Cachola, Fred (on growing up Hawaiian)
The first thing you should know about Fred Cachola is that his heart is in Kohala. He is a “kua‘āina kid,” as he would say, and hopes to visit the place he grew up in more often. Mr. Cachola grew up during a time when the very fabric of what it was to be Hawaiian was constantly being challenged. In the 1960s, Mr. Cachola became the first Native Hawaiian principal at Nānākuli in the past 30 years. Later he managed Kamehameha Schools’ extension education program, which is aimed at helping more Native Hawaiians outside KS’s walls. He has gone where the road has led him. Guided by others, he acknowledges his debt to the three most important people who ever touched his life.
Camille: You grew up in Kohala right?
Fred: Born and raised. Kohala had this weird kind of designation. It’s the only place, that I know of, where the Hawaiians called it going in or going out. Kohala is a peninsula. If you were going toward the windward side like Makapala or Niuli‘i, it would be called going in. If you were going toward Kapa‘au on the leeward side, then that was called going out. Now, most of the Hawaiians lived in. There was Makapala, Niuli‘i, Pololū Valley up in that area. Mary Lim, who made the Lim family children, they made the recordings, the entertainers; my mother and her mother were good friends. During the summers my mother would send me to live with them. For me it was quasi-camping because they didn’t have indoor plumbing. That wasn’t unusual. There were a lot of places that didn’t have indoor plumbing. They had this one spigot outside and that was their source of water. Often they would cook out in the shed. I remember, very vividly, Mary’s dad and his friends cooking in a 55 gallon drum, cut in half, full of taro. They would cook and pound with the poi pounders. Once a week they would pound and they would make poi. Everyone around there would have poi. My good friend was their oldest son. He would come over and stay with us and I would go over and stay with them. One of his jobs was to clean the lo‘i. He worked very hard. I had to help and go down to the gulch and clean the lo‘i. That was the last time I really saw Hawaiian guys pounding poi as they had for thousands of years. These guys were really good. You know how much taro can go into a big, big drum like that?
Camille: I have no idea how much work that must be. You gotta have big muscles?
Fred: Oh man, probably about a couple hundred pounds of taro, but they fed everybody. Everybody had taro. Coming to Kamehameha from a place like that was like culture shock. We had to wear shoes everyday. We had to learn how to put on a tie. We had a khaki uniform. It was quite a culture shock. You know, when I was at Kamehameha, I really had some doubts as to whether or not I wanted to stay there or not.
Camille: Why’s that?
Fred: Well, I was homesick. It was a strange new environment. I had never been away from home. I left home like once a year to come out of the district, go to Hilo and go home. Never did I stay away, away from home. Just coming to Honolulu itself was a real shock. However, a couple of things happened during those first 2 weeks that changed it for me. I’ll never forget the first music class I went to. As a kid growing up, I always liked music, but they never had music in Hala‘ula Elementary. If they did, the kind of music we learned was “God Bless America”, all American stuff. That’s what we were learning. “Oh Columbia the gem of the ocean,” you know that kind of stuff? I don’t know if I ever sang a Hawaiian song. I never knew what a Hawaiian song was like until I came to Kamehemeha. My first music class was in a common room at the ‘Iolani dorm. I was with 25 guys I just met. I didn’t know who they were; I wasn’t quite sure what their names were. We all wore uniforms. I was trying my best to keep up with the group, find out about the classes, where do we go next, what do we do next, what time do we eat, what happens after lunch. You know, I’m just a kua‘āina kid from Kohala, what’s going on? Martha Hohu, Aunty Martha, was at the piano. This was in 1948 and she said to the class, “Welcome back boys. What do you folks want to sing?” One of the guys said, “We can sing the Song Contest song?” Keep in mind I don’t know what Song Contest is all about. At that time there were 2 divisions, junior division and senior division. For the junior division it was the 7th, 8th and 9th grades competing against each other. Senior division was 10th, 11th and 12th for boys and then there is another one for girls. The year before, when they were all in the 7th grade, they sang “Ahi Wela” and they won first place. So it’s a year later, they’re eighth graders now, and I’m with them. Mrs. Hohu says, “Let’s sing ʻAhi Wela.’” I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what that’s all about, but I’m just going to sit there. She started playing and all of a sudden; now these guys won Song Contest so they were good, but this was just one class with 25 guys. There were a total of 100 of us. They sang, and I almost fell off my chair. These guys were singing Hawaiian words. There’s no music. They’ve got it memorized. They’re singing in harmony, they’re singing in parts and I said, “I found heaven.” From that moment on I wanted to learn all the songs they knew, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve stopped singing since.
