adventure

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nainoa Thompson

 

As a young boy growing up in ahupuaa o Niu, now known as Niu Valley, Nainoa Thompson would go to Maunalua Bay with a family friend, Yoshi Kawano. “And we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing,” Thompson remembers.

 

In this interview from August 2015, Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson discusses sailing the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokulea, on a voyage around the world to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our earth and the ocean that he loves.

 

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

 

Nainoa Thompson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, we do things ‘cause we believe they’re right. We’ll take voyages or we’ll move forward because we believe that they’re necessary to be active. The worst thing in our time is ignorance, and it’s apathy, and it’s inaction. And especially now, ‘cause the world is changing so quick, you need to be in front of it, not behind. And so, you create an idea, you create a vision that is based on something like taking a canoe forty-seven thousand miles, going to twenty-eight countries, eighty-two ports around the only island we have called Earth in a way in which you hope in the journey that you can create awareness and better understandings and moving community towards being active. And so, inherently for the success of the mission of the Worldwide Voyage, it requires both a strong local community connected to a global community. Otherwise, you’re gonna fail your intention. I see myself as part of the responsibility to do certain pieces to make that happen.

 

Nainoa Thompson is a master navigator who has learned how to rely on nature and his instincts to guide the double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea across vast stretches of open ocean to faraway destinations. And he’s using wayfinding skills on land, navigating political and diplomatic terrain to reach with the Hokulea across the globe to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of our Earth. Nainoa Thompson, 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. Nainoa Thompson was the first Hawaiian in over six hundred years to sail a canoe between Hawai‘i and Tahiti without the use of modern navigational tools. He has the vision to see an island thousands of miles away, and the courage to leave the safety of land, because he feels the long voyages connecting people will make the world a better place. That’s come from a lifetime of training and community, starting here in the East Honolulu ahupuaa of Niu, also known as Niu Valley, where Thompson grew up. From this place, his sense of community has grown to encompass the world.

 

When does a child learn values, caring for the Earth, caring for your place, caring for ohana, caring for your family, caring for elders? When do you learn that? And for me, it was very young. And that was because my two greatest teachers were my mom and dad. Here is my primary school, in my mom and dad’s house. It sets the course for my life. And right down the road, right here was my grandfather’s dairy. I mean, I’m so old that there were no supermarkets, no Costco, no Foodland, no nothing. There was nothing in Niu Valley. It was a dairy farm and a chicken farm, and Kuliouou had a meat house. Hawaii Kai marina was the largest fishpond in the State of Hawaii, and Aina Haina had a few stores. And my grandfather made milk, and it would be delivered in glass bottles at night. And the guy that would deliver it, his name was Yoshi Kawano, and he was the man that taught me kindness, he was the man that taught me compassion. He lived in an old wooden house. My mom and dad, when they would leave us with someone, we would always be with the Kawanos, ‘cause they were the ones that they trusted the most. And you felt that, you know, as a child. You were taken care of, you were nurtured, you were safe, and you were clean. And so, in Yoshi’s house, everything was Japanese. And so, you bathed in the furo, and you ate Japanese food. You could smell it in the house. You ate on futons and everything was Japanese. But he was my greatest ocean teacher, my primary ocean teacher. When I was about five years old, he gave me a fishing pole. Too bad for him to do that, because he gave me this little bamboo fishing pole, and then he was the one who delivered the milk at ten-thirty at night, worked all night ‘til eight o’clock in the morning. And then I would be sitting on his old wooden doorsteps with the fishing pole. And then, he’d put me in the car every single time, and we’d drive what seemed very far to me to Maunalua Bay right out here, and we would go fishing. And that’s where my love for the ocean started, through fishing, ‘cause Maunalua was so full of life. And so, that was classroom, that was school, and Yoshi became my definition of community that was caring, that kept you safe. We were safe as children here, and we could be left here on the land or with the community. It was a beautiful time. And Yoshi, in his house, everything was Japanese, and it was fully respected. He’s Nisei, so he was born in Hawaii. But everything outside of his house, once you stepped out the door, was Hawaiian. And so, this whole valley here, or this ridge Kulepeamoa, this is where he taught me about the spirits and the blue light. He talked about the Menehune when Kalanianaole was a coral road. And that that beautiful blending and mixing of who he was, of Japanese ancestry, but on a place that’s Hawaiian, and honoring both sides. It was hugely impactful on how I look at our amazingly beautiful mixing of many cultures around the world that created a fabric of a culture that is more based not on race, but it’s based on values. And that makes Hawaii powerful. Not just a nice place to be, but it makes it powerful.

 

In addition to Yoshi Kawano, the teachers whom Nainoa Thompson most often recognizes are Mao Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Nainoa’s father, Pinky Thompson; Lacy Veach, an astronaut from Hawaii; and Eddie Aikau. Eddie was an outstanding waterman and crew member on Hokulea, and was lost at sea when he went for help on his surfboard after the canoe capsized in 1978. When that happened, the dream of a Hawaiian navigating a canoe voyage to Tahiti could have ended.

