those branches. But yeah, it worked.

 

And I know in your book you say that three-quarters of the landmass of the atoll was washed away.

 

Yeah; it was cut. Here’s the island here, and ended up with two channels. The island was just … split, you know, by the sea.

 

What happened to the other observers who were on the island?

 

Well, my father said they could, of course, come up to his house, to his hut up at the top, and it would save them too. Two of them were Europeans, New Zealanders, and this was kind of very different for them. Very, very different. And they just shook the whole time. It was cold, they were frightened, they were totally helpless. But the two boys from Manihiki were okay. You know, they were from another atoll which is called Manihiki.

 

How were you doing? You were a little kid.

 

Yeah. We were fine.

 

How crazy was it? You were being buffeted by winds, the water level was coming up.

 

Well, like I say, there was some excitement to it. Ooh, ooh, ooh; ooh, I hope it doesn’t reach us. You know, and hang on and pray. ‘Cause my grandmother always says, Always pray, always pray. You know, so pray. I don’t remember being totally overpowered by fear; I don’t remember. It was exciting, and it was a matter of survival. You know, thinking about, looking and, okay, this happens here, that branch, there’s another branch there. I do that to this day. When I drive to Punaluu, I’m looking at all the trees in case of tidal wave, you know. And with my grandchildren, I said, No, that’s not good, because they can’t climb up that one. You know, it’s gotta be where there are branches so we can get up. So, I do the same thing.

 

Plan B; right?

 

Yeah. And so, there, you have to keep an eye on what next. You know, what next. Yeah.

 

And at some point, the water subsided, the winds stopped.

 

Yeah.

 

And, what?

 

Yeah.

 

You’re on a decimated island.

 

Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, there was plenty of fish and turtles, and sharks in the middle of the island where the waves came from the ocean, from the lagoon. Meet in the middle, they bring all these beautiful fish, this lovely stuff. And we were able to live on that for two days only, and then they began to decompose. Yeah; and then the flies; millions of flies eating all these dead fish. Yeah.

 

What’d you do after that?

 

We ate birds. Yeah. The birds returned after the hurricane. The birds had disappeared somewhere else, and after the hurricane, you could hear them at night. We heard them one night all making their noise as they were coming back to Suwarrow. So, we ate lots of birds. And we made spears out of wood. Made spears, and we’d go on the reef and spear grouper, other fishes.

 

Amidst many personal hardships, Johnny Frisbie’s father, Robert Dean Frisbie, continued to write travel stories, news articles, and six published books about island life in Polynesia.

 

His first book was called The Book of Puka-Puka, and it’s a classic. And then, there’s Amaru. It’s the first novel, that’s the first novel he wrote. And I typed it; that’s how I learned to type. He gave it to me. He wrote at night, write by hand in the light of a lantern, and then he would give me the script in the morning. And I’d type it on his little Remington like this.

 

So, not surprising, you would turn out to be a writer.

 

Because you’d been doing diaries.

 

I know. Yeah. And then, his last book, Dawn Sails North, he did the same thing. We were on Rarotonga then. So, he decided, enough of this, so he sent for an instruction book on how to type with all the fingers. So, I taught myself how to do that, and typed Dawn Sails North. That was his last book. It was published after his death. Yeah.

 

Johnny Frisbie, encouraged by her father’s love of storytelling and literature, wrote Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka. Audiences in the Western world started to read about her South Sea adventures in 1948.

 

You wrote this book between the ages of twelve and fourteen.

 

I started a diary at twelve. Yeah. No, I finished the book at fifteen. Yeah; it came out when I was sixteen, just before my father died.

 

So, it was a diary.

 

Yes.

 

In which language did you keep your diary?

 

Oh, I kept it in Pukapukan mainly, and then English. As I went along, I write in Pukapukan, and I would ask my father what that word is in English. And he would explain it to me, and then I would use the word. By the time I was fourteen, I was able to write in English. Might be not the best, you know, but I was able to use adjectives because my father said, You can’t just write like that, you have to put a colorful word there to make the next word happy.