I never had this at Hala‘ula Elementary. I was like, this is the kind of stuff I can get at Kamehameha and if there is more of it, I want to stick around. That helped. There were interesting things at Kamehameha. The classes were fascinating. I never had classes with different instructors. We usually had self-contained classes. You know, Mr. O’Connel was 5th grade, Mrs. Brown was 4th grade and you stayed there all day. I never had such interesting people like Don Mitchell, Martha Hohu and the band. I was like band, B-A-N-D, I can play an instrument! I was still homesick.
The second thing that changed my mind was: in those days the mailboxes were right where what used to be called the Pākī Office. It’s now Keōua Hall and all the boys’ mailboxes were outside. After lunch I came down and I saw this one box filled with letters. I thought, “Wow, that guy’s got a lot of mail. Oh, boy, that’s close to my box.” I walked up and it was my box and it was stuffed with all these letters. I pulled them out and there they were. I could just tell by all the address that they were all my old classmates. My classmates were writing a letter to me. Each one of them. I ran up to my room and opened them up. They’d say something like this, “We’re so proud of you, wow! You’re the first one from our class to go to Kamehameha. You are going to do good.” I felt like, geez how can I go home now. These guys are expecting great things out of me, I didn’t want to let them down. I might have been the second one from the school. My sister was probably the first. Those letters really helped me. I think the teacher at Hala‘ula knew what was going on and did that as a class assignment to kind of help me get over being homesick. That really was nice. I received things from my classmates that said, “Do good. We’re proud of you, you representing Kohala.” That really stuck in my mind. You know, even now I feel proud to be from Kohala. I tell people I am from Kohala. It’s my home. It’s my ‘āina pono‘ī. I had that feeling when I came to Kamehameha, you’re a Kohala boy.
Camille: But you stayed here?
Fred: Well, I go back and forth as much as I can. I tell my daughters, “I hear the voices calling, I gotta go.” We have some property in Kohala and we are planning to build a home in Kohala and go back and forth. As youth, those who influenced us, the teachers, parents, society as a whole, the plantation community, the community at Honolulu, at Kamehameha, was of the mind that to be a good American you had to be a bad Hawaiian. That’s what the school was all about, contributing citizens meant you are going to be contributing American citizens. To be a good contributing American citizen you had to undo all the Hawaiian things that you may have brought with you. Our girls couldn’t do any hula. When we had talent shows, the President (of the school) had to hear what we sang before he allowed it to be put on the stage. If he didn’t like it, if Colonel Kent didn’t approve of it, we weren’t going to sing it.
Camille: How did you wrestle with that, because obviously it bothers you? Did it bother you then?
Fred: To me it was all part of the military mentality. We were immersed in don’t question just do. The seniors were the leaders on the campus. The ROTC officers were the leaders. Everywhere you went you were reminded of some kind of hierarchy of authority. It wasn’t unusual for us to have to audition and to be closely controlled. All things Hawaiian at the school were really underground. One of the best things that had any sense of Hawaiian identity was this club called Hui ‘Ōiwi. In Hui ‘Ōiwi, you were invited by Dr. Mitchell. It was something to be done after hours. It was extracurricular, not part of the curricular. I never got invited, but some of my friends were. They learned Hawaiian games, food. You know Dr. Mitchell was a true Hawaiian at heart. I think deep inside he felt sad that this wasn’t being done at school. He was pushing the envelope, pushing the limits at the school. We didn’t learn much Hawaiian at all. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t their fault. I think we were victims of society at that time. To be a good contributing American citizen, you could not be a good contributing Hawaiian Kanaka Maoli. We studied French for two years and it was a gas because I came out of Kamehameha speaking good French and not one phrase of Hawaiian at all. If you listen to the speeches that were given at that time, not even an “Aloha kākou”. I am glad things have changed since then, and I feel like after I came back from college . . .
Camille: Where did you go to college?