 

My dad was saying that, you know, you guys, your community, you need to find Tahiti. Not for you, but for your people. And he was so forceful. You need to get up, get off your knees; you’re on your knees and you can’t see, you need to get up, and you need to find Tahiti. But with me, he said—interesting, you know. He pulled us all together, our leadership. After the loss of Eddie, we couldn’t even talk to each other. We were just so … overwhelmed with grief and anger, and rage, and denial. All that kind stuff. And blaming; yeah? And that’s the worst. And so, it was all of that, and so we couldn’t even talk to each other. Leadership was was pau, it was finished. But my father and guys like Abraham Piianaia, they said, Absolutely not. I mean, these guys have been through the war; right? They know what it takes to stand up and fight for your beliefs. And they knew it was a pivotal time. But dad was interesting. He gets us all together, he pulls us all together, he creates the idea of finding Tahiti. We all come together around the idea in one room at the Biomedical Building and so, we were together. Then we’re walking in the parking lot after the meeting, and we’re all solid and the vision’s clear, we’re gonna go. We’re gonna work hard, we’re gonna take years to do this, do it right, not wrong, but almost in an angry voice. In the parking lot, the light was so bright, ‘cause we were in a dark room the whole time. And he goes, Okay, Nainoa, you want to navigate? Who’s your teacher? ‘Cause Mau went home; yeah?

 

And he said, You won’t look for me, and you won’t even find me.

 

Yeah; and he was not gonna come back. Yeah. So, he was just so … frankly, disgusted with Hawaii. Because Hawaii was just not together. It wasn’t pono, and it was in conflict all the time. In the world he comes from, that is completely unacceptable. You know, anyway, make a long story short, Mau came back.

 

After Mau Piailug returned to Hawaii, Nainoa Thompson trained with him for the next two years, learning the paths of the stars and the movements of the winds and seas, and sailed to Tahiti. Over the next two decades, Nainoa would take the canoe over enormous expanses of ocean. Throughout the Pacific, he became regarded as a wayfinder on land, as well as at sea. In the year 2000, he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court to serve as a Bishop Estate trustee. This, after a scandal over gross mismanagement that had placed the future of Kamehameha Schools in jeopardy. Do you know how he found his way in these uncharted waters? This is his story.

 

You know, I never applied for the leadership job. I mean, actually, I don’t even know how it happened. But the agreement to become a trustee was really about service. It was really about if you’re gonna be asked, certainly, it’s honor and privilege to be a part of that amazing institution. And it is. It’s just so extraordinary. But it was a rough time. I remember it was the first month of being a trustee, and you walk in the door with four of your colleagues that you don’t even know. I mean, we come from very different worlds. Why they picked me, I have no idea. But I’m not in the business field, I’m not an attorney, I’m not in real estate development. I’m a fisherman. So, in the back of my mind, two things. The primary thing, you need to rebuild trust in trustees, ‘cause it was gone. It was evaporated. Nobody trusted the trustees. And the only way that you’re gonna do that is to have that community of five trustees come together. And if we fail to come together, we should quit and have the courage to do it. So, make a long story short. In the first month, I don’t know, I remember … it’s like where our office is, you walk around and go through this small little kitchen into the boardroom. And that boardroom has so much mana. And it’s like a brass golden doorknob, and I reach for the doorknob. I grabbed it, and then I pulled my hand away, ‘cause I was like afraid to go in the room, like I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to lead this. I didn’t know how to command. And then, I took a really deep breath, and I opened the door and walked into the room filled with people. They don’t trust you. And then, working with a group that you don’t know. It was a rough time. And then to really be able to collect and glue back the pieces of a broken trust, it was a rough time. And I didn’t feel I was adequate, I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this. And so, I remember my response to that was, I got my assistant, Stella Kutaka, a beautiful lady, to help me. And I got pictures of all my great leaders, all of my great teachers, those who I would define as leaders that navigated. So, you had Yoshi on the wall, you had my father on the wall, you had Lacy on the wall, you had Eddie on the wall, you had Kala Kukea on the wall, you had Herb Kane. There was like sixty-something pictures, and I put ‘em around the whole room. And so, when I would be in a decision that was profound to a whole institution that’s on the governance side, it’s my job to set course for the institution, and I didn’t know how to answer it, and I’m getting pressured for the wrong reasons, and you feel it, I would stop the meeting. And I would go inside the room, turn on the light, and I would sit with my teachers. My leaders that have set the course for me for my whole life, and I needed them, ‘cause the vast majority of them are gone. And so, in the pictures were their story, their work, their values, and their relationship. So again, that is that community around the whole room.

 

And are you saying that after spending time with the photos that you were able to find a course?

