adversity

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Power to Overcome

 

The film Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall told Kanalu Young’s remarkable story about a courageous journey – emerging from personal tragedy to find a new meaning and passion for life. Some of us make that journey and find our way despite a childhood of unimaginable neglect. Join us for an inspirational INSIGHTS with people who found the power to overcome.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
Kumu Hina

 

Over the course of a momentous year, Kumu Hina, a native Hawaiian mahu (transgender) teacher, inspires a tomboyish young girl to claim her place as leader of an all-male hula troupe, as Kumu Hina herself searches for love and a fulfilling romantic relationship with an unpredictable young Tongan man.

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
Wilhemina’s War

 

AIDS is one of the leading causes of death for black women in the rural South, where living with HIV is a grim reality. This film tells the story of a Southern grandmother as she struggles to help her family, but may be unable to save those she loves.

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES AT THE MET
La Donna Del Lago

 

Enjoy a new production of Rossini’s opera, based on the work by Sir Walter Scott. Joyce DiDonato sings the title role of Elena, the lady of the lake, with Juan Diego Flórez in the role of Giacomo, the benevolent king of Scotland. The opera also features Daniela Barcellona, John Osborn and Oren Gradus. Michele Mariotti conducts.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Bob Apisa

 

When he first came to Hawaii from American Samoa at the age of seven, Bob Apisa could not understand a word of English. Despite that initial difficulty, he excelled in sports at Farrington High School and won a national championship as a member of the Michigan State Spartan football team. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and went on to a successful career in Hollywood as an actor and stuntman.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wed., Aug. 19 at 11:00 pm and Sun., Aug. 23 at 4:00 pm.

 

Bob Apisa Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that. When you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there.

 

Before Marcus Mariota, there was Bob Apisa, a Samoan recruited from Hawaii, who also made history on the football field nearly half a century ago. Bob Apisa, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Bob Apisa was the first all-American college football player of Samoan ancestry whose achievements helped open the door for Polynesian players like Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariot. Apisa’s athleticism made him a college football star, and led him to a long career as a stuntman in Hollywood’s film industry. However, Apisa’s early years were a struggle. When he moved to Hawaii at the age of seven, he couldn’t understand a word of English.

 

Where were you born?

 

Leslie, I was born in Fagatogo, American Samoa. And that’s adjacent to Pago Pago, American Samoa. That’s the capital of American Samoa.

 

But you didn’t stay there, obviously.

 

Fortunately for me and my family—well, there were eleven siblings. I mean, I had ten siblings, rather. I was the eleventh. There eight boys, three girls. And my dad was in the military at the time; he knew that the only way to improve our lot in life was to bring us from Samoa to Hawaii, so that we can get into or be engrained with proper uh, education. I remember sixty-three years ago when I left American Samoa in 1952. And I remember pulling out of that port, and we never seen electricity; I’d never seen it. I lived in a house that was lit up by kerosene lanterns. And I never spoke English, could not understand a word of English. And as we left Samoa, two and a half weeks later, we were pulling in at Honolulu Harbor. And the landscape of the land was just lit up, and I was on deck, and I asked my brother, George—his name was Siosi. In Samoan, that’s George. And I said, Siosi, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, there must be hundreds of, you know, kerosene lanterns out there lighting this place up. And he looked at me; he said, Papu. Papu is Bob in Samoan. He said, Papu, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, Those are not kerosene lanterns; that’s electricity. I had never seen a switch. We never had an inside toilet; we had outhouses. So, the confirmation of just bringing this whole new world was there. And the reaffirmation of that was the effort that we had to go out and strike it on our own. My mom and my father went up to as high as eighth grade in Samoa. They didn’t have high schools. And that was one of the reasons why my dad brought us here.

 

What was the hardest thing for you? I can’t imagine. The culture, the language; what was the hardest thing?

 

Well, the hardest thing was cognitive skills, social etiquettes; things of that nature. I remember sitting in the classroom at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, and when the teacher would gather the kids around, and she would read us a book, like, See Tom run; run, run, run. See Jane hop; hop, hop. And kids would laugh. And they would laugh, and that was my clue to laugh along with them, so I would feel like I’m one of them.

 

But you didn’t know why.

 

But I didn’t know why I was laughing. I didn’t know why I was laughing.

 

No special language lessons, or tutoring; nothing like that?

 

No; this was strictly through osmosis or just by being around the vicinity of being around English-speaking military dependents. Because I was brought up with military dependents at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary. But I had teachers that helped me. I remember arriving in November, and starting school late. Because it started in September, and arriving, and then I had to re-acclimate myself. Then I got hurt. We were playing cowboys and Indians; I got shot in my left eye with a slingshot, and bled for quite some time. So, I missed more school. And as a result, I was set back a grade to repeat that same grade in order for me to get on. But I took that as an onus that I had some making up to do, but it was incumbent on me to make the move and make the motivation to move ahead.

 

Where did your family live, and what was it like growing up with ten siblings?

 

It was a very disciplinarian upbringing. My dad, I think in my lifetime, because he was a man of few words, but he’ll give you that look, and you’ll know exactly what he meant. But he was very soft-spoken. My mom was the general foreman; she ran the shop. So, she was very dedicated as a mother. She attended and made sure that we went to school. She took us there, and picked us up. You know, she was all-giving and all-supportive.

 

So, at the time, what public school did you go to?

 

I came out of Pearl Harbor Kai. I entered Aliamanu Intermediate when it first opened up. This, I think, was 1960. And I remember going to Aliamanu the very first day it opened up, and the Salt Lake City was just nothing but a salt lake and marshland.

 

It really was a salt lake then.

 

There were no buildings. There were no buildings; just that school there. But from there, I had to go on to ninth grade. They did not have a ninth grade; it was just up to eighth grade. And I had left the eighth grade, so I was going to the ninth grade. And what my brother Bill and I did—I mean, Bill was the catalyst in bringing me to the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu.

 

ILH.

 

ILH. And that was the premier competition. And I think because he felt slighted—I didn’t know any better, but he felt slighted that all the friends that we were playing around with when we were little kids all went to private schools. And he felt slighted.

 

The immigrants got left behind.

 

But the immigrants were left behind. And so, we concocted a story based on Bill’s theory that if we had a district exception from someone, that we can play at Farrington. Because Farrington was in the ILH. So, we asked my uncle, Reverend McMoore—that’s the Scotch part of my family, to use his residence address over at Republican Street in Kalihi. And he said, Yeah, by all means. So, that’s how we ended up at Farrington.

 

Bob Apisa says he didn’t play organized football until he entered the ninth grade at Farrington High School. He was a natural at that, and other sports as well.

 

You did things like you were playing a doubleheader in baseball, and the coach ran you over to the Punahou relays, and you took two events there, and you came back and you played your second baseball game.

 

Yes; that’s very true. This is my senior year, and it was the spring of my senior year. And I had fiddled around with the track team so I can work out and do my sprints, and just starting out, because I knew as a running back, I needed speed. But he needed a shot-putter, and he knew that in my sophomore year, I tinkered around with shot-putting, and it was only about, you know, two feet or three feet and a lot of rolls after that. But I didn’t know how to acquire the skills. So, we were playing Roosevelt at Moiliili Field, and he went up to my coach, Dick Kitamura, and he said, Dick, may I borrow Bob uh, in between the games? He said, Fine. I went up there.

 

And are you still wearing your baseball shoes?

 

I was wearing my baseball gear.

 

 

I took off my baseball top and put on a FHS tee-shirt or shirt, tank top, and I wore my baseball pants and my baseball leggings, and I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes. And these were the best shot-putters from all over the State. And they were all kinda [SNICKERS], you know, laughing and giggling.

 

How did that make you feel? Did that make you feel like—

 

Well, you know, I was laughing, myself. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I said, Well, you know, I’m gonna do the best I can. My first throw, I said to myself, All I want to do is get some height on it. And I pumped it back, and I let go, and all I heard was the crowd going, Wow! Because I had just broken the State record that was there for eight and a half years later. I mean, previous. And I’m walking around like I knew what I was doing, but I was looking for the first dog poop that I may have stood on before I came into the ring. But, you know, my second and third throws, I mean, ba-boom, little dribbles here and there.   But the damage was done. I had won the shotput, I had set the State record for the shotput of fifty-six, three and three-quarters, and I broke—the gentleman’s name, I think it was Souza that was from Waialua in 1956.   So, I told the coach, I’ve got a second game, so put on my uniform, and went back to play the second game of the doubleheader.

 

How’d you do in the doubleheader?

 

I hit a homerun.

 

It was a good night; a very good night.

 

It was a good night.

 

Bob Apisa’s athletic achievements at Farrington caught the attention of dozens of college football recruiters. He chose Michigan State University, where he became part of a national championship team known for pioneering racial integration, and for having four future Hall of Fame players, all African American. And he earned a spot in Rose Bowl lore.

 

I was. You know, when you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there. You know, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer, when we were playing, we were ranked number one in the country. We would go to Ann Arbor to play University of Michigan or go down to Columbus and play Ohio State, or go down to South Bend to play Notre Dame; the top schools in the country. And we would look at each other, kust before we’d go out on the field, we’d look at each other. We’d do this. Meaning, when we get together, we say, Don’t make … you know what.

 

A.

 

A; of yourself. Because that’s how local boys related; don’t make A. So, we look at each other, and we knew. We were in tune.

 

And at the same time, Michigan State had an unusual makeup of its starters. I read that there were eleven African American starters, which was really unusual at the time, and you had far more players on the team. And then, there was you, who became the first all-American player of Samoan ancestry.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

What a team.