Fred: I went to a small junior college in Iowa at Lamoni Graceland College for two years then I transferred to Iowa State Teachers College. Coming out of Kamehameha in 1953, I thought I was well prepared for college. I was in the college prep section. There was no question in my mind that that’s what I should do. I don’t know who decided, but somebody decided in the eighth grade, 25 of you will be college prep, 25 of you will be commercial and 50 of you will be in the shops. We were tracked. Somebody gazed in a crystal ball or looked at our records and we were tracked. If you were in the college prep section, that’s what you did. You went to college. If you were in the commercial section, you might go to a commercial school, business school. The rest were going to the electric shops, carpenter shops, welding. They didn’t get to decide. It really is sad. A lot of them probably could have gone to college just as easily as I did, perhaps better than I did.
Anyway, I knew that I was prepared to go to college. When I was 8 years old, my mother left. I was like half orphaned. We were very modest. We were a poor family and there were six of us. One of my sisters was hānai’ed so that left five. I am trying to make a point about going to college, so hang on to that point. As we were growing up, the Child Welfare Department was wondering whether this Cachola man could raise five kids. They were ready to split us up until the Lili‘uokalani Trust stepped in. I’ve always said that there were two ladies in my life that really did a lot for me. One was Bernice and the other was the Queen. The Queen paid all my bills, plane fare, barber shop when I got a hair cut, I just signed. Went to the school store, I just signed. I had no worries. They even gave me a few bucks extra sometimes and flew me back and forth.
The school gave me a scholarship. Tuition was only $124. My father couldn’t afford that. The point is, when I graduated I knew that I couldn’t go to college, there was no money and there was no scholarships at that time. No scholarships at all. So, I joined the army. About half of my class did. This was during the Korean War. A lot of Kamehameha alumni were going to war. While we were at school, we were having memorial services for young guys who were killed in battle. Kamehameha alumni, Don Ho’s younger brother Edward Ho and Ennis and there were some others who died in Korea. When you graduated, you were of that mindset of going into the military. It wasn’t that big of a deal for us. It was almost natural. We were well prepared for doing that. Five years of ROTC, we were well prepared. When I got into basic training, I knew all about map reading. We could field strip the weapons blindfolded and put them back together. That’s the kind of training we had up there. I graduated in 1953, went back to Kohala and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do. I knew I couldn’t go to college, but I applied anyway. I applied to the University of Hawai‘i and took the exam.
It was so funny. The bus took us down to Hemmingway Hall or someplace on the University’s campus and you could tell the Kamehameha guys because they were all wearing uniforms. There were a lot of other students from different schools. We all sat down in one group and started taking the exam. The first guy to leave was Andrew Poepoe, which didn’t surprise me. He was our valedictorian, smart buggah. Anyway, a couple of our guys stood up. A couple more of our guys stood up and a couple of more guys stood up and they were all from Kamehameha. I was like, “Geez I better hurry up.” I took the exam for USC, I applied for Washington State, Oregon State and Montana State because I wanted to go into forest management and they had a good curriculum in forest management. I got accepted into all of them. I knew I was smart enough to go to college, I just didn’t have the money. I told my dad, there are two ways we can go here. Let me join the army. I’m only 17 ½ years old so you are going to have to sign the papers. Then lend me the car keys so I can drive to Hilo and sign up. I can make the military my career. I’m well prepared for doing that. I can get a GI Bill and go to college. Those are good options. He said, “There’s a war going on, son, and I don’t want you to go.” I said, “Dad it’s going to be over in a few months.” He said, “It’s not over yet.” I said, “What do you want me to do, sit up here and dig weeds in the cane field like all the kids from the high school are doing?”
My last job before I left was spraying herbicides. Who knows what I was breathing. [My dad] was very reluctant, but finally he agreed. So I went into the army. I took all the exams for Officer’s Training School. Passed them all, no problem, but I was too young. I wasn’t even 18. They kept me back as a cadre. There I was, an 18-year-old cadre at Schofield Barracks preparing guys who were going to the Korean War. I was the youngest cadre in the army I think. But I began to get funny kinds of feelings. I looked at myself and was like, why am I doing this? I was training people to be good killers. It kind of made me feel a little different. I told myself that I didn’t want to be a part of this. If I had to do it, I’ll do it, but I didn’t want to continue this kind of thing for the rest of my life. When I was 19, they asked if I wanted to continue and I was like, No! I got my GI Bill and went to college.