 

Well, sometimes, the course, but the ability to be able to say, You gotta get up, you gotta go in that room, and you gotta make a decision. If you’re not completely clear too bad; you’re a trustee, and you need to decide. You can’t go absent. And so, I needed their counsel and their guidance, and so, I would remember their stories. You know, what would Mau do? What would Eddie do? What would my dad do? My dad was a trustee for twenty-one years. What would he do? And so, that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself. Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do, ‘cause it’s complex decisions, and then working on. I always say this with a lot of humility, but huge respect for my colleagues. That was an amazing group of trustees. Diane Plotts was a land developer that built all these big hotels with Chris Hemmeter, which is not my thing that I would ever do. I thought, We are gonna have a rough time coming to find a place of common ground. But Diane in the end, she was really almost the spiritual grounding of the board, because she had such solid values that she went back to. And so, I’d go pester her and ask her, you know, Where do you come up with these decisions? It always went back to her growing up on a farm.

 

And having a center.

 

Where are values taught? Where do you learn them? How? When? Who? So, Diane in the end was really my guidance at the level on which, you know, she would look at me in the boardroom and say, Nainoa, vote. Vote. But no matter what position I ever took, even though it was contrary to her, she respected it. I love that lady.

 

And no Hawaiian blood in her at all.

 

No Hawaiian blood. But she is of the culture of values, she is one of the navigators. If there was some way to accurately measure Kamehameha’s influence on what’s happened in the last four years, it would be profound. Look around in the professional fields at how many are graduates. And the interesting thing about Kamehameha is that the graduates come home. You know, there’s a sense of place, there’s a sense of kuleana, and they’re making a huge difference. And if you think the last forty years was amazing; wait ‘til the next forty. I mean, they’re just everywhere. On our voyaging canoes, out of the twelve navigators that we have, eight are Kamehameha Schools graduates. The new ones, the young ones, the best ones. And so, I mean, their influence on voyaging is huge.

 

Nainoa Thompson says that as new generations of voyagers have been raised up over the years, so has their desire to undertake new challenges and achieve new goals.

 

Lacy Veach back in 1992, he and my dad, right down the road, he was telling my dad, and my dad was agreeing; We should take Hokulea around the world, the world needs to see Hokulea, Hokulea needs to learn about the Earth, we need to protect it. This was Lacy. And my dad was raising the question; Are we at the point where the Hawaiian community is ready to engage the rest of the Earth as a vibrant, strong, powerful culture and build relationships around the right kinds of values? That’s in 1992. We lose both of our great navigators; my father and Lacy. But it wasn’t until 2007 when we were … not me, it was Chad Paishon and Chad Baybayan were sitting exhausted on the Fukuoka dock in Japan when we sailed to Micronesia, to Mau’s island to honor him, then we went up to Japan to honor Yoshi and the many Yoshi’s that had voyaged to Hawaii. It’s two o’clock in the morning. These two poor navigators are exhausted, and they’re saying, Man, there’s gonna be two thousand people down here tomorrow morning at dawn, and they’re gonna want to touch Hokulea. So, you’re in a country that doesn’t know Hokulea, you’re in a country that speaks a different language, with a different history. They’re oceanic people, they’re amazing ocean people, but they don’t know this canoe. And yet, why would two thousand people be there? And they’re gonna be there. And then, they said, Why don’t we go around the world. And so, we voted on April 1, 2008 to do this. But there were a whole bunch of issues. Could you keep it safe, could you get enough crewmembers to do this, could you raise the funding? Could you build the community? And so, that was when we reached out to stuff like organizations that were just designed for this. And that was the East West Center. I mean, they’re designed for this, to help us create the ability to sail the voyage. ‘Cause we needed to earn the voyage; right? We needed to make sure that all these issues, safety and leadership, and crew strength that as borne from the idea, but we had to be responsible for the idea.

 

There are so many moving parts, like even fundraising and strategic planning.

 

Hokulea took eighteen months of dry dock. We made the promise that the canoe needed to be better than ever, that it can go around the world. We’re gonna take all rot and all damage off the canoe. Right now, the only thing left on Hokulea that’s from 1976 is one inch of the hulls, that go around the hulls. And everything else, by that decision, had to be changed. But the thing about community, we had twelve hundred volunteers that put in thirty-two thousand volunteer man hours. If we didn’t have that pool, we could never get Hokulea ready to go. But fundamentally, these are twelve hundred people who don’t know each other, that come together around an idea, and to get Hokulea ready. I mean, enormous; enormous human effort. You don’t lead that. You know what leads it? It’s the idea.

 

But the idea has to be shaped and nourished, and grown. At what point do you come in and feed it?

