Eric Knudsen, Kauai’s ‘Teller of Hawaiian Tales’

Rancher, sugar planter, lawyer and politician, and Kauai’s “Teller of Hawaiian Tales” Eric Alfred Knudsen (1872-1957) was born at Waiawa, at that time the Knudsen family homesite about a mile west of Kekaha.

His mother was the youngest daughter of Eliza Sinclair, the Scotswoman who’d settled in Hawai‘i in 1863 and purchased Ni‘ihau from Kamehameha V the following year for $10,000 cash.

Eric Knudsen’s father, Valdemar Knudsen, born in Norway, struck it rich during the California gold rush of 1849 before arriving on Kaua‘i in 1857 to become the konohiki of a vast tract of western Kaua‘i he’d first leased from Kamehameha IV.

Following Eric’s graduation from Harvard Law School in 1897, he returned to Kaua‘i to manage Knudsen Brothers Ranch in Kekaha and engage in sugar planting around Knudsen’s Gap.

He also served in the Territorial House of Representatives and Territorial Senate, and as Chairman of the Kaua‘i Board of Supervisors prior to retiring from politics in 1932.

During World War II — which brought thousands of soldiers, sailors, and Marines to Hawai‘i — Eric traveled from military camp to military camp on Kaua‘i with the local USO to share his Hawaiian tales with fascinated, mainland-born GIs.

At that time, Eric’s placid voice could also be heard over KTOH (Kauai Territory Of Hawai‘i) radio, narrating stories of Hawaiian cowboys, and ghosts and journeys into the mountains of Kaua‘i, and those legendary times when the Hawaiians and their gods were said to mingle on a daily basis.

So popular was Eric’s radio program, that its sponsor, the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Honolulu, offered to mail reprints of each story he told over the radio.

Over the course of one year, a phenomenal 50,000 reprints were mailed.

Eric’s spellbinding stories were later collected into the book “Teller of Tales,” composed of 60 yarns with titles such as “The One-eyed Akua,” “My First Encounter with a Wild Bull,” and “The Three Old Ogres of Ni‘ihau.”

Knudsen, also wrote “Kanuka of Kaua‘i” with Gurre P. Noble, which contains stories and history of a Kaua‘i now so long a part of the past.

  1. mona March 22, 2021 5:58 am Reply

    Anyone know how Knudsens came to own Knudsen Gap? and Poipu Land?

    1. Hank Soboleski March 22, 2021 4:03 pm Reply

      Yes, in 1868, Eliza Sinclair gave her daughter, Anne Sinclair Knudsen $10,000 as a wedding present for her marriage to Valdemar Knudsen. Anne used the money to buy the Ahupuaa of Koloa. Its 6,500 acres encompasssed Knudsen’s Gap, the town of Koloa, and Poipu Beach.  This was during the reign of Kamehameha V.

  2. Tricia Eaton Savitt March 24, 2021 8:25 pm Reply

    In the 70’s, my father was president of a company that had stores in Hawai’i. We would travel there often with him from California and had many friends on Oahu where they had offices. My grandmother also lived in Honolulu. I spent the summers working at a camp on Kauai that was at the base of Kahili Mountain and run by the Knudsen family. We hiked all over the island, rode horses with cowboys at a ranch and spent a lot of time learning about the island – the flora & fauna, music & dance, the ocean and the history. We used to go up to Kalalau Lookout to hike around and spend time with Valdemar Knudsen (whose father was Eric), sitting on the steps of his cabin as he told us stories.

    In 1977, Val gave me one of his books titled Koolau, Outlaw. I have always treasured it but I have thought that perhaps it should be preserved there on the island. Could someone let me know which of the museums might be best to contact? Or if I should just contact the Kauai Historical Society? I would like to make sure it gets to the right place! Aloha!

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