 

And Miss Ulysses; where did Miss Ulysses come from?

 

Well, because there were no children’s books in that part of the world growing up, my father at nighttime, rather than read, and there’s no children’s stories, he would tell us the story of Ulysses in the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer. Every night, we would go through the whole series of adventures, Ulysses. And that was all I knew, you know. And so, when the book was finished, then my father said, Well, we gotta find a name for this book. Hm, hm; we thought about it, thought about it for days, and days. And then, I said, Oh, how about Miss Ulysses? Because I’m Ulysses, aren’t I, Papa? You know.

 

You identified with Ulysses. And it was an adventuring kind of life. I mean, you were facing the elements.

 

Yeah, that’s right. And we traveled a lot. You know, we did.

 

Johnny Frisbie’s father, Robert Dean Frisbie, contracted the same illness that took his wife. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1943. Despite his declining health, he continued to travel the South Pacific and write. In 1948, Robert Dean Frisbie died at age fifty-two, orphaning Johnny and her siblings.

 

Did your dad pass away in …

 

We were on Rarotonga.

 

Rarotonga.

 

The big island of Rarotonga; m-hm. And he’s buried there. M-hm.

 

And you became an orphan.

 

Yes; m-hm. Yes; the three of us. He had sent my two brothers to New Zealand just before he passed away.

 

Someone who’s lost their parents as a child would have devastating feelings of loss. But it sounds like …

 

Yes, with my father, because I relied so much on him for an extension of my Polynesian Pukapukans. You know, it was just natural, ‘cause he understood my Polynesian-ness, you know, and my eagerness to be like him. You know. And he understood that, and I missed that, I didn’t know where to turn.

 

And then, who decided what would happen to the children?

 

I did; yeah. Peter and Barbara Engle from Lanikai had read my father’s books. And so, they sailed on a yacht, The Loafer, through some of the Pacific island to find him, because they were told that he was in that part of the world. So, when they finally got to Tahiti, they looked up James Michener, who informed them that my father was on living on Rarotonga. So, they sailed to Rarotonga, and we met. And by that time, my father had an idea, he had an inkling he wasn’t going to live long, so he asked the Engles if they would take me with them and make sure that I get an education. Okay; and they promised. So, when he passed away, Barbara Engle wrote to me to say they were in New Zealand, as soon as they arrived in Hawaii, they will send for me. And that happened in April 1950. April 23, 1950, I landed at the old airport in Honolulu. Lived with them, and immediately, I started looking for families for my two sisters. The Engles happened to be very, very good friends with the Dawsons of Kailua, and they had three sons, and I used to play with them all the time. And I thought, Oh, uh-huh, no sister, hm, okay. So, I approached Sumai and Lee Dawson and asked if they would like a sister for their sons. And they said, Yes, absolutely. Boop, about six months later, my younger sister was here. And while I was at camp as a counselor at Kokokahi Camp a year later, the Fenders, Ma and Pa Fender, who managed the camp where the YWCA is now, that was Kokokahi Camp, that was in ’51, and we got to know each other. And I thought, Oh, okay, they’re very nice people. And so, I asked if they would take my sister Elaine. And they said, Yes, absolutely.

 

Just amazing.

 

And never having met them, but knowing you. So, you functioned as the oldest child.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Your brother had been given away.

 

Oh, yeah; m-hm, yeah. So, they arrived, and we lived happily ever after. And they were so nice, because every weekend, we would be together.

 

Johnny Frisbie and her two sisters were reunited on Oahu in 1952. The Frisbie daughters spent the remainder of their teenage years in Hawaii raised separately in different families. Much like her adventurous father, Johnny did not stay planted in Hawaii for very long, and after graduating from Punahou School in Honolulu, the travels of Miss Ulysses began again. At the time of our conversation in early 2017, she was nearly eighty-five years old, and getting ready for more Pacific travels. Mahalo to Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu, who as a teen was credited as the first published female author from Polynesia, for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

Your first name is actually Florence.