 

I come in, in the beginning. You know, I’m there to be responsible for the nurturing of the idea, and to measure it. And I guess my biggest leadership decision is whether we did earn the right to go. And during the voyage, I have the very difficult situation about saying whether it’s still worth it. Are you gonna call it off? Are you gonna ship Hokulea home? Are you gonna fail the mission? That would be my responsibility. And so, I do have to make that final call. But what I’ve learned over the years, and it’s through those great teachers, is that fear is best friend. You know, it’s the one that reminds you that you’re not ready. It’s the one that keeps you honest and tells you that the things you didn’t take care of. And fear, I find it in a number of ways, but I find it in my dreams. And I will wake up and just have these horrendous dreams of irresponsibility, not following through, danger, risk, the things that are really bothering me, they come to me. ‘Cause what you do is, your day is so busy and it’s so complicated that you can push this all behind you. But when you’re sleeping, you can’t do that. But then, I also find it in exhaustion. I get sick sometimes, I get more colds, I start to create that old kinda childhood excuses for not having to take responsibility. It never goes away. It’s still there. But what the voyaging has helped me do, which has been huge, it’s like there’s this door of fear that it’s like the Kamehameha Schools door, it’s like that golden handle that you don’t want to open. ‘Cause if you open it, you gotta be honest about all your inadequacies, all the things that make you less than perfect. But what I’ve learned through the voyaging—that’s why I love cloudy days. I love getting lost now. And I love taking my students. I hope they get like the worst doldrums, ever.

 

 

 

Because it’s in the blackness, it’s in the cloudiness, it’s in the times that aren’t easy, that you grow, that you become the best. And what I’ve learned, and primarily from—my primary teacher is Eddie. Eddie said, Open the door.

 

When Hokulea was rebuilt, the original deck was salvaged and remade into this table that sits on the lanai of Nainoa Thompson’s parents’ house in Niu Valley in East Honolulu. In May 2014, Hokulea left for Tahiti, the first stop outside Hawaii on the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage, a journey dedicated to increasing awareness for the importance of taking care of our island Earth. Everywhere Hokulea travels, the canoe is joining with global communities to bridge traditional and new technologies to share the message of living sustainably.

 

The oceans matter. So, the Worldwide Voyage says that the greatest environmental challenge of our time is protecting the world’s oceans, because the oceans protect the world’s life. I mean, the next four breaths you take, three come from the ocean. Don’t mess with plankton. And so, when we look at the oceans and we look at the state they’re in, we need to be very concerned, because that’s gonna be the measurable defined environmental issue about what’s gonna happen to our next two generations. So, if that’s our story, if that’s our idea, then you make the connection with places that don’t know the canoe, but they connect to your values. So, when we look at sustainability, we talk about stuff that’s not really the solution. But when you think about what the Hawaiians did in this land, with their system of tenure, their sets of values, how they developed things like the ahupuaa system and how they learned how to manage resources on the islands, it’s so critical today, ‘cause embedded in that two thousand years was an enormous amount of very hard learning that took place to be able to find some sense of balance. And in the balance is where we find hope. And so, you have all these things emerging. You have leadership emerging, you have highly educated Native Hawaiians that are coming into the workforce, coming into professionalism, namely go into medicine, go into the doctorates programs, go into economics, go into education. It’s growing. What’s gonna happen in the next twenty years, there’s gonna be this merger between that history, that culture of living well on these islands, and with the professionalism which is required to make the adaptation for the way that we lived before, we’ll figure out a way for the second half of this 21st century. I think it’s vital. And you know, of course, it’s hard.

 

Since he attained the rare distinction of master navigator, Nainoa Thompson’s courage to open the door and walk through has been inspiring communities not just in Hawaii, but around the world, to achieve their dreams. Mahalo to Nainoa Thompson of Ahupuaa O Niu, for your community building on a vast scale, and for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

I don’t know about that. But the ones I listen to the most today are my two little children. When I add up the signs and what we know about traditional knowledge and indigenous knowledge about what’s going on, when I know that my two little children understand the Worldwide Voyage and the values and the beliefs in the context of their six-year-old world, when I know that they allow their father to go ‘cause they know that he believes it’s the right thing to do, but at the same time that this voyage is for them. At the same time, I don’t have to have their picture on the wall, because I can see them on a daily basis. I can touch them and feel them. So, it’s that beautiful world that I live in that has this legacy and this journey, and this history of extraordinary leaders that are defining your ultimate permission. And then at the same time, you can be at home and see your children, and making sure that they are believing with you too. And so, I’m not a leader, but I’m in an amazing place, and been on a lifelong journey of extraordinary leaders, and that’s that.

 

[END]



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

 

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

 

To view the first part of guest Florence “Johnny” Frisbie’s show, click here.

 

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

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie: : Islander at Heart Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Did you often feel a tug, a struggle between your Polynesian side and your European Western side?

 

Even though my brain, my thinking brain has been developed to be able to absorb the European, the Western world, but I go by my heart. My heart speaks, yeah, not my brain. My heart tells me.

 

Johnny Frisbie has lived a storied life as a writer, television personality, and nurturer across cultures throughout the South Pacific, New Zealand, Hawai‘i, and Japan. She grew up in a tiny place called Pukapuka. Florence “Johnny” Frisbie, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu was born to a native Pukapukan mother and an American father in Tahiti. Her family moved from island to island frequently in the South Pacific. As a teenager, Johnny wrote and published Miss Ulysses from Pukapuka, an autobiography of her journeys across the South Pacific. Pukapuka is an atoll in the Cook Islands. After the death of her father, Johnny, aged sixteen, and three siblings were orphaned, separated, and raised in different families in New Zealand and Hawai‘i. Johnny was taken in by the Engle family of Kailua, Windward Oahu, and enrolled in high school. She hadn’t had much formal education.

