Second Bridge and Honoli‘i
Harold M. Murai
Special to Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the East Hawai‘i Cultural Council Hawai‘i Museum of Contemporary Art fundraiser book (edited by Gloria Kobayashi) “Aloha ‘Äina Volume II: More Big Island Memories.” We’re grateful for Mr. Murai for reaching out and sharing this story with The Hawai‘i Herald to include in our ninth annual Big Island issue. To purchase a copy of “Aloha ‘Äina Volume II: More Big Island Memories” call the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center at (808) 961-5711 or email email@example.com.
Mill Camp was my birthplace, but sometime in my early elementary school years my family moved to Ha‘aheo Village — adjacent to Ha‘aheo School. The village, which still exists, is just a little mauka of Mill Camp, past the former Kingdom Hall. The path on the hill side by Johnny Hill’s house was the shortcut to Ha‘aheo Village. The cane field was the mauka side boundary, with Ha‘aheo School on the Hamakua side and Wainaku Avenue on the makai side. Highway 19 was further makai with some homes and the cliffs overlooking Hilo bay.
The rivers and the ocean played a major role in the lives of the kids in the camps. I remember how big a deal it was to be able to dive across the pond under the “second bridge,” really small kid, hana battah time. I never saw girls in the area, but recently Sue Agbayani Ha‘o, who grew up in Mill Camp, said that is also where she learned to swim. The pond was not reserved for boys. The river under the second bridge emptied at Pukihae, a good fishing beach if you did not fear the wrath of the haoles, who lived on the overlooking cliffs. The river between Pukihae and the second bridge was rich with ‘o‘opu.
Papalong, another river between the mill and second bridge, contained colorful rainbow and swordfish, which some kids collected as ornamentals in makeshift fishbowls (mayonnaise jars). The older kids speared ‘o‘opu to sell to Filipinos. The profits were spent on mini pies and sweets at the Okubo camp store where our parents bought goods on credit. I remember Gilbert and Kenneth being especially successful gatherers of ‘o‘opu. They were entrepreneurs. Another outstanding recollection is of the first time my friend Gilbert allowed me to share in the profits, which were spent on a mini custard pie at Okubo store. Okubo store was also a place where we sometimes saw 16 mm movies on a white sheet screen in the garage behind the store for about five cents, mainly cartoons, if I recall correctly. Ah dah camp life!
Honoli‘i was THE numbah one recreational site for the kids living in Ha‘aheo Village. Up until our high school years, when we graduated to Four Miles, Honoli‘i was our primary destination, especially during the weekends and all summer. The cinder road across from Alae Cemetery went through the cane fields to the cliffs of Honoli‘i (no homes on the cliffs in those days). The surfing area was accessed by climbing down the boulders on the side of the cliff immediately above the beach area. No can get bettah!
For the younger kids, escapades consisted mainly of going up small rivah to catch opae (river shrimp), pick watah vi (freshwater ‘opihi), and swimming in the refreshing, not-too-chilly ponds located under the first bridge, across from the home of the man we called Leite, who would yell at us when we swam hadaka (nude). Walking up the rivah always seemed to be an adventure. We slid along the bottom of small mossy-covered streams, swam under waterfalls, swung from vines hanging over ponds, sometimes collecting warabi, yama imo, and takenoko to take home for our moms to prepare with a little bit of pork. The river shrimp was fried with shoyu sato and a little bit of tongarashi (hot peppers), which the men folk also relished as püpü. The needle-like hairs from the takenoko were always an issue, so the protective layer of leaves had to be carefully removed. Handling a bundle of takenoko and warabi while riding the bike one-handed from Honoli‘i to Ha‘aheo village was another memorable event. Get evry ting daht place!
As we became more adept swimmers or maybe just more bold, we eventually graduated to surfing and spearfishing in the ocean with the bigger kids. The lobster plucked out of burning embers of driftwood and coconut shells was the tastiest I can recall ever eating! Little bit koge, but oh so ono! The best divers were my friends Masu, cousin Gerald, Eddie Boy, Kenneth F., and later, Raymond and Marvin. They were impressive and amazingly successful with their slings fashioned mainly from bamboo and surgical tubing and later, spear guns made from wood. For the taking, along the river and hillsides, were the wild mountain apple, rose apple, guava, mango, ulu and, of course, the all-purpose, life sustaining coconut that provided liquid, carbohydrates, fuel and shelter (the leaves could be used as cover for roofs of makeshift shelters). A special treat was the “soap” (really the embryo of coconut shoots).
Sometimes, on Sundays, on the way to Honoli‘i, we would stop by the cemetery to partake of musubi and fruits left on the tombstones. Waltah dah one! He was dah leadah! Around New Year’s we looked forward to the ono mochi that was left. We rationalized that we were keeping the food from rotting or being eaten by bugs. I guess we did not have a serious spiritual sensibility. Obake stories about the cemetery were quite real to most, so there were limits to our kolohe behavior around the cemetery. I tink we wen at least say, “Namu Amida Buddha” and “Tanks heh.”