 

Oh, it was a great team. You know, at that time in 1964, we had just legislated civil rights. In 1965, there was the Civil Rights Voting Act.

 

And that’s when you were a sophomore.

 

When I was a sophomore. And I looked at Bubba Smith, and Bubba Smith would look at George Webster, and George Webster would look at Dick Kenney. And we would look at each other … people of color. We said, You mean, we can actually vote for the first time? And so, there was a lot of history in that, that we had to encumber along the way. But the fact is, you look at things, and you learn from those experiences, and having African Americans who were great athletes. Being from the islands, again, you know, we had this mantra that you’re there to represent your people, you go out there and kick okole.

 

Here we are at the granddaddy of all the bowl games, the Rose Bowl, in—

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that.

 

Bob Apisa, the fullback …

 

In 1966, I was a sophomore. And we were ranked number one in the country, undefeated, and we played UCLA, who we had beaten in the first game of the year. We were behind by fourteen to twelve, and I had scored a touchdown, and we went for a two-point conversion instead of having Dick kick a field goal or a point after. So, that made a difference. So, when we scored the second touchdown, we had to make up two points. And I was given that opportunity, and it’s been in lore, the Rose Bowl lore throughout the years that I was stopped by the one-yard line by Bob Stiles.

 

Apisa the fullback, and Bob is caught a yard short …

 

And Bob … I think he was a hundred seventy-pounds or two twenty-five. But he just threw himself at you; right?

 

Well, he was knocked out in the process. But the fact of the matter is, he did the job. And that’s the important thing. You know, you only had about four major bowls back in those days. And the Rose Bowl was the granddaddy of them all. That was The Big One. And that’s what I wanted to aspire to play in when I left Farrington, to go to a conference that would give me a shot at playing in the granddaddy of them all.

 

Ten months after that close loss in the Rose Bowl, on November 19, 1966, Bob Apisa played a part in history, taking the field in a matchup dubbed The Game of the Century. It was the first ever live TV sports broadcast in Hawaii.

 

I played in that game. And what happened was, prior to that game, throughout that week, people were just so jazzed up about the Game of the Century. We were both undefeated.

 

Okay. This was Michigan State, and …

 

Notre Dame. And Notre Dame at that time had one minority on their team. Just one. They had maybe twenty-seven in the entire enrollment, in South Bend. And that made them change and incorporate more people. But the fact that we were playing … I had a scroll with about three thousand names sent to me from my high school wishing us luck from Farrington. You know, those are cherished moments. And I remember when Dick Kenney and Charley and I got together, I said, You know, this is big-time, guys. I mean, I’m a kid from Samoa, Palama Housing to Kalihi Valley, and we’re playing big-time. People are gonna be seeing us live and direct. And that game, I think it was Governor Burns at that time, I believe it was, along with the Legislature, and they petitioned the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to see if they can see it live and direct. So, they got permission from them, and on the morning of November 19, 1966, there was a little satellite revolving around Sydney, Australia. The satellite was called Lani Bird. And they had that satellite beam the signal from Sydney, Australia, ricochet that signal across to Honolulu. And for the first time, you know, six hours earlier, people from Hawaii turned on their TVs, whether it’s an RCA, whether it’s the Zenith or Motorola, one of those brands, with two rabbit ears.

 

Small screen.

 

And with tin foil at the end of it, and with a small screen.

 

No cable television back then.

 

No cable TV. And they turned it on, they saw the splotchy black and white figures, and they finally saw the game, the first live telecast in the history of Hawaii. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I know I speak on behalf of my departed brothers, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer. That made us so proud. If there’s anything that we’re proudest of is that we helped facilitate this state into the 20th Century, as far as telecommunications is concerned.

 

After all the hype, The Game of the Century ended in a tie. Injuries sidelined Bob Apisa for much of his senior year at Michigan State. Still, he was chosen in the ninth round of the NFL draft by the late legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, who was then general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

 

That was a great honor for me, Leslie, because when you’re drafted by the world champions—they were just coming out of their second Super Bowl championship. And I was hoping to get onto an expansion team like the Miami Dolphins at that time, or Cincinnati Bengals. But lo and behold, I could hear vividly well Pete Roselle, the commissioner, announcing my name over the PA, and I can hear them saying, you know, Drafted in the ninth round, from Michigan State, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I can hear there’s cheering. And my heart sank in a way, because I wanted to go to a lesser team in developing. And here I am, I’m drafted by Green Bay, by Vince Lombardi. So, you know, people would see that trophy named after him on every Super Bowl, and eighty percent of the country probably don’t know who this man is. I was honored to be drafted by him. I shook hands with him, I talked to him, I negotiated my contract with him. And that’s quite an honor. The fact of the matter is, you know, to have that opportunity, to have just the experience of someone who is so iconic in football folklore. And when I see that, and I’m tracing myself back to 1952 when that young man who stood on that boat, who could not speak a word of English, and to where I am today, those are some of the moments that I’m most proudest of
You know, your career with the Green Bay Packers was fairly short, because I think you had serious knee damage; didn’t you?

 

Yes, I did. I signed a two-year contract with them. I lasted a year; they paid my year off. And I knew I was, you know, damaged goods to pursue an NFL career, because I paid that price during my collegiate career. But since, I’ve had prosthesis; I had three hip replacements, two on my right and one on my left, and a left knee replaced, so I walk with a shuffle and a distinct gait, and a gimp and a limp.

 

And other than that, you feel good?

 

Other than that, everything else is working.

 

You’re okay.

 

Being a fullback, always working to move the ball forward, Bob Apisa didn’t look back after the end of his football career. He went on to a thirty-three-year career as a stuntman and sometime actor, following a chance encounter with a Hawaii Five-O casting director.

 

I sat there, and there was this silver-haired guy with a beard, and he kept looking at me. And I’m saying, Well, maybe I owe him money or something.

 

So, he finally came over. And he says, I’m Bob Busch, I’m the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. The original Five-O. And he says, You’re Bob Apisa? I says, Yes. And he says, Have you ever done pictures before? And I says, The only pictures I’ve ever dealt with are Kodak cameras and stuff like that. But he says, No. So he said, I’m giving you a card. Why don’t you give me a call tomorrow. And I had a few days before I went back to Flint. And so, I called him on a lark, and he said, Why don’t you come in, I’d like to see you. So, I went down to the studio over by Diamond Head.

 

Were you excited?

 

No, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t know what why he wanted me to come in. Because I wasn’t involved with filming, I did not know what filming was. Once again, this was a first-timer. And as I’m walking in through the door, I noticed that there were about three big guys like me. And as I’m walking through the door, Jack Lord exits his office, and he’s looking right at me. He says, Oh, you’re the guy I’m looking for. I turned behind, and I’m wondering if he’s talking to the guy behind me, but there was nobody there. And then, Bob Busch came out and made the introduction. And so, Jack Lord said, Can you come tomorrow and do a little scene with us? I said, Wow, this thing is happening so quick. I mean, twenty-four hours later, I’m asked to come in another twenty-four hours later to do a jail scene with some people, some guys. And so, I said, Yeah, fine. You know, I didn’t mind doing that just to kill time and get a day’s pay. And he said something; the dialog between him and James MacArthur, Danno at that time. So, Steve McGarrett was saying this to Danno, and then it didn’t make sense. So, Jack looks at me; he said, Bob, when I say this, just say, No, I didn’t do it, or something to that effect. I don’t quite remember. And so, when he said this, then I said, No, I didn’t do it. I was immediately Taft-Hartleyed into Screen Actors Guild.

 

 

 

Forty-eight hours later, no experience as an extra or anything, I went from Point A to Point Z.

 

Well, you were comfortable with yourself; right?

 

I was comfortable with myself, because, you know, I thought it was a new adventure, and I said, Ah, why not. You know. And a week later, just before I left, or a couple days later before I left the following week, they asked me if I could take jeep and squib it and drive it. I said, Hey, it’s no big thing. And had bullet holes. I mean, squibbed it and came right up to the camera, and that was no big thing. And that’s how my stunt career started. I’ve done train falls, I’ve done horse falls, I’ve done horse stampedes, motorcycles, car chases, falling off of four-story buildings into water. You know, it’s all timing. But if you’re an athlete and you have the innate skills to adjust, to make your adjustment. Before I go on a set and they ask me to do something, I’ll turn ‘em down too.

 

So, this is 2015, and you are how old? Seventy?

 

I just turned uh, the milestone of seven, zero.

 

So, it’s a new stage of your life. What’s it like? I mean, you’re now officially retired.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, that’s another kind of career, because you have to figure out how to spend your time, what relationships to keep, and which to invest time in, and where to go.

 

Well, I have a great relationship with AARP. No, I’m just kidding you. I find time to do things. I can wake up and read the paper, and I go and work out, and I come back and have lunch with friends. Or the wife and I can just get up and go.

 

Bob Apisa lives in Southern California. At the time of our conversation in 2015, he was producing a project dear to his heart, a documentary about the Michigan Spartans’ two-year run as national champions, and the team’s groundbreaking impact on racial integration in college football. Thank you, Bob Apisa, for sharing your story with us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Stort 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.

 

People always point out that Bob Apisa came first. He was the first Samoan to really make a dent in the national scene. So, you were the Marcus Mariota of your time.

 

Marcus Mariota is a gentleman that when I looked at the way he carries himself, I’m proud of him. He represents America. He represents the cross-section of all ethnicity; all ethnicity. And he carries himself with humility, which is from here.

 

[END]

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES AT THE MET
Iolanta / Bluebeard’s Castle

 

Enjoy an operatic double bill: Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta features Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala. Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle features Nadja Michael and Mikhail Petrenko. Valery Gergiev conducts both operas.