 

Your life took you to … you went to Roosevelt High School.

 

M-hm.

 

Where you did so well that you—

 

M-hm.

 

Did you get a scholarship to Punahou?

 

Yes, uh-huh. Yeah, I got a scholarship to Punahou. Yes; yeah.

 

Which is amazing to do so well academically.

 

I know; it surprised me. Yeah. But then, I was thinking about it. I was very, very serious about each subject, say biology, English. I was serious, I was keen, and after each class, I would go to the teacher to please explain what I didn’t understand. You know, because it’s transforming a thinking in Polynesian to English understanding of the subject.

 

And different tools, everything was different.

 

Yeah. So, I would always go, and the teachers were always so good, so good, and they would explain to me. And so, go home, and then I was able to do my homework.

 

Your outdoor childhood, and all the curiosity and exploration, and resilience; how did that translate when you then started living more suburban lifestyle, you know, in more crowded places?

 

M-hm. Well, I don’t know that I have actually been in that kind of a lifestyle very much. But in order for me to survive and not totally give up who I am, my nature, you know, I found ways. I found ways to go maybe in a bush or to have plants that I can talk to or nurture, and never to be in concrete blocks like that. But I find it’s a survival instinct, and I’ve been very careful not to lose me, who I am.

 

Johnny Frisbie adapted quickly to life in Hawai‘i and the Western style of education. After graduating from Punahou School, Johnny set her sights on a career in nursing. However, an old family friend set her on a new journey.

 

I was accepted to Queen’s. I applied and I was going to start, and then James Michener, who was kinda looking after me at the time said, No, you’re going to go overseas, you need to expand your vision of the world. He said, You’re going to go either to the Far East, he said, or Europe. And he said, I’ll get you a job. So, immediately, I received a letter from the Army that I had a job in Tokyo. So, get ready, two weeks later, was off to Japan.

 

What did you do in Tokyo?

 

I worked for the Army, secretary to one of the … yeah. But … why did we go there?

 

Well, actually, I’m picturing you in Tokyo after a lifetime living on Pacific islands, and it doesn’t compute. Did you enjoy that?

 

Loved it. And there weren’t many Polynesians, and the Japanese were fascinated. You know, they just used to stare. You know, stare. And those who could speak to me said, Where you from? You know. And I would explain, but they didn’t know. You know, a lot of them didn’t know. Made lots of good friends. They’re wonderful people.

 

But only stayed two years?

 

Two years; yeah, m-hm. That was the contract; yeah.

 

And what was next?

 

Oh, and then, I came back to Hawaii, and my sister introduced me to Carl, who was in the Navy, was getting ready to go to Japan to film the club, the military nightclubs for his television program. And so, my sister said, Oh, my sister just come back from Japan, I’ll have you meet her and find out things. Well, there you go. So, that’s how it happened.

 

The man to whom Johnny Frisbie was introduced turned out to be Carl Hebenstreit, also known as Kini Popo, a popular Honolulu radio DJ, and the first on-air personality for KGMB-TV’s inaugural 1952 broadcast.

 

You married a man who was very well-known in Hawai‘i.

 

M-hm.

 

Kini Popo is what everyone called him. Carl Hebenstreit, a radio and TV personality.

 

M-hm.

 

And I think you mentioned that you could talk to him about writing the way you could your dad.

 

Oh, yes; absolutely. Yeah. I mean, he had an amazing command of the English language. And so, he was very helpful with my second book. M-hm, my second book, when I was still learning the English language, still reading and studying, you know, grammar and all that. But he also was a beautiful person.

 

And with him, you had four children.

 

Yes.

 

In New Zealand.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Yet another part of—

 

They grew up in New Zealand. Yeah; two were born here. Ropati and Carla were born here, and Haumea was born in the Cook Islands, and Stirling was born in New Zealand. Yes.

 

And then, you stayed for a bit.

 

I stayed on.

 

Years.

 

When Carl returned to Hawaii, I stayed on. Three years, I was there. When the last of my kids left, then I decided, Oh, well, time to move on.

 

And you were still close to him, even though you were no longer married.

 

Oh, we’re very close now. Yes, he and Haumea meet at least once a week, and I’m invited. If I’m not invited, I invite myself. No problem. And I love his wife, Christine. Yeah; beautiful, beautiful friend.

 

In 1948, Johnny Frisbie became the first Polynesian female published author with her autobiographical book, Miss Ulysses from Pukapuka. And while living in Hawai‘i during the 1950s, she was one of the first to turn heads and raise a few eyebrows with her choice of swimwear.

