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Kūpuna from Haleʻiwa and Waialua share oral histories of change and continuity

Kanani & Keith Awai
Courtesy North Shore Field School
Kanani and Keith Awai share their oral histories with the North Shore Field School.

We have another slice of local history for your ears as part of our continuing project with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoaʻs Center for Oral History. This month's stories focus on Native Hawaiian culture, family and community. These values have been carried through massive social change — including in recent decades.

The UH Mānoa's North Shore Field School project recorded the oral histories of 22 kūpuna from Haleʻiwa and Waialua between 2018 and 2021. They told stories of both change and continuity.

UH Mānoa ethnic studies and anthropology professor Ty Kāwika Tengan
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
UH Mānoa ethnic studies and anthropology professor Ty Kāwika Tengan with The Conversation host Catherine Cruz at Hawaiʻi Public Radio on Jan. 19, 2023

UH ethnic studies and anthropology professor Ty Kāwika Tengan directed that project, and he's the narrator of our Center for Oral History segments. You can hear these voices on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and once a month on The Conversation.

Before his interview with The Conversation, we hear from Judy Miram, Keith and Kanani Awai, and Francis Kaʻoaʻo Forsythe as they reminisce about Hawaiʻi culture and community.

Born in 1942 along the Anahulu River in Haleʻiwa, Judy Wenuka Miner Miram grew up playing with friends whose parents would equally feed and scold each of them as their own. She recalls living off the land and ocean prior to the construction of the Haleʻiwa Harbor between the 1960s and 1970s.

Judy Wenuka Miner Miram.JPG
Courtesy North Shore Field School
Judy Wenuka Miner Miram

MIRAM: It was a sand berm that had a concrete slab. It was probably something that they used during the war, but when we were growing up, it was just a slab. So, we used to use it to roller skate. On the river side there was a fishing village, people actually lived there. And on this side is where the military had their training, but there was also a family who had the konohiki and they used to surround fish in here. And it was hukilau, everybody share. Everybody went in the water, and pulled out, brought the net up and everybody got up on the sand and sorted it, whatever. Now you cannot go here. They started putting in the breakwater. It restricted our access for everything. We could still go on the breakwater that was over here, but it’s not the same because they were starting to block off the water, so everything in here started to get pilau, wasn’t really as safe because you could get pipi‘i, kūpe‘e, hā‘uke‘uke, ‘a‘ama, ‘alamihi, everything. Everything started to disappear. We could pick limu in here. When they started building the breakwater, ‘a‘ole. We used to pick up limu ʻeleʻele and put them on our hair and become mermaids. But it got to the point where there was no limu ʻeleʻele. Even now, you cannot find.

Keith Awai was born in 1953 in Honolulu and spent his first five years in Kona before the family moved to Haleʻiwa. Keith and his mom Kanani shared memories of how the Awai home brought together family and friends in ways that are seldom seen these days.

Keith and Kanani Awai 011923.jpg
Courtesy North Shore Field School
Keith and Kanani Awai with the North Shore Field School.

KEITH AWAI: Today, you get married, your birthday, you go rent the place, you know, all this kind of stuff. Back then, everything happened in your yard. You have the imu in your yard, you put the tent in your yard.

KANANI AWAI: We had imu in our yard.

KEITH AWAI: But today cannot yeah? You have to call the fire department and get clearance because of all of the things. Back then, no need, you just make it. So that was, and then we talk about this last night, and it was like 5-to-10-day party. We had the main event but before that everybody come, we have party, after everybody goes, same thing, everybody lingers and the party continues. Today you’re at the place, boom, pau, go home, and it’s done. The times are different, families are different, our days are different. We didn’t spend so much time at work, we didn’t send kids off to go piano or anything, everybody did things at home. We climb the mango tree and we pick the plums, we went swimming in the river, you know, just the times are just so different. But change is good.

Francis Ka‘oa‘o Gilman Forsythe told tales not only from his own childhood in Hale‘iwa and Waialua, but also those shared with him by his mother of an earlier time. Born in 1936 and deceased in 2020, his reflections on the importance of recording family and community stories carry special relevance today.

Francis Forsythe.JPG
Courtesy North Shore Field School
Francis Kaʻoaʻo Forsythe, center, with the North Shore Field School.

FORSYTHE: We never did it when we were young, having this oral history, and so we missed out on a lot of things. You people having this, I think is a great idea, I mean, even if, maybe somebody else has a different manaʻo about it. They say, “Oh, we did this, we did that.” It doesn’t matter. From a lot of different sources, you can kinda piece together what life was like. And I'm glad. Like you say, you know, why didn’t my parents teach us Hawaiian? Well the only reason I could think is that they wanted to be more able to find a job when we went to work. And English was the language that we had to learn. And why did we not want to learn about our ancestors? Well, we rather play baseball or, you know, hopscotch or whatever. But I’m glad you people are doing it because you can pass it on. You know, you can. Even if you edit it, it’s okay. Something will come out of it that will say, “Oh, my parents told, my grandparents told me that.” I think that’s a good thing about this thing.


This oral history project is supported by the SHARP initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 19, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at
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