 

Mm.

 

But everyone knows you as Johnny.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that happen?

 

It happened in Tahiti, and my mother was in labor. And my father and all his friends, Andy Thompson, James, all his friends, sailor friends were drinking Johnny Walker whiskey. One of the friends said, Girl or boy, it’s gonna be Johnny. You know.

 

[END]

 



PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Keola Beamer: Mālama Ko Aloha (Keep Your Love)

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS: Keola Beamer: Mālama Ko Aloha (Keep Your Love)

 

This program tells the story of Keola Beamer’s journey through song. The respected composer and slack key guitarist partners with an array of musicians, including Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, American jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Hawaiian vocalist Raiatea Helm. These collaborations demonstrate how one can retain cultural identity while openly sharing with others to create something new – a global art form. This multicultural exchange reaches its zenith when Beamer performs a Hawaiian-language version of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with musicians playing traditional Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Classical European and American Jazz instruments. In another particularly moving segment, Keola accompanies his wife Moanalani Beamer as she performs a hula as a quadriplegic woman who magically regains use of her limbs in a dream.

 

NA MELE
The Leo Nahenahe Singers

 

“Leo nahenahe” is Hawaiian for “soft and sweet.” Now in their eighties, The Leo Nahenahe Singers celebrate over 50 years of performing together on this episode of NA MELE. Ethelynne Teves on guitar, Noelani Mahoe on ukulele and Mona Teves on upright bass accompany their instruments with their soft and sweet vocals. These Na Hoku and Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame honorees perform Hawaiian classics like “Hanohano Wale No” and “Koni Au I Ka Wai.”

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Florence “Johnny” Frisbee: Islander at Heart

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie’s sense of curiosity and adventure took her far beyond her Pacific island home in Pukapuka, in the Cook Islands. She traveled to Hawai‘i, Japan and eventually New Zealand, where she raised her family. She eventually followed her desire to return home to Pukapuka, an island now gravely threatened by climate change and the rapid loss of its ancient culture and language.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, May 31, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, June 4, at 4:00 pm.

 

NA MELE
Cyril Pahinui and Peter Moon Jr.

NA MELE Cyril Pahinui and Peter Moon Jr.

 

This special NA MELE presentation pairing Cyril Pahinui and Peter Moon Jr. has a special significance, as both are the sons of Hawaiian music icons: slack key guitar legend Gabby “Pops” Pahinui and Peter Moon Sr., a seminal figure in the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s.

 

Cyril and Peter Moon Jr.’s master-apprentice process is rooted in the “old style” approach to teaching: watch, listen and learn. That was how Cyril learned from his father, and this technique has borne fruit with Peter Moon Jr. as the two of them, along with special guest Jeff Ahoy on steel guitar, perform in a jam session at the PBS Hawaii studio.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Henry Rice

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Henry Rice

 

Join us as Leslie Wilcox welcomes Henry Rice to Long Story Short.

 

Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

PBS Hawai‘i Presents

Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

The story of Hawaiian community leader Kanalu Young Premieres
Thursday, June 15, 9:00 pm

 

By Liberty Peralta

 

In August 1969, 15-year-old Terry Young took a dive into the ocean from a rock wall at Cromwell’s Beach near Diamond Head. The water was shallow; Terry hit his head. In a split second, he became quadriplegic – paralyzed from the neck down, with limited use of his hands and arms.

 

Kanalu Young at an Elder-hostel (now called Road Scholar) summer program, circa 1997. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.In rehab, bitter from the accident, young Terry took his anger out on hospital staff. Eventually, he realized that his rage could destroy him – or he could learn a great lesson from it.

