Kahele, Robert (Part 4)
Waipi‘o: Māno Wai, An Oral History Collection by The University of Hawai‘i Ethnic Studies Program
Robert Kahele, Hawaiian, was born on May 1, 1917 in Honoka‘a. Since the family lived in Waimanu Valley, Robert and his mother went back to Waimanu shortly after his birth. He spent about four years in Waimanu before moving to Waipi‘o for one year. From Waipi‘o, the Kaheles moved to Kukuihaele. Robert grew up speaking Hawaiian and English. Robert finished the eighth grade at Kukuihaele School. His father died when he was about 12, so Robert became, “the man of the house,” responsible for harvesting taro and pounding poi for the family. After the eighth grade he took a job with the plantation for two years. At age 18 he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Waimea. After a year and a half there, he worked for a Pa‘auilo transportation company. Then he served four and a half years in the military on O‘ahu. Robert returned home to Kukuihaele in about 1946. He worked two years for the County, but because he sought freedom and independence, he started farming taro in Waipi‘o. About seven years ago (1970) Robert moved back into Waipi‘o Valley where he farms taro—right next to his hanai brother Joe Kala’s patches.
In 1978, Vivien Lee and Yukie Yoshinaga-Solmoiraghi from the University of Hawaiʻi’s Ethnic Studies program interviewed Waipiʻo residents for an oral history project called Waipiʻo: Māno Wai. Robert Kahele’s interview is included in Volume 1 of this published project.
VL: Did you have much to do with, like, the working men? The Chinese working men?
RK: No, not that much. I didn’t get much involved too much with this. We were probably worlds apart. So I didn’t get into that. But I used to go send the birds with three tin cans rattling. I used to get paid like, probably 25 cents. Yeah, like I found out even kids, when they have obligations, like the parents give them certain things to do, they actually mature early. As far as . . . well, now days, you see kids, maybe 12 or 13 or 14 years. But yet, I don’t know, big difference from the kids of these bygone days. Kids of that era, they had to be, like because they were doing these different chores, they grow more matured.
VL: Different chores, you mean like what?
RK: Like doing work. Not only around the house but outside of the house. In other words, probably they were doing some outside job where they could earn some money. And that made them more settled and more matured in their thinking at that very early age. That gave ’em some sort of responsibility. I guess that’s what makes growing up to a kid sort of a sense of some sort of settled maturity in a kid. But today, 12-year-olds, boy, they act like they’re just in the 10-year-old bracket or something. They hardly have any responsibilities, probably until they reach 14 or 16. But those days, I can remember way back. Even when you six years old, you have some kind of responsibility around the house, chores to do. That sort of make the kid more settled.
VL: How old were you when you were chasing rice birds?
RK: I wasn’t even going to school yet. Which was like, probably still was when I was three to four years. I was chasing rice birds.
VL: Was that in . . . Waipi‘o?
RK: Down here when we moved this side. Yeah, the first job I had working for down here. We used to go chase rice birds. Guys who had their own rice patch, used to have . . . . probably each guy get maybe, about four or five patches. And if he wants somebody to take care. Then the next person get four or five patches that somebody got to take care, got to send the birds away. Well, even that, but we get paid like probably 25 cents a day. So wasn’t bad.
VL: Did they have the towers then?
RK: Yeah. Like all the strings would be coming to the tower. Say, maybe one to each field and one side bank. Then there would be one in the middle of the patch. And if birds get on this side, you just pull this side. Send ’em away. Oh, they use guns those days, but we didn’t have the chance to use gun. We just chasing the birds with this can.
VL: Going back to doing things with your cousins, what kind of things would you folks do for fun?
RK: We used to follow the old folks when they go fishing like that. I remember going with uncle go fishing. He didn’t tell me how bad seasick was until I got outside with him. And like he would say, “You sick?” I say, “Yeah.” He said, “Jump in that water.” And I don’t want to jump in that water. When you small, you scared jump inside that deep ocean out there. So I got sick and I figured he seeing me sick he would take me back. Nah. He stayed out there until he got through fishing. Then he brought me back. And then, I look at everything turning. I had that backward legs, you know, they call it backward legs. Like you walk on the shore, it seem drunk, like boats are moving. But he wouldn’t bring me inside until he get enough fish for coming in.
VL: How old were you when you went out with him?
RK: Oh, six, I think. The next time he comes around and, “Oh the sea good. Tomorrow we can go outside.” Tomorrow I’m not at home, I’m gone.
VL: Did you eventually get used to it?