 

LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER
New York Philharmonic Opening Gala with Lang Lang

 

Virtuoso pianist Lang Lang joins Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic for the launch of its 2015-16 season and the dedication of the newly named David Geffen Hall. Musical highlights include Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lessons on Leadership

 

This special edition revisits conversations with Hawaii’s business and community leaders as they share their thoughts on leadership. Featured are: Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the late Skippa Diaz, Glenn Furuya, Hokulani Holt, the late Daniel Inouye, Thomas Kaulukukui and Colbert Matsumoto.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 pm.

 

Lessons on Leadership Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I had my responsibilities as the platoon leader. And we had this code in the regiment; Don’t expect your men to go up if you’re not willing to go up. In the so-called book, the training book, it’s never led by the officer. Patrols go out. Scouts out, or something like that. The leader stays in the back. But in our code, as the boys would say, You go first, buddy.

 

Don’t ask anyone to do something—

 

Yeah.

 

—you’re not willing to do yourself.

 

 

The late Senator Daniel K. Inouye learned the intricacies and demands of leadership on the battlefields of World War II. He took these lessons with him into the world of government and politics, where he became one of the most powerful and influential leaders not only of our state, but of our nation. In this edition of Long Story Short, we will look back at some of our previous Long Story Short guests and their lessons on leadership, including how the nuances of local culture helped to shape their … leadership styles. Lessons on Leadership next, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Master navigator Nainoa Thompson defines leadership as “stepping up….knowing … the right thing to do,,, and making it happen regardless of the consequences.” Doing the right thing can sometimes require an extraordinary amount of conviction, courage, and the ability to inspire others. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we revisit some of the stories and challenges shared by Hawaii … leaders. We begin with Thomas Kaulukukui, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Managing Trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, who, like Senator Inouye, picked up many of his first lessons in leadership on the battlefield.

 

I went into the Army in 1968.

 

You went to Vietnam?

 

I went to Vietnam for a year, 1969, ’70.

 

What’d you do in Vietnam?

 

I was a platoon sergeant in the paratroopers. Uh, did well in training, because I had the Kamehameha School ROTC background. And I ended up leading a platoon of men in … uh, basically jungle fighters.  Young men, at the time, uh, um, they’re like a pack of wolves. And they will do whatever the pack wants to do, unless there is an alpha wolf that keeps them on track. And um, if you’re not that person, they will get rid of you and get somebody else. So, you know, you really have to learn to step up.

 

Was there any particular event or moment when this all came clear to you, when you had any epiphanies over there?

 

Well, it was clear to me from the beginning. It’s uh, it’s—you know, when you’re with a group like that, it’s really clear. Uh, I’d never been in a fight in my life. I was in three fights in the first month I was there, because the men decided to test me. You have to realize, this is Vietnam War—

 

And you—

 

–and look at the way I look.

 

Uh-huh.

 

You know, I’m not a six-foot uh, uh, fair-skinned, round-eyed person. Uh, I was brought in to lead them, and I was obviously Asian. So I looked more like the enemy, than I did look like them. So it was an interesting experience, because um, I was in three fights with my own men, um, shortly after I got there, because they wanted to test whether or not I was tough enough to lead them.

 

And part of it was your culture?

 

Part of it was what I looked like. Uh, part of it was there was another leader there who they wanted, who had been there a month longer than I was, and they weren’t sure about me. So …

 

So you saw no—you had no—you had to fight. There was no—

 

Gotta fight.

 

–other way to do it?

 

Yeah. Fortunately, I was a black belt in taekwondo by then.

 

Before I got there, so without having to really hurt anybody, I guess they kinda … got some religion and said, Well, I guess he can beat up everybody else, so he’s all right.

 

We were someplace where uh, another unit got in trouble, and they called us and said, You need to go help them. Uh, there’s a battle going on, you need to go help them. And you need to get from Point A to Point B, right now. The trouble was, to go from Point A to Point B, you had to go between two hills. General rule, bad idea to go between two hills, because if the enemy is up on both hills, they’re gonna ambush you, and you’re gonna—you’re never gonna get there, you’re gonna be dead. So I called my squad leaders together. I ran a platoon of about thirty-five men. And I said, We have to go from Point A to Point B. They looked at the map, they said, We can’t go through there. I said, We don’t have a choice, because if we don’t go through there, by the time we take an alternative ro—route, our … people will be dead. So I gave an order. All the people kinda sat around, and they looked at me when they figured out where we were going. And they said, We’re not going. Now, think about the magnitude of that problem. Battle commander, give an order, people won’t go. Okay. Squad leaders, gave an order, they wouldn’t go. I tried to exhort them to move, they wouldn’t move, because … you know, the consequences were deadly. Uh, so finally, at that point, I got my radio telephone operator, made him saddle up, put on his backpack. I put my mine on. I said to everybody else, If you’re afraid, I’ll go save them myself; will fight this battle by myself. But you better hope I get killed, because if I’m not, I’m gonna come back and fix this. Off I went. Took the longest, slowest, smallest ten steps of my life down the trail waiting for—to hear if anybody else got up. And—and—and fortunately, I started hearing people getting up. They got up, and … they followed me, and off we went, and we—we made—we made it all right. Difficult experience, um … I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t follow. But one of the things I learned from that is, you gotta lead in front; can’t just tell people to go, especially if it’s difficult. You gotta be willing to pick up your rifle, put on your pack, and lead in front.

 

And be willing to go it alone.

 

And be willing to go it alone, if you have to.

 

So do you have a, you know, 25-word nutshell definition of leadership?

 

I have a … three-word definition, a three, word definition of leadership. My definition is that leadership is influence; nothing more and nothing less. If you have influence, and can influence, people and their thoughts, and emotions, and, actions, then you have leadership ability. That says nothing about your morality, because Hitler had leadership ability. But in—in a very … condensed, sense, I think leadership is influence. And—and learning to, influence in a positive way people’s thoughts, and emotions, and actions, were what—are the core of leadership, I think.

 

A wartime battlefield can shape leaders. So can growing up in a rural environment, where shared values help to create community well-being…. Colbert Matsumoto, born and raised on the Island of Lanai, is the Chairman of Island Insurance Companies. He also is a community leader in Honolulu, serving on … nonprofit boards in addition to corporate boards. Glenn Furuya, President and Chairman of Leadership Works, a leadership-training company he started more than 30 years ago, grew up in Hilo, on Hawaii Island. At the heart of the leadership style of each of these men is their understanding of local culture, and how being an effective leader in Hawaii can be very different from anywhere else.

 

Being local is not about where you were born. You know, it’s really about the kind of values, you embrace and the kind of philosophy that you use to guide your life, and the decisions you make in your life. So, there are many local people that you know, who were born and raised here that, you know, I don’t think espouse local values. You know. But on the other hand, there are many people that have moved here that clearly you know, the things that make, I think, Hawaii special resonated with them, which is why they chose to, come here and live here, and stay here.

 

This whole idea of local culture and what works; it used to be that certain positions in Hawaii guaranteed authority and respect. But that’s less and less true now; isn’t it?

 

Uh, yeah, I think that’s, definitely the case. You know, I think that you know, when I grew up which was when, you know, I think in the 60s, the plantations were still uh, very influential … forces in shaping our—our—our community. And there tended to be, you know, informal, leaders within those communities that people looked up to provide leadership. So in like the time that I grew up in, well, the principal of the school was, considered a very important figure. Some of the union leaders were considered important figures. Some of the, plantation bosses were also—

 

M-hm.

 

— looked up to as being, you know, important, community leaders. And so, um, people gravitated to them, and as they would in turn communicate, different, you know, projects or, concerns, you know, people would rally around them. And so, I think that those days have passed. I think that it’s harder to get people to align behind uh, different initiatives. In my experience, you know, run across, two different kinds of leadership. One—one is, implied leadership; leadership that is the result of the position that you hold. And most people fall into the category of having power because of, you know, the implied authority associated with them.   Whereas, you know, there are other people that, you know, have I think real power; a power that, you know, it generates from, they are able to assert themselves and the kind of vision and their ability to art—articulate concepts and ideas in a way that makes people feel like it resonates with them.

 

Definitely, you know, leadership requires a level of trust and confidence. It all starts from that. And if you don’t have the ability to engender the trust of the people that you’re trying to reach, you cannot lead them, you cannot convince them to move in any particular direction. That’s why, you know, great leaders have a certain special ability to engender that kinda trust.

 

You know, you have to be able to stick your neck out, because that’s how, you know, you progress. And, so asserting leadership involves taking risk, being willing to stand apart from the pack. And that takes a level of courage.

 

And so, you know, those kinds of leaders are fewer and harder to come by. But—but those are the kinds of leaders that I think exercise real, ability to move people, to affect change. And I don’t know why. I mean, it just seems that I don’t find as many of those kinds of people around as I think used to exist in the past.

 

I really do believe that the upbringing in Hilo— one thing it does is, you know, you’re humble. You you grew up humble.

 

Do you think humility … we prize humility—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

–in the Hawaiian culture—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

as well. But humility is seen as a weakness, other places.

 

Yes, it is. It’s viewed in many Western cultures as a weakness. But to me, I think that’s strength, when I can stand in front of my group and say, You know what, guys? I’m really sorry; I messed up, forgive me. You know, and just lay it out there. What’s the—what’s the alternative? What, blame people? Make excuses?

 

I do a lot of work on island style leadership, because I do believe it is a distinct and unique form of leadership. There’s this thing I call the same-same equilibrium; the same-same equilibrium. And it roots back to ahupuaa, where it was—society was an egalitarian society, where everybody in the society had a role, and everybody did their part. But all of the contributors within that society were viewed as equal, so everybody same-same.