 

There was a time on Waikiki Beach when no one wore bikinis. And then, you came along. You’re credited with being the first.

 

Yeah. Yeah, there was a Tahitian girl, too, who wore the bikini, and gave me courage. Yeah, gave me courage. But the thing that I can claim fame for was that I wore a bathing suit when I was six months pregnant and onwards. Okay; that was in 1957, and it was unheard of. You know, it was unheard of. I was very proud of that.

 

And how did you come to be, I guess, one of the first two women to wear a bikini? How did that happen?

 

Well, I didn’t think it was an issue. You know, it was just natural. You know, we grew up half-naked and naked; you’d go swimming naked, the girls and the boys over there. The girls there, we quickly take off our dress. We didn’t have panties or bra. Take off and put it on the bush, and run down, you know, into lagoon. And I mean, it’s no big deal. So, I just grew up not thinking about shame or rules, or restrictions. To this day, I have to be very careful I don’t upset people because of my quickness to do what’s natural.

 

After the birth of her second child, Johnny Frisbie planted roots in New Zealand. She says there were a number of Pukapukans living there, and she wanted her children to experience their cultural heritage. In 1976, Johnny made her debut as a television personality and had a chance to share her perspectives on life with New Zealand viewers.

 

Television began in the city where we lived, Dunedin, which is south, on the south island of New Zealand. An Australian producer was there, and he’d come from Australia, and he had worked on a program called Beauty and the Beast in Australia. And he wanted to start one for New Zealand viewers. And so, he asked me; he wanted someone other than all European. There were four panelists. So, he asked me if I would, and I said, yes, sure. You know. So, the program was about a male presenter and two women on the side. And he would a letter from viewers from all over, from solo mothers, grandmothers, you know, teenagers needing answer, needing help. And so, he would read the letter, and would turn and say, Johnny, what do you think of that? You know, we were not to give our advice, to give advice, but to give our opinion. But my viewpoint was very different to the other three, so it always very different to every letter. There was never one that just.

 

For example; can you give an example?

 

A solo mother who is alone with her baby, and wanted to know what to do with the baby. She can’t cope, they had very little money, and the father is just ignoring her. What do you do? And so, my reply was, Do you have family? You know, can you go to your mother or father, or auntie, or distant relative? You know, this is kind of the village clan type reply. I said, you know, have courage; even though they might not be happy with you for having this baby without the father, you know, just seek their help, find out, you know, and make amends. Yeah.

 

What did the others say?

 

They said, Oh, well, you did what you did, you’re paying for it. Kind of that kind of thing.

 

Thanks for the advice or the opinion. That went on for quite—you did that …

 

Ten years; ten years.

 

Ten years.

 

Five days a week. Yeah.

 

And did you have fans writing you about how they really liked your advice?

 

Yeah; the Polynesian Pacific island community were very, very grateful. They were very proud of the fact that they had someone on television, you know, and speaking on all our behalf. Yeah.

 

Were you controversial, too?

 

A little bit, yeah.

 

And you don’t mind. Not at all, right?

 

Well, it’s the truth as I understand it. And also fairness, you know. You know, I mean, we all think differently. You know, different cultures, the thoughts and feelings are all different. And I’m not about to cow down to what is supposed to be the correct way to think and feel, and all that, you know

 

And then, there was Pacifica. What’s that?

 

Pacifica is an organization that uh, Patty Walker, a very dear friend, and four other women and I started. Patty and I were on the New Zealand Maori and South Pacific Arts Council, and while at one of the meetings, we thought, Why don’t we create a Pacific Island women’s organization to help the women who are lost, and those who would like to be a nurse but don’t know where to go and how to get it moving, and get Pacific Island children, kids, students who are doing well at school to further their education, get a scholarship for them, or guide them. But, yeah, it helped. It was such a successful program for Pacific Island, especially the women, you know, stand tall, you know, have confidence, you know, go back to school. You know, I mean, they come from the small islands, eighth grade, and then that’s it. And so many of them enter college now, and it’s moved on. Professors and doctors, nurses. Yeah.
In 2015, Johnny Frisbie returned to her home atoll of Pukapuka in the Cook Islands after being away for over fifty years. She was reunited with her eldest brother, Charley Frisbie, given away at birth to his grandaunt, and he’d become the oldest living Pukapukan.

 

After many, many years away, you went back to Pukapuka to see your brother.

 

M-hm. Yeah; and to film a documentary called Homecoming. And we flew from Honolulu. The producer director of the film, Gemma, we flew to New Zealand, and then to Rarotonga, and we waited there for a boat to sail to Pukapuka. And it doesn’t happen often. And we were lucky, because during that month of July, the Cook Islands was celebrating its fiftieth internal self-government from New Zealand. So, they are no longer a protectorate of New Zealand. So, all the island people from the different islands congregated on Rarotonga to celebrate this great event. Lots of beautiful music, drumming, singing, dancing; the whole thing was just mindboggling. And so, we asked to board the boat that was to take the Pukapukans back to Pukapuka. And they said, Yeah, come onboard. So, we did. Five days sailing, and every night, every day, there’s music and drumming. The Pukapukans would just, you know, stay up all night waiting to get home, playing the ‘ukulele on both sides of the deck, you know, singing. It was beautiful.

