Motta, Pi‘olani (on Lena Machado)
Kīhei de Silva
Excerpt from Interview 1 – August 16, 2004
Talking Story with Aunty Pi‘olani Motta
Motta: I’m not a blood relation or anything. But my connection with her started with my dad, who was with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and Aunty Lena’s connection was with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and that’s how they met. And our families got to know each other. And my mother had myself and another brother, and was hāpai, and we used to go to the practices at the Royal Hawaiian Band sessions at Kapi‘olani Park. And so—and Aunty Lena got to see our lifestyle, our family, and she thought my mother was maybe a little bit burdened down with, you know, children. So she said, I’ll take your oldest and maybe weekends we can give you some relaxation with the other children. So anyhow, that went for maybe a weekend or a month or two, and pretty soon I never went home. It was my life with Auntie Lena.
She said she came from the family of Robert Wai‘ale‘ale and Bernice Poepoe Wai‘ale‘ale. But she had four other siblings, older than Auntie Lena. One was William Wai‘ale‘ale, who was in Kaua‘i as a police officer there; he had his children. Then they had Gussie. Then another sibling, Ivy. And another brother, Robert Wai‘ale‘ale. He left Hawai‘i at a young age, graduated from Kamehameha and went to the mainland. But he never came home and started his work out there with music and other enterprises; I don’t know what it was.
But Auntie Lena started off in life with an adopted family. Her mother had uh, a friend, a very good friend who hānai’d Auntie Lena at birth. Well, [this friend]—they had no children. And she [Lena] was raised in this family. Her hānai father was a Chinese doctor by the name of Dr. Loo Pan, who was an herbalist pharmacist with the um, Young Hotel way back then, with Doctor . . . I forgot his name. But anyhow, Dr. Loo Pan was married to a Hawaiian woman by the name of Mary Davis. Yeah. So anyhow, she was raised on the School Street end of Nu‘uanu—the uh, Waikahalulu area of School Street. And they had a lot of homes up there, Hawaiian people that had taro patches in front of their homes on School Street. That’s already gone.
But she remembered going into the taro patches with a friend of hers, and they used to make little boats and they’d put their little dolls on top, and they . . . floated them down to the kahawai in the—the lo‘is. And they would chant and sing, and all. That’s when her hānai mama said, "What are you folks doing, singing for your deaths?" They would oli, because they heard other people oli too. That’s how Auntie started her oli. So the mother, her mother didn’t want her to become anything related with music and song. So she used to uh, forbid [Lena] from listening to music or singing. So Auntie said she’d make her own instruments out of shingles from the roof with rubber bands and plunk-plunk away, you know. [chuckles] And her—her mother was just furious and took it away from her. But she’d sneak another one in—in her room at night under her pillow, and she’d plunk away, you know.
That’s how it started with her; music, her oli, and listening to records and people that came to Hawaiʻi. ’Cause during that time, they had opera at the old building that’s now I think right across of uh, the Palace. And uh, she used to listen to these people. Her father, although Chinese, was very into music and appreciation of that kind in comparison to her mother, who wasn’t that much interested. So anyhow, plunking away and trying to sing. And as she got older, she wasn’t allowed to do this at home, but she used to go to Waikahalulu. And the waterfalls and all that noise would take away from the loudness of her voice, so she developed this loud volume and this ability to go up and down and over.
de Silva: [laughs] Most chanters say they went to the ocean to learn that, but she went to Waikahalulu.
de Silva: Waterfall and—
Motta: Waterfall and did that. And it was later on in life, this one man used to—he was interviewed. A Japanese boy. He said when they were young, they used to hike along Waikahalulu going up the streams to maybe catch fish or swim or whatever. And they would hear this young girl screaming and hollering up there, so they went, "Who is that?" You know. Later in life, he was uh, interviewed, and he said he had learned who this person was: Lena Machado. So I said, "Oh, that was an interesting connection."
But, um, my growing up with Auntie Lena, she made me take pride in who I was as a Hawaiian. All the boys and the people that lived with her were given this kind of pride in what we were, and she never let us feel that we were below anybody else. ’Cause everybody is equal. ’Cause we were raised with Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese—but she always said the culture of this land is what keeps us together. And all these people are nourished by that source, Hawaiian . . .