 

M-hm.

 

Right? Okay. So, here’s the deal. Centuries later, the same-same essence mentality still is—is embedded in all of us. You’ve got to stay in this equilibrium, same-same. Everybody same-same, everybody does equal in their contribution. What’s very interesting is, whenever you break same-same, okay, and you think you’re—you act as if you’re better, right—‘cause if everybody’s same-same, then nobody’s more important or better than anybody else; right? But the minute you break it—and this is where a lot of times people who come from away, good people, they don’t understand this equilibrium. They break it. As soon as you get to this I’m better than you mentality, through your tone of voice, through your being too direct, not listening—

 

M-hm.

 

–showing everybody how smart you, the immediate response always is, Who the heck does he thinks he is? Who the heck does he think is? Immediate response.

 

Right.

 

And once that response comes out, you can’t lead in Hawaii. Who the heck you think you are? And they don’t tell it to you in your face. It’s—Hawaii is—

 

They just turn away.

 

I always say—

 

Right?

 

–to my leaders that I work with, Hawaii is the world capitol of passive aggressive behavior.

 

I do a lot of work with mainlanders coming down, to try to help them understand some of these little nuances of this place. Do not break the same-same equilibrium. Because as soon as those words come out, that question pops, it’s really hard to recover. The other thing with island people; they don’t—they don’t forgive. They—they take forever to let go.

 

The way I teach it is this. There are two types of leaders, Leslie. There’s circular leaders. These are people are who are very collaborative, they’re relationship-oriented, they’re kind, they—they really engage people.

 

M-hm.

 

Circular. Island people are generally more circular.

 

M-hm.

 

Okay. And that’s because in Hawaii, we’re a three-way blend of cultures. We are influenced heavily by Eastern culture, ‘cause in the 1940s, forty percent of the population of Hawaii was Japanese. So, heavy bushido code influence here.

 

The one element of the—the bushido code is this; you always operate from a sense of imperfection. You always come from a state of dissatisfaction. ‘Cause—

 

Oh, I didn’t know that.

 

Yeah. So, if you’re always dissatisfied, and you’re kinda imperfect, you always gotta work harder. You gotta try harder, you gotta study harder, you gotta go to school, you gotta learn. I never got praised by my parents; they never, ever praised, said, Good job, Glenn, won—you did a wonderful job. Nothing. And I think, bushido. They didn’t want me to get all big-headed and arrogant, and thinking I’m better than anybody else; right?

 

Right.

 

So, they kept—they kept it really, really restrained, the praise and things like that.

 

M-hm.

 

And yet, we’re all Americans; that’s the Western influence. We’re all Western educated folk. But at the same time, the host culture here is Hawaiian.

 

M-hm.

 

We have a major Polynesian influence. And there’s no place in the world these three forces come together like it does here in Hawaii. So, the Polynesian and the Eastern, Asian, right, give us the circular. We understand circular; that’s why people are so collaborative and warm, and aloha spirit, and ohana. Western culture is much more linear. You know, there’s the goal, here’s the plan, now do it. Now, move—

 

And if you have to run over somebody—

 

Yeah.

 

–to get there—

 

Right.

 

–it’s okay.

 

Right.

 

‘Cause that’s the goal.

 

Right, and there are a lot of island people who are just very linear, too. The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is take your linear approach, and slam it on the circular. Right? And then, that equilibrium gets broken. Who the heck does he think he is?

 

You’ve gotta be both. Circular, collaboration, involvement, build a relationship. But at the point of execution, we all gotta go linear; we’ve gotta get the job done.

 

I’ve always believed, Leslie, that whenever you impose things on people, when you just shove it in, you’ll get compliance. They’re gonna do it, because I’m afraid if I don’t do it, they’re gonna scold me or fire me, whatever. When you inspire people bottom-up—

 

M-hm.

 

–you get commitment. That’s real leadership.

 

Teachers are among our most important leaders. They have the power to influence and shape the minds of young people who will … become the next generation of leaders. Kumu hula Hokulani Holt, who is also the Cultural Programs Director of the Maui Arts and Culture Center, and Dr. Maenette Ah Nee Benham, Dean of Hawaiinuiakea at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge, are two such leaders. Their career paths are based on kuleana, the responsibilities handed down to them from their families and ancestors….

 

Hula has always been in our ohana. My grandmother was a kumu hula, she had seven daughters. Of her seven daughters, three became kumu hula. And of her granddaughters, first just me, and now my sister. And then of her great-granddaughters, my cousin Melia.

 

When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu? Or—

 

Oh, I didn’t.

 

–did you decide?

 

I didn’t.

 

I guess that’s nothing you decide on your own, right, in the hula world?

 

Yeah, yeah; I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.

 

She said, Well, I think it’s time for you to—to begin teaching. And I went, no, that—that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. So I went kicking and screaming, but I went.

 

What kind of a kumu were you and are you?

 

I believe that I’m—I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the—the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use. What a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that.

 

It is your world.

 

It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hoku within these four walls.

 

And as a kumu hula, you get very involved in other people’s families.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

They become your family.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

So you’re privy to a lot of the struggles that—

 

Yes.

 

–people go through.

 

Yes. You know, you get parents coming and saying, You know, my daughter’s not paying attention to school, Kumu can you please talk to her? Or, you know, someone’s marriage or passing; you get involved in your students’ lives, and it’s a good thing.

 

Halau provides, focus, it—it really gets you to appreciate every little thing, I believe. And halau is not only learning hula, but it also teaches you about yourself. How to push yourself a little bit more, how to think about the welfare of others within the halau, and then that translates to others outside of halau, how to practice or do Hawaiian values, because that’s what you must have in halau as well, how to get past pain and tired, and late hours for a goal that you would like to reach. So those are all life lessons also.

 

So you were possessed at an early age of a conviction you wanted to lead.

 

M-hm.

 

Why?

 

Because I was always told that I would. I was always told. My grandmothers— both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of—of one of my great-great aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of—of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to … the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. And … you know, I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?

 

And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.

 

Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, um, what really inspires me is—and it all started because um, in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day.

 

And I know you’ve said you always want to be a teacher.

 

I always—

 

No matter what else you do, or how you do it, you want to be a teacher.

 

Yeah. Always; always. And that came from the stories and teachers over the years. You know, and good leaders are great teachers.

 

The genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s—it’s that—that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. You know, cause otherwise, we’re not gonna get it done, we’re not gonna—we’re just not gonna do it. And that’s how I—that’s how I lead. You know. And I try really hard to listen; listen, listen, listen. And as I listen, you know, I try to move it back to the core issue, as you said. Ask more questions about how that has to do with the issue, keep moving it, moving it, moving it.

 

But sometimes, there is no consensus.

 

And sometimes there’s not.

 

And then you have to figure out—somebody has to call it.

 

Yes.

 

This is not gonna be solved this way.

 

Yeah. And I do that. I do that too. You can ask the people who work for me. You know, it’s very open, we’re safe, we’re gonna talk about it, and this is how—this is the road we’re gonna take. I’m not afraid to do that. No; I’m not afraid to do that. It’s—it’s nice to know— I want people to know that everybody has a voice. You know, everyone has a voice. It’s a labor-intensive process, but everybody has a voice. And in the end, you know, there will be – everybody will know that there will be uh, a direction we’re gonna go. You know, and move on.

 

Because people want closure. I mean—

 

Yeah.

 

You can’t talk everything to death.

 

Yeah. In a microcosm, yeah, you know, we have a lot of diverse perspectives, but across the United States, across the globe, you know, there isn’t one way to do anything. But I do think that we’re reaching a time where there—there are more young people and young leaders who are seeing the promise and the potential of bringing together different groups, and really talking about hard issues, of renewable resources, about food safety, about education and wellbeing that’s very issue-oriented. And doing it in a way that is grounded in our religion, our stories. I think we’re ready at that point to do that, and I—I think that’s—that’s our work at the University to help prepare, you know, my community leaders to be able to do that.

 

I learned that, you know, you do good work. You have good intentions, you know. Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how much I can tell you about what I wrote, or what I studied, or what whatever, right? What matters is that I have good intentions, and I work really hard, and I try to be fair in everything that I do. And I try to be kind, you know. And I—and I lead in grace, developing a space where people can feel grace and welcome, you know. And then, we’ll move forward. Ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood, ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana.

 

Humility, trust, listening, fairness, influence… all important qualities that Hawaii’s leaders say are critical to good leadership. These are values that we can use in our own lives, whether it is how we act with our families, in our jobs or how we conduct ourselves in the broader community. Our closing words of wisdom will be from the late Skippa Dias, legendary football coach at Farrington High School in Honolulu.

 

Mahalo to our Long Story Guests who have shared their stories and insights with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

I developed um, an acronym. And the acronym was spelled out HEART, H-E-A-R-T. And—and each letter represented a basic tenet and belief that … you want the other person to acquire and mind for the young kinds. And the word HEART, the five five words are H refer to humility, the ability to … you know, to … listen to another person and … bite your tongue if—if he’s saying something that’s different than what you want. But being humble is a quality that is really, really … sought after for a lot of people, but never acquire. But humility is a good one. E, education. That one was very, very significant in my family’s upbringing. A, attitude; a positive attitude, making sure that, you know, whatever the goal, whatever the project, you set yourself out to be positive and g—and get the darn thing done. R, responsibility. You gotta be responsible for all the things that you do, and sometimes for the things that your friends and your loved ones are doing. But being responsible in that manner has—has some beautiful connotations that—that grow from it. And then T, of course, stands for team.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Colbert Matsumoto

 

Colbert Matsumoto grew up on Lanai when it was a pineapple plantation employing both his father and mother. He didn’t set foot on the Continent until he was a college freshman. And he grew up to become an attorney, insurance company executive and business and community leader in Hawaii. Like many successful people, he had some misgivings and missteps along the way. On the next LONG STORY SHORT (Tues., July 7, 7:30 pm), Matsumoto humbly recalls his journey. And he tells of a test of his courage, as court-appointed master overseeing the dealings of then-Bishop Estate.