The reason why I ended up in Graceland was because of my older sister, who was a nurse on the mainland at that time. She married a local boy who was a missionary living up there. When I went to visit her for the Christmas holiday as part of military leave, he asked what I was going to do when I got out. I told him that I was probably going to college. He asked where I was going and I told him that I had been accepted at several places and I was sure that they would accept me again. He asked if I had ever thought of Graceland and I told him no. So we went up to take a look at the school. It was right up the road from where they lived. It was a small little college in the middle of the corn fields, one main street in town. I thought I could handle it. They were all church people. The corn fields look like cane fields. They’re all nice. They chew chewing gum and pop popcorn. I knew it was very strict. No smoking, no dancing, no drinking all that. That’s exactly what I needed. I was a real rambunctious 20-year-old army guy. I figured if I went home I was going to blow it. I wanted to really get serious. I wanted to become a teacher. I enjoyed teaching in the army so I stayed at Graceland and then I went to what I thought was the best teaching college in the midwest, which was Iowa State Teachers College.
In 1960 when I came back home, I really didn’t realize how much I had missed this place. I was wholly immersed in mid-America for so long. My family said, “You sound different, you look different.” It was a joy to go back home to Kohala and see my friends and see some of the old timers there who would come up to me and say, “Are you really a teacher?” In my final year at college, people were signing up for contracts and I had several interviews in Iowa. At this one interview, they saw only three of us. It was a special section for teaching history and historiography. It was exactly what I wanted to do. I was a history major. I got the job and because I was a veteran, it was for the big sum of $4,200 a year. We had a tradition in the dorms: every time someone would sign a contract, they would put your name, place and amount. Everybody else was signing for $3800 or $3900. I had also applied for a job in Hawai‘i. The superintendent in Iowa at Davenport gave me three days to make up my mind. I swear my ‘aumakua was looking out after me because on the third day, I was just about to mail my acceptance to Davenport when I saw in my mailbox the letter from Hawai‘i, and it said we want you to teach in Hawai‘i but we don’t know what you are going to teach or where you are going to teach but we promise you a job and you will be paid $4,200.
There was no question in my mind, I was going home. I thought about how close I came. Just one day. One 24-hour period really made my life. I could have gone to Iowa. I wanted to. This happened in March and we didn’t graduate until June. In March I was guaranteed the job. April, May, June and not a word from Hawai‘i and I’m writing them letters asking them where I was going to teach, what was I going to teach. I came home that summer and my sister picked me up from the airport and she asked what I was going to do. I told her I was going to take a nap and then go down to the DOE. I caught the bus, came into town and went straight into the DOE office. The man there tells me, “You know we made a big mistake, there are 400 of you that we shouldn’t have hired.” I said, “Well my letter says I have a job.” He says, “Yes you do. Would you like to resign?” I looked at him and said, “I tell you what, will you send me back to Iowa?” He couldn’t, but he looked at my records and said, “You know what? Your records look pretty good. I don’t think we are going to have any problems with you. In a couple of days you’re going to Wai‘anae Intermediate.” That’s where I went.
All my friends said, “Wai‘anae? Man you’re going to teach in Wai‘anae.” I said, “What the hell is wrong with it?” I stayed and lived there in Wai‘anae for 30 years. Teachers could hardly wait to get out and I just stayed because I knew those kids, I loved them and I could teach them. It didn’t bother me to stay in Wai‘anae. I just moved to ‘Ewa about five years ago. My daughter all grew up in Wai‘anae. Then I became the principal at Nānākuli. I was about 32 years old in the biggest school with the biggest problems. Nobody else wanted to go there. But there was something else that happened in my life that really made a difference. You already know about the Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust. Mrs. Carter was my social worker from LT. Once a month she would drive up to the school and after lunch, during recess I would go meet with her, just talking story. In my 9th grade year the school office calls me and says, “Fred, you have a new social worker who’s coming to meet you.” I went up to the parking lot and I was standing there and I see this guy sitting in his car. He comes out, he looks at me and I look at him and he says, “Are you Fred?” I say, “Yes I am.” He said, “Well Fred, I’m glad to meet you, my name is Pinky Thompson.” I said, “Glad to meet you.” We shook hands; you know, he may have let go of my hand but he never did let go of me.
