The Ranch ‘Ohana

I would be remiss if I mentioned one or two of the paniolo (cowboys) and not others who were permanent fixtures on the ranch and were vital in some ways. When we went into ranching full-time; we had six full-time regular paniolo of which I was one. The others were John Solomon Malina, Robert Li‘ili‘i Keuma, Hiram Matsumoto, Isao Ishida and of course my mentor, Mamoru Matsumura. John Cravalho was a sometime paniolo but mostly a tractor operator or a mowing machine operator.

John Solomon Malina was the foreman of the paniolo. He helped me make my first “kaula ili” (rawhide lasso) and taught me how to do the knots. He was also a good throw net fisherman but I wasn’t sure if he could swim. Robert Li‘ili‘i Keuma always rode which ever stallion we had at the time. The one we had when I was there was named “Skylight” who’s sire, “Skymore”, was a famous sire of polo ponies all over the Western U.S, especially in Colorado. Our stallion was built like a Quarter Horse and was a great cutting horse.

Hiram Matsumoto started life not being able to finish the eighth grade because his father died when he was 10 or 11 and he had to work eight to 10 hour days and then go home and work in their rice paddies until dark to support his ‘ohana (family). He was also a good throw net fisherman. Isao Ishida was a “jack of all trades”, he could do almost anything. He was a good throw net maker and taught me how to make my own throw net. He, at one time before WWII, was the caretaker at Kipukai.

Isao’s father Mr. Ishida was an Issei (first generation Japanese to Hawai‘i). One day I asked him why he came to Hawai‘i, and he told me that he was a second son and in Japan, the first son inherited all the land and the other boys had to scratch for themselves. He was sent to his uncle who was a carpenter who told the boy, “you watch and no talk for one year”. Before the year was up he applied to come to Hawai‘i and was accepted.

He sneaked off and sailed to Hawai‘i and was sent to Kaua‘i where he got sent to Kipu. As soon as he was settled and had a few dollars in his hands, he ordered a picture bride wife. They were married and soon Isao was born. In Japanese culture all first sons’ names begin with an “I”.

Other workers on the ranch were Mr.Tanji another carpenter who I think learned his carpentry skills in Colorado during WWII where he was interned for being the registrar of all Japanese births for the Japanese Government. He was also the teacher in the Japanese Language School at Kipu. His son William was my Parts Manager at Garden Island Motors. Robert Keuma Jr. was number two stable boy and also drove a truck with the chopped panicum grass for the dairy cows in Lihu’e. The dairy and exercise paddock were where Hamura’s Saimin and the Lihu’e Christian Church are today. The panicum grass would be cut and bundled by Mr. Kagawa who was semi retired. He would get up by three in the morning to cut and bundle the grass and help Robert Keuma Jr. load the truck. Mr. Kagawa worked those early hours to take advantage of the dew on the grass. The dew would suppress the little hairs on the grass from making you itch. The sad story of his life was when he was much younger, he ordered a picture bride. She came on the same boat his brother did and he said he was the Kagawa that had ordered her and they stayed on the boat and sailed to California. He lost all his savings and no bride and never tried for another.

John Cravalho came from Maui after WWII. He was a cousin of Elmer Cravalho who was a long time mayor of Maui. Johnny was a likable sort and persistent. He kept asking my grandfather for a job until the old man gave in and hired him. He never regretted it.

Now last but not the least is Fuji Matsumura, the “ichiban” (number one) stable boy. He was responsible for the stalls to be kept clean every morning and saw that the grass for the dairy cows was chopped. Fuji was short for Fujimoto. Later he changed his name to Matsumura when he married. For Japanese families who, heaven forbid, didn’t have any sons, the custom was whoever married the eldest daughter would change his name to the girl’s family name. Fuji also was a water boy in the Japanese Army in Manchuria. He said to me one day, “Mr. Hobey, you no fight Chinese, you shoot one, two come. They just like usagi, rabbits!”

We were a happy group and had a lot of fun together. Of all the people, Violet Matsumoto, Lillian Tanji and I are the only ones living.


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