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Individual Lives

Five Life Histories

Boy with baby brother.

Interviewee Ernest Malterre and baby brother Leon, in Onomea, Hawai‘i, 1918. (Photo courtesy Ernest Malterre.)

This project focuses on the personal experiences and historical events recalled by five individuals of disparate backgrounds. The interviewees range in age from sixty-four to ninety-three and talk about their lives in Big Island plantation communities; Kula, Maui; Leeward O‘ahu; central Honolulu; and Ka‘a‘awa, O‘ahu.

A retired O‘ahu Sugar Company administrator talks about his childhood in Onomea, Hawai‘i; changes in Waipahu, O‘ahu; and the post-World War II activities of the O‘ahu Sugar Company.

“I tell you the story of the day I was walking home from school and I thought I (would) cut across the field that was harvested. And I jumped over the flume and I fell into the flume with the water running. And it carried me down for a little while until I finally caught on the side of the flume, able to climb out. And I thought I was gonna go to the mill. (Laughs.)” —Ernest Malterre

The oldest female descendant of the first boatload of Japanese contract immigrants who arrived in 1895 discusses her parents’ immigration to Hawai‘i, her early years in Kula and Downtown Honolulu, and her career as an immigration bureau interpreter.

“When they register, alien registration, the head office used to send what they call a receipt, with the fingerprint and everything. During the war, alien should take that along when they go out. . . . And then the MP get hold of them, ask them to show alien registration card. And, of course, they don’t understand. They (i.e., MPs) take things out and look, but no alien registration card. So, put them all on the army truck and brought them down to immigration station. And then, we found out all of them have them, but they said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to lose it, so I kept them very carefully at home.’ ” —Raku Morimoto

A nisei (second-generation Japanese American), who rose from irrigator to the superintendent of O‘ahu Sugar Company’s ‘Ewa and Waipahu fields, talks about his work and the Waipahu community.

“I went home and I saw my dad and I told my dad, ‘Eh, Dad, I’m gonna be luna (foreman) from tomorrow.’ My dad just made only one comment, this is what he said (pause), ‘Don’t forget that you was an irrigator.’ For several days I pondered what he meant. . . . So I confronted my dad and, ’Eh, Dad, you mean to tell me that for me to not to be uppertish, you know, stick my nose too high that you one supervisor.’ ‘Exactly. If you do that, your trouble will begin from that moment on.’ To my last day as an employee of O‘ahu Sugar Company prior to my retirement, I never forgot that word of wisdom that my dad had impounded on me that many, many years ago.’ ” —Yuzuru Morita

A musician shares his recollections of playing band music from taxi dance halls to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the 1930s to 1960s.

“Well, I did a TV pilot with Alfred Apaka, and the band leader came from the Mainland. Frank Duvall. . . . At rehearsal, he says, ‘You four saxophones, give me your parts, I’m going to change it. Take five.’ . . . Sixteen measures and he’s off. So he takes a measure, zoop with sax, my part. In five minutes he was done. And he changed the figuration and harmony, everything. He played not one clinker, no one thing wrong. He was a genius, you know.” —Charles Santos

Born and raised in Kahana Valley, the retired proprietor of Ka‘a‘wa Vegetable Stand recalls her experiences in Windward O‘ahu.

“A Hawaiian man from inside the valley would go up there (to a site overlooking the bay) to look for the fish from way up there, and when he saw the school of fish coming in, he’d call out. . . . As soon as we hear his voice, we all come out from the valley. Then all the fishermen would come out with their boats and their nets and they would go and surround the fish. They used to catch a lot and everybody would help pull the net in. And everybody, depending on the catch now, everybody would get a share of that catch.” —Edith Yonenaka


Link to audioEdith Yonenaka describes the 1946 tidal wave (.au sound file, 413K).





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