PAST FORWARD: HOW KAULUAʻE HAWAIʻI IS FINDING INSPIRATION IN MEMORIES AND HISTORY

BY CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK, KONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT MANAGER

Fashion isn’t always about newness. If you follow Kenneth “Aloha” Victor’s brand Kauluaʻe Hawaiʻi, you know the clothing is more than just a stunning spectacle. Each collection is close to the designer’s heart with many references to his childhood and upbringing in Kona, as well as to Hawaiʻi’s history. He has a tendency to see the past, including beyond the nostalgia, and how it can be used to drive us forward.

Take his couture collection, Nāʻū, in which the striking garments and marketing campaign are shaped around Victor’s childhood and a simpler time. “From swimming in the waters of Hōnaunau Bay, to walking the four-mile stretch to Nāpoʻopoʻo and the side of the road in Kalukalu and Hōlualoa, all the locations have so many memories for me,” he said.

Kona Historical Society was excited to have the opportunity to collaborate with Kauluaʻe Hawaiʻi, playing a small part in a recent photo shoot. On Aug. 8, Victor and his team used the lānai of H.N. Greenwell Store Museum at Kona Historical Society’s Kalukalu Headquarters. He transformed it, adding buckets of flowers from local farmers and friends and special props, including a century old trunk that his great grandmother brought to Kona when migrating from Portugal. Then came the models in jaw-dropping hues and motifs masterfully executed posing against the store museum’s unique walls. The scene was breathtaking.

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Above:  In approximately 1870, Henry Nicholas Greenwell built his stone store, establishing Kalukalu as an important commercial outpost in an isolated, but growing district. Until then, store and warehouse were located at the port towns of Kailua, Napoʻopoʻo, and Hoʻokena. It served as a general merchandise store, post office and meeting place.

 

Kona Historical Society's H.N. Greenwell Store Museum is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. It was built at least as early as 1870. The walls are constructed of local volcanic stone, cemented with mortar made from lime produced locally by burning coral in a lime kiln pit. The stone was shaped into rectangular blocks that were then laid in a series of horizontal courses. This structural pattern is unlike that of most other 19th century mortared stone walls in the area and may represent a conscious effort to imitate the pattern found in traditional British granite, marble, limestone and sandstone masonry structures.

Henry Nicholas Greenwell arrived in 1850 in Hawaiʻi and saw the ahupua’a ʻili known as Kalukalu, which was at the time full of native forest and farmland stretching from the coast to the foothills of Mauna Loa. `Ōlelo Hawai`i was the predominant language spoken in the area, and agriculture throughout the ahupuaʻa consisted of sweet potatoes, dry land taro and breadfruit.

Greenwell was fortunate to benefit from the recent Mahele legislation that allowed foreigners to purchase land in Hawaiʻi. He applied for permission to purchase 5 acres in Waipunaula and 300 acres in Kalukalu and Kanakau. He received Grant 787, 312.88 acres in Kalukalu, in 1852.

By the end of the 19th century, Kalukalu became the headquarters of Kona’s largest cattle and sheep ranch. The homestead was surrounded by cattle pens, a blacksmith shop, a saddle house, and carriage houses. The H.N. Greenwell Store was a bustling hub of commerce that served a diverse multicultural community, including Chinese cooks, Hawaiian sheep herders and Portuguese launderers.

For Victor, the H.N. Greenwell Store tells another story.

“My grandparents’ house was the big house on the bottom corner of Konawaena hill. To the south of Konawaena High, our Aunty Alice and her family lived in the last cowboy house on Cowboy Lane, right across from Konawaena Elementary, and our Uncle Chico lived north of the Kona Historical Society across of Puanani’s Florist. We were well seen running and playing in between our family house boundaries. We were safe,” Victor said. “As children, we would raid our parents’ ashtrays in the station wagons and trucks for loose change. We would walk the streets from Kamigaki Market for 1 cent gum balls to Chris’ Bakery for $1.25 bag of 6 malasadas to the 50-cent ice cream cone and hours of playing Pac Man and Battlestar Galactica at Crazy Mary’s. We would play hide and seek in Episcopalian Church graveyard, and pick wild berries in the pasture until we heard our Aunty Alice’s whistle and we had until she counted to five on her hand to get into her yard... about 100 yards away, we ran like demons! We had all access as ranch kids to the whole area... except we never dared to go to the Kona Historical Society because that’s where our Papa would volunteer to do interviews, tell stories about ranching and clarified name and locations on that mountain. And God forbid we never wanted our Papa to get a call that his darn grandkids was caught goofing off on the KHS porch.”

His grandfather Frank Silva is one of the last original surviving cowboys for W.H. Greenwell Ranch, where he served as the last foreman. He contributed an oral history about his life and ranching in Kona to Kona Historical Society’s collections, as well as shared his knowledge for other projects.

“He is 96 years old, still feisty as ever. He is a very proud Portuguese man. He misses being on his horse and riding through the pastures and this mountain,” Victor said. “He is a gem of knowledge.”