 

It was 1970s Hawai‘i, and the Hawaiian Renaissance was taking root. Terry, who would adopt the Hawaiian name, Kanalu, turned his passion toward Hawaiian language, history and culture. In the 90s, he earned a PhD in Pacific Island history and began his career as a professor of Hawaiian history at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

 

Filmmaker and professor Marlene Booth first met Kanalu when they both served on a panel to review film proposals. They ended up working together on Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i, a documentary that made its broadcast premiere on PBS Hawai‘i in 2009. Shortly before the completion of Pidgin in 2008, Kanalu passed away at age 54.

 

Marlene spoke with us about the making of Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall, and about Kanalu’s life and legacy. The following is a transcript of that conversation.

 

 

PBS Hawai‘i: Tell us about when you first met Kanalu.

 

Marlene Booth: I first met Kanalu in the year 2000. We were both serving on a panel put together by PIC [Pacific Islanders in Communications] to judge proposals for films. He was there representing the academic side and I was there representing the filmmaker side. I saw that as we discussed the proposals we’d read, he and I seemed to be saying similar things, and I liked that, so I approached him and asked him if he ever thought of making a film. He was a professor, a tenured professor at the University of Hawai‘i, but he said yes! He said yes as though he had been waiting for somebody to come and ask him that question.

 

So we began talking about, if we made a film together, what that would be. We emailed back and forth because I wasn’t really living here at that point, and came up with the idea to do a film about the resurgence of the Hawaiian language, which ended up morphing into a film about pidgin, because of Kanalu. This local boy, who taught Hawaiian studies, who loved Hawaiian history, and really felt like Hawaiian history and Hawaiian language had given him a sense of who he was in the most important way, said, “Let’s do a film about pidgin.” And when I asked him why, he said, “Because without pidgin, I would cease to be whole.”

 

So we ended up then making a film about pidgin, which was on PBS Hawai‘i, called Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i. That took many years because funding a film always takes a long time, and producing a film takes a long time. Towards the end of the editing of that film, Kanalu passed away. He was quadriplegic from the age of 15, and almost a lifelong sufferer with asthma. With the combination, he got very sick. He ended up in the hospital and never came out of the hospital. We lost him in late August 2008. Pidgin would be finished just a few months after that, toward the end of 2008. Kanalu, unfortunately, only got to see the first 20 minutes of it, which he liked. But he would have loved to see the finished product. He would have loved interacting with audiences and talking to them about who they are. Identity was very important to him.

 

When did you realize that Kanalu’s story would make a good film?

 

A few years had passed [since his death]. I started thinking about Hawaiian language and history, and what it meant to live in a place like Hawai‘i, a place where history is alive and being talked about every day. There’s such vitality to that and such importance in terms of what it means to be a person whose history is being rediscovered and affirmed. The renewed interest in Hawaiian language and history are really embodied in Kanalu’s life. He became active in the disability community as a leader, but he was well aware that all around him was the awakening of Hawaiian culture. It was as though what had been a Hawaiian Renaissance on a statewide scale became Kanalu’s renaissance. It completely opened him up to all of these things. Everything spoke to him and he wanted to grab it in every way he could. He became a graduate student in Pacific Islands history, which is what [UH] had at that point, and he got a PhD in it and became a professor.

 

Kanalu Young, center, was in the front line of the 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march, which observed the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Kingdom overthrow. Photo courtesy of Ed Greevy.Kanalu Young, center, was in the front line of the 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march, which observed the 100th anniversary of the Hawaiian Kingdom overthrow. Photo courtesy of Ed Greedy.

 

Meanwhile, he didn’t limit what he was learning to the classroom; he went to demonstrations. In one, which was a year before the famous 1993 ‘Onipa‘a march, in 1992, he was arrested at a vigil that was celebrating King Kamehameha on King Kamehameha Day. It was meant to serve as preparation for what would become the ‘Onipa‘a march the next year. People stormed the stairs of ‘Iolani Palace, which he could not do. He was forcibly pulled from his wheelchair and thrown in a paddy wagon, which I think brought him into the notice of people who might not have known him outside of the university. When the 1993 march came along, it struck a chord with people who, as [UH Hawaiian studies professor] Jon Osorio told me, had not heard the real history of Hawaiian history, and this was the first time they had heard it. At that march, Kanalu is in the front line. He suddenly goes from being a learner and a student who’s moving toward becoming a teacher, to becoming a leader, not having really thought it, but his actions that came out of his sense of who he was and what he had to do propelled him there.