 

This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed.,
July 8 at 11:00 pm and Sun., July 12 at 4:00 pm.

 

Colbert Matsumoto Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You said your dad was a 442 vet, so that means he qualified for the GI Bill. He could have gone to college, but you’re saying he did not?

 

Yeah; my dad unfortunately, as soon as he came back from Europe and returned to Lanai, his father died unexpectedly. And so, my father, because he was the youngest in the household, and his siblings had all left the island already, stayed on Lanai to take care of his mother. So, he was from a generation that had this Japanese value of oyako-ko imbued in him. And so, I think that, you know, basically he said, It’s my responsibility to take care of my mother.

 

Do you think he ever regretted that choice?

 

No. If I he did, I never heard him articulate it. But I think that that was probably why he expected my brother and me to go to college.

 

That sense of doing what’s right was passed on from father to son. Born and raised on Lanai, Colbert Matsumoto would remember his dad’s leadership by example when he took on some of the most powerful people in Hawaii, and helped reshape the multi-billion-dollar Bishop Estate. Colbert Matsumoto, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. Colbert Matsumoto went from plantation life on Lanai to become a business and community leader in Honolulu. He’s chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto’s life and career have been driven by a desire to impact lives, a motivation he’d seen his parents put into action as workers on Lanai’s pineapple plantation.

 

I grew up in a time when—I like to call it the Golden Period of the Plantations in Hawaii. Life was really nice growing up on Lanai. You know, our family, I think, you know, we had a comfortable lifestyle. We didn’t have a lot of extravagance, but you know, we had a TV set, you know, I was in the Boy Scouts. You know, my parents were members of the PTA, you know, we went to church on Sundays. And so, it was a nice place to grow up in. And so, as I look back on it, you know, I realize how almost idyllic it was to grow up in a place like that. But when I was growing up there, I couldn’t wait to leave.

 

Because it was too small a town, people all knew each other’s business, maybe?

 

Yeah; it was confining. I grew up in a community of twenty-five hundred people. Oh, there were many occasions when, you know, I would get into mischief as a little kid on one side of the town, and by the time I got home, my mom would know all about it. You know, and so, yeah; it was hard to remain anonymous.

 

When you said you couldn’t wait to get away, were there other things besides getting ratted on for mischief?

 

Oh, yeah. Growing up, we had a TV set, and I would watch shows about other places, and I always longed for the opportunity to experience some of the things that I saw on the TV programs. Because I didn’t get away from Lanai very much. I had never had the opportunity to visit the mainland until I went to college. And so, I felt somewhat isolated and confined as I grew older, and wanted to have the opportunity to experience different things.

 

The main employer on the island at that time was Dole; right?

 

Right.

 

And did your parents work for Dole?

 

Yeah; both my parents worked for Dole, as my grandparents also. Pretty much everybody on the island worked for Dole, unless you worked for the State or the County, or some of the retail establishments in the town.

 

There are drawbacks to company town, obviously, when you’re held in their thrall; they’re the main gig—

 

Right.

 

–for employment.

 

Well, you know, I think that, yeah, the only jobs that were available were on the plantation. Which is why, you know, growing up, we all knew that once we graduated, we were expected to leave the island. Because there were no opportunities for young people after they graduated from high school on Lanai.

 

Which your parents had that expectation of; right?

 

Oh, yeah; the parents. But you know, it was also the economic reality of the island.

 

I mean, were you concerned? What am I gonna do? How am I gonna make it?

 

No. You know, I think my parents always raised me with the expectation that I was supposed to go to college. They themselves had not gone to college, so they didn’t care which college, or what I studied. You know, they just wanted me to go to college and graduate from college.

 

Did they explicitly give you lessons of life?

 

They did, you know, in different ways. So, you know, they would basically try to teach me certain values. But then, they also, I think, taught me a lot just by their example.

 

Your father, for example; what did he teach you? What did you come away with?

 

One of the things that he was heavily involved in was with the ILWU. Because the union figured very significantly in our community. So, my father would share with me some of the stories of the struggles that the union and the employees had to go through in the beginning. ‘Cause he was a 442 veteran, and so when he came back, one of the things that he and, you know, people of his generation were struggling for were not just economic justice, but also social reforms in the community. So, the union, the ILWU was very significant in, I think, bringing about some changes back on the plantation. ‘Cause many of them didn’t have the opportunity to own their homes. So, one of the things that they struggled for was to have the opportunity to buy their own homes, which many of the workers did.

 

Under your dad’s tenure?

 

Yeah; during the time that he was involved with the ILWU.

 

What was your mother like? What is she like? Because, you know, she’s still with us.

 

Right. My mother was a strong woman. You know, she made sure that my brother and I kept out of trouble, which she didn’t always succeed at.

 

But she always found out.

 

Yeah; she found out. But she was a stickler for the rules, and you know, she really had a strong sense of fairness, of right and wrong. And I think that that enabled her to go from being a pineapple picker to one of the first female, wahine lunas on the plantation.

 

What was that like? So, did she boss men around?

 

No; she usually headed, you know, gangs of women who were ipicking pineapple for the plantation.

 

Oh, that’s wonderful; a wahine luna.

 

Right. But that wasn’t until, you know, the late 70s, when equal rights became more of an issue for women.

 

So, it sounds like both of your parents challenged; challenged for more fairness, for equity.

 

Right. I think that, you know, that generation, they were second generation Japanese Americans. That generation really was focused on bringing about social change for the benefit of the community. And so, both of them made contributions in various ways through the activities that they were involved in and volunteered in. And they were among many in the community that were also, you know, engaged in those kinds of efforts on behalf of the group, as opposed to just for their own personal benefit.

 

Colbert Matsumoto was valedictorian of his high school class on Lanai. He went on to college in the Bay Area, and graduated from law school at the University of California at Berkeley. He wanted to be a lawyer to have an impact on society.

 

When I went up to college, it was the first time I was up on the mainland. So, it was a total culture shock for me. I had never been on the mainland before, I had never seen an urban environment like that. So, was definitely an eye-opening experience.

 

How was your college experience? What’d you decide you were gonna do with your life? Did you decide then?

 

Yeah; I had gone to college with the intent of becoming a high school social studies teacher.   So, that was my objective going in. About halfway through, I came home for a summer and worked at a warehouse on a nightshift crew, and there were three other guys that were working on the crew that had already graduated from UH in education. One had a master’s degree, the other two had fifth-year certificates, and none of them could find jobs with the DOE.

 

That’s right. I remember that was the time of a teacher surplus.

 

So, I figured I needed to find something else. And that’s when I decided, Well, I guess I’ll try applying to law school, which is what I ended up doing.

 

Any particular reason?

 

Well, you know, I had never met a lawyer before. I had never been in a courtroom, or knew anything about what the practice of law was. At the time, you know, I just knew that lawyers went to court. Perry Mason, The Defenders; those were my images of lawyers. And I thought, you know, lawyers made a lot of money, and didn’t have to work hard.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, I thought that, Okay, maybe that would be a good profession to get into. But I also knew that lawyers had the ability to bring about change, that they had a certain knowledge base that allowed for an advocacy of different ideas. And so, I thought that by becoming a lawyer, I would be able to have an impact in terms of society. Because, you know, I grew up in the 60s, so it was a time of a lot of social change; the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement. It was also a time when, you know, the environmental movement first started to get started. And so, there was a lot of idealism, I think, with my generation. And so, I looked at, you know, practicing law as being an opportunity to become more of a contributor to the kinds of social changes that were taking place in society.

 

You were used to being a really smart guy in all your classes up ‘til now. Now, in law school, everyone was probably the smartest in the class they came from before.

 

Right.

 

What was that like?

 

It was very intimidating. Like I said, I had no clue what being a lawyer was all about. And so, I almost flunked my first semester of law school. Because I thought a contract was a piece of paper that, you know, you put an agreement on. I didn’t realize that it was a legal concept that had, you know, certain components to it. And so, the concepts associated with law were so foreign to me, so I had a hard time grasping a lot of that when I first went to law school.

 

Do you think maybe part of it was because you were used to more of a handshake, and your word was good, and it was sort of uncomplicated on Lanai?

 

No, I think I was pretty much just naïve and clueless about what I had elected to pursue in law. So, fortunately, I had a professor who was very sympathetic, and I had some fellow classmates that were very supportive and encouraging. And so, I stuck it out, and managed to do okay.

 

Colbert Matsumoto did something quite unusual after he passed the Bar Exam and was qualified to practice law. He embarked on a six-month journey that continues to inform his life.

 

I entered a Zen monastery. So, I shaved my head, and then went into this Zen monastery and trained.

 

Where was it?

 

It was in Kalihi Valley. So, it was Chozen-ji. It’s a Rinzai Zen temple. And I had heard about the teacher there, Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi, who was an accomplished martial artist, but also a Zen teacher. And so, I had trained in the martial arts when I was a kid growing up, and so, you know, I had an interest in it. But I had also realized that Zen was the philosophical underpinnings of Japanese martial arts and so, I wanted to learn more about that. And so, that’s why I asked him if I could, you know, train with him at his temple.

 

And what did you learn?