So in my growing up years, I was sent to different islands to learn about my culture and my people. I was not steeped in music. I never played an instrument; I don’t know how to sing or compose or anything. But I appreciated the different people that I was connected with growing up in Kaua‘i, Kona . . . and parts of Moloka‘i. I worked the land as a young person, which was a big thing for a female—going out with these people who never allowed women to go with them fishing or touching whatever they had to. But I was allowed to do that, and I felt that this was a very big privilege . . . you know, to go along with these people to bring [food back] to the village when they did their hukilau or bring whatever they needed for that particular day. And this gentleman by the name of Hanohano Pā was the person who went out and got for the people of the village [of Wainiha, Kaua‘i] . . . and they were all steeped in music, so when Auntie Lena [came to get me after I visited] there for the summer, they used to all get together and they’d play their music and enjoy what they had fished or got from the land, our taro and things like that.
So we shared this kind of lifestyle. We—we were privileged because of our culture and our language. Although I’ve been around it, I don’t speak it and I don’t know how to write it, but I appreciate what that was given us, you know, at the time. And they taught us um, if you’re given this gift, you—you have to take care, you mālama whatever that was given. Especially us getting up in the morning early and, [sighs] the sun not even up yet and we gotta get up. They pule kākou, everybody has to get up, get out, bathe or whatever you have to do, and get into the land and work the taro, the lo‘is, you know, take care of all the crayfish. And you know when you get up in the morning and you’re so warm and you step into that cold water and all that mud coming through your toes, and oh, you screech and you say auē.
But this taught me that you have to work for what you get. You give of your time and effort, and eventually it comes back to you. At first you don’t maybe appreciate what you have, but [later you realize that] you can give other people what you’ve learned . . . Some people are blessed . . . like the children at Kamehameha Schools who are given the opportunity to go out and be a challenge to other people. They are not put down like some of our people are. You can’t do this, you can’t use your language, you have to stop this, and you have to become people who are only Westernized. And that’s, I think, what has jeopardized so many of our other children today. They think too much Western, and I wonder, where is our culture going?
And when I think about the music field, I feel this . . . I don’t know, not only pride, but the ‘eha that many of our people have gone through, yeah. And I thought, over the years, of all of these people with all their talent, you know, how sometimes . . . it’s—it’s ignored by history, put someplace in a closet or drawer somewhere and never brought out again. So I thought that my duty was to bring Auntie Lena’s music back to the fore and try to ask someone, "Can you help me to put a music folio together?"
And I approached the Kamehameha Schools, and they were so . . . it was a privilege to me to take up this project and—and work with some wonderful people to start off with, you know . . . I think this will help me to delve into the past. [Sometimes, I] don’t know how to bring it out, but talking to people sometimes helps me remember, and by looking at a picture with them I feel, oh, I remember being there at the time, working with people who touched that part of my life, the land and the—the proudness of being Hawaiian in that way.
Excerpt from Interview 4 – September 13, 2004
Motta: Well, anyhow . . . she told her adoptive mother that when she became sixteen, she wanted all the dressing up as these women used to dress. High heel shoes, and they had stockings, and they had gloves, and they had this pushed up corsets and uh, all this hairdo like the Gibson girls, and she wanted a hat and long gloves. "We’ll wait for the time to come," her mother said.
Okay; the time came. So the day came and she—all this dress, the finery came, and there was a fair going on at the old St. Louis College on uh . . . College Walk. You know where uh, that um, River—River Street area? Well, St. Louis was there at the time. Well, they had a fair there. So she said, "Oh, this is the time for me to show off."
[chuckles] So she got dressed and all the—the cottages along that School Street area where uh, their mother and father, and then there was a sister of Auntie—uh, a grandmother Loo, the Davis sisters, and then two married—one married a Yim and one married uh . . . I forgot the other sister’s married name. Anyhow, they would all get out—gather on the porch. You know they had those porches before, you look out to the street and the lo‘i in the front.
So anyhow, Auntie Lena was all dressed up. You know, for a sixteen-year-old girl, they said she looked—with the high heels, she was about five-ten, five-eleven, with the hat and the gloves. They said, "What is this thing going down the street?" You know, after she’s telling the story and we said, [unintelligible]. Dirt road, yeah. So walking with the high heels and saying goodbye to everybody all watching. Oh, they were laughing, going down.
School Street, she has to wait for the trolley. So get on, put her coin in, and going down, ting-ting; okay. She’s ready to sit down. She said she couldn’t sit down because the corset, all the whale bone stuck into her sides, into her posterior. She said couldn’t breathe, and so she stood up and she hi-hanging onto the [unintelligible]. So the conductor said, "Would you please sit down?" She said, "Oh, I’m getting off at the next stop."
