Prof. William Kenji “Pila” Kikuchi, noted archeologist, Hawaiian historian and researcher, and respected educator at Kauai Community College, died yesterday following a battle with cancer.
Kikuchi had been undergoing treatment as early as last November, when he gave a talk at the Aloha Beach Resort on one of his specialties, ancient Hawaiian fishponds.
In spite of his illness, he remained chipper and voiced his determination to electronically document his work for posterity.
In his life, Kikuchi immersed himself in the archeology of Kauai, both pre-western contact and post-contact, and produced scores of publications on the subject. He also was an expert on Hawaiian history and culture.
Kikuchi’s passing is a great loss to Kauai, said longtime friends.
“He was wonderful teacher and humanitarian, great classes, spirited, anecdotal,” said Dr. John Lydgate, a fellow instructor at the Kauai Community College, where Kikuchi taught archeology from 1972 to 1998, when he retired.
Kikuchi was “extremely popular with students and was knowledgeable about things Hawaiiana on this island,” Lydgate said.
Lydgate, a Kauai Historical Society member and a former president of the organization, said Kikuchi made numerous informed presentations to the organization over the years. His work helped broadened the knowledge of old Hawaii and Kauai, Lydgate said.
“I do grieve his passing, a great man,” Lydgate said.
David Kawate, a retired dean of instruction at Kauai Community College, said Kikuchi was “recognized as a living treasure, he was a foremost authority on Hawaiian fishponds.”
“He was a resource. He did community work. He served on panels,” Kawate said. “Anything that was asked of him, he was one of those who was more than willing to help out. He will be missed.”
Kawate said Kikuchi was well liked by students who respected his expertise.
Reginald Gage, one of the leaders of the Kauai Historical Society, said that “for over 50 years, Kikuchi was the mainstay of Hawaii and Kauai archeology.”
“He has been active in research, publications and education and consultations,” Gage said. “He will be sorely missed by many friends on Kauai.”
In recent years, Kikuchi worked with Gage, Dr. David Burney, a noted paleoecologist from Fordham University, Dr. Storrs Olson from the Smithsonian Institution and other researchers at a “sinkhole” in Mahaulepu in Poipu.
The work has given insight into how the area was used before Polynesians arrived in Hawaii some 300 to 800 years ago.
The site was home to more than 40 native birds, and during past times, the site was swamped by tsunami or hurricanes.
The revelations were chronicled in a nationally-circulated report, to which Kikuchi very likely contributed. Kikuchi was successful in securing grants for the research project as well.
Friends said Kikuchi loved the Hawaiian culture.
As a KCC archeology instructor in the early 1980s, he led efforts to restore a shoreline heiau in Poipu that was damaged by huge waves generated by Hurricane Iwa in 1982.
The heiau was further damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. The heiau is located in front of the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club.
Last November, Kikuchi worked on a project that he said at the time had great meaning to him.,
His study focused on identifying ancient Hawaiian fishponds on Kauai and elsewhere in the state. He said it was his wish that he or others could lead efforts to restore them.
The ancient ponds provided fish for entire Hawaiian settlements. Hawaiians practiced conservation by eating only what they would take from the ponds.
Kikuchi said that with limited resources facing Hawaii and the rest of the world today, that lesson on conservation was something Hawaii residents should take to heart today.
In his work, Kikuchi reported that 480 known fishponds had been identified. Kikuchi said the development of the fishponds reflected the inventiveness and “native intelligence” of the Hawaiians, attributes that impressed him.
“They were really smart people,” he told a crowd at the presentation.
Kikuchi also was consulted by the developers of the Kapalawai Resort in Makaweli on the restoration of an ancient Hawaiian fishpond at the site in west Kauai. The developers sought Kikuchi for that job because of his expertise.
Kikuchi’s other love, friends said, was teaching.
He worked 26 years at the Kauai Community College as an archeology instructor before his retirement in 1998.
To stay close to students after retirement, he volunteered his services at the college’s cafeteria. “He loved their energy. He was very collegiate,” Lydgate said.
Kikuchi’s expertise lay with the archeology of Kauai, having produced nearly 20 publications on the topic between 1972 and 1998.
Kikuchi also produced publications on archeological sites on Oahu and petroglyphs in American Samoa. During his career, Kikuchi won scores of awards for his work, including the first in 1961, when he was recognized by the Pacific Science Association, Hawaiian Academy of Science for his fieldwork in American Samoa.
The state Senate recognized his work in 2000. In 2002, officials with the Kauai Museum named him as a “living treasure,” former Kauai Mayor Maryanne Kusaka gave him a “lifetime achievement in archeology” commendation, and the Kauai County Council bestowed a similar honor on Kikuchi.
During his career, he worked as a volunteer for the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, an assistant archeologist and fellow in anthropology at the Bishop Museum and an archeologist for the Hawaii Historic Places Review Board in Honolulu.
Kikuchi served two terms on the Kauai County Historic Preservation Review Commission, as director of the Kauai Historical Society and as a two-term board member of the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program at the Bishop Museum.
Over the years, Kikuchi has been members of prestigious Hawaii-based, international and national archeological-based organizations.
The son of the late Edward and Gladys Nishi Kikuchi, Kikuchi was born on June 27, 1935 in Honolulu.
Kikuchi attended public schools on Oahu, graduated from Kaimuki High School in 1953, gradated with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Hawaii in Manoa in 1955 and earned degrees in archeology and cultural anthropology from the University of Arizona. He earned a Ph.D.. in 1973.
A resident of Omao, Kikuchi is survived by his wife, Delores.