 

You know, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was a very rigorous and arduous kind of training, physically demanding training that I went through while I was there. But it was also psychologically very stressful and difficult.

 

When you said arduous, I don’t really know what that means in terms of meditation or Zen studies.

 

We would get up at like, you know, four-thirty in the morning. We would sit in meditation for hour and a half from five-thirty. And then, we would have breakfast and then, we would do martial arts training from eight to ten in the morning, and then we would have to work out in the gardens or do some construction activity. And then, in the afternoon, you know, we would bathe, and then we would go through another period of intense meditation, and then we would do martial arts training from seven-thirty to like, ten o’clock at night. And you know, it was just physically very demanding. And I mean, I lost a lot of weight while I was going through that, and it was very tough, both physically and psychologically.

 

And was it meant to reduce you to who you really are, to take away the external stuff?

 

Right. Basically, the training had a lot to do with, you know, freeing you from your dependence on the kinds of things that you grow up with, thinking that these are real things that you can hang onto in terms of defining who you are, and defining your life and how you lead your life. There definitely are gonna be times when you’re not gonna be able to overcome certain things. But you have to try. So, it’s more about the effort and how it transforms you as a person, by taking on that challenge.

 

That’s interesting, ‘cause as a lawyer, I think you’re pretty goal-oriented. But you’re saying you learned how to accept that the effort is the main point.

 

Right. I think, you know, as human beings, you know, we have the capacity to continue to evolve and change, and grow. But you have to make the effort at it, and you have to be willing to take the risk associated with experiencing those kinds of changes in your life.

 

Following his Zen training, Colbert Matsumoto went into business as a solo law practitioner. He shared office space with a man who would become governor, Ben Cayetano. Later, he joined the law firm of the late Wallace Fujiyama, one of Hawaii’s finest trial lawyers. Yet, Matsumoto says his early years in law were hardly a success.

 

 

The first thing I did was, I hung my shingle and tried to practice law on my own for two years, which was a disaster.

 

Why?

 

Because I wasn’t prepared. You know, law school doesn’t really prepare you to practice law.

 

To run a business; is that the part of it that got you?

 

No; there is so much more to being a good lawyer than what you learn in law school. And so, I really needed to be mentored and with some people that were more experienced, who could in turn teach me the ropes and help me understand, you know, what you did as a good lawyer. So, I ended up giving it up and getting a job with Wally Fujiyama’s law firm. He established himself, even on the national scene, as a very accomplished trial attorney. But you know, Wally, for all his success as a lawyer, never forgot his ties to the community. And I think that for him, that was an important—he saw it as a social responsibility that he bore to not just focus on his own law practice and pursuing opportunities for himself, but also to contribute to the benefit of the community in terms of, you know, the lives of other people. The other thing about him that I thought was really admirable was that he was a risk taker. And so, he wasn’t hesitant to put himself out front and to become the subject of criticism.

 

Do you remember that time when you were struggling to run your own place, do you remember feeling embarrassed that another lawyer saw you do something?

 

Oh, yeah. No; there were many times when, you know, I realized that I was over my head in terms of the assignment that I had. And it was frustrating. It was frequently humiliating.

 

Did you second guess yourself, saying, I shouldn’t have done this, I shouldn’t have gotten, this is not my—

 

Oh, definitely. No; I thought to myself that, you know, I mean, this was not the right career path. Which is why I abandoned it.

 

But you stayed in law; you didn’t abandon law.

 

No; no. But quite honestly, I hated practicing law. I thought it was a mistake to have become a lawyer, because I just didn’t enjoy it. It took me over ten years before, you know, I finally started to feel more comfortable about what I was doing, and began to enjoy it.

 

In 1996, Colbert Matsumoto was appointed the Court Master for Bishop Estate. It was a role that required him to examine the finances and structure of the multi-billion-dollar trust for Native Hawaiians. Within a year, the Estate came under fire amid allegations of gross mismanagement, and many called for the powerful and highly paid trustees to resign. Matsumoto unexpectedly found himself taking on the trustees in a scathing 120-page report he issued to the court.

 

When the judge appointed me to be the Court Master, the controversy hadn’t erupted.   I knew that being Court Master for Bishop Estate was a high-profile of engagement, but I had no clue that it was gonna be as controversial as it ended up being. So, it wasn’t until almost a year after I had been appointed that things kinda erupted. The Broken Trust essay was published, the march on Kawaiahao Plaza occurred, and by then, I started to realize that, you know, this assignment that I had undertaken was gonna require that I take on the trustees. And that was kind of an intimidating notion to think about at that time. Because I had just started my own law firm a couple of years before that. And so, I actually thought to myself, you know, Okay, here I’m in this situation where if I do my job right, I’m gonna end up getting five of the most powerful people in Hawaii upset at me. So, I did think about tendering my resignation to the judge. But as I was kinda weighing that decision, I reflected on, you know, why did I go to law school, why did I want to become a lawyer. And I thought about the idealism that I had when I was in my twenties, and wanting to, you know, make a positive contribution to society. And so, I thought to myself that, you know, here I’m a positon where I could make a difference if I did my job right, and if I did it in a professional way, and am I gonna walk away from it. And so, when I looked at it in that way, I decided that, no, I should stick this out. And that’s what I ended up doing.

 

And what did you find? You saw the raw data, or at least what raw data was presented to you.

 

Well, I found a lot of issues with respect to accountability and transparency. You know, a lot of the investments that they had engaged in were not going well, were not performing as they should have. The other thing that they had done was, they had divided up areas of responsibility among the five of them, so that each of them basically had control over a different aspect of the estate. Which I found to be a violation of the trust that had been given to them, because Princess Pauahi had basically designated that there were five trustees that were all supposed to act in concert, rather than, you know, five individual trustees—

 

Five CEOs.

 

–that had their own kuleanas, and could make decisions that would be unchallenged within their kuleanas. And so, you know, that was part of the governance of Kamehameha Schools that I felt were not in conformity with what the Princess’ original wishes were, and certainly not in conformity with trust law.

 

What was the turning point, do you think, in the legal case that really turned the trust upside down, and resulted in the removal of a trustee?

 

Well, things started to deteriorate over the three years that this was going on, for the trustees. And I think that they, as I said, hunkered down. They were very resistant to making a number of the changes that the court expected of them. And then, the real blow that I think did them in was when the IRS came in and raised a number of concerns about their behavior and their management of the estate.

 

A lot of that was based on what you had put out; right?

 

Yes and no. You know, the IRS had done a lot of their own homework, and they had other issues that they wanted to raise with the trustees. But you know, IRS has a very heavy hand, and when they enter the picture, you know, it’s pretty tough [CHUCKLE] to fight them.

 

Colbert Matsumoto ended his twenty-year legal career in 1999, and became chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto is known as a strategic problem-solver. He used his skills and his influence to help save the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii from foreclosure in 2002. Matsumoto led a team that successfully raised nine million dollars in just a few months.

 

How did you actually get the money?

 

Well, you know, it took a lot of hard work and effort. And so, you know, our group—and we called it the Committee to Save the Center. We knew that this was a desperate cause, and that nobody likes to contribute money to what they think is gonna be ultimately a failed effort, because you know, you’ve heard the term, you know, throwing good money after bad. And so, nobody wanted to throw good money after bad. So, what we pledged to the audience was that we would only cash their checks if we had raised enough money to save the center. But until then, all we were gonna do was collect checks. And so, that’s what we did. And I think that that gave people the confidence to contribute to us. Whenever we would receive a donation, we would do a personalized letter to that person, thanking them for their contribution. And I would sign every letter. And so, my wife would stay up with me at night to help me stuff envelopes, and get the letters ready to be mailed out to the people that donated. And so, yeah; it took a lot of work, but it was very satisfying.

When you look back at that, did you learn new things about yourself?

 

Not so much about myself, as much as my confidence in my community was not misplaced. It reaffirmed my sense that, you know, we are a special place, we are a special community, that you know, Hawaii is a place that retains a lot of the qualities that growing up on Lanai, I think, I felt were unique once I was able to contrast it to my experiences on the mainland. And so, it reaffirmed my desire to try to maintain those qualities about our community.

 

Colbert Matsumoto chose the business boardroom instead of following his parents into a labor union. However, his strong sense of community goes back to his parents’ values and the sense of extended family in his upbringing on rural Lanai. To that, he added higher education and Zen training. Thank you, Colbert Matsumoto, 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.

 

My own daughters, my two daughters, when they were in elementary school, we went to Lanai for a visit, and I remember giving them like ten dollars and telling them, you know, Why don’t you go buy some ice cream, you know, from the ice cream store? And so, they looked at me like, you know, Well, aren’t you gonna take us? And I said, No, you know where it is, so why don’t you walk from Grandma’s house to the ice cream store. And so, they did. And it was the first time they had ever done that.

 

And you felt okay, ‘cause it was Lanai.

 

Oh, yeah. No, I felt perfectly fine about it. And it was definitely a new experience for them.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Keone Nunes

 

How deep is a tattoo‌? Does the ink only go skin deep‌? Practitioner Keone Nunes seeks to learn more about his subjects before settling on a design and putting ink to skin. He looks to their genealogy, their personal story, their vision, before deciding on a design that he deems appropriate to the individual. For practitioner Keone Nunes, a tattoo is more than skin-deep; it’s a representation of who that person is.

 

Keone Nunes Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, there’s a lot of lore that has been built up around you.

 

Really? [CHUCKLE]

 

You were the first to do this that I’m aware of. And people wanted you to do their tattoo, and this is what I’ve heard, that they wanted you to do a certain design, and you’d say … No.

 

Yeah; that’s true. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why?