 

Five days of that?

 

Yes; five days, five days of that.

 

That is a very difficult atoll to get to.

 

Yeah, it is; yeah.

 

No regularly scheduled boat or air …

 

No, no.

 

We had to charter a plane, eight-seater. We had to, or we would be stuck there for goodness knows how long. That way, we were assured of getting back to Rarotonga.

 

What was it like after that great sailing prelude? What was it like going back?

 

Well, it was so amazing. I fell into it as if I’d never left. Just totally, totally into it. You know, and just walking on the reef, just on the beach collecting shells, and talking. You know, the language came back very quickly. And grating coconut, peeling taro, and scaling fish, and gutting fish. You know, just cooking it the way we used to in the old days. And it was just unbelievable. I just fell into it, and it made me wonder, gosh, have I been longing, homesick all these years, and I just kind of buried it somewhere? You know.

 

Did you want to stay?

 

No, I didn’t because I wanted to be with my family, with my kids, my grandchildren. In that sense, yeah, that’s utmost to me.

 

But you could go home again.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

It was all the good that you remember.

 

Oh, yes. And church, you know, attending the church service with that beautiful singing. It’s like chanting, you know.

 

Oh, the harmony. I sat on the benches in the village where my mother comes from. I sat almost where she used to sit.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah; makes you wonder why I ever left.

 

After living in New Zealand for thirty years, Johnny Frisbie returned to Hawai‘i to live with her daughter, Haumea Ho, widow of the late Hawai‘i entertainment icon, Don Ho.

 

Seems like you’ve lived a larger-than-life life. Because I mean, for example, your daughter is Haumea, she was married to Don Ho.

 

That’s right. Yeah.

 

I mean, that’s a different kind of culture. You know, the show business culture.

 

Yeah, yes, yes. Yeah; that’s why I came to Hawai‘i. She asked me to come and be with her when Don passed away. And it was very wonderful; wonderful, wonderful to be with her. And also, my sister was married to Adam West, Batman.

 

Batman.

 

Mm; yes.

 

You were a performer. I mean, you danced, you sang.

 

Mm. Yeah.

 

So, that was just part of life.

 

Yeah; m-hm, m-hm. Yeah. It wasn’t a career.

 

You continue to write. And I think when you write, you know, it makes you think maybe better. I mean, just because you’re involved in the exercise of putting things down that have to be true and authentic.

 

M-hm.

 

What insights have you come to over your life as you look back?

 

I’ve been very lucky. Delved a lot in philosophy, and so, I want to make things honest, and develop that aspect of my soul, my nature. And I’m very, very much into writing about my philosophy about anything and everything that comes to mind. And I’m discovering that I haven’t really committed fully to what the majority of people think about some things, and how they do it.

 

When people remember you in years to come, how do you want them to remember you; as nurturer?

 

Well, that’s just me. I mean, I have no profession. I think what they see, what they’ve gotten out from me, if any, that’s probably, and I have no label to say, you know. It’s what they got from me, good or bad. I don’t know. Yeah; hopefully, some good things. Yeah.

 

You mentioned your birthdate, and it means that as we speak now in 2017, you’re approaching eighty-five?

 

M-hm.

 

I don’t know what eighty-five looks like anymore, because a people are so healthy longer. But you don’t seem like you’re anywhere near eighty-five. I’m sure you’ve been told that before.

 

I’ll tell you a story. About a week and a half ago, I flew to California to see a friend. And his daughter, I’ve never met before, came to the airport to meet me. And I was waiting, and she was looking around for me, looking around for me. And finally, she called me and she said, Johnny, you know, where are you? I said, I’m here. And she said, Okay, I’m gonna put my hand up, when you see me, you know, come forward. And so, I did. And she came over to me and she said, I expected a gray-haired woman, lots of wrinkles! And she was yelling. You don’t have any wrinkles!

 

How old do you feel?

 

I feel young. You know, I’m exhilarated by things, excited about things. And I feel love, I feel love all the time. But physically, as of last year when I was gardening at my son’s place in Punalu‘u, I felt the physical change, you know. I’m crouching and weeding, and I can’t quickly stand up, you know. I had to kinda—ooh, you know. You know, help myself stand up like that, and I thought, mm, now this is not good. But you know, accept it.

 

And that was only last year.

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah; last year.

 

You know, people at age thirty are saying, My knee, it’s killing me.

 

At the time of this conversation in March of 2017, Florence “Johnny” Frisbie was about to embark on yet another journey; a multi-week trip across the Pacific. Even in her mid-80s, it seems the odyssey of Miss Ulysses from Pukapuka is not over yet. Mahalo to author Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

Have you ever regretted saying too much?