RK: Yeah. But had to be on my terms. If that boat is going to go fishing and land, go on shore, then I’m going with that boat. But if that boat going stay outside all day. Well, he can go all day, I don’t care, as long as I’m not out there. Because I hate to go fishing, just drift and see all that ocean. I get sick. But if the boat is moving and go the next coast, he jump off, all right. Well, now they have this motion sickness pills, whatever they call that. I don’t know what name they give that. I take those pills before I go out. Now I can stay with the best of the fishermen. They like stay all day, okay I’m all juiced up for the day. Two pills and make my day.
VL: Did your uncle teach you anything about fishing?
RK: Oh yeah. Plenty. How you read the weather, weather pattern. What type of weather. You can almost predict the type of weather that’s coming, forecasting. Just by the different formation of the clouds. And what type of wind is coming in. Like here, you can almost see the direction where the wind comes in. You get the east wind coming this way. And then you get your north wind coming this way. Then you get your west wind coming this way and then your south wind is over here. So in this valley, almost any direction the wind come, you can just feel it.
VL: What direction is best?
RK: The east wind coming in. Well, the Hawaiians used to call it the kama‘āina wind. Because supposed to be all the time the east wind. But then, when this different wind come inside, they call that a “strange wind.”
VL: Did they have Hawaiian name for that?
RK: Yeah. They had Hawaiian name for that. Oh, the so-called Hilo wind that comes from Hilo direction, they call that the kama‘āina wind. But the one that come from the other directions are all malihini wind. Wind that you don’t usually get. And from the different way that the breakers break on the sand, you can almost tell what type of current is happening. And from that type of current, you can almost tell what direction the current is coming from and what to expect there.
VL: Would he tell you these things outright?
RK: No, no. As you go along. You know, might go fishing. Or you go down the beach and see. That’s where you can learn more. He goes down to the beach to, like throw net or something. And when he comes back, “That ocean, I think, is going to change.” And sure enough. If you’re with him when he’s down the beach, you just can see what he mean by the change is coming. It’s not like reading material because I doubt that anybody can . . . I mean it takes a hell of a lot of time. But then there, he tells you and there’s this example right there, of the waves that come, the way the breakers are falling. And then you look outside at the horizon, the type of clouds you see out there. If the cloud is way right down to the horizon, and just one solid bank going across here, you expect wind. Probably last for a week, until that cloud bank lift. The wind slows down and then you can see by the cloud that the movement of the clouds supposed to be going this way, which is the most usual way. And something happens. Clouds sort of come back this way. If it comes over this way, then the west wind is coming. West wind really disturbs that ocean. But the south wind really calms the ocean. But the west and north are the two type of winds that really disturb the ocean.
VL: So you don’t go out when it’s west or north?
RK: No. The current would be changing too. Fishing would be poor. And deep sea fishing would be poor. Surface fishing would be poor. But if you have the south wind, probably the surface fishing would be poor because of that strong wind. But then, bottom fishing would be good because it’s warm. South wind is supposed to be warm wind.
VL: How about certain choice spots out in the ocean? Would you mark those?
RK: No. I never gone to that type before of fishing so I don’t exactly, can pinpoint where it is. They call the spots for certain type of fish. But I heard they have certain locations where they can, like upland, they get certain line of trees and come up to be certain point of the beach. You go as far out as you can until you see the whole line of trees. Then you stop and then you take your, probably the bow of your canoe would be facing the line of trees up on the land. And the stern would be picking one point, probably one point that sort of match the stern of your boat. Within that area you might get to that spot where certain fish are located. But I haven’t gone that kind of fishing. Because that’s whole day fishing, so I don’t want to go out. Joe knows all his fishing, particularly all those things. That’s all these sports you have where you catch certain type of fish. What you do is mark it. You just mark. You come over here, you take a reading from the land and you take certain points from each side of your canoe. The bow or the stern, which is the most important part of the canoe to take your reading.
VL: So your fishing was closer in to shore?
RK: Yeah. One of them, we had to go out for these red snappers. That’s when they go about mile and half, two miles out. That’s deep sea type fishing.
VL: Did you ever have any dangerous experiences fishing?
RK: No, not actually with fishing. I think just riding back and forth on the boat, yeah. One time—this had something to do with the weather and everything—one time, with this group of guys that I went Laupāhoehoe. And here’s one thing my uncle told me. See, the breakers, all the way from down here. One end of the cave, they call it a cave. You go all the way up here to where the river mouth is. No matter how small the wave, but you see one line breaking. No matter how small that wave. One thing he told us is, he said, “Watch it. That is not the usual thing. That thing can act within a matter of hours.”
