By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The names — or rather, the nicknames — jump off the page like a roster of the legends who, in their heyday, stalked the barefoot gridiron at Ho‘olulu Park.
Lefty, Skunk, Bolo
Beans, Pig Ear and Cherry
Crash, Hick, Square
Porky, Sluggo and Scotch.
Few are alive now who remember these characters.
Big Head, Cabbage, Jitters
Kanaka, Mahat, and Taboon.
Steamy, Turtle, Haleakala
Kingpin, Kodak, and Moon.
Beans, of course, was Ung Soy “Beans” Afook, the legendary Hilo High basketball coach, and Steamy is Robert “Steamy” Chow, the grand old man of Hilo town. But the origins of many of the other names are lost, as is the author of the poem excerpted above, Kathlyn “Kiki” Furuya, who died in 2006 of ovarian cancer.
But her memories, and those of nearly 60 other treasured kupuna, are preserved in a new book compiled by the East Hawaii Cultural Council. The book is being released to the public at a reception 2-4 p.m. Sunday at the East Hawaii Cultural Center.
“Aloha ‘Aina: Big Island Memories” is a 288-page repository of stories of life in the early to mid-20th century, on an island that exists today in the minds of a dwindling number of senior men and women.
It’s an island of immigrants and plantation camps, of peace at home and war abroad. Some of the names are famous — Edith Kanaka‘ole, Lorraine Rodero Inouye — while others are less so.
Haruye Murakami Hagiwara of Hilo tells the story of how her father was arrested and sent to live in a prison camp as an enemy alien for the duration of World War II.
Laura Yuen Chock tells of a time when Hilo’s Mamo Street was so busy on Saturday evenings, with people going to restaurants, stores, theaters, pool halls and bars, that “the sidewalks were thick with people dodging each other to get where they needed to go.”
Ruth Fujimoto, who died earlier this year at the age of 94, tells of the Big Island’s first bon dance, held in Kaumana. Shiho Nunes describes an exorcism in Waipi‘o Valley.
There’s a lengthy story about how the Kim family got to Ola‘a to start the Kea‘au Kim Chee business. An anonymous octogenarian tells how he evaded the watchman to ride the cane flume that crossed Waianuenue Avenue. (It required “stealth, skill, strength and stupidity,” he recalled.)
The book is the brainchild of Dennis Taniguchi, executive director of the East Hawaii Cultural Center, who worked on a similar project with seniors living in San Francisco.
In early 2011, after much persuading, Taniguchi got Kay Yokoyama to coordinate the project.
The book is divided into different districts, from Hilo to Hamakua, Kohala, Kona, Ka‘u and Puna. Yokoyama tried to get representatives from as many ethnic groups as they could.
Some of the material is reprinted with permission from “Old Time Kona Stories” and the book “Ku‘u Home i Keaukaha.”
Some of the authors have died, “but they left wonderful stories behind them,” Yokoyama said.
“We thought that the stories should be of the 1900s, because we really represent a kind of bridge between all the things that happened during this century, and so many of us are passing on,” said Frances Chang Sherrard, a contributor who was later tapped to edit the book. “We felt that we wanted to share what life was like.”
Because most of the stories are gathered from the children of immigrants, in a time when few resorts existed, life on the Big Island was poor, although those who told the stories saw themselves rich in resources.
“We ate mostly vegetables grown in our garden. They were off-grade,” reads a typical passage from Michi Kuwaye, a nisei who grew up in the plantation fields near Pepe‘ekeo. “For meat, Dad would go into the orchard and pluck a duck or chicken. Which one did he kill? My brother and I had many crying times when our pets were served for dinner.”
“We felt that we needed to help our younger generation to realize what life was like, and perhaps to learn from and appreciate what their ancestors had contributed, so that they might have a better life,” Sherrard said.
Charlene Asato and Richard Ichikawa are the other members of the committee that compiled the book, and all the proceeds will benefit the East Hawaii Cultural Center at 141 Kalakaua St., Hilo, HI 96720. The book is being printed in two versions, with the illustrations in black-and-white and color.
The black-and-white version will be available at the reception and by mail-in orders for $20 minimum donation. Limited editions of the colored illustration version will also be available at the Sunday afternoon reception and by mail-in orders for $40 minimum donation. An additional $5 is required for mail-in orders to pay for postage. Donations may be payable to “EHCC, A Book Project.” After the reception, the book will be available for $25 in black and white and $45 in color at EHCC and at Basically Books in Hilo.
Sparky, Oily, Mosquito
Kaiser, Slim, and Gasbag …
Email Peter Sur at email@example.com.