 

Saying too much; no. No.

 

Have you ever regretted saying too little?

 

Mmm, no. No.

 

Do you not have many regrets?

 

That would be, I mean, that would be the best place to be in life, no regrets.

 

Yeah, there’s a couple of things, but not much, no.

 

[END]

 

GLOBE TREKKER
Top 10 South American Adventures

 

Trekkers Ian Wright, Holly Morris, Elis Nevitt, Matt Young, Megan McCormick and Zay Harding travel all across South America – to Guyana, Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil – in search of the continent’s Top 10 adventures, which include white water rafting in untamed waters, searching for giant anaconda snakes, trekking to the world’s highest waterfalls, and climbing to the snow-capped summit of the Lanin Volcano in the Andes Mountains.

&nbsp

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

 

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

 

To view the second part of guest Florence “Johnny” Frisbie’s show, click here.

 

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

 

Florence Johnny Frisbie Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I understand your dad was from Ohio.

 

Yeah.

 

And your mom was from Pukapuka.

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

How did that happen?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

She was much younger than he?

 

Yes, yes; she was sixteen. Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

How many White men or White people—

 

Only one. Yeah.

 

On the island?

 

Only him. Yes.

 

I see.

 

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

 

All right; so he passed the test.

 

And the marriage was a success?

 

Yes; very much so.

 

How many children followed?

 

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

 

Um, you want to hear that story?

 

Yes; I don’t know that story.

 

Oh, oh. Oh—

 

Charles was taken away from your mother?

 

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

 

So, he never saw his son?

 

No.

 

Until how long—

 

Not until he was thirteen; he was thirteen.

 

Oh …

 

He came back thirteen years later.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

Two, three, four stayed.

 

M-hm; yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

Oh, that’s hard work.

 

Yeah, well, we played most of the time.

 

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

 

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

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Like she loved you.

 

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

 

M-hm.

 

I missed that.

 

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

 

This was Suwarrow, uninhabited island.

 

And were you the only residents?

 

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

 

I see.

 

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

 

Your father ended up lashing you to trees.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

All the kids; right?

 

Yeah, yeah. M-hm.

 

Tying you up there.

 

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

 

You can laugh now.

 

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

 

What kind of trees?

 

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

 

How many kids did he tie?

 

Four.

 

And then tied himself?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How were you doing? You were a little kid.

 

Yeah. We were fine.

 

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

 

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

 

Plan B; right?

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

And, what?

 

Yeah.

 

You’re on a decimated island.

 

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

 

What’d you do after that?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Because you’d been doing diaries.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, it was a diary.

 

Yes.

 

In which language did you keep your diary?

 

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

 

And Miss Ulysses; where did Miss Ulysses come from?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Did your dad pass away in …

 

We were on Rarotonga.

 

Rarotonga.

 

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

 

And you became an orphan.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Just amazing.

 

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

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Your brother had been given away.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Your first name is actually Florence.

 

Mm.

 

But everyone knows you as Johnny.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that happen?

 

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

 

[END]

 



NATURE
Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, Part 2

 

The Spy Creatures continue to reveal the world of dolphins, their mysteries of communication and strategies. Go undercover to meet the orca, the largest dolphins, and race the Dall’s porpoises, the fastest dolphins in the world.

 

NOVA
Arctic Ghost Ship

 

Unravel the greatest mystery in Arctic exploration: 160 years ago, the Franklin Expedition to chart the Northwest Passage vanished. Now, a Canadian team discovers one of Franklin’s lost ships – a vital clue to the fate of the ill-starred expedition.

 

NATURE
Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, Part 1

 

The camera eyes of 13 ingenious Spy Creatures, including Spy Dolphin, Spy Nautilus and Spy Turtle, capture dolphin behavior, as never filmed before. The spycams infiltrate the social world of dolphins, including their strange gatherings and gang rivalries.

 

ROADTRIP NATION
Beyond the Dream

 

This edition follows three 20-something immigrants who were each brought to the U.S. at a young age by their parents. They all have temporary relief from deportation, but not legal status. An immigration policy called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) has allowed them to live and work in the U.S. for a two-year period. But without long-term protections, they have a much graver question to ponder: “Will I be able to stay in this country?”

 

NATURE
Yosemite

 

Yosemite Valley is a land forged in wildfire and sculpted by water, and the delicate balance of these two elements is essential to the creatures and trees that call this land their home. But with climates changing and temperatures rising, the Sierras are under siege. Water is scarcer and the threat of fire is more common. Join scientists and adventurers as they trudge through mountains of snow, climb trees as tall as buildings and soar high in the air to spy just how these global changes are affecting one of America’s greatest wildernesses.

 

JOSEPH ROSENDO’S TRAVELSCOPE
Portugal – from Porto to Salamanca

 

Joseph’s Portugal adventures reach into the country and cross over the border on an Iberian Peninsula exploration that reveals some of the unknown aspects of Portuguese life and its complementary relationship with its Spanish neighbor.

 

1 2 3