Pinky stuck with me for the rest of my life. He followed me everywhere. He went to bat for me. My sophomore year we did something really stupid. We lived in Kaleiopapa Dorm. We did a lot of recreation down in the valley every day from harvesting honey and mango to damming the stream to smoking cigarettes all that kind of stuff. Eventually we just naturally drifted into alcohol. Our sophomore year we were drinking beer the afternoon before Song Contest. We were in pretty good spirits. We came back to the dorm and word got out that there were about two dozen of us drinking beer.
Camille: Wow! That’s a lot of kids.
Fred: Oh yeah, a big bunch of us. The supervisor knew that people were drunk. As I came out of the showers, I’m looking down the hall and there he is at my door and he tells me, “Come here.” He smells me and says, “Get in my apartment.” I open his door and there are six guys in the apartment. Song Contest is like in an hour from now and he looks at us and he says, “Don’t you guys have solo parts?” We say, “Yeah, we do.” He told us that if we didn’t sing, our class wasn’t going to win. We were stupid and he said, “You know what? I gotta sober you guys up quick. Open your mouths,” He got coffee grinds, raw coffee grinds and he told us to chew, spit, and rinse. Then he got a tube of toothpaste and he went right down the line squirting that toothpaste into out mouths. He said, “Everybody chew on that, now everybody stand up walk around.” So, what did all this tell us? We could do anything we wanted. Junior year we did the same thing and this time we were all in his apartment again, all the same guys. With tears in his eyes he said, “You know? I should have done this last year.” He picks up the phone and he says, “Mr. Bailey, will you please come to my apartment, I have a problem.” We thought we had to pack. This time it was before junior prom. We had to give our leis to someone else and we worked it all out with our dates and told everyone that there were six of us packing in our dorms. But, ta dum ta ta! Pinky Thompson comes to the charge and talks to Mr. Bailey. To make a long story short, none of us were kicked out and I know that Pinky helped to get me to stay there. Of course the next meeting I had with him, he just bawled my head off. After I graduated he said, “I wish we could do more for you but we can’t. That’s it, you’re on your own but good luck.”
Anyway, I’m teaching in Wai‘anae and I come back to the singles cottage; I was single at that time, all the guys were in a cottage, and there he was, Pinky Thompson. I said, “Wow!” he said, “I heard you were here.” I said, “Yeah I’m teaching.” He says, “You know, I think it’s time you start giving back. Would you mind sitting in on the advisory council of the trust?” I said, “No, of course.” So I did and I used to see him all the time because he was the director for LT—Lili‘uokalani Trust. A couple of years passed and I’m a principal at Nānāikapono. I get a phone call from Pinky. Guess what he is now? He’s the Governor’s Aide, he’s Governor Burns’s top aide. He comes to my office and he says, “I’m very proud of you. You are doing very good. There are a couple of things I want to ask you to do. There are a lot of Hawaiian guys going to Vietnam. They’re local boys and it’s breaking up a lot of families. They don’t want to listen to these guys. I want you to serve on that local draft board and begin listening to some of their hard stories.”
I got on local board number 5 and I couldn’t believe it. They’re pleading their case and this one board member is snoring. Another board member is cleaning his fingernails and he tells the guys, “What’s the matter, you not proud of your country?” It was really bad. Pinky gets me on this local board and I help to turn things around for the kids. Then he comes back and he says, “What do you want to do with this school, Fred?” I said, “What do you mean what do I want to do? This school has so many problems, you don’t know where to begin.” He said, “Well, what would you like?” I said, “First thing is we gotta do, Pinky, is clean up this place. The buildings are broken down, the curriculum is outmoded. Look, LOOK, the railings are broken, the buildings have never been painted . . .” he said, “Tomorrow morning some guys are going to come see you. I think they can help you.”