We did not have towels or fresh water as essentials for whole days spent at Honoli‘i. I guess sugar cane, coconut water and the water contained in the fruits kept us more than adequately hydrated. I cannot recall anyone suffering from cramps or other gastric disorders. No sunscreen was available, and skin cancer was not a concern. I remember having blisters on our backs during the early days of summer, nothing painful. We would actually pop the blisters on our backs, thinking, I guess, that this would hasten the healing of the mildly burnt areas. I remember thinking this was rather gross, being coerced to do it for my brother Gordon. Ah, and I have fond memories of lying on the pebbled beach after washing the saltwater away in the cool ice water of the river. I also remember the big deal in swimming to “sun rock,” located up the big rivah, walking across the sand bar to get across to the base of the northern, Pauka‘a-side cliffs. A special challenge was to scale the old abandoned cylindrical pylons in the middle of the mouth of the river abandoned from an old bridge (still there as of January 2014) and finally getting on top to lie on my stomach in the sun, alone, like I had conquered the peak of a mountain. There was no tomorrow. Ah, feel goooood!
In our later, junior high school years, some of us (I mainly remember constant companions Pahksoup, Bosco and Waltah and sometimes Rodney), would spend nights fishing below the cliffs located behind “Kitsutani,” the family name of the gravestone artisan. Girls were conspicuously absent during these escapades. I think we also went fishing down the cliffs from Lover’s Lane, located south of Kitsutani, more towards Hilo. For bait we used jumping jacks, small fish we captured in tide pools. They got their name because they used their powerful tails to literally jump from one tide pool to another when pursued. Our ultimate goal was to catch ulua and big mouth kine rockfish.
We had no adult supervision during these days, just the big kids kinda looking over the younger ones and parental warnings: “Be home befoh dinnah time o else!” I do not recall any serious accidents, drownings, cases of dehydration, heat strokes or illnesses from swimming in a rivah that was probably contaminated by cow dung and chemicals used in the cane fields. I guess we developed strong immunities to various bacteria. I do remember nearly being swept out from the river to the ocean on a rubber tube before I was a good swimmer. I was taken towards Hilo Bay, on the south side of the breakers, but was able to get to shore and walk back without any problem. Funny, I don’t remember anyone trying to save me, so maybe this was something I just thought about because the current pulled me towards town. Spooky, the only little bit of a stressful experience I can recall.
It is amazing, now that I think back, that I cannot recall ever experiencing or hearing of anyone being caught in or even seeing a flash flood, though I always wondered why the trees and shrubs along the higher levels of the riverside were sometimes lying flat. It was not until I stayed in Waipi‘o Valley for a week of Peace Corps training in the ‘60s that I experienced a serious, tidal wave-like flash flood with small trees and boulders hurtling down the river. It may be that, as kids, we were never in the river when it rained heavily mauka of Honoli‘i.
An event I vividly remember is Kenneth attempting to catch ‘o‘opu on hand lines set on floats placed while on a paddleboard. The paddleboard was the first I had ever seen, and I was amazed that Ken let me paddle around with him. No one had real surfboards in those days, so the paddleboard was a very big deal. Drift plywood from old flume construction was the boogie board of the day. We shaped the boards with pocket knives, hiding our best boards in the bushes on the hillside for use on another day. Body surfing without fins, I remember, as the greatest, but most satisfying challenge. The rolling, breaking waves, though not great in length, made for a short but satisfying ride, and there were days when turtles rode the swells just outside the breaking waves. According to cousin Gerald, the Wainaku kids were the first to surf at Honoli‘i. This claim may be challenged by some of the kids who lived in Pauka‘a, but I don’t remember ever having seen those kids.
We were creative in the use of discarded materials. One time, cousin Gerald and my brother Gordon built a canoe from corrugated iron roofing and hao wood for the outriggers. They carted it a mile from the village to Honoli‘i, cajoling the littler kids to help plug the holes of the canoe with tar scraped from the road and telephone poles on the way to Honoli‘i. Interestingly, Terry, a good friend, remembers making a similar type canoe for use in Waiäkea Mill Pond. The canoe could float on the river, but when Gerald tried to take it out in the surf, “no can.” Gerald and Gordon, not wanting to carry the bulky canoe back home, filled it with rocks to hide it, only to discover later that the tide took it out to sea. Neither Gerald nor Gordon can remember ever seeing that canoe again. They nevah care. Good fun make, but.
There was nothing that could compare with spending a whole day at Honoli‘i, boogie boarding on the discarded plywood from flumes being repaired upstream, body surfing, sitting on the beach with the boys, lying in the sun, drinking coconut water, and eating coconut “spoon meat” with our fingahs or a piece of coconut shell. Yes, the pleasures of life were free! Still can o what?
Harold M. Murai is the third son of Nisei parents, born and raised in Wainaku, Hawai‘i. His father, worked in the mill while his mother, the pillar of the family, worked as a maid for her employers “who scared her with their drinking and loud celebrations” and sold “fresh silk” house to house by a sampan bus. She was also a seamstress in a sweatshop and ended her professional career as a sales person in several dress shops within Hilo. Murai graduated from the University of Hawai‘i with a bachelor’s of arts degree in psychology, received his doctorate from the University of Kansas and served three years in the Peace Corps within the Philippines. He’s currently the professor emeritus at Sacramento State University and husband to Linda, father to Lee Yosh and Tressa Kiyomi, and grandfather to Geneva Keturah, Chloe Amaya and Siena Miya.