Romeo et Juliette


The lectrifying team of Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau reunites for a new production by Bartlett Sher of Gounod’s opera, based on the Shakespeare play. Damrau makes her role debut as Juliette, Grigolo sings Romeo and Elliot Madore sings Mercutio. Gianandrea Noseda conducts.


The History of the Sons of Hawaii (2000)


Surveying 40 years of Hawai‘i’s rich musical traditions, this film tells the story of the Sons of Hawaii, the music group led by Eddie Kamae that helped launch the Hawaiian cultural renaissance.


Keepers of the Flame: The Cultural Legacy of Three Hawaiian Women (2005)


The lives of three extraordinary Hawaiian women, Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Iolani Luahine and Edith Kanaka‘ole, are chronicled in this film. It shows how, together, they combined their talents and commitment to reignite the flame of tradition in a time when Hawaiian culture was gravely threatened.


Eddie and Myrna Kamae


In honor of the late Eddie Kamae, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in June 2011.


Eddie Kamae, legendary Hawaii musician and a seminal figure in the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance of the 1970s, shares early life lessons and musical experiences and how these helped shape his long-running career. Eddie and Myrna talk about some of the most interesting people they have met over their 20+ year journey making documentaries, and reveal how their meeting was love at first sound.


Original air date: Tues., July 26, 2011


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, January 11 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, January 15 at 4:00 pm.


Download the Transcript




EDDIE: Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you.”


MYRNA: And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.


Celebrated musician and filmmaker, Eddie Kamae, and producing partner and wife, Myrna; next, on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Life partners in work and marriage for almost a half century, Eddie and Myrna Kamae have earned national acclaim for preserving on film some of Hawai‘i’s unique cultural treasures. The Kamaes credit many individuals, whose gifts of knowledge and generous support have culminated in the establishment of their Hawaiian Legacy Foundation.




Eddie Kamae has distinguished himself as a singer, musician, composer, author, and film director. As a key figure in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, Eddie was already famous for his virtuoso playing of the ukulele, when he joined forces in 1959 with the legendary singer and slack key guitar master, Gabby Pahinui, along with bassist Joe Marshall and steel guitarist David “Feet” Rogers, to form The Sons of Hawaii. Edward Leilani Kamae was born in Honolulu in 1927 to a family comprised of ten children. Eddie’s musical path was influenced in part by his father, Samuel Hoapili Kamae. Eddie Kamae’s mother, Alice Ululani Opunui, explained her kindness towards strangers, telling Eddie that, “All these things we do for each other, we feed them more than food; we’re feeding the soul”. It’s a philosophy that has informed the work of Eddie and Myrna Kamae throughout the decades.


EDDIE: There was this boy sleeping in the park, and so my mother tell me, You go get him and bring him here. So I go there, I go—I woke him up. Mister, mister. Yeah. Come, come, my mother wants to see you. So he picked up his things, and he came to the house.


How old was he?


EDDIE: In his teens. And so, he came to the house, and my mother said, “You don’t sleep there anymore, you sleep here”. Now, we all sleep in the living room, you know, so he’s going sleep next to us now. We get nine brothers now, you know. I go, “Oh, wow”. But that’s the way it was. He stayed with us all that time. As the years went by, one day the father came by. And the father wanted to take his son home, but he didn’t want to go. See, he wanted to stay with my mother because he felt my mother adopted him. He said he didn’t want to go, so the father don’t want to leave. So my father went out and told the father, Go, leave. So the father left, and that was the end of the father, and he stayed with me and brothers, and my mother at our place.


What was his name?


EDDIE: Peter; Peter Woo.


And what happened to him? What became of Peter Woo?


EDDIE: Well, I think he got married and settled down somewhere. See, my mother, she just loves people. No matter who they are.


Was your dad like that too?


EDDIE: My father was strictly a man that minds his own business.


But he would allow your mom to bring in—


EDDIE: Oh, yes.


—people to eat and share.


EDDIE: He won’t stop that. He was part Cherokee Indian. He just come and go. But he always told all of us, “What I want from you, you are to respect the elders, no matter who they are. If they’re hungry, you feed them”. And always, he said, “And you help them”. [SINGING]


How did you learn to play the ukulele?


EDDIE: Well, my brother Joe. My oldest brother was a bus driver, found a ukulele on the bus, brought it home. My brother Joe would tune the instrument and play, so I liked to listen to that sound that he was doing. Well, he put the instrument down, so I figured, I watched him while he was playing the chord progressions. And so, when he go to work, so I go get the ukulele, I sit next to the radio, I turn on the radio, whatever music is, I just strum away, just feel like I’m playing with the music. But I’m just enjoying myself. Those days, yeah. That’s what got me involved in music. See?


Do you think you were good, right from the beginning?


EDDIE: Well, I thought so, myself.


[CHUCKLE] And you were actually playing songs from the beginning?


EDDIE: Yes. I just listened to the music. See, it was music by—well, I love Spanish music, yeah, because it was Xavier Cugat. His music. And I love one song that he plays all the time, and I followed him.   So it was titled “Porque?” See? And I loved the song, so I just followed him. But the rhythm section is what I liked. See, I just listen to the rhythm, and I just play the rhythm. The feeling of it, you know. So, then my father would take me to the jam session, Charley’s Cab, right on King Street right across the Hawaiian Electric building. So they had this taxi stand there, so my father would take me over there on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s where all the entertainers would come and sing, and play music. So I go over there and play my ukulele. And what I liked about the whole idea, people throw money on the stage, and the musicians pick it up and put it in my pocket. I liked that. [CHUCKLE]


Good incentive.


EDDIE: Oh, yes. So I just play, and my father just smile, he’s happy. So then he takes me back the next day. Then I can see that in him, until one day he asked me, “You should play and sing Hawaiian music”. And I told my father, “It’s too simple”. I wasn’t interested. But he never asked me again, but it’s the only thing he ever asked me. So when he passed away, that’s how I got into Hawaiian music, listening to Gabby, sitting down and playing with him. That was it.