VL: You mean from one side if the beach to the other is one wave?
RK: One whole set of waves. No break in between. Well, we came across that one time. And this is the trip I’m trying to relate to that type of wave that my uncle told me about. So we got down to the beach. And these guys was all, like all happy. They start yelling, “Gee, the waves just like Kawaihae.” And I just stood there and look and I start remembering what my uncle told me about this wave. I told ’em, “It’s going to act.” And I looked down on it, towards Maui side, I saw the dark squall coming up. So I told ’em, “Eh, maybe you ought to wait.” They said, “No.” They said the ocean was like water, fresh water. No waves. We got out of that beach. We got into Laupāhoehoe. The whole back side of the boat was like all that white surf, foam was coming in. We pull the boat out, I turn around, I look at the breakwater, the point up the breakwater. Could see the damn wave hitting up the cliff. Just within a matter of maybe half an hour. We didn’t even get one single ‘opihi in our bag. We had to turn around and come back. When the wave bad, you ought to see how big those breakers. They were breaking so close that the spray was almost like an old lady’s hair. The spray was going one after another. Now everybody came back and we were sitting out there on the boat, watching the waves go up. Everybody silent.
VL: What kind of boat was that?
RK: Canoe. Had only two, four, and six people on it. I mean in the morning was like a different story. When we came back was all together different. Two kind of ocean right in a half and hour. Within a half an hour limit, the time limit, we saw two kinds of sets of waves. In the morning was so calm, you could spread your legs over across touch your knee. It was so small. And then within a matter of half and hour, boy, those sets came in like . . . hard to describe. We had to be way outside. We came in, oh . . .
VL: When was that?
RK: Probably 1965, I think. That was my first experience with that type of wave. And I’ve never seen again, that type of wave until now. I mean just that once. But then, just that once, that’s the kind of wave my uncle was trying to tell us.
YY: Is there a word for that?
RK: No. I don’t know if there is, I don’t really know. But we were told, like my uncle told me that’s the kind of wave too dangerous. They can act any time. That’s one thing he taught us.
YY: Have you seen a change in the ocean, wave pattern, wind pattern, over your lifetime? Say, from when you were in Waimanu to now?
RK: Yeah. The thing that I noticed most is like the coast is being wiped away. Each time, it’s beginning to get eaten away, the coastline. The ocean is moving in. And I guess it’s getting less and less another year. By that I mean, look at the heiau down there. That heiau used to be way out. But after that (1946) tidal wave, everything went, like part of the coastline was eaten up. And then gradually, this type of storm we’ve been having just sort of chews up the part of the coastline. And it’s getting so that almost half of the heiau is gone. So taking that as a cue, you can see how much change there has been. But the most noticeable one is after the tidal wave. That did a lot of damage, the tidal wave. Just flooding the sand dunes down and the places where the ocean used to be far out, the tidal wave just ripped the damn thing. And now the ocean is way in.
VL: “Way in” you mean what?
RK: Well, part of the coastline all wiped out by tidal wave. And what is left over there is nothing but water. Your coastline is gone so all you have is water moving in. And that’s been done, I think that was worse after the tidal wave. Where there used to leave high sand here, on this lower part there’s nothing there now but the pine trees. I mean, you don’t have any of those sand dunes any more. It’s all gone.
VL: The beach was wider before?
RK: Uh huh.
VL: How about hunting?
RK: I don’t do much hunting. Only once in a while. Yeah, we used to hunt a lot before. When I started hunting, I didn’t have any gun. All I had was dog, rope, and knife. That’s all.
VL: Can you tell us how you would . . .
RK: Yeah. Like I just let the dog go for the pig. While the pig is occupied with the dog, you just go behind and grab the leg and turn ’em over. And make sure your knife is handy. Get ’em at a position where you can get ’em out. Well, it takes little bit courage to go into that. If you meet up with the boar and you have to go get that boar just using knife or something like that. But when you get used to, you depend more on your dogs then. Unless you trust your dogs and you go in for that type of sport, with just knife and rope. Wasn’t much just for sport. But it was more for like bring meat home for the family. I can see where using gun is more like a sport. But to me, using a knife is like a challenge, bring home meat. I used to enjoy hunting with knife and dog.
VL: The dogs, were they specially trained by you?
RK: Yeah. You have to train your dog with like, what part of the pig to grab.
VL: How do you teach a dog that?