Above:  One of special locations selected for a recent Kaulua`e Hawai`i photo shoot was Kona Historical Society’s H.N. Greenwell Store Museum, where this model (pictured) is wearing one of the signature nūpepa designs. Born and raised in Kona, Kenneth “Aloha” Victor selected photo shoot locations for his couture collection, Nāʻū, that reminded him of his childhood memories and how simple life was. Photo Courtesy of Kaulua`e Hawai`i.

 

An award-winning kumu hula, master lei maker and designer, Victor has a gift of bringing worlds and connections out into the open, using and interpreting humble fabrics and objects we live with, allowing them to share their own poems and stories to tell. Within that process, wonders, both big and small, are revealed and his home continues to be a place of endless inspiration for his clothing, which is made in Hawaiʻi. However, the Nūpepa ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, or Hawaiian language newspapers, remains his most popular design since Kauluaʻe Hawaiʻi went live with its first sale in 2018.

“We created a pattern taken from over 30 Hawaiian newspaper mastheads, dating from as early as 1834-1948. These relics of history help us to maintain a connection to the past, strengthen our identity, and promote, protect, and advocate for native Hawaiian rights, issues, and entitlements. These historical pieces contain much of Hawaiʻiʻs storied history, legends, culture, and above all: ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the native Hawaiian language,” Victor said.  “It is important to read up on our past so we can be prepared to move into the future. There are so many historical references, chants, songs, announcements, full of so many jewels for us to discover. You just gotta read. The mission for the print was to inspire our people to take a moment to read historical newspapers online and pay homage to Hawaiʻi historians for their work.”

For more than two decades, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and its Hamilton Library has made Hawaiian language newspapers of the 19th and early 20th centuries available to a growing audience of readers. Approximately 125,000 pages were digitized, equating to roughly 1.5 million pages of knowledge. More than 80 different Hawaiian language newspapers in various states of completeness and formats are now available, sharing viewpoints, stories, chants, advertisements, letters to the editor, laments, announcements, genealogies, traditions, practices, political notices, and historical events in Hawaiʻi all told from a Kānaka Maoli perspective. These newspapers are a powerful, deeply profound, and rich source of history and culture, created by some of the best writers and thinkers of the time. To view the research guides and collection, go to Nā Nūpepa ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. Also check out “Language of a Nation,” a four-part historical docuseries produced by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center at https://smithsonianapa.org/stories/film. Kona Historical Society, a long-standing Smithsonian Affiliate, recently hosted with the center an exclusive members-only online world premiere of the first episode.

Above:  Kept safe in Kona Historical Society’s Jean Greenwell Library & Archive is the December 3, 1936, edition of Ke Alakai o Hawaiʻi, a weekly publication printed and published in Honolulu. From the Collections of Kona Historical Society.

Inside its Jean Greenwell Library & Archive, a privately funded and operated research archives, Kona Historical Society has the “Inventory of Newspapers Published in Hawaii,” a preliminary report produced by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for Phase One of the Hawaii Newspaper Project, which was part of the National Newspaper Program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. This document attempts to show all the known newspaper titles published in Hawaii since 1834. It includes English language, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, Portuguese and other ethnic newspapers. There are also labor, plantation and military newspapers.

 

Also part of Kona Historical Society’s collection are nūpepa. Newspapers require special attention and care as they’re aging, brittle, fragile, and sometimes stained or torn. Kept safe in our collections is the December 3, 1936, edition of Ke Alakai o Hawaiʻi. Jonah Kumalae was the editor of this weekly paper printed and published at 2411 South King Street in Honolulu every Thursday. Newspapers like this one are valuable not only for just learning about the daily current events, but also because such publications allow us to connect and engage with the past.

Through his thoughtful designs, Victor is also providing a way for Hawaiians to connect with the writings of ancestors.

“Building off the foundation of the nūpepa print, one of our newest designs, Kaulana Nā Pua, is made up of multiple articles and pages of stories surrounding Hawaiʻi’s last ruling monarch, Queen Liliʻuokalani, in the weeks following the overthrow of Hawaiʻi’s monarchy in 1893,” he said. “During her imprisonment, Liliʻuokalani was informed of what was happening in Hawaiʻi through receiving flowers from her supporters, wrapped in current newspapers. The words to Eleanor Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast’s composition ‘Kaulana Nā Pua’ is written in a vivid blood-red hue over the articles, representing the heartache of our queen, still standing strong for her people, even while being held against her will.”

For Victor, honoring a place, a person, a movement, a memory or a legend is key. He continues to name garments after people who are inspirations in his life. These individuals are “movers and shakers in our own community that ignite the flames of motivation, inspiration and hope.”

“All of our designs tell a story. It has to serve a purpose. I’m not interested in just making something ‘pretty’. There is enough of that around,” he said. “There needs to be connectivity, to people, community and self. Through this process we honor and educate. We allow people to see something they may have missed by first glance.”

For another glance, check out www.kauluaehawaii.com.


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