What about Hawaiian music is too simple?


EDDIE: Well, it was. What I heard was simple. Chord progression is just totally simple. So Gabby, I heard him play, I like. Gabby had that personality. Well, he was a great musician. Also, that I found that was interesting, he had a voice that would carry a tune, you know. But secondly, he can get funny at the same time. And thirdly, he can get naughty.


Naughty, meaning …


EDDIE: Yeah. He just telling people, “Shut up”. And I couldn’t believe it. I said, “This is Hawaiian music; now what is this?” I didn’t know that. But the people out there are laughing. And Gabby and go, “Oh, shut up”, because they’re demanding that he sing this song and that song, and he has his own forte. But that’s the way he is. But if he see the old folks, or somebody that have money, that’s who he’s gonna sing for. The guy gonna buy him a drink. Marshall sings along with Gabby. You know, Marshall. And because he went to Kamehameha School, so he knew the language. So he would harmonize with Gabby. But there are times Gabby sings the wrong lyrics, and Marshall, he look at my steel player and me, he go, “What’s wrong with that monkey?” So he calls Gabby monkey every time. And Gabby wink at us, and he go sing something that’s not right. And Marshall turn to us, he said, “There goes that monkey again”.




EDDIE: So they had this routine of kidding one another, you know. I said to myself, “By golly, this is interesting”.


While performing Hawaiian music with the Sons of Hawaii, Eddie began his quest to find the sources of Hawaiian musical traditions. In that process, he sought the help of two key cultural resources; Pilahi Paki and Mary Kawena Pukui. Both women were generous with their encouragement, and with their knowledge.


MYRNA: Kawena Pukui was really central in Eddie’s life for guidance. He’d always go to her. Even before I met Eddie in the early 60s, he had this strong bond with Kawena, and she would guide him. And he would come back and bring music he’d found with, maybe, one verse, and nobody knew the rest of it. And he could hand it to Kawena, and she would write the rest of the verses for him. She just had this incredible memory, and just loved to do things with Eddie that would then be remembered by everyone.


EDDIE: She always tells me, “It’s out there”.


Go find it?


EDDIE: Yes. “Ho‘omau, Eddie, ho‘omau”. Continue on. So I just look at the music, and I look at the lyrics, I find no problem. So then, I can play it and sing it.


And you couldn’t hear those songs anywhere else, you had to—




—bring them back.


EDDIE: Yes; yes.


What’s the difference between the old songs, and the songs that had become popular in their place?


EDDIE: There’s no difference. The old people had their own way of presenting the music. But as time go by, change will come. Kawena told me that. She always tell me, “Just do it, it’s important.” So I had a chance to focus on what I want to do, and I just do it.


You know, Hawaiian composers then and now, there’s a lot of double entendre, there are a lot of hidden meanings, layers.




Can you always tell what the song is about?


EDDIE: Oh, if my tutu’s laugh at me, I know already.




EDDIE: I know they know the other side of it, the translation, and I don’t want to hear it. Yeah. But that’s the way it is. Sometimes they all they just laugh. So when they do that, I stop singing. So I know they know what the meaning is about. See? That’s Hawaiian music. Now you don’t see a lot of the elderly people around to tell you that, see, but I love to listen, I love to talk with the elderly people. I like too when they say, “Come here”, and they have a piece of paper. “You sing this song, because my papa would always sing this song to my mama”. See? She say, “Sing this”. So now, I gotta trace it, because I have all this research material and books that I kept before, so I can trace it and get it down, get the lyrics, and I know what it is, because she told me. And I wish that there were more like that. This is something personal with families.


Alongside her husband Eddie, Myrna Kamae has produced award winning albums of traditional Hawaiian music featuring the Sons of Hawaii, and ten cultural documentaries for their Hawaiian Legacy series. A native of Mapleton, Utah, Myrna Harmer was in Hawaii in 1965 to help a friend open a new restaurant on Maui. Eddie, coincidentally, was in town visiting his mother in the hospital, and he was invited to a party at a friend’s beach house. The gathering included Myrna, who was captivated by Eddie’s music.


EDDIE: Well, Myrna just stared at me.




She liked you, huh? [CHUCKLE]


MYRNA: Well, I didn’t move for two hours. I’d never really heard authentic Hawaiian music.


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: And here is Eddie, with his little Martin ukulele, and playing with Raymond Kane, that beautiful slack key guitar. And I just walked up to the door, and stood there. Because I did have a background of music; my family all were musical. But in Hawaii, I hadn’t ever really heard the authentic sound. And it was astonishing to me, to hear this sound. And with the waves in the background. It was just beautiful. And it was Christmas Day.


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: And then, that evening, Eddie and his cousin came up to where I was working. I had gone to Maui, to Lahaina, to help them take over a restaurant called Pineapple Hill. And so, the person who was the manager said to Eddie, “Why don’t you and your cousin come up, you know, to the restaurant”.


Had you met? Had you just listened to the music, or had you met?


MYRNA: Well—


EDDIE: Not yet.


MYRNA: Not yet.




MYRNA: I think I fell in love with the music first.




But you noticed her watching.


EDDIE: Well, no, but I look at everybody.




Oh, okay. So now, something happened this night. So how did it happen, and when did it happen?


MYRNA: Well, I remember that Eddie was standing back, in the back with he and his cousin, Hale Kaniho. And I wanted to go into town, and I had a trail bike that I usually would ride, but I thought, Gee, most of the times, things closed in Lahaina in those days really early. But I really wanted to go somewhere. So I just said, “I’m taking my trail bike, going into town; if anybody is going into town, I’ll take a ride with you, but you gotta bring me back”. And Eddie goes, “Oh, I’ll take you”. And so, I grabbed a bottle of Chianti wine out of the storeroom, and we went down, let his cousin off, and then we looked for a place. Anyway, they had a rock wall then, and Eddie was a lot different then. He had gabardine trousers, and—




MYRNA: —these silk shirts, and beautiful, beautiful clothes. And of course, I had, you know, cut-off Levi’s and a sweatshirt, and that kind of thing. Anyway, so I said, “I’m gonna jump over the wall; will you follow me?” And he said, “Yes”. And I thought, “Oh, yeah, sure”. [CHUCKLE] So we climbed over the wall, and we opened the bottle of wine. And we were looking out, and my goodness, this gorgeous Maui Moon—


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: —is coming down into the ocean.