 

The film presents parallels between Kanalu’s life story and the story of the Hawaiian community. Was this something Kanalu himself observed?

 

In one of the final interviews he gave, Kanalu was in bed, and he’s talking about how he thinks he has an unusual perspective on the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. He says that when he came into it, the Hawaiian community was broken and in recovery. He said, “I understood that.”

 

When I spoke to Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, who had been his student, and Jon Osorio, who was his very good friend and colleague, both of them said something similar – that Kanalu brought to the Hawaiian movement a sense of understanding and moving forward from trauma because he had had his individual encounter with trauma years before. I think Kanalu knew that the recovery side doesn’t stop, it’s ongoing. I think he felt that the Hawaiian movement gained strength by acknowledging trauma, acknowledging loss, and moving forward to recovery. I think he felt that understanding history, re-asserting language, and publicly celebrating culture, was really very important to cultural and national renewal.

 

How did the film’s title come to be?

 

One of Kanalu’s friends who teaches at an immersion school, Pua Mendonca – I was talking to her early in my research for the film – I said, “What would you title it?” And she said, without missing a beat, “I would call it Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall.” She said Kanalu always stood tall. He was always head and shoulders above the rest of us.

 

I later learned that there was a book with that same title about the resurgence of Hawaiian music, at the beginning of the Hawaiian Renaissance. That came out many years ago, and yes, they both have the same title, but there was no connection.

 

Why is the film only about 30 minutes long?

 

There are several reasons. The funding mandated half an hour. There’s also only a finite amount of footage we could find of Kanalu that was in usable form. There was a lot of material on VHS that had deteriorated to the point of no recovery. I think we searched long and hard for any material of him.

 

We didn’t want him to get lost in the story. It’s tricky when you’re doing a film about someone who’s passed away. It’s easy for the film to be one person or another giving testimony about who he is. It was very important to have Kanalu’s voice and image in the film, and there just wasn’t all that much out there. What was out there, we found, as far as I know.

 

Half an hour is also a very usable length for classrooms and that’s important. Also, I realized that an hour-long film would have also been another year or two of fundraising and production. I really wanted to get the film done and out and used.

 

You worked a lot with ‘Ulu‘ulu [the moving image archive at UH West O‘ahu] on this project.

 

‘Ulu‘ulu was so important. The film would not have happened without ‘Ulu‘ulu. They were the ones really getting their hands dirty. They have a ton of footage from the ‘Onipa‘a march and Kanalu was in a lot of that.

 

‘Ulu‘ulu found an interview that Mahealani Richardson had done as a young reporter at KGMB asking him about ‘aumakua. The cameraman, bless him, let the camera roll before and after the interview. What Kanalu said to Mahealani before and after the interview became key pieces in the film. They talked as an older Hawaiian man who knew Hawaiian history, and a younger Hawaiian woman who was curious. I would have never found this footage without ‘Ulu‘ulu.

 

What are some things about Kanalu that you wish could have been included in this film?

 

I’m happy with the film; it gives a strong idea of Kanalu and his importance to the Hawaiian movement. He loved to sing, and he had a wonderful sense of humor, and I don’t think we were able to get enough of that into the film. I wish there had been the time to develop more the fullness of Kanalu the person, but in finding a story, the strong focus seemed to be his individual understanding of who he was as a Native Hawaiian, and the way he was able to propel that into helping others connect to the Hawaiian movement.

 

And some things need contextualizing. There’s some home movie footage that Kanalu’s brother shot on VHS, where he’s being silly, but I think it would have taken a little bit of contextualizing to explain where his silliness came from and how it operated.