RK: Well, when one is grabbing, you want both of them on the heel, you don’t want them somewhere else. But one is doing just the opposite, probably grabbing under here. You don’t want to spoil the pig meat. So what do you do? You just grab that bugga, while the other one is holding, just grab that other dog and pull ’em by the ears. And it becomes like natural, you know. Any time you come across the pig, first thing he’s going to do, he’s going to go for the ears. And like if it’s going for the ears, you just push his body against the pig, just push ’em. He’ll get the idea because he’ll be bracing against the pig. Instead of standing outside, which is, if you’re a boar, it’ll be easy to get killed or jabbed with the tusk. So, what you do, you just let ’em hang on the ear, just push ’em close to the pig’s body. And that will save him, probably save him or save his life. Dogs are, I think hunting dogs, pretty receptive to what you want them to do. So that’s the kind of training you do. You want to save your dog’s life, you got to show ’em how. Then again, you have certain type of breed that wouldn’t take any lessons from the owner. And that dog doesn’t last long.
VL: Was there a special kind of breed that was good?
RK: Yeah. Any breed crossed with the German shepherd. That was really smart dogs. But I tell you, those that crossed with the bull, English Bull, or Bull Mastiff, or whatever. As long as it is in that bull line. They hard to, they have more courage than brains. Let’s put it that way. But I like to hunt with German Shepherd cross.
VL: Who taught you about hunting?
RK: I used to see the older folks do that. And I come back. Once in a while, I used to follow them. But my trip was if I hear the dog bark, I’ll be right up the tree. When I was small. I used to go with them. But any time the dog bark, I’m looking for a tree. And then afterwards, I start going near and watch how they kill the pig. And then afterwards I would say, “I can do that. Someday, when I get my own dogs I do that.” Finally, I get my own dogs and my own horse. And that’s just what I was doing and as soon as the dogs got a pig I wouldn’t hesitate to ride in.
VL: How old were you when you killed your first pig?
RK: I think my first pig was probably 14 or 15. Usually I let the old folks go do the killing. But my first pig was about 14 or 15. But that wasn’t a big one. I mean something I could handle. And God, I felt good, you know. My first pig. My uncle said, “You got the pig?” “Yeah. A small one.” Gee, I sort of had a grown-up feeling then. Your uncle asking if you got a pig, you said yeah. After that, was almost like going from “A” to “B”, “B” to “C.” I did most of my hunting when I came back from the Army. I really wanted to go out hunting. I used to hunt all this range up here. I mean, this is no big thing, because if you get lost it’s no big thing. I mean, you always have your wind coming this way. You always turn to the east and you know where you supposed to come out.
VL: Unless it’s malihini wind.
RK: Oh yeah. But when malihini come usually when you go out in the morning, you can tell what side coming in. So if it’s coming towards your back, then you know that where you headed for, it’s not towards that way. Your back is toward that way, see. And then afterward you get to know different hills up here where you . . . like there’s that hill they call the “palm tree hill.” And you head for that hill. You get your main road, you go down to the horse station. Well, hunting is like a map in your mind. I’ve never hunted Waimea, but, which is like, a kind of spooky place in Waimea. I’ve gone couple times where the fog just hang down almost on the ground. Boy, it gets you going around in circles. I had couple experiences here, no, I never did get lost.
VL: Were there any customs that you followed when you hunted? Things that you were supposed to do or not supposed to do, that maybe your uncles taught you?
RK: Oh yeah. I don’t know if Honolulu has, like usually, before they go hunting, this certain action of the dog does that say, “Yeah, tomorrow is a good day for go hunting.”
VL: What kind of action?
RK: Well, the dog can be sleeping. Your hunting dog will be sleeping. And all of a sudden, your dog start dreaming, start barking in that dream. Did you ever come across that once in a while? Well, hunting dogs, when they start doing that, the hunter goes. “Uh huh, good day for go hunting tomorrow.” And sure enough. He relies on always being positive. He knows that he’s going get something. And he goes up there, he comes back loaded. Loaded down with nice pork. That was one of the signs. And some of the signs would be like, probably the guy going hunting. In the night he get this dream about . . . well, I don’t know about that. But Joe, he had this dream about, like butter melting in the dream. He sees butter melting, and he goes, “Gee, we going catch one fat one today.” Oh yeah, and he catches fat ones, just like the one get in the pig pen, you know. And this is just signs. Like different signs. I don’t know if superstition or what, but they act like it gives positive thought, even if it’s not. If somebody thinks, “Oh, only superstition,” and all that. But it gives the hunter that positive thought, not those negative ones. And I’ve seen many times where it actually happened. They come back with some real fat ones. And sometime, like Joe, he usually go, “Oh, this good, though.” He can more or less pick up and down. Say, “Oh shit, today we going get hard luck. No sense we go if you hard luck.” He said, “Well, go try.” When he says, “try,” he expects this dream to change, you know. Because he have that positive thing about hunting. He expects that thing to change. But funny. Actually, when you go, that’s what they call “white wash.” You come back, no more. And I hear it from them. Although it’s not a negative thought, it’s a positive thought yet in a negative term. Positive used in a negative way. There are signs the hunters usually go by. Like mine would be the dog, you see, if the dog start barking in the dream before I go to the mountain, then that’s my sign.