EDDIE: Sunset. It was totally round, orange, just slowly going down. And we just looked at that. That’s the most interesting sunset I’ve ever seen.


MYRNA: Actually, it was the Moon going down.


EDDIE: Oh, whatever it is.


MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] Well, the short side of the story of how our families felt was, we decided that we wouldn’t tell anybody, and just go get married. And then, we would tell them after. And that worked quite well. Except, a few people were upset, ‘cause they wanted to have a party. [CHUCKLE]


But you were accepted, you were accepted.




And in fact, you got rave reviews from Mary Kawena Pukui, right?




Didn’t she say something really good when she met you?


EDDIE: Kawena told me, she said, “I want to meet your wife”. So when I brought Myrna, she and I discussed my subject what I was doing, and she noticed Myrna was down on the floor taking notes and writing, see? So then time to go, so Myrna bid her farewell first. So when I came around to bid her farewell, goodnight, and she told me, “Eddie, if you have any pilikia with your wife, you’re wrong”.


[CHUCKLE] You’re wrong. [CHUCKLE]


EDDIE: I go, “Oh, no”.




EDDIE: Yeah, now I know she knows, see?


What’s the connection between you two? How do you make it work?


EDDIE: Well, Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you”. So when I got into every project, whether it’s filmmaking, songs, whatever it is, she was always there to handle the situation, so I didn’t have to worry about the work, the paperwork and all of that things, the business side. She handle that, so I don’t have to worry.


And that was a role you wanted?


MYRNA: Well, I played that role, but I also got to do some of the other things that were fun. To go out on shoots, to write songs with Eddie. So, it was a lot of fun too. And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.


In 1970, Kawena Pukui encouraged Eddie and Myrna Kamae to visit the Big Island, to find the songwriter of Waipio Valley, Sam Lia Kalaiaina. He later became the subject of their first documentary film. One of the last Hawaiian poets to compose using flower images to represent hidden meanings in his songs, Sam Lia was already eighty-nine years old, and one of the few living cultural practitioners who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.


EDDIE: And when I went up to the house, here was Sam Lia sitting down. It just seemed like he was waiting for me. I said, “My father is in Waipio too”. See? And then he told me many stories. And one of the most interesting story I heard, when he said, “I was playing music with the boys”. See? And I said, “What?” “I was playing music with the boys, then in come running, running in was Prince Kuhio. So we all about ready to stand up, but he sit down, so we couldn’t stand up. So I look at him, and he just smiled. So we played music, entertain him”. But he said, “I just write my thoughts down, what I saw, what he does, and what he’s gonna do. So I just label it down.” Yeah. So then … and then he tell me, “Here, you sing this”. So he had wrote a song for Prince Kuhio.


MYRNA: He did say to Eddie that he had been waiting for him.


EDDIE: Yes. Yes.


Did he mean, waiting for the right person to share with?


EDDIE: There’s no more like him. He’s so generous. If it’s your birthday, he writes you a song. Those days, money is just not the thing. It was what you give. [SINGING]


Luther Makekau was one of the most colorful and cantankerous characters profiled by the Kamaes. Luther was a chanter and singer, poet and philosopher. He was already into his ninth decade, when the Kamaes went in search of his story.


EDDIE: Here was a man, intelligent, but all he wants to do is just drink and have a ball. And Luther said, “I met a man in a bar”. I said, “And what it was like?” He says, “Well, we’re drinking. See? So, I’m drinking, he drinking. So then I told him I own acres and acres of land here on the Big Island.


MYRNA: Is that Luther told the guy?


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: Oh; okay.


EDDIE: See, what he wanted to do was drink on the guy all day, so he gotta impress him. So he goes, “Let’s go to my lawyer’s office”. And he walks, and the girls tell him, “He’s in”. So he goes over there, pound the door, and he works this thing out with the lawyer, see? He pound the door, he say, “Is my papers ready?” So the lawyer says, “Luther, it’ll be ready in one week”. Was the lawyer told me this story. He said, “Now I know what he going do, he’s going beg and drink on the guy all day”. And that’s what he did. He impressed the guy that he owns acres and acres of lands, now he going back and drink on the guy. One story the daughter told me. She said, “We went to his anniversary party”. You know, Luther’s. Top floor of the hotel there. And all of a sudden, the emcee says, “Will please Luther Makekau’s children please stand”. She said, “Eddie, I didn’t know I had thirty-nine half brothers and half sisters”. But that was Luther, see?


Different women, obviously.


EDDIE: Yeah; they all chased after him, see? That’s the way he is. He doesn’t bother, as long he got his bottle of booze, that’s what he loves, see. Yeah.


And he was a musician too, right?


EDDIE: Oh, he sings. Yeah, play. He sang falsetto with Sam Lia.


He was just an all-around character, wasn’t he?


EDDIE: Oh, yes. The old-timers by the theater, they tell me, “You know, Eddie, you know that guy, he tell us, Okay, you see that house over there? I want you guys to go over there, ‘cause I gonna move, so I want you guys move all the furnitures out.” [CHUCKLE] So while they were doing that, this other guy come by and says, “What are you fellows doing?” He said, “Well, Luther told me he’s moving, so we’re moving his things out”. The guy said, “This is my house”. And the guys that telling the story afterwards, they go, “That Luther, he almost got us into trouble”. [CHUCKLE] But who would do that? [CHUCKLE] He tell them move thing out, that’s not his house. Only Luther can think about that.


So it seems like you are always attracted to authenticity. You know, people being really who they are, in the place they are.


EDDIE: Yes. Well, that’s what I found about Luther. He had a way of doing things, and everything is his way he’s gonna do it. See? It’s amazing. Even the lawyers tell me that. “Eddie, that guy is always thinking.”


