Search for boat’s name leads to treasure trove of history

KAPA‘A — The discovery of an old dinghy wedged between the rafters of the Polynesia Cafe gave birth to a whole new chapter for the Kapa‘a restaurant.

“When clean up and remodeling started on the new business, locals and long-time residents would drop in to ‘talk story’ about the building’s history,” said Thames Goodwin, owner of the Polynesia Cafe Kapa‘a.

Goodwin said there are many stories about the history of the building before it became “The Shack.” It started out as a market and became a Hindu health-food business before a green house was added.

That gave birth to “The Kapa‘a Chowder House.”

Goodwin said amidst this collection of history, one morning, shortly after the restaurant opened, an elderly local man approached him and said, “I know you’ve heard all the stories about the building. But do you know anything about the boat?”

The elder was referring to the dinghy that Goodwin and his crews had happened upon during their remodeling and renovation work.

“For the longest time, I wanted to know the name of that boat. It was stuck in the back of my mind until that gentleman came in,” Goodwin said.

At some point in the building’s history, the boat, bearing its battle scars of a history on Kaua‘i’s waters and no indication of a name, had been worked into the interior design of the building.

Years of neglect took its toll and due to its deteriorating state, the vessel had been pushed out of the way, Goodwin said.

But not to Goodwin.

“We had just recently painted and repositioned it to dress it up a little, but it needed a name,” Goodwin said. “But it had to be a name that had local history. When the gentleman told me about the boat, I got chicken skin.”

Through the narrative of the kupuna, Goodwin said it appears the boat belonged to “Uncle Jack” Paik, a Hanalei resident who passed away a few decades ago.

That led Goodwin to speak with John Kauo, one of Uncle Jack’s relatives.

In trying to unravel the saga of how the boat got placed in the rafters, and more specifically, which boat it is, the effort sparked memories of a certain boat, Kamaka Hia, that was used for years by the family.

The boat was christened in honor of the good times and good fishing the family enjoyed in the little flat-bottomed vessel.

“It was years ago, and the truth is, we just don’t know what happened to the boat,” said Kauo.

With that information, Goodwin drew on the artistic creativity of Elmer Conant, one of his employees, to brush the name “Kamaka Hia” on the refurbished boat that now forms an integral part of the Polynesia Cafe interior.

In celebration of all that he has learned along the way, Goodwin is starting Kamaka Hia Sunday, an event he said would be weekly, inviting locals and visitors to enjoy “talk story” performances of acoustic Hawaiian music.

Amidst this atmosphere of music, Goodwin invites local residents to share their memories of Kaua‘i’s history and traditions.

At 11 a.m. today, Goodwin said a special area below the Kamaka Hia will be cleared and Big John Kauo and his musical trio, “Honey Girl’s Trio,” will be an integral part of the unveiling of the re-christened boat.

Following Kauo, Goodwin said another well-known local performer, Irene Yoshida, who also is a hostess at the Polynesia Cafe, will be doing a special performance for guests.

“Something good has come from this effort,” Goodwin said. “We have talked story and learned of things that should be retold and captured. Kamaka Hia Sunday is a way to try this traditional story-telling method of relaying history in a way people can share and experience.

Goodwin plans on recording the events on DVD/CD with releases when they become available.

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