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Life Histories of Native Hawaiians

Men sit on roof of partially thatched house.

Framework of Hawaiian thatched house. (Photo courtesy Martina Fuentevilla.)

In Life Histories of Native Hawaiians, the lifestyles and experiences of Hawaiians in the first half of this century are examined. In cooperation with the Wai‘anae Hawaiian Heritage Cultural Center, researcher and writer June Gutmanis conducted oral history interviews with nine older Hawaiians, including a community worker, teacher, seaman, streetcar conductor, nurse, entertainer, homemaker, plantation worker, and cowboy.

Interviews cover childhood memories, job experiences, political and cultural involvements, views on the Hawaiian language, and various aspects of daily lives. A common topic is the lifestyles of Hawaiian families in the early twentieth century.

“And our church didn’t have a bell, it was such a small church; but it had a conch shell. So the family that lived nearest that church would blow it very early in the morning. And Grandma would say, ‘Hurry up, everybody. Do you hear the conch shell blowing?’ ” —Elizabeth Ellis

A variety of job experiences are recalled by the interviewees. Among these are first-hand accounts of teaching on the Big Island, ranching on Maui, nursing at a Hansen’s disease station, working on streetcars, and sailing on inter-island and ocean-going ships.

“In 1923 I went to the Rapid Transit office and apply for to work on the streetcars and I work on streetcars about nine years. . . . It’s a hard job, especially when you’re conductor, you on your feet all day. And then you know how the streetcar run, they always jagging a jig, till my leg got bumped, even till now, from that place.” —Louis Aila, Jr.

“Well, we were still shipping. The conditions were still the old conditions, 1934. That’s when they opened the strike. . . . It’s rough sometimes when you run into, oh, strikebreakers. You have to get down there and, what you call it, mob them.” —George Ai

Also discussed are cultural practices and beliefs.

“I know the beach in the tradition of camping out and netting, you don’t pick ‘opihi (limpets) and all just waste. . . . If you pick a lot of ‘opihi, you always have to throw some back, one or two back. It’s almost like saying, ‘Thank you for giving me the privilege of picking.’ ” —Katherine Maunakea

These nine life histories provide information about Hawaiians during a time of transition from a traditional to contemporary society.


Link to audioWally Kuloloia remembers fishing with his grandparents (.au sound file, 182K).






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