MYRNA: When Eddie first wanted to go out and do music, music research, we had saved twenty thousand dollars to put down on a new house. And he asked me if he could use that money to go out and do research, and I said yes. And it’s always been that way. You spend a lot of your own money. And then, Eddie has some really good friends that, when he got into the filmmaking business, they helped him be able to do it. Herb Cornell and his wife Jeannie came to one of our documentaries, and asked Jeanette Paulson, who’s head of the Hawaii International Film Festival those years, “You gotta help Myrna and Eddie, how can we do it?” A little bit later on, Herb, and Carol Fox, and Sam Cooke, and Kelvin Taketa, before he became the head of Hawaii Community Foundation, still at Nature Conservancy, they helped us do five films. And that was a major, major part of our work. And then, we actually formed a nonprofit called the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation, and we have a board of directors. People who love Eddie’s music, who love the work, they love the authentic, cultural continuity that we try to establish in the work. You look at the people that helped us make the films, and that you have to have a really wonderful production crew, and we’ve had, most of them from the beginning, like Rodney Ohtani, and Dennis Mahaffay has been a consultant through the whole thing.


So you never bought that new house?


MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] No. We’re still renting. [CHUCKLE]


Eddie and Myrna Kamae’s documentary titled “Those Who Came Before”, the musical journey of Eddie Kamae, honors Eddie’s teachers, Mary Kawena Pukui, Pilahi Paki, and Sam Lia, who inspired the Kamaes’ efforts to preserve Hawaii’s cultural heritage. The Kamaes, at the time of this taping in 2011, are hard at work in production on another documentary about the people of Kalaupapa called “Feeding the Soul”. Mahalo piha, Eddie and Myrna Kamae, for sharing your long story short, and thank you, for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


MYRNA: Eddie would take me to see Kawena Pukui. And the thing that she said to us that meant more than anything was, a lot of times along the way, you have some hard knocks. And when something specially hard happened, she would say, “You know, there’s always room in your heart for forgiveness.” And that’s helped a lot through the years, to be able to let things go, and to be able to continue on with the work.



Biography Hawaii: Maiki Aiu Lake

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS - Biography Hawaii: Maiki Aiu Lake


Maiki Aiu Lake was one of the most widely recognized kumu hula of the 20th century. She was passionately devoted to learning about Hawaiian culture at a time when such interests were often discouraged. Maiki helped preserve and pass on crucial components of Hawaiian knowledge and tradition through difficult times. In her school she trained many of the most respected kumu hula who teach and practice today. This documentary combines interviews with her students, family and friends with photographs and moving images of one of the major contributors to the 1970’s cultural reawakening that has come to be called the Hawaiian Renaissance.


Parts 1 – 3


In this three-part series, Professor Amanda Vickery explores the story of female creativity through the ages with a fascinating art history tour from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Vickery shows how a familiarity with female artistry helps us to understand the ways societal attitudes toward women and their artistic endeavors have evolved throughout the years.


Part 1 of 3
Sat., April 9, 8:00 pm


Professor Vickery begins her journey in Florence, cradle of the Renaissance. This was a world where women’s private lives and creativity were well hidden behind closed doors. Vickery encounters intrepid art historians who, as they have discovered long-forgotten works in basements, storeroom and convents, also uncover the incredible stories of female artists who fulfilled their artistic ambitions, despite myriad social constraints placed upon them. Leaving the opulence and excess of Catholicism behind, Vickery heads north, discovering how the Protestant Reformation created a very different artistic landscape.


Part 2 of 3
Sat., April 9, 9:00 pm

Professor Vickery turns the spotlight on Britain – a new world leader in innovation, manufacturing and commerce, and France – home to the finest and most extravagant court of the 18th century. It’s a world defined by male artists like Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Yet this was a world shaped, styled and designed by women. Much of the art produced by women had the status of “amateur” – a word that had yet to acquire the negative connotations it holds today.


Part 3 of 3
Sat., April 9, 10:00 pm


Professor Vickery explores the explosion of creative opportunities seized by women from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. At a time when women were beginning to demand greater social and economic freedoms and boldly forge independent paths, female creativity would not only triumph in traditionally male-dominated artistic arenas but redefine the very notion of what art could be. One artist, in particular, forged the most unconventional of paths while using conventional mediums: Georgia O’Keefe. O’Keefe founded an artistic movement from her New Mexico retreat, proving that with courage and talent women could be recognized as world class artists.


Burt Wolf: Travels & Traditions
Florence, Italy


Burt, travel expert Steve Perillo and Burt’s son Nicholas, spend a week in Florence. They visit the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum and discover why Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and Julia Roberts wore his shoes in their movies. They find out how product placement influenced the artworks of the Renaissance and tour the great tourist attractions of the city.


Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter


From 1941 to 1978, the husband-and-wife team of Ray and Charles Eames brought unique talents to their partnership. He was an architect by training; she was a painter and sculptor. Together, they are considered America’s most important and influential designers, whose work literally helped shape the second half of the 20th century and remains culturally vital and commercially popular today. Ray and Charles Eames are, perhaps, best remembered for their mid-century modern furniture, built from novel materials like molded plywood, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, bent metal wire and aluminum – offering consumers beautiful, functional, yet inexpensive products. Revered for their designs and fascinating as individuals, they have risen to iconic status in American culture, but their influence on significant events and movements in American life – from the development of modernism to the rise of the computer age – has been less widely understood.




Join best-selling author Steven Johnson to hear extraordinary stories behind remarkable ideas that made modern life possible, the unsung heroes who brought them about and the unexpected and bizarre consequences each of these innovations triggered.


Steven Johnson considers how the invention of the mirror gave rise to the Renaissance, how glass lenses allow us to reveal worlds within worlds and how, deep beneath the ocean, glass is essential to communication. He learns about the daring exploits of glassmakers who were forced to work under threat of the death penalty, a physics teacher who liked to fire molten glass from a crossbow and a scientist whose tinkering with a glass lens allowed 600 million people to see a man set foot on the moon. The link between the worlds of art, science, astronomy, disease prevention and global communication starts with the little-known maverick innovators of glass.