Nine o’clock the next morning, do you know who’s in there? The head of the Department of Accounting and General Services—DAGS. They walk in there with their big blue suits and ties and they say, “Young man, we heard you have some problems over here and the place needs to be fixed up.” I said, “Yeah! Absolutely!” So he says, “Okay let’s go take a look.” I thought it was only those two guys, but when we left my office and he waved to the parking lot, I saw about eight guys coming down with notepads in their hands. People in Nānākuli couldn’t believe it. They thought I had the kind of mana that they had never seen. They knew it was useless to even ask. Things would never happen. Pinky Thompson made it happen, on my watch. You know what that meant? First part-Hawaiian principal there in 30 years, young, 32 years old, something good was going.
In 1971, I’m up there at Kamehameha School and they tell me the trustees have just approved the establishment of a new extension division. It’s an outreach program to work with the kind of kids you’re working with. So, I decided “Wow, what a challenge.” When I first started teaching in Wai‘anae, I was teaching 32 kids, 32 then later on came 34. I mean two of them were sitting on my desk. I couldn’t sit down because there was no more room. When I went to Kamehameha all of a sudden my classroom became 40,000 part Hawaiians. So, it’s a bigger class, but now I’ve got big money and a lot of help. I kept telling all the people who worked with me, “Don’t ever lose your teaching mentality ’cause if you do, you’ve lost it. You may be president of the school but if you can’t figure out what’s going on at 8 o’clock in the morning, if you don’t have that sense of teaching, you’re losing the mission of what education is all about.” I got to Kamehameha in ’71 and Pinky Thompson had been appointed as a trustee. I tell you, the ‘aumakuas. Now I can say this, he’s long gone, and bless him, but we had a lot of private meetings, me and him. We’d sit down and we would talk. It was such a joy to me to know that there was at least one trustee who would support me when I would say, “We gotta work with pregnant women. We gotta work with dropouts, we gotta go to Ni‘ihau, and we gotta get preschool started.” We did that for 25 years. We took Kamehameha to a place where it would never go, and it was a joy. Pinky called me up one time and said, “Fred, we’re going to have a trustee retreat and we’re going to ask three of you from the school to come down. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to create a mission statement.” During the meeting, Papa Lyman, the chairman, said, “You know, we talk, talk, talk, talk. Someone’s gotta start writing.” He said, “Nancy, Pinky, Fred, Bob, we’re going for lunch. You guys stay here. We’re going to bring the food here. When we come back after lunch, you guys are going write something.” That’s exactly what happened. Everybody left the room and four of us were there. They brought the lunch in and we started writing the first mission statement for the school. Pinky was right there. When you think about shaking hands with him, almost 30, 40 years before that, and all the things that happened in your life . . .
Camille: He played a part in all of that yeah?
Fred: Oh yeah! It’s crazy but it was wonderful. It was at the same meeting that I suggested, “By the way, I think the best use for some of our lands is education.” The land manager turned to me and said, “I’m not going to show you one damn map.” I turned to him and I said, “Do we work for the same company?” He said, “You guys just stay up there. We’ll make the money but you guys just stay up there.” Eventually Pinky was able to persuade them, because the land managers at that time didn’t want to have anything to do with the school. It was a joy when we got 10,000 sq. ft. in Kona, which was just a rubbish dump, nothing. It was the big eyesore of Hōnaunau, one of the most sacred places right across Hale O Keawe. This was Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate land. I said to Pinky, “We want to create a dropout school down there.” He said, “Just stick with what you guys can manage.” This is an empty lot. It’s not leased to anybody; it’s just 10,000 sq. ft. It’s a rubbish pile. The land managers in Kona thought it was crazy to allow us to have it and then I hired some guys that the police told me were on surveillance. I told them, “I know but these are the guys that understand these kids.” I told the police, if they do anything wrong, bust ’um.
In front of the land use commission I told them, what we are trying to do is what my ancestors had been doing for hundreds of years, and that’s make things right. Pinky used to say that all the time too, Nānā i ke kumu, look to the source because in there, there are a lot of the answers. We never did pay attention to that. Only now our land managers talking about ahupuaʻa and the systemic effect. We’re now talking Hawaiian values, all that kind stuff. All these things started many years ago. It was a joy to work with Kamehameha. The classroom of 40,000 was very manageable. The school has a lot of good people who can do that, Juvenna Chang, Neil Hannahs, people I worked with. People that I helped to mentor. They’re all still there and they know the spirit, they have the mana. I love to see the schools saying, “We gotta do more, we gotta get out.”