Kauai people today, trustees of the past

The idea for this column began when we laughed with our friend Pairu about his feelings when he learned that many of his long-unused “good” clothes were given away. Ah well, things come and go … better that someone else could put them to use.

This came back to me while folding my husband’s tattered, maroon work shirt. I dare not remove it from his yard work wardrobe. Not with its historic Puhi Store graphic, worn and faded as it is. By my inaction, I joined him in becoming a trustee of the past. His longtime Menehune Golf friend, the late Robert Fujikawa, managed that store for decades while his wife ran its Post Office branch. When that shirt becomes a work rag, we’ll be taking the challenge to remember, then hold these memories well after the rag is tossed.

Acceptance. Coming and going.

That consoling idea again took on energy as I explored a stack of older Kauai books on our breezy porch, researching and reviewing material for my upcoming fall Road Scholar story-telling days. What should turn up on my first random opening of “The Kauai Album” but a picture of the Puhi Store — and a pretty young woman whom we think just might be “The Postmistress” in her heyday. I browsed all the photos, and enjoyed the copy written by Carol Wilcox, who was updating things around the island using then-and-now photos by John Wehrheim and T. K. Kunichika.

But this was back before publication in 1981, and things have very definitely changed over the last 35 years. The Hanalima Baking Co. and a wine specialty store are now located in a new building that rose in the place of the Puhi Store. A parking lot apron spreads over the space of the old Puhi Annex shop, where we could buy a mokihana lei (among other local flowers and fruits) for $19.99 back before 2000. The mokihana came (permitted) from our Kauai forests, not airflown from the Cook Isles.

“The Kauai Album” holds a photo of the Puhi service station across the street — very different now, not to say that different is “bad.” Just different. Like makai (seaward) view driving back towards Lihue, now mostly obscured by the new shopping village, which incorporates the name of the mountain peak folks can no long see clearly. Interestingly, I heard from a longtime resident that when plans were made for the Kukui Grove Shopping Center in the 1980s, the planners made sure the ground level was lowered, so views would not be obscured.

As I kept turning the pages of the album published by the Kauai Historical Society, I was awed by the palatial home (with a specific telephone room) that housed the McBryde family up at Kukuiolono “back in the day.” Same with Valley House in Kealia, where resided the large Spalding family in the late 1800s. I tried to guess which three of the pinafored daughters shown in the formal photograph posed on its front steps married the European noblemen. Would they have dreamed that Steven Spielberg would make their home area into a “Jurassic Park” center 100 years later?

I was pleased to find archival images of Kapaa’s highway-fronted Fernandez home, the Awapuhi building and the old rice mill building. These exist with few changes and are recognizable. On around the island, I wondered about the farmers who worked those rice paddies in Hanapepe that existed where followed the post office and library up to Koula Street; and Lester Robinson, who built a home perched on the cliff shoulder over Olowalu Canyon.

There were the renowned Manawaiopuna Falls, re-christened “Minnehaha” by World War II servicemen, There, a traditional grass dwelling photographed in Kalalau Valley in the early 1900s. And before the old Hanalei Bay Plantation, the Birkmyre home, the base to film “South Pacific.” There are so many stories embedded there, stories of lives that came and went.

Some other Kauai books — oldies but goodies — to find at our local libraries to help pass the hottest hours of summer away are: “A Return to Mahaulepu: Personal Sketches,” by Charles Tanimoto; “Aloha Kauai,” by Waimea Williams; “Images of America: Kauai,” by Stormy Cozad. There are many more; you might feel like a kid in a candy shop.

Tanimoto’s book, written for his grandchildren, is presented in a typewritten manuscript format. The stories surrounding his growing up in the camp near the artesian well that was harnessed to a Grove Farm steam pump overseen by his “engineru” father, are fascinating.

Williams’ memoir about growing up in the 1950s is equally so. She looks to Hawaiian kupuna of that time, who imbued her with an unspoken trust to translate Hawaiian ways into life, and gives credit to Mrs. Fountain and Principal Ahana at the old Lihue Grammar School (which now houses a non-profit agency).

Cozad’s book presents historical sketches and photos. From it I learned that the Capt. James Cook statue in Waimea was one of two cast in 1978, the twin standing in his birthplace, Whidby, England. The good captain, however, watched over the Waimea Canyon School until 1987, when moved to Hofgaard Park. Cozad’s text put a stamp on my thoughts with a quote stating that “We are trustees of the past.”

Have you told your particular story lately? Many have, and noticeably so in the “Kauai Stories” gathered and published by resident Pamela Varma Brown. The latest, “Kauai Stories 2,” has just been announced as available. You or your neighbor may be included.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, regularly instructs on the topics of history and Hawaiian culture for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. The writer is now completing her second memoir, based on her family’s history in British India-Burma. She continues as owner/principal of TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai under DAWN Enterprises.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.