Solomon Enos



Original air date: Tues., July 14, 2009


Hawaiian Renaissance Man


Leslie Wilcox talks story with Hawaiian Renaissance man Solomon Enos. The muralist, painter, book illustrator, comic strip creator, educator, and futuristic storyteller is also the groundskeeper for the forest preserve in the back of Kalihi Valley – the site of Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services. Enos draws inspiration from the land and considers it a “sentient” that must nurtured the way one nurtures a family member. Enos also talks about developing his Honolulu Advertiser comic strip Polyfantastica into a graphic novel.


Solomon Enos Audio


Download the Transcript




What Hawaii really is, you know, I—I think is—we’re still coming to understand that. You know, I think there’s a much—much deeper layers of meaning that we have yet to tap into. And that’s pretty exciting stuff. [chuckle]


Wow; and you plan to be right there when— 


Hopefully, hopefully.


–when the meanings come out.




A painter, illustrator, forest preserve groundskeeper, educator, and futuristic storyteller; he might best be described as a Hawaiian renaissance man. His storytelling canvas stretches from the beginnings of Hawaiian culture to forty thousand years into the future. And while he’s only in his early thirties, he seems to possess the wisdom of a very old soul. His name is Solomon Enos, and you’ll meet him just a moment on Long Story Short.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Like father, like son might be the best way to begin the story of native Hawaiian artist Solomon Enos. Solomon’s father, Eric Enos, also has a background in art and is the cofounder and executive director of Kaala Farm in Waianae, a nonprofit farm that promotes sustainability based on the Hawaiian ahupuaa system, and is also used as a cultural learning center. Solomon is a groundskeeper of a similar organization deep in Kalihi Valley, Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services. His parents and his other family members supported Solomon’s decision to pursue a career in art, but the gift of artistic ability was something born to Solomon Enos.


All little kids love art; they love fooling around. At what time did you get a sense that maybe you had a gift?


H-m. Well, I remember my um, kindergarten teacher pulled my parents aside one day—I think it was during a uh, parent-teacher night. And she said, Solomon, when he draws people, he doesn’t just draw circles with lines; he draws their heads, he draws their bodies, he draws their pants, and the buttons, and everything. And I remember that; I remember that affirmation at such a really early part of my life. And I just thought, like, Oh, cool, okay, uh, I think I know how to draw, I think I’m a—think I’m gonna be a drawer. [chuckle]


An—and your parents encouraged you.


Yes. All throughout, all throughout my life.


How did they influence you?


My grandfather, to begin with, Joseph Enos, always wanted to do artwork, always wanted to draw; actually had a big collection of art supplies. And he could never really sit down, he never really got into it, but he always encouraged me to draw. And whenever he—I drew pictures of anything, of like monsters and robots and things like that, he would post it up inside the house, and my grandmother would roll her eyes—Oh, no, my goodness. But he was always—he’d always say, Whoo, ah, I’ve always wanted to draw, and I’m so happy that you’re drawing. Oh, good, good, good. And my mom was just an amazing support, because she gave me a lot of really interesting ideas, interesting ways to look at life. You know, sometimes um, she would tell me, You know, Solomon, whatever you put your mind to, you—you really do it. You know, and that an—well, and that kind of encouragement, I think, really helped to, you know, form up my—my process. ‘Cause whenever I start a project, I’m like, at the end, I know it’s gonna be great. You know, I’m gonna put my mind to it, and it’s gonna—it’s gonna be awesome. And my father had received uh, a masters of fine arts at the University of Hawaii in 1969; he was really quite a profound influence on me as well. And there’s one painting which um, he did which shows a person lying down at the bottom of a valley, and—and his body kind of opening up, and all of his entrails kinda leading out and becoming the landscape. And it’s not gross at all; it’s actually quite beautiful. And that—and that’s that kind of interesting kind of a uh, paradox of, you know, internal organs and landscape, those are the kinda thoughts that really influence me at an early age of my life.


Of course, your father uh, is also a cultural heavyweight on the Waianae Coast, having started the Cultural Learning Center at Kaala, and using um, the farm and life to—to help drug abusers an—and people who’ve lost their way find um, stability again.




How did that influence you?


In the beginning, it was always a bit rough, ‘cause I—[chuckle]—I’d rather—I wanted to be at home, you know, drawing or uh, watching cartoons and things like that. And so my father would be pretty adamant about taking me and my brothers up to go and work up in—in the taro patches up in the back of Kaala. But what I was able to do was look at how my father helped—with all the other folks that work at uh, Kaala Farms, uh, to help to engage um, different kinds of people, you know, from folks, you—you know, folks from universities, you know, school children, um, uh, to talk about the deeper significance of the back of the valley and the deep—deeper significance of, you know, what the role of Hawaiian culture has to play within uh, the future of Hawaii. And I think um, all of those are—become uh, I guess, themes for my artwork. And I think that—uh, looking back, i—uh, I was really given quite a uh, enriched experience, uh, an enriched uh, childhood.


And here you are now, living on a forest reserve. So you’ve got uh, some of the same elements you had when you were a kid.




Except in another form.


M-hm; m-hm. Uh, everything that I’m doing in the back of uh, Kokua Kalihi Valley Nature Preserve is really like an artistic process.


What is your actual job? There’s none like it—




–anywhere else, I don’t think.


Well, uh, it’s interesting, interesting. Um, I’m actually a caretaker uh, at the nature preserve. There’s actually um—the nature preserve is divided into two different uh, uh, ili or subsections of the ahupuaa. And uh, different ili within the ahupuaa are almost like different organs within the body. And the—uh, which is actually very appropriate, because the nature preserve is a department of Kokua Kalihi Valley Health Center. And so we’re actually a health center that is uh, you know, uh, has adopted a nature preserve. Uh, the hope is, over time, this—these areas that we’re—we’re managing up here in the uh, back of Kalihi can become resources for members within the community.