VL: And what?
RK: Nothing. I guess if you don’t believe, like. Certainly, it does happen when you believe it. That’s what I learn about reading these psychic books. Like you believe in it, you create life in it. But I guess that’s what, if you believe in it, you actually create life in it, give life to it. But I don’t believe eating those berries causes rain. In this forest only here. But any other forest, I get lot of respect for what those people think. Because I’m just a malihini in that forest, not a kama‘āina. So I go along with the kama‘āina. If they say, “Don’t eat that fruit,” I don’t.
VL: But in your own territory . . .
RK: In my own territory, yeah. I do what I like.
VL: Back, when you came back from the Army, you worked for Araki. Who, in your opinion, was growing the best taro back then?
RK: I think Harrison’s [Kanekoa] father. He was growing one of the best taro in the valley.
VL: What was his taro like?
RK: He had uaua taro. And the grade of his taro, well, as far as the market people goes, they receive all different types of taro growing from different part of the valley from different people. But a compliment come from the market is John Kanekoa, Sr. When you get compliment from the poi factory, like getting the best quality, that’s a really high recommendation, you know.
But then again, the hours that person spend in the taro field really makes for the good quality. But the guy that really, one the big growers down here, like Mock Chew. But he knew his taro too. I mean, when taro shortage like that, he could just bring his taro down like within one year. People those days don’t usually do that. Because if you do that, they go, “Oh God, what going happen to this guy next year.” Because you harvest young taro, you go out of taro quicker. And the next year, you going keep on harvesting, you going have only the young drop, see. But Mock Chew was famous for that. In other words, he was almost like the professional. Like he used to buy taro from the outside people, you know. He count on the line and how many mother taro, how many clumps in a line and how many lines there are in the patch. Then he just tell you, “That patch get so many bags. And I’m going to pay you that amount. Anything less, you don’t have to pay me. Anything above, $550, well you made over than what you supposed . . . . You give him enough back the $50 or what. But you can compromise when you don’t have enough. But he can put the price and put that amount of bags right down to the last T. Professional. And he used to buy by the patches. He never go wrong. Well, I seen some growers do that and ah, they were way off the beam. In other words, they would buy way over their head.
VL: They over-estimate?
RK: Yeah. But Mock Chew, right down to the last bag. Sometimes, he only take a pinch of one taro here. He does like this, have that touch, how sticky that taro, the juice from that taro is, I guess, milky and sticky, good grade see. And he goes right down the line and estimate how many bags.
VL: Would he go from farmer to farmer and feel their taro?
RK: No, he usually doesn’t do that. He can tell by the leaves, whether the taro is good. But once in a while he does that. And he just pinch the part of the taro and start doing this. If the thing sticky, get lot of starch, the taro is good. If you tell him, “This taro, ho, solid taro.” He make sure, he goes down and pinch ’em. You know he does this (makes motion of rubbing something between his thumb and forefinger). I seen him grow taro. I harvest with him one year. I went myself and see other people do that, business wise. But this guy can grow taro too. But Kanekoa had taro that can stay 18 to 20 months.
YY: What variety is that?
RK: That uaua. And still come out with a good grade. You know, sometimes, taro, you bring ’em over matures, becomes . . . it’s not just spongy but it’s just beginning to . . .
VL: What variety did Mock Chew have?
RK: ‘Āpi‘i. Fast growing taro too. Fast growing and easy to bring ’em down because, I guess he’s used to with that type of taro, ‘āpi‘i. That’s what he grows most of the time.
YY: What does “easy to bring it down” mean?
RK: Like uaua, you have to wait until all the babies are fully grown, before you can dry and sort of reduce the growth. See, you dry, the taro stunts, become stunted. And then when you put the water again you get ready to pull. But uaua, you cannot do that because their stalk big. And you can reduce their growth. Probably seven months, you can start reducing. When get to 10 months, you ready to pull. Or 12 month, he ready to pull.