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Individual Lives

I‘i/Brown Family: Oral Histories

Large home with veranda flanked by coconut trees.

George I‘i Brown, Jr. family home in Waipi‘o Peninsula, ‘Ewa, O‘ahu, 1998. (COH photo)

Near the base of Waipi‘o Peninsula, in ‘Ewa, O‘ahu, there is an odd-shaped 13.2-acre parcel of land, which, since the early 1940s, was the site of the George I‘i Brown, Jr. family home. The land is part of the Waipi‘o ahupua‘a (land division extending from mountains to sea) awarded to John Papa I‘i (1800–1870), who was general superintendent of O‘ahu Schools and associate justice of the Superior Court.

“My great-great grandfather, the father of Irene I‘i, was John Papa I‘i who was a very significant Hawaiian historian. His writings were published in Hawaiian-language newspapers in the nineteenth century. And in the 1950s those writings were gathered together into a book which is called Fragments of Hawaiian History . . .” —DeSoto Brown

The former residential property is the site of a proposed senior care village which was to be developed by The Queen Emma Foundation. At the request of the foundation, COH conducted the I‘i/Brown Family oral history project featuring interviews with Kenneth F. Brown, Zadoc Brown, Jr., George Brown III, Irene Brown, and DeSoto Brown.

Kenneth F. Brown, grandson of Irene I‘i, recalls his grandmother’s homes.

“She had houses all over. Had one in the mountains, one in Waipi‘o, one in Nu‘uanu, one on Kaua‘i, one on Hawai‘i. In the old days, they used to travel around. Down in Waipi‘o, on the fish pond, there was a wonderful house that we kept using for years and years after her demise. They would have parties there. And my uncle Francis (I‘i Brown), when he was running for the legislature, he would have lu‘aus (feasts) down there, and it was a very celebrated, special place for the family.” —Kenneth F. Brown

Zadoc Brown remembers both the Waipi‘o property, then occupied by his uncle George I‘i Brown, Jr. and family, and another home in the mountains.

“When I was young, the (Waipi‘o) property was pretty much completely surrounded by cane . . . Even through the property itself was only (thirteen) acres, there was nothing else really nearby to speak of . . . The other place that we had access to, which was a unique place, was a house that had been built for my great-grandmother (Irene I‘i) . . . It was in the Ko‘olaus, above Mililani. We used to go up there, swim in the streams, and have guava fights . . . ” —Zadoc Brown, Jr.

The Waipi‘o house in which George Brown III and his three sisters were raised was built in 1941.

“It was a rambling house, fairly long. We spent most of the time outside on the lanai (veranda). There was a pune‘e (moveable couch) out there that we’d take naps on and there was some other furniture . . . The rooms, basically, were connected to the lanai. So, as an example, you couldn’t go from the dining room to the living room, you had to go out on the lanai . . .  And also into the bedrooms, you had to go to the lanai. So it was basically outside living and it was a great way to live.” —George Brown III

In addition to their observations of the social, historical, and cultural changes experienced at the family property at Wapi‘o, the Browns shared their personal histories, including their early childhood, schooling, family relationships, work, daily life, activities, and ethnic identity.

“I can remember now, looking back, seeing my father at parties. And every time we had a party, there would be a Hawaiian orchestra singing and playing . . . and then sometimes, I’d see my father standing with them and looking at them. There was a huge poignant feeling of pathos there because (it’s as if) these people said, ‘You know, I just get paid to play music and laugh and I do that all the time, but inside me (puts hand on heart) . . . there’s more to me, to my culture.’ ” —Kenneth F. Brown

“When Dad (George I‘i Brown, Jr.) was growing up, it wasn’t cool to be Hawaiian at all. And even with this history and knowledge that he was part-Hawaiian, he didn’t necessarily learn the Hawaiian ways . . . And I just remember asking for a Hawaiian bracelet when I was eighteen. And Dad said, ‘You don’t want that. You don’t want people to know you’re Hawaiian.’ I was like, why not? I’m proud of it. And that’s why I’m really happy that (my daughter) is pursuing Hawaiian studies. I want her to know about her heritage. I think it’s very important, and she should be proud of it.” —Irene Brown


Link to audioKenneth F. Brown describes his parents’ meeting and grandmother Irene I‘i’s appearance in Boston for their wedding (.mp3 sound file, 611K).




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