So she got to the next stop. She got off, and she had to walk. Now, this is about another four or five blocks or something before she gets to where she’s going. So by the time she gets to the place, she said she’s starting to perspire. And her feet starting to hurt.
So anyhow, she goes and she’s walking and she says, "Oh, everybody’s looking." She knew couple of people. "Hi, hi, hi, hi," and [unintelligible]. And then she noticed some of the, you know, the guys looking and she’s, mmmm, you know, like oh, wow. Going, going. Pretty soon she said, "Oh, it’s getting worse, you know." So she went down on the side of the place there to sit. So she took off her shoes and oh, okay. When she went to put on her shoes and she couldn’t get it in, it was swollen. She couldn’t fit. Oh, my god. So she put some—at least her feet so she could walk certain place, and then she started—she said her hair started drooping because of the heat and her perspiration, her hairdo started to hang and her hat started to go.
She said, "Oh, this is it; I’m going to have to go home." She thought, oh, I have to walk all that way. So she walks and then when she got out of the fairground and after not seeing anybody watching her, she took off her shoes, took off all the gloves, she took off the hat, and she was walking with her clothes up here, walking.
And as she got to her lane, her mother and some of the people were there watching. And when they saw her, they all scattered. Her mother was like [chuckles] climbing up the railing, you know. Ah, she said: "Kokoke au lua‘i." "You’re trying to act like a young lady and here you’re just a keikamahine hupekole; get in here." [chuckles]
Then that’s the time she remembered way back what her—what was going on, and she made this [song], later on: "My childhood days when I’m trying to be like a lady, I couldn’t live up to that, you know. It wasn’t my time," she said. "It wasn’t my time." [chuckles] And so that’s—
de Silva: That rings almost like a comic skit.
Motta: For her, that’s right.
de Silva: Coming home in disarray.
Motta: Yes. But it was all, you know, the—the stockings and walking without the shoes and the . . . hem of the dress up here and no gloves, no hat, the—the hair hanging down all mōkākī, you know. It was so funny. When she talks about that, we laugh, laugh, laugh, telling the story about the . . . so we were pretty well uh, versed in not acting like lōlōs [chuckles] when we got to a certain age. And at least we know we’re not gonna repeat what she did. Yeah.
de Silva: This song, was it well received from the start, too?
Motta: "Ku‘u Wā Li‘ili‘i"?
de Silva: Yeah; was it very popular from the start?
Motta: M-hm; because a lot of people said they remembered them doing the same time, in that time of the year. Now, I don’t think people remember a lot of things that happened in their childhood. Now they show a lot of skin and . . . pierced ears. [chuckles] Pierced body parts. [chuckles]
de Silva: Was this danced?
Motta: She used to sing it and uh—
de Silva: Sing it and motion.
Motta: And motion. Especially uh, the part where, you know, the—the sweet talk and the sweet oil and—and her suggestion about you know, "lilo ana lilo ‘oe ia‘u." The mother [scolding]: "Everything you get, and all I taught you for nothing." And she’d walk around like this [imitates a pregnant woman]. [chuckles]
de Silva: Oh. [laughs] She would Indicate the hōpena to them.
Motta: ‘Ae, ‘ae, ‘ae. So that was "Ku‘u Wā Li‘ili‘i." Wasn’t that too much of a . . . but it’s part of her childhood, really, when you thought about it. In all the songs, I think that—that told about her personality. About being more humorous sometimes and—and uh . . . maybe acting . . . going into the stage of being uh, an actress or a performer or—that’s part of what—to me, her start was trying to be dressed up to—to imitate other people . . . in the um, entertainment field or something, yeah. Because how—where would you find somebody, a girl at that age, Hawaiian background, would want to dress up something like that. [chuckles] To me, was a clown, she was a clown.
de Silva: There’s a couple references in the song to "Tūtū," yeah? And "kūpuna"—
Motta: Yeah; because—yeah, because um . . . when you’d go somewhere, like the lei sellers and all, the children were always either left with a grandparent or somebody like a hānai mama or something like that. And they would all eat together and—and then you know, they’d fill them up to the brim with poi and fish or whatever. And then—but when you look at them now, they—they say, oh, wow, look at—that’s probably what helped bring them to what they are today. Tall and filled out, and all my poi and fish.
de Silva: So those probably were references to the grandparent-aged—
de Silva: —people who took care of her.
de Silva: Not to her specific—
Motta: Not to specifically mom or dad or whatever.
de Silva: But all those—
Motta: Yeah; the aunts and uncles or hānai and stuff, yeah, would all get together, you know, when they—the lei seller portion of their life, I think.