 

Primarily, it is because I’m not a tattooist, I’m a practitioner. And … as a practitioner, I have certain responsibilities. And if I know that design is not appropriate for you, I’m not gonna do it, because it’s my responsibility to give you something that is appropriate.

 

Keone Nunes of Waianae, Oahu, has made hundreds of tattoos on Native Hawaiians and non – Hawaiians. Yet, as he says, he is not a tattooist. His cultural practices didn’t initially include tattooing, but his life journey took him in that direction. His dedication to the practice has made him instrumental in reviving this Hawaiian art form that was nearly lost. Keone Nunes, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Since the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, Native Hawaiians have revived many of the traditions that had been nearly lost when Christian missionaries banned Hawaiian cultural practices. Tattooing is one of the customs that has been revitalized, and many Native Hawaiians today proudly display their cultural identity through their tattoos. Keone Nunes is a well – known Native Hawaiian tattooist not only in Hawaii, but through Polynesia, and even in Europe where tattoos are also popular. He was raised in Waianae on Oahu, but that isn’t where his story begins.

 

I actually was born in Japan. I was born in Morioka, Hirata – ken, Japan. My father was in the civil service; he was actually stationed in Japan at that time. And my mom was from Morioka, and so, I was born there. And I came to Hawaii when I was two and a half years old.

 

Who was the Hawaii connection; your father?

 

My father is Hawaiian, Portuguese. And the interesting thing was that before, there was this term that really meant something, and it still continues. It’s FOB, fresh off the boat. I actually was fresh off the boat. [CHUCKLE] We came over on a boat, and I remember that journey. I went back to Japan in 1980; the early 80s. And I was very surprised at how much I remembered, even though I was like two and a half. My mom took me over to her friend’s house, and I looked at her, and I immediately knew who she was. So my mom asked me, Do you know who this is? And I said, Yeah. And the woman was very, very surprised. She says, No, I don’t think you know who I am. And I said, No, I remember you. She said, Well, you used to do one thing, and can you tell me what it was? I said, Yeah, sure. I used to chase you with a bamboo snaking saying, Hebi, hebi, hebi. Hebi is Japanese for snake. And you used to run away. [CHUCKLE] And she was very surprised, but I remember that.

 

Is that your earliest memory?

 

Yeah, pretty much. I remember taking a lot of joy in doing that. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] ‘Cause she ran; right?

 

Yeah; she ran. [CHUCKLE] Yeah.

 

So, when you got off the boat, you moved to Waianae.

 

Yes; our family land was in Waianae.

 

Your last name is Portuguese, but you don’t identify as Portuguese, I know.

 

No; I was never really taught Portuguese things. It’s kind of sad in a sense, but I don’t know that much. My grandfather kinda identified more with being Hawaiian; he spoke Hawaiian and he was very dark. My father also is very dark, and unfortunately, my father and mother split up in the early 60s. And so, I never was raised with my father. My grandfather died shortly after; I was about seven years old, I guess, when he passed away. And so, his identification was more along the lines of being Hawaiian. He was a paniolo in the west side, in the Waianae side, and so I remember him making saddles and seeing the saddles, and things like that.

 

And you were close to your grandfather?

 

Yeah; I was very close to him. And I remember him rolling cigarettes [CHUCKLE], and how quickly he did that.

 

With one hand?

 

With one hand. Yeah. [CHUCKLE] And I remember that kind of stuff. And he actually spoke to me in Hawaiian. So, I didn’t really have a real good comprehension of English until I was in the first grade. Because my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Onzuka, gave me instructions in Japanese.

 

Why?

 

Because I couldn’t speak English.

 

Oh, so you spoke Japanese in the home, and then your grandfather …

 

Yeah; Japanese, and pretty much Japanese, Hawaiian, with a little bit of English smattered in. But my English was not as prevalent.

 

Did your mom speak English, though?

 

She did.

 

Along the way.

 

She did. And in fact, after I started learning, she kind of felt bad, because she thought that I was having a hard time during first grade, and she felt that it was her fault because she was speaking to me in Japanese. And so, she spoke to me more and more in English.

 

After your father left, and your grandfather passed away, did you have other father figures in your life?

 

I did. And it was kind of interesting, because throughout elementary, it never really bothered me, because I was surrounded by a community that was very, very caring. When you mention Waianae, you don’t think of a caring community, but it really, really was. And it still is, to a large extent. And our neighbors would watch out for us, and all of that. And when I was growing up, if we were coming home from the beach, oftentimes, neighbors would see us walking up; they would tell us, Come over and eat. And we would do that; me and my brother would go over there, and we would eat dinner and stuff. They would call my mom up and say, Don’t worry about your boys, they’re over here, and all of that. And so, that actually was a reality for us. And so, I never felt that I was lacking anything.

 

You just felt embraced by a community.

 

Exactly. And when I went into intermediate school — I went to Waianae Elementary, Intermediate, and Waianae High School. And when I went to intermediate school, there was one teacher that took a liking to me, Mr. Ben Lapalio. And he really kind of mentored a lot of young Hawaiian boys.

 

I’ve heard his name before.

 

Really?

 

He’s had a wide influence, I think.

 

Yeah; he was great. That’s how I started knowing what the responsibilities were expected from me. And so, that’s the first foundation that I had.

 

As a student, as a boy, as a man?

 

Yeah; as student. He instilled that to us. And he instilled the importance of education. And so, that was really, really important to me. Then, when I went to high school, I had another really strong male influence by the name of Kona Smith. And he passed away several years ago. But he was another one that instilled pride in who you were, and things of that nature. And he kind of got me started dancing hula and such. There were other influences in high school, too. I think the educational influences was basically from Kona Smith and also from Mrs. Korenaga. She was my counselor, and she influenced me a lot, and she wanted me to go to college, whereas other counselors felt that it would be best if I went into the military or something like that.

 

Because?

 

Probably because I came from a single parent family and other issues.

 

They thought that was your best shot.

 

Yeah. I don’t really fault them for that type of thought, but I think that if a person shows interest in bettering themselves, then you be as supportive as you can. And Mrs. Korenaga was; yeah.

 

Keone Nunes graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His career path went in a direction that he was not expecting.

 

I majored in anthropology, and I had a certification in Hawaiian language. I taught Hawaiian language at Hilo Community College for a while. Then after I came back, I worked for the Bishop Museum, then Kamehameha Schools. And also, a year with Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I landed at Kamehameha Schools, and I was working for a program that did a lot of outreach to Hawaiian communities. And so, it was really an opportunity for me to give back to the community. And I always wanted to do that, so I took that opportunity. And it was there that I really got a little bit more focused. It offered me the opportunity to give a presentation where we had some national facilitators from Washington, D.C. who was in the audience. And they approached me afterwards, and asked if I would be willing to facilitate on a national level. And I told them, Sure.

 

Were you surprised?

 

I was very surprised; yeah.

 

Did you know you were good at what you did? Because obviously, that’s why they asked you; right?

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah. I didn’t know that I was good. I think that there’s a lot of local people that have good facilitation skills, but they don’t know about it until somebody tells them.

 

What do you have to have to be a good facilitator?

 

You have to have the ability to listen. You have to have the ability to think on your feet, and you have to have the ability to put things in ways that will not offend anyone else. And so, as far as that’s concerned, that’s the path that was opened up to me, and I chose that path.

 

How did you develop that style?

 

I don’t know; I really don’t know. I can’t really say. A lot of it is from talking story with a lot of the older people. Because when I graduated from high school, that was one of my passions. When everybody else was going out to nightclubs and such, I was talking to elders, a lot. Auntie Muriel Lupenui was a tremendous influence to me. That’s Darrell Lupenui’s mother, and I danced for Waimapuna. And so, she was a very, very strong influence for me. Auntie Emma Defries and I had a lot of good conversations. Papa Kalahikiola Nalielua was another. Uncle Herman and Auntie Frieda Gomes really, really took me under their wings and taught me how to do musical implements, and things of that nature. And so, I had a lot of different influences. I think part of the facilitation skills that I picked up was through them. And I definitely know a lot of the cultural things that I know was definitely through all of them.

 

And so, you got noticed by national people, and trained by them?

 

Yes. I went for training in 1990, and I was working freelance with them until 2006. Yeah; about there.

 

And then?

 

I started working with ACO Incorporated, and they’re the largest Native American corporation. They needed someone in Hawaii to work the Pacific region, and so they asked me to do it. And they kind of mentored me and encouraged me to have my own company. And so, I opened up my own company, and that’s what we do now.

 

Was that a passion for you, the facilitation?

 

Yes. Facilitation has always been a passion, I guess because I could see the good things that would come out of it. As far as my cultural work is concerned, I can only reach out to a finite group of people; whereas if I do something like facilitate a meeting that’s, say, for a nonprofit organization, that network really, really spreads out.

 

Keone Nunes’ ability to work with organizations to help them understand their common objectives and achieve their goals is a skill that came naturally to him, not only because he was a good listener, but because the kupuna had also taught him how to resolve conflict without taking sides. Yet, he is better known in Hawaii and the Pacific for doing something else that stirs his passion.

 

You’re running a business, and you do all these other cultural things. Are you the kumu of your halau?

 

Yes.

 

And you do what else?

 

A lot of people know me for tattooing. [CHUCKLE]

 

Because of all the Keone Nunes tattoos I see around town, you must be busy.

 

Yeah, I’m pretty busy.

 

But you only do it …

 

On weekends.

 

— in your off hours.

 

Yes; for the most part.

 

Non – hula, non – facilitation, and non – grant – writing.

