Special to The Hawaii Herald
“We were a family of families. . .” wrote Derek Kurisu in his personal reflection of the values that guided his upbringing in the close-knit Hämäkua Coast plantation community of Hakalau — values the sansei has lived in his long career with the Big Island’s KTA Super Stores.
Kurisu is one of 85 individuals whose works are included in “Aloha ‘Äina, Volume II, More Big Island Memories,” a newly published collection of personal stories about life on Hawai‘i island through the late 1960s. The book is a project of the East Hawai‘i Cultural Council/Hawai‘i Museum of Contemporary Art in Hilo and was edited by retired Waiäkea High School librarian Gloria R. Kobayashi.
“Family” is one of several recurring themes throughout the book as the Big Island comes to life through vivid recollections of island events, from the large — tsunamis, volcano eruptions and the outbreak of war, among others — to the more personal — “chickenskin” encounters with the supernatural, a child uprooted from familiar surroundings by a family move, the experience of being Jewish in Hawai‘i and more. Every corner of the island is represented in essays and poems contributed by a diverse group of writers, including Big Island natives now residing elsewhere and those born elsewhere who now make Hawai‘i island their home.
“Aloha ‘Äina” was a labor of love by a group of dedicated volunteers led by Kobayashi, who was also the driving force behind two other publications — a history of Waiäkea High School, and “The Yashijima Story: A History of Waiäkea Town.” As massive an undertaking as they were, she said “Aloha ‘Äina” was “probably the hardest work I have ever done.” Most of the work on the book — writing, artwork, editing, design and even the filling of orders — was performed by Hilo residents, who donated their time and efforts to the project with Kobayashi in the quarterback role.
Early in the planning, Kobayashi identified two not very well known Big Island stories to anchor the publication. The two stories were written by former Hawai‘i Herald staffers — former writer Patsy (Nakayama) Iwasaki and former editor Arnold Hiura.
Iwasaki, now a University of Hawai‘i-Hilo faculty member, contributed the tragic story of Katsu Goto, the young immigrant storekeeper who was lynched in 1889 in Honoka‘a for advocating for higher wages and better working conditions for Japanese immigrant plantation workers. Iwasaki, a former Goto of Hiroshima Foundation grant recipient, has done extensive research on the life of Katsu Goto. She also authored the manga, “Hamakua Hero,” based on Goto’s life.
The other story was contributed by writer/historian Arnold Hiura, who has authored several books on local cuisine. Hiura, who was recently appointed executive director of the Hawaii Japanese Center, shared the fascinating story of Hilo carpenter Rikan Konishi, to whom he was related by marriage. In 1932, following a sensational murder-suicide, Konishi daringly rigged up cables and allowed himself to be lowered into fiery Halema‘uma‘u Crater to retrieve the bodies of the young couple.
Other personal stories and poems were contributed by such noted authors as Garrett Hongo, Hawai‘i Herald columnist Frances Kakugawa, Juliet Kono, David Shapiro and Lois-Ann Yamanaka, as well as by Big Island residents from other walks of life.
The contributions are grouped into themed sections. “Community Builders” includes memories of some of the island’s iconic businesses, from Hilo Drug Company to Koehnen’s, KTA Super Stores and Cafe 100. Another section focuses on such “Special Places” as Shinmachi, Kïlauea, Kapoho, Keaukaha, Kona and Waipi‘o.
“Resilience” features stories about Hawaii Planing Mill’s survival through war and tsunamis, the closing of the Hämäkua Coast sugar plantations and the tsunami inundation of Waiäkea Town. “Youthful Spirit” recalls “small kid time” on Mamo Street in downtown Hilo, nostalgic recollections of home delivery of milk and groceries and adventures getting lost in the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Stories in sections on “Courage,” “Encounters,” “Love” and “Plantation Life” round out the 199-page book, which is beautifully illustrated with contributions from Big Island artists and photographers.
This second volume of “Aloha ‘Äina” is a follow-up to the 2012 publication, which was overseen by the late Kay Yokoyama. The project was initially conceived of by former East Hawai‘i Cultural Council executive director Dennis Taniguchi, who tapped Yokoyama, a longtime EHCC board member, retired mental health social worker, accomplished watercolorist and overall arts advocate, to begin collecting stories from Big Island kupuna. Volume II is dedicated to the memory of Kay Yokoyama, who died earlier this year.
Proceeds from the sale of both publications will support programs of the East Hawai‘i Cultural Council, including operation of the Hawai‘i Museum of Contemporary Art, the only museum of contemporary art outside of O‘ahu. Lourdan Kimbrell, the museum’s president and executive director, noted that part of the institution’s mission is “to be a part of the community and to acknowledge the diversity of the community in which we exist.” Added Lourdan: “We believe that fostering a pride of place through a publication like ‘Aloha ‘Äina’ will transform the place we live.”
The council hopes to publish a third volume of Big Island memories in the future, as well as develop a series of children’s books based on the stories published in Volumes I and II.
Both volumes of “Aloha ‘Äina” are available in black/white ($35, plus $1.20 tax) and color ($45, plus $1.80 tax) and can be ordered from the Hawai‘i Museum of Contemporary Art by emailing www.ehcc.org, visiting the museum or by mail at 141 Kaläkaua St., Hilo, HI 96720 (include $6 for mailing per book). For more information, email the museum or call (808) 961-5711. Both publications are also available from Amazon.com.
Margaret Shiba is the director of institutional advancement for the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. She and her husband lived in New York for over three decades before moving to the Big Island, where they now reside in Ähualoa on the Hämäkua Coast.