 

There was a whole incident that we never talked about [on camera]. Leading up to the 25th anniversary of his accident, of taking that dive at Cromwell’s, he said, “I want to go back to Cromwell’s. I want to get in the water and I want to make my peace with the ocean, and I want to reassert my love for the ocean and tell the ocean it wasn’t your fault.” He does this whole thing of finding friends who are lifeguards and firemen and weather people who can tell him what the surf condition is going to be, and then he mobilizes everybody he knows, and he works out a whole choreography. “How am I going to get in the water? What are we going to use?” And he does it! They get him in the water. The waves were coming over him because the waves were stronger than predicted. He does it for himself; he wants that experience. But he also does it for everybody else, to show them that anything is possible. It’s got to be tactile for him, even though he can’t feel most of it, except for his neck up.

 

Friends and family helped with Kanalu’s return to Cromwell’s Beach, 25 years after his fateful dive there paralyzed him from the neck down. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.Friends and family helped with Kanalu’s return to Cromwell’s Beach, 25 years after his fateful dive there paralyzed him from the neck down. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.

 

If Kanalu was a different person, he could have said, “I never want to go back there.”

 

Exactly, but he wanted to, and it was fantastic. His friend and younger colleague, Kekai Perry, told that story, but I didn’t have Kanalu telling it. I had one great photo, but it just wasn’t enough to make a whole scene work in the film.

 

Each thing I might have added about him [in the film] would have uncovered another layer of this man. We can’t any of us be reduced to just one thing about ourselves. But in a film, of course, you need to have a goal and find a story. The more compelling story seemed to be who he was as a voice at this time, at that moment in history. Next film, next round. [laughs]

 

If there’s one message you’d like people to take away from this film, what would that be?

 

Boy, there are a million messages. Kanalu was both a gentle man and a warrior, and I think he understood that history is complex, the times we live in are complex, and we need to garner our strength to recognize injustice when we see it, to be resilient to fight against it, and to continue that engagement, while continuing to be ourselves.

 

In these times, I think he would say that there is strength in knowing who you are and knowing the various parts of yourself, especially for Native Hawaiians, in terms of knowing the history, language and culture, and understanding that those tools embolden you and make you a better person, and never to forget that, and to use that in service of fighting injustice.

 

I think about him all the time and what he would be making of our times now. And I think he would say, “No give up.”

 

Right after his accident, Kanalu was in the hospital, angry at everyone there. It would have been so easy to go in that direction instead.

 

He saw that other direction. But Kanalu makes a decision that you’re in rehab to not give up, and that makes all the difference. Once he’s made that decision, that he’s in the game and he’s in it for the long haul, the world opens up to him, and he goes after everything.

 

He was always open to new things. He could take a really strong stand publicly about something in Hawaiian history, and then he’d uncover new evidence. He was always saying, “It’s got to be evidence-based. Make sure that what you’re saying is evidence-based.” Every time I say that to my classes at UH, it’s Kanalu speaking through me. If he had evidence for something, he’d change his mind and not feel like less of a person.

 

He often said that if the accident had not happened, he would never had been who he became. Not that he would have ever looked for the accident, but it gave him a focus, and a seriousness of purpose, and a seriousness about himself. From that, he knew how to adapt to change. That was not something new for him; he had adapted to probably one of the biggest changes to adapt to, when he was just an adolescent, becoming who he was going to become.

 

Kanalu Young at an Elder-hostel (now called Road Scholar) summer program, circa 1997. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.Kanalu Young at an Elder-hostel (now called Road Scholar) summer program, circa 1997. Photo courtesy of the Family of Kanalu Young.

 

He was comfortable with himself as a man in a wheelchair in public. That was never an identity he shied away from; he was who he was. His disability was a part of who he was. It gave him a perspective on himself, on life, on Hawaiian history, that he appreciated. It allowed him to see things and hear things and to understand things that might not be available to everybody.

 

A big life, this man had.

 

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