 

Right; right. And so, I hardly have days off. And sometimes when I have one day out of the week off, I cherish it. [CHUCKLE] But it’s important work, I was really, really fortunate to have strong influences along those lines. I learned a lot from a lot of these kupuna, many of which I mentioned before. People like Auntie Muriel Lupenui knew quite a bit. And Papa Kalahikiola Nalielua; he knew quite a lot also. As well as Emma Defries and Auntie Martha Lum Ho, Johnny Lum Ho’s mother; she remembered family members that had traditional tattoos and all of that.

 

So, when you were just talking story with these elders because you enjoyed it, you were actually learning something that was to be a game – changer for you, and also for many people who are looking for tattoos that spoke to their family and their genealogy.

 

Exactly. At that time, I never recognized the importance of what they were

 

saying. I never thought that I’d be a tattooist. It’s not something that I would have chosen. And it was really interesting, because these people would talk about it, but not force it upon me, but just give me enough, just enough palu, enough bait for me to ask more questions. It was really, really important.

 

Do you think they were trying to pass that on to you?

 

In retrospect, yeah; definitely. And because I know with several of them, they never passed it on to their blood relatives. Although, I was related to Auntie Muriel Lupenui, the others didn’t really pass that much of that information on to their blood relatives.

 

That’s so interesting, because many kupuna have passed on without passing on their knowledge, because I think they perceived that no one was interested in taking it forward. But you’re saying, that’s not what you were planning, either. But you must have shown interest.

 

I think part of it was that I was willing to sit down and listen, and I would ask some questions afterwards. I think a lot of kupuna, and I can kind of understand that now as I’m getting older; a lot of the kupuna didn’t want to just give the information out to everyone. They wanted to give their information out to someone that they felt would appreciate what was being told to them. And I did appreciate things. I didn’t have full comprehension of it, but I did appreciate every second that I sat on the foot of all of these kupuna.

 

When they spoke of tattooing, did you get into the details? Like, what kind of bone did you use for your tool, and all of that?

 

I got more into the design element. Auntie Muriel knew about the tools, and she talked to me a little bit about that, and also the making of ink and all of that. So, I knew those type of things from one source, and that’s my one source for that. But everybody else knew about the patterns, the meanings, what families was connected to, and all of that kind of stuff.

 

Did you sit down and look at patterns with them?

 

Yeah. They actually drew some patterns for me, and all of that.

 

Did you keep any of the drawings?

 

Yeah; I have them. It was quite exciting. And I never realized, though, how close we were to losing that. Because at that time, I thought it was common knowledge. I thought people in all families were having discussions like I was. And it wasn’t until much, much later that I realized that that was not the case. And so, it’s important to understand these things, especially when you’re going through it, because I think if I had not recognized that, then you know, I might be doing something else. [CHUCKLE]

 

But you saw it was a need.

 

Yeah.

And it would be lost.

Yeah.

You eventually did.

 

I eventually did, and that came about in 1989 when I got my first tattoo. I was looking for about eight years for someone to do work on me. Auntie Muriel gave me a pattern that she said would be appropriate for me.

 

Appropriate is a vague word for me. What does that mean?

 

Sometimes, some people will give me a design and say, Oh, well, this is a family design, and all of that. Then I look at it, and I recognize that it’s borrowed pattern from other cultures. We never had curvilinear designs, with the exception of round and half – round designs. If I wouldn’t want someone walking around with patterns that belong to my family, then what makes it right for me to appropriate patterns from another culture, that may belong to someone else’s family?

 

I guess it goes to what one’s reason is for having a tattoo; right?

 

Exactly.

 

I think you think of it as identification.

 

Yes.

 

And other people may just want a cool design.

 

Yeah. And that’s fine. If you want a cool design, that’s great. But there’s hundreds, thousands of other tattooists out there that would probably be better than me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Does that mean if somebody who is not Hawaiian comes to you, you won’t do their tattoo? You won’t give them a tattoo?

 

If they’re a good person, it doesn’t matter to me. Because they have to defend, and they have to defend who we are as Hawaiian. And so, I think it’s a good thing. It was done traditionally; it wasn’t just Hawaiians. There are noa designs, there are designs that do not belong to anyone, or that signify certain aspects in life. And with those noa designs, just about anyone could wear them.

 

Did everyone have tattoos in the ancient Hawaiian culture?

 

Not everyone. I think to one extent, a lot of people did. But all of the intricate extensive tattoos were primarily for the people of the upper echelons. Because they could afford to have it done, one, and they were people that didn’t need to go out to the loi, they didn’t need to go out to the taro fields, they didn’t need to do any of that kind of stuff, so they could heal properly. So, I think that that’s important to understand, is that the people of higher status oftentimes had more tattoos. One of the things that is unique being someone putting on uhi, putting on tattoos on someone else is that that was the only class of people that could spill the blood of alii without being killed. And it was us that controlled the protocols. And a lot of people don’t understand that, because we had to control the protocols. The protocols were important for us; we could not adhere to other people’s protocols because it might not be congruent to what we needed to do. So, we set the tone. And a lot of people don’t realize that.

 

And what’s the tone?

 

The tone is, we determine who comes, who goes, where it’s done. and even to an extent the designs. I mean, at this point in time, if you were to come and watch me tattoo, I would make several lines, some hash marks on a person, and not draw any of the design on, because that’s all in my mind. And the people who are getting it do not know until it’s done what it’s gonna be. For a lot of people, they have a hard time with that.

 

‘Cause it’s forever.

 

Yeah; it’s forever. But for other people, they trust me enough to put something on them that would be aesthetically pleasing, as well as significant. And that’s how it was traditionally. And so, in that regards, it’s moving back towards how it was before.

 

The Hawaiian kupuna passed on their knowledge of tattoo patterns and designs to Keone Nunes, but no one was left who could help him with making traditional tools. He would have to find the knowledge elsewhere if he was going to truly revive this ancient art of Hawaiian tattoo making.

 

The person that taught me how to do traditional tattoos was Paulo Suluape. Amazing tattooist.

 

That’s a Samoan name.

 

Yes; he is Samoan. You see, we had not had anybody that had tapped in Hawaii, from what I know, since the 1920s.

 

It’s like Hokulea folks.

 

Right; exactly.

 

Nainoa going to a Micronesian.

 

Yeah; exactly. And I never, ever, ever expected to learn. I mean, because when I first started on this path, I made tools and I tried, and it was so difficult. And so, I realized I couldn’t do it. So, that’s why I turned to machine. And in 1996, I went to Samoa, and I saw his brother Tele Suluape tattoo. But I knew that they would not teach someone outside the family, so I never even asked. But in that same year, this gentleman by the name of Henk Schiffmacher, Hanky Panky, who is from Holland, he was running through Hawaii, and he videotaped me explaining some of the tattoos, and videotaped me working. And he told me that he was gonna visit Paulo. And I said, Oh, I met Petelo. He said, Well, Paulo is his older brother. And I said, Oh, okay. So, he went over there, and he showed Paulo the footage that he took while in Hawaii. Paulo got excited, and called me.

 

That’s cross – cultural Polynesian right there.

 

Yeah; exactly. He got excited, because his vision was that he wanted to teach someone from each of the island groups in Polynesia. Because it was our right to do, it was our culture. It was who we were, and who we are now.

 

That’s interesting; but he couldn’t put out an all – points alert, ‘cause it has to be the right person.

 

Exactly. And so, he called me, and we spoke on the phone, then he invited me to take a trip with him to Samoa. And I did. And on that trip, he taught me how to make tools. The first tool he took, and he put it in his rack. And he said, Oh, this is really good. And he said, Okay, make another. So, I made another. And he looked at it, and he said, This is good. He said, There’s only one thing missing. And I said, What? I was excited to get some criticism. And he said, The only thing missing is that you don’t know how to use it; would you mind if I taught you? And there was no question; that’s when I first became his student.

 

Do you believe you’re the first to start doing the cultural tapping for tattooing?

 

As far as I know, yeah, I’ve been the first one that has done that. I started in 1996 as far as using traditional tools. At that time, I was still learning, and so I had the traditional tools as well as using machine. And I think in 1998, my teacher Paulo came to Hawaii and saw what I was doing, and he gave me a set of tools. He encouraged me to start using it more. Since 2000, that’s all I’ve been using.

 

There are hundreds of people who wear the traditional designs that you gave them now, and other people have come up inspired by you and now, I think you probably trained them. Did you train all of them?

 

Yeah; there’s a couple other people tapping, and I did the initial training. I have not yet graduated anyone, but I have students. And so, my whole vision is to be able to pass this on. Because it’s way too important for us as a culture, for it to be lost. And so, it’s gonna be passed on. I’m very confident in that. But even with that, we’re not strongly established; still handful of people. Sometimes that’s concerning for me, and other times I think, Well, you know what, that’s how it should be.

 

The kupuna passed on their knowledge to Keone Nunes, and now he’s sharing it with the next generation, helping to assure that this Native Hawaiian cultural practice of tattooing will never be lost. Mahalo to Keone Nunes of Waianae for sharing his stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. 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.

 

What part hurts the most? That’s what I want to know.

 

For everybody, it’s different. For some people, it’s a walk in the park for the whole thing. For others, it’s a struggle. So, everyone has different sensations, so I really can’t answer that. It depends on you.

 

I’ve heard people talk mostly about their ankle. That hurts over there.

 

Any place that’s right by bone will be a little bit more sensitive.

 

So, the knee, too?

 

The knee; the knee hurts a little bit. But for some people, the knee doesn’t hurt at all, and the ankle doesn’t hurt at all. So, it really is different for everyone.

 

Have you had people who say, ‘Nough already, I can’t finish?

 

That happened only once, and that was about ten years ago.

 

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