To get to the preserve, or the reserve, you go all the way back Kalihi—Kalihi Street, right?


Yeah; yeah.


Very, very back.



And you have devised the nicest No Trespassing sign—




–ever, which says nothing about trespassing. What is it?


I took out the Keep Out signs, because um, when you—when uh, I think when working with youth and working with individuals, uh, who have challenges with authority, you know, they’re gonna look at it as a way to say, Oh, you know, I’m gonna go in. I’m going to go in, and I’m gonna do what I like. You know. And so I took out the Keep Out signs, and there was one Keep Out sign left, and I didn’t—I couldn’t take it down, uh, ‘cause it—it was um, a sign that said Violators Will Be Prosecuted, you know, a five hundred dollar fine. And about six months ago, it got some graffiti on it, and there was graffiti on some of the other signs on some of the other properties, uh, adjoining out property. And so I went and took a little paintbrush, and I cleaned up some—my neighbors’ signs and things, touched it up a little bit. And when I came to that one sign that said Keep Out, you know, Fine, I covered it over and I wrote … This Land is Your Grandmother and She Loves You. And … it’s a little bit, you know, sappy. But it’s amazing, because I think it causes people to pause and to think about what is their relationship to their grandmother, what is their relationship to this land, and it even um … and I kind of touch on—tou—touch on this a bit in some of my other work; it—it kind of encourages this thought that this land is a sentient being. It’s—in fact, we may just be figments of its imagination. [chuckle]


And it will always be there, whereas we won’t.




The deceptively peaceful looking forest preserve where the Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services resides is a bustling learning center for a wide spectrum of organizations and people of all ages.


I um, work with uh, Farrington High School. Uh, they have a uh, environmental sciences class. I do—we actually have Halau Lokahi Charter School; uh, two of their classes are based up at the preserve, so we always have children around all the time, which is an amazing, amazing blessing. And we have community workdays where we try to engage co—community members from Kalihi Valley in—in part of the whole … the story, which is the—which is the preserve. I—also, I’m able to do a lot of work with patients from the clinic. And um, the clinic is really kind of a core for a lot of the programs that I’m—that we hope to be expanding into, particularly—


And what kind of patients?


Well, uh, initially, patients through the nutrition department at Kokua Kalihi Valley Health Center, and these are elderly uh, Samoan uh, Trukese, uh, Filipino, and Hawaiian patients who have dia—you know, diabe—diabetes, uh, heart disease, and other kinds of chronic uh, illness. And my understanding is, you know, looking to a source of illness, you know, so much of it is related to displacement from culture, land, family, which leads to depression and stress. And—and um, so the opportunity for us to open up garden areas where these elders can come outside, and start to plant their traditional foods again, and um, become a community. ‘Cause in this community, you have different peoples in the same area, different cul—customs, but sharing ideas, talking story. They’ll come outside, they’re a little stiff, they’re—it’s a little rough to get going, and they’ll get out, and the—the sun is out there, and it’s a nice breezy day. They—they start to straighten up a little bit, they look at the gardens, they look at the soil, they—before you know it, they’re tiptoeing on the logs, and they’re teasing each other, and they’re translator is saying, I can’t translate that.




I shouldn’t. [chuckle] Being—and out of the corner of my eye, I’m just—they’re like little children again. And I think that’s really coming back to, you know, trying to figure out what is the source of illness, and what are—where can we—where can the real healing uh, begin. You know, and I think that—you know, it’s very much an artistic process, you know. Because it’s watching how people evolve from b—from the inside, and it’s providing the—the environment for that.


So for you, it’s—it goes beyond health to art.


Yes. Yes, yes. And it’s um … uh, understanding health as almost like a medium, almost like uh, uh, a—a transformative process. Plants like ilima and um, uh, popolo berry, um, and uh, alaala wainiu all ha—all—it’s almost like a um, a pharmacy, you know, an organic pharmacy. And I think that uh—you know, you take—you take the leaf, and that’s your prescription. And you say, Okay, this—this—this leaf and I get this medicine. So instead of uh … instead of pills, we have berries, you know. And I think that uh, that’s kinda cool. Um—This nature preserve can help to become sort of the future health center, you know, and future clinics and future hospitals. I mean, in a sense that—or future pharmacies, actually [chuckle] when you think about it.


In the sense of medicinal gardens?


Medicinal gardens; yes, yes. And it makes sense, because that’s how it’s been for millennia. [chuckle] Is that living healthy, you know, um, to keola pono, to live well is, you know, you—isn’t really limited to your health centers. You know, it’s—it’s everything you do throughout your life, you know.


You know, all of this sounds very inspiring and very physical in part.


M-hm, m-hm.


How do you do your art in addition?


Um, well—


Your personal art.


Lately, I’ve really been having to channel a lot my energy into doing the work on the land. And I actually … will take down some trees, and drop them into the ground, and build up the soil, and cover it with mulch. And it’s almost like that is the artwork. [chuckle] And so instead of painting pictures of gardens, I’m sort of building them. You know, and actually, that—that whole process is—is um, I guess, where I’m putting a lot of my creative energy into. Um, but to translate it a little bit more directly, I hope to be doing some carving and painting, and uh, even uh, digital media classes with uh, youth from the housing areas in Kalihi. And that’s—that’s where I think I’ll be able to link it up a little bit more closely. Because we do actually have um, classrooms and um, other facilities up at the preserve there, where we can bring people, take a walk through the forest, um, get really inspired, and come inside and try to capture those uh, those ideas in—in—in some form of media.


What’s it like at the preserve when the school children go home, and the—the health center patients go home, and it’s—it’s just you and your family uh, alone on ninety-nine acres?


M-m. You know, it’s—there’s almost a s—I hear a sigh of contentment from the land.


Sure it’s not you?


