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Kalihi: Place of Transition

Group of boys wearing football jerseys and dungarees

Kalihi Valley barefoot football league champions, 130-lb. class, 1944. (Photo courtesy Tokio Okudara.)

Kalihi, a multi-ethnic, working-class district located west of downtown Honolulu, once served as home and work place for many of O‘ahu’s people.

In the early years of the 1900s, Kalihi, then a residential district of middle- and upper-class Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians, attracted Chinese and Portuguese residents. As Japanese, Puerto Rican, and other sugar workers left the plantations, many of them settled in Kalihi. In the decades to come, Filipinos, Samoans, Koreans, and Southeast Asians followed.

Cannery workers, dairy workers, farmers, schoolteachers, storekeepers, and others all lived and worked in Kalihi.

“That’s my job. Filling up the bottles of milk and checking my customers, know their routes . . . The delivery was, let’s say, when I leave Umi Street, we’d go all the way Kam IV Road up to the pigpen area. Way up, you know. . . . Then we come back King Street again. We deliver Gulick Avenue. . . . Then we’d go Kalihi Kai. . . . Pu‘uhale Road, and then we’d come back.” —Joe A. Joseph

“As I went to grammar school at Kalihi Kai School, all our brothers and sisters used to help. . . . We help at the store in the morning, . . . and when we came back for lunch, we help. . . . After we come back from school, we help them in the store again.” —Frankie Kam

Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, these residents were joined by others. Attracted by affordable housing and Kalihi’s proximity to Downtown Honolulu and U.S. military bases, many rented or purchased homes and commuted to work outside of Kalihi.

“Yeah, I was a longshoreman. . . . When I came from Hilo, I went to McCabe, Hamilton & Renny. Then when this Castle & Cooke, they needed some longshoremen, they borrow from McCabe. So I transferred to Castle & Cooke. Then, when Castle & Cooke, they kinda slack, McCabe call us back.” —Sabas Jamito

“When I went in the (Pearl Harbor Navy) Shipyard, the first three years I went as a laborer. But then I say, “Well, I’m not going to be a laborer here all my life. I’m going to try get something better.” Which I did. . . . Then I learned a lot more.” —John Vegas

They, together with longtime residents, further developed residential neighborhoods with churches, community organizations, schools, and youth activities.

“The Lady of the Mount Church, yeah, we used to have a big doing over there. Yeah, we used to have, that’s the patron saint . . . and they used to have a novena . . . You used to go pray the rosary in church, and . . . they used to make this sticks of dynamite . . . then they used to light and throw . . . for nine days before the regular date, the fifteenth of August.” —Gussie Ornellas

“. . . in 1944, we captured the league title in 130-pound (barefoot) football league. We defeated the Diamond Packers which were the champs for three years. For five consecutive years, we took the champ. . . . I figure, well, here’s part of history because from now on I don’t think we’ll have any barefoot football league . . .” —Tokio Okudara

Today, Kalihi still serves as home to Hawai‘i’s workers and their children — many of whom are recent immigrants from the Pacific, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia. The newer residents now occupy rebuilt older homes, and new single- and multi-family dwellings.

“There’s no empty space in Kalihi anymore, except a few parks maybe, school grounds. Used to be vegetable gardens, flower gardens, taro patches, grazing land, chicken farms. Not anymore. Even the hillsides are covered now with homes. But it used to be a quiet, really quiet, open area. You could walk to anyplace you wanted to go. No place was too far to walk, that is, within Kalihi. But today, well, it’s just grown that’s all.” —Adolph “Duffie” Mendonca


audiotape iconMary Souza talks about her home (.au sound file, 165K).





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