No, it’s—might be me; it might be me. And I—but [INDISTINCT]. But uh, it’s—it’s—it’s a sigh of contentment. Because what we try to do is think about how we’re trying to translate what the land is telling us, and what—and—and uh, you know, we’re trying to listen to the land, an—and—and—and try to—we’re trying to, you know, humbly to speak for it. And one of the things that um … I know it’s been telling me is that it’s missed all these—all the children, it’s missed the families, it’s missed the elders, it’s missed the jokes and the laughter. ‘Cause it’s—it’s had to put up with a lot of junk, a lot of rubbish, a lot of pain—


It was a dumping ground for—


Dumping for—


–a long time.


–for cars, and—and for people, really. I mean, maybe not—well, not entirely literally, but you know, in—insomuch as people who ha—having a lot of issues or problems, going up there and having to … self—you know, I guess self medicate, I guess you could say. You know. And um … but—so uh, from a lot of that pain, you know, we’re hoping to transform that place. And again, it’s—it’s the people who are—who are always there, you know, this—the energy that’s there, that’s um, that’s really been asking. That sentient—sentient grandmother [chuckle] landscape that’s been saying, Oh, where’s the—where are the babies, where are the children? And they say, Oh, oh, they’re coming, they’re coming. You know, bringing back the voice of the children to—bringing back the—the breath is something that uh, it just—it just makes so much sense, and it really does seem to be what the land is—is asking for.


You know, so many people of your generation, or—or almost any generation today, no longer count on having one job for their lifetime. They figure they’re gonna have six, seven, eight careers.




But you’re saying, the—the next thirty years, this is where I’ll be.


Yeah; yeah. Um—


And it’s not—it’s not a cakewalk. I mean, you’re—you’re—you’re felling timber, and creating—




–mulch and all that.


Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah; and actually, I feel very content. And I mean, it’s—it’s I guess um, who’s that guy; Joseph Campbell who says, you know, you follow your bliss. You know, and it’s definitely—I—I’m—I’m following it. [chuckle] And I feel very, very content to be doing so. And—and actually, what I hope to do is to kind of figure out, you know, if I do a really good job up at the preserve, that I can help to create more of these kinds of opportunities for other, you know, youth and families to become caretakers, you know, to open up more areas of land in the back of the valleys. Um, uh, because there are so many different benefits, you know. Particularly, the hope is to partner up with, you know, Board of Water Supply, because they own the back of Kalihi Valley. What we’re doing is excellent watershed management, you know, ‘cause we’re putting back natives, uh, we are opening up areas for composting and mulching, you know, putting up garding and—gardening and farm areas. And these go, you know, really far to help to uh, retain water for—and to help to um—for the health of the entire aquifer, entire uh, watershed. And—and that can become a model for the back of every valley in Hawaii, you know. And that’ what we hope to do, is kinda create a—uh, what you call ohe kapala or like a bamboo stamp; create a template. You know, get a—get a really good design, and then you go [CLUCKS TONGUE], right across. [chuckle] And so …


How has your artwork changed since you began living in the back of Kalihi Valley?


M-m … well … well, well. You know … there’s just a lot more rain in the back of Kalihi than there is in Makaha. [chuckle] So uh, rainy days are great days for me to sit inside. Um, I have uh, I’ve converted my—our—our dining room table into a s—par—partially into a studio area. [chuckle] And uh, um, so I’ll sit there. And it’s great, ‘cause I have—my children are playing around, and family’s around all the time. So I do get a lot of in time—uh, inside time, you know, to sit and to render, to draw. Sunset and morning times, amazing light. Just the—the light—


And different light in different parts of—




–the island. Sure; that makes—




–a lot of sense.


Oh, it’s amazing. And just stepping outside and watch—and looking how that layer of light is … it’s—just washes over everything, and it just unifies the entire landscape with beautiful amber hues. And so um, yeah. So if I’m ever at a loss, or if I’m not—ever don’t feel inspired enough, I just sort of open—open my door for about forty-five seconds. And I go, Oh, okay. Close the door—




–and get back to it.


Have you looked at the history of the back of Kalihi Valley—


Oh, yeah.


–to see what happened there before you?


Yeah; yeah. That’s actually right where we are in some of our discussions at the preserve, about doing research that—that tells the story of the back of the—or that’ll help to tell the story of the back of Kalihi Valley. And one of the persons that I hope to really engage … more is uh, Puakea Nogelmeier. Because he is also a Kalihi resident, and he lives on—right off of Kalihi Street as well. So yeah, yeah. And so uh, hopefully, we’d like to translate some more stories about Kalihi, and um … throughout the preserve—I’m really excited about this, is actually looking at creating installations that uh, could be carvings and different things, and at the base of the carving will be a story. And it could be a story of—you know, one of the many stories of the back of Kalihi Valley.


So this—the—the installation, the art would explain, introduce the valley to the people—




–who come along?


Absolutely; absolutely. And uh, even, there could be some uh, pathways that move through the ninety-nine acres of the preserve where each different section of the pathway would be like a page from a story and—where it’ll be a different scene from a story. Uh, it would be a stone with a different figure carved into it, or it could be carved in certain shape. And so um, and it kinda ties into this idea of uh, when we take groups through the preserve and we talk about all the different volunteer groups that have gotten involved in different areas, what we’re doing is we’re—we’re actually walking story.


While his current lifestyle seems utopian and far removed from the highly competitive world of commercial art, Solomon Enos has enjoyed success as a book illustrator, muralist, CD cover artist, and cartoonist, starting from a very early age.




Do you remember the first time you ever got a check for your artwork, you ever got paid?


Yes; yes, yes. Actually, the first time was—uh, and it was actually my very first commissioned project. And I was honored that my first—the first offer I’ve ever had to collaborate with was Auntie Pua Burgess. And so—amazing, amazing, amazing woman. And it was curriculum for fifth grade at uh, um, Makaha Elementary School. And actually, I think it was used for a broader uh, range of schools through the DOE. I was sixth grader; so I was a sixth grader doing artwork for a fifth grade textbook. And uh, you know, the images are raw, you know. But there’s one uh, experience that I particular remember from working with Auntie Pua, which um, you know, I like to draw upon that was, you know, quite a lot of fun. And this—it’s a story about this boy that daydreams a lot. And so he’s helping his mother unpack groceries from the car, and he drops the eggs, so the eggs spill. And his mother is—you know, she’s got other—other things going on in her life, and she’s really upset. And she picks up an egg, and she throws it at him. You know, and then she [GASP] realizes what she’s done. And—you know, and she feels really ashamed about it. And so Auntie Pua says, Okay, for this part, here, put on this old dirty tee-shirt and let’s go outside. So we went outside.




And she gets an egg and she goes—she even makes this mean face. She goes [GROWLS], throws it at me. I go, Ah. And for one moment, for three seconds, I was that boy within the story. And I was like, Wow, why did she—oh.




[INDISTINCT] And—but I think it—it—that kind of immersion into the character, into the story, has really helped to influence everything that I’ve ever done since. And so—anyway, so my first—my first paycheck, I think it was like uh, I think it was like a thousand dollars. Like at the time, I was like, Wow. And my mom goes like [WHOOSH] [chuckle], I’ll be taking that. [chuckle]


Don’t want to get too used to you spending it.


Exactly. [chuckle]


What kind of art have you done as a—as a paid artist since?



Well, all the book projects I’ve done have been uh, quite a lot of fun. Kimo Armitage; two stories in particular, the uh, Na Olelo Noeau No Na Keiki with uh, through Island Heritage, and Na Akua Hawaii. And that was um, through Bishop Museum Press, and those are gods and goddesses of Hawaii. Every project that comes along is um, an opportunity for me to do research, to—that … or that research that comes out of those projects actually help to inform everything else I do after that. And on the other end, I guess, would be the work that I’ve been doing uh, for Polyfantastica, uh, which is very much more of a conceptual uh, project. You know, it’s really thinking about, you know, broad an—and long ranging ideas that tap into the meaning of our—or the role of our, you know, our uh, human beings within the—within the universe, you know. So it’s pretty far out kinda stuff. [chuckle]


Is it—is it Star Trek meets Hawaii?


Uh, yeah; yeah, yeah. That could be; that could be one way to look at it. And uh, you know, but honestly, I think my influences are more folks like uh, Kurt Vonnegut and uh, more uh, folks like uh, Carl Sagan. You know, folks that uh, kinda challenge what’s accepted as normal, you know, and helps to provide … helps to make the thing everyday become much more significant.


So you’re quoting a writer—a writer and a scientist, rather than another artist—




–as having been—




–your models.


Yes, absolutely; absolutely.


And you translate.


Yes; yes. And it’s that inspiration. In fact, I’m thinking of—there was one line from Vonnegut where, uh, he asks uh, uh, the characters in the story, you know, there’s—What is faster than light? And they don’t have an answer. And he says, Okay, you see that star? Okay; you see that star. Okay. Awareness. So wow, okay. So an idea can be extremely powerful; it can be faster than light, you know, consciousness.


Polyfantastica began as a weekly comic strip for the Honolulu Advertiser illustrated by Solomon Enos, and written by his wife, Meredith Desha Enos. It has since grown into plans for a graphic novel. The ever evolving epic is filled with philosophical parables stretching tens of thousands of years into the future.


In this story, um, a father and son, they’re—they’re strapping themselves onto this great big kite. And they’re in the middle of this great, beautiful valley, gardens going as far as your eye could see. And they launch themselves up into the sky, and the fa—the father tells his son, I’m taking you to a special gathering today up in the sky. And this gathering is—we’re gonna tell you a story about a time when human beings used to kill each other. And the son can’t—you know, What? Wha—how do you—how—with the world full of wonder and beauty, how would anybody ha—how could you even do that? The whole concept is lost to him; violence and war is lost to him. And he says, Well, when we get there, you’ll understand, you’ll hear the story, and um, we’re gonna go to this place. And what it is, is they break through the clouds, and it’s this great big kite city. And this kite city, all these kites are parking, you know, drifting up to the top. And they go, and there’s this knowledge that is put up in that kite city that never touches the Earth again. But it’s put there, and the children go there to understand that human beings can destroy, human beings have had a hi—has this history, but we’ve moved—we’ve evolved away from it. But we still need to tell that story, so that we never make those mistakes again.


You’ve set yourself a huge task with the preserve, and forty thousand years with Polyfantastica. That’s a … where’d you get forty thousand years, an—and how are you gonna do that amount of work?


Uh, well, um … I hope to be able to build a—or help to foster a um, moolelo industry, a storytelling industry here in Hawaii. And uh, it can happen at many different levels, but it—we’re gonna need a whole host of researchers, of artists, of writers, of creative thinkers to tell the traditional stories of Hawaii, and also tell—um, and to help to look at what the role of Hawaiian people have been as navigators, as people who m—when sitting on their island, looking at the currents, watching the birds, saying, There’s something else beyond where we are right now. And I’d like to create a theme that talks about there’s something else beyond the way the world is now. It’s here, but we need to get there somehow. And so how—what are we gonna do, and how can we use the stories that we tell ourselves to change reality?


If you looked at Solomon Enos’ resume, you might conclude he’s a guy who can’t decide what to do; artist, illustrator, groundskeeper, environmentalist. But there is one job description that ties everything he’s about together; storyteller. His tools are material things; paints, pencils, computers, plants, land, students. But the stories he tells with these materials are of another realm, one that traverses tens of thousands of years. We wish Solomon Enos the best in his storytelling endeavors. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ahui hou kakou.





And as you raised your hand, I saw a tattoo.




And—and since you’re an artist, I—




–I want to ask you what’s—what’s the image?


Oh, I’m not sure. Um, I’ll probably figure it out later on. [chuckle] I actually um, was just experimenting a little bit with—


Did it yourself?


Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. I just was sort of making things up as I went along. I—I do have a few other tattoos on me, and I’m just actually kind of like a uh, a sketchbook, really, a live sketchbook. [chuckle] So not—not a lot of—


Since you can’t erase. [chuckle]




You can’t blend it out.


[chuckle] So not—not a whole lot of things [INDISTINCT] some of the artwork that I um, that I have uh, uh, on me.