Seven giants of Hawai'i's culture
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Suzanne Roig
This year's Honpa Hongwanji Mission Living Treasures all had a hand in preserving a piece of Hawai'i's unique heritage.
They made their contribution to others while doing and supporting what they love: hula, baseball, Boy Scouts, music, conflict mediation, medicine.
Since 1970, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission each year has recognized people who embody the philosophy of giving and of perpetuating the culture of Hawai'i, said Margaret Oda, chairwoman of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission Living Treasures selection committee.
The organization normally selects six people, but chose seven this year because two of the nominees played a strong role in nurturing hula.
"All of these people don't do these things for recognition," Oda said. "The idea of the program is that there are so many people who spend their lifetime in their field without any wish for recognition. They do what they do because they want to continue to let people know about their field of expertise and never desired for recognition."
This year's recipients are "Aunty Malia" Craver, "Uncle George" Na'ope, Dr. Terence Rogers, Norman Sakata, Barbara Smith, Dorothy "Aunty Dottie" Thompson and Wally Yonamine.
"AUNTY MALIA" CRAVER
Hawaiian cultural practitioner
In selecting Craver, a kupuna at the Lili'uokalani Children's Center in Kalihi, the Buddhist mission recognized her work as a practitioner and proponent of ho'oponopono, or dispute resolution through discussion.
Craver said through her assistant at the center that she was honored to be chosen, but declined to comment for The Advertiser because she did not want to draw too much attention to herself.
Claire Asam, president and executive director of the center, said Craver is the center's spiritual and cultural adviser, a role she has had for much of her life, beginning as a house mother at the Salvation Army Boys' Home.
"Many of our families are troubled and have relationship problems," Asam said. "Aunty Malia helps them look at those differences and come to a resolution using ho'oponopono.
"She's very well-respected in the Hawaiian community for her knowledge of Hawaiian practices."
Craver, 79, was born in Ho'okena on the Big Island. She was mentored by Mary Kawena Puku'i and Rachel Nahaleelua Mahuiki in ho'oponopono, poetry and chant. In 2002 she was given the Kaonohi Award and in 2001 she received the Ke Kukui Malamalama Award from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Oda said Craver has spent a lifetime working to improve the lot of women and families through ho'oponopono. "It's a Hawaiian concept, but conflict resolution is the leading solution to resolving conflict, rather than going to court," Oda said. "Aunty Malia has taught ho'oponopono at the United Nations as a closing speaker for the 53rd Annual Department of Public Information and Non-Governmental Organization conference and at the Salvation Army Boys' Home."
"UNCLE GEORGE" NA'OPE
In 1963 "Uncle George" Na'ope began what today is called the Merrie Monarch Festival. At the time, it was modeled after Maui's Whaling Spree, a touch of 19th century nostalgia. Later with Auntie Dottie Thompson's help, it became more of what it is today: Hilo's top annual event, a five-day festival that begins every year on Easter Sunday.
As a hula student since age 3 under the eyes of Mary Kanaile Fujii, Na'ope has become a master in both hula and chant. He was chosen by his great-grandmother to carry on study of the hula of the kumupa'a (teacher with foundation of knowledge). He began to teach hula at age 13. His classes were held in a barber shop and the 50 cents-a-week fee helped him to support his family.
More than 50 years later, Na'ope is a mentor and inspiration for many of Hawai'i's current kumu hula.
Na'ope, who could not be reached for comment for this story, also was recognized by the state Legislature as one of eight "Living Treasures of Hawaii."
"Each of these seven people in their own right we felt met the criteria set forth," Oda said. "We tried to decide between the two (Auntie Dottie Thompson and Na'ope) who were nominated separately by different people, and that was very interesting. We finally agreed that we should recognize both."
DR. TERENCE ROGERS
UH medical school dean
When Dr. Terence Rogers joined the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, it was a two-year school. As dean of the fledgling school, Rogers worked to upgrade the school to a four-year institution.
"One of the things that gives me satisfaction in my old age is now we have 200 graduates who are Hawaiian," the 82-year-old Rogers said from his home in Hawai'i Kai. "We had a lot of stuff going in that, and we got a big grant from the federal government to provide educational opportunities for Native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders."
Born in London, Rogers came to Hawai'i in 1960 after spending time in the Pacific with the British Navy during World War II. In addition to his work as dean of the medical school, Rogers was a staff member for President Jimmy Carter's Commission on World Hunger and a researcher for NASA, where he investigated high gravitational stress for astronauts, working with astronauts John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom.
"I am getting old, so it was kind of nice to get a pat on the back," Rogers said. "It's been a nice run and the people who were our students, many of them are in very important positions now. Some come and see me and look after me. I'm sure this Living Treasure stuff was some of their activity."
Oda said the committee wanted to recognize Rogers because of his hard work to make the University of Hawai'i successful.
"His vision was that through training our people to be doctors they could take care of our community," Oda said. "That was his burning ambition. His psychology textbook is used worldwide."
Lions Club leader
Norman Sakata can thank his grandmother for teaching him the value of helping others. It was her blindness that inspired him to dedicate much of his life to the Hawai'i Lions Eye Bank, which provides eye tissue for corneal transplants, research, and other medical purposes. He's dedicated more than 48 years to the Lions Club, including a stint as the State of Hawai'i District Governor. He is responsible for raising more than $300,000 in donations to the eye bank. Sakata has also spent more than five decades working with the Boy Scouts of America, helping shape many Big Island youth.
"Good things have come out because of my involvement," Sakata said. "I was so happy to be in a position to help. I get carried away when I talk about the programs I'm involved in. I am very honored by the Living Treasures award."
Sakata was born and raised in Kona, one of 10 children on a Kona coffee farm. Growing coffee is a hobby for Sakata, who said working in the fields relieves stress. But to many, he's thought of as the man who keeps the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival going, an event held every November.
In considering Sakata for the Living Treasures recognition, Oda said, it was his work with the service clubs and dedication to making Kona coffee that earned him the award.
Four years ago, the 80-year-old Sakata was recognized as the Hawai'i County Outstanding Older American. In 2000, he received the governor's Kilohana Award for Outstanding Volunteerism.
"It takes family support to accomplish things," Sakata said. "The sacrifice you have to make when you're involved. I thank my family for their understanding to the cause of helping others, and that has made me a better man."
As a trained classical pianist, Barbara Smith expanded her repertoire to include the koto, a Japanese string instrument. That led her to develop the ethnomusicology program at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, and created an outlet for music students to explore non-traditional musical genres.
Oda said the Living Treasures selection committee was impressed with Smith's dedication to ethnic music. She learned the koto in Japan from master performer Miyagi Michio and then took her Western-based studies on music theory and method and created a new program for undergrads, and later for graduate students, when the UH music department was in its infancy.
She arrived in Honolulu from the East Coast in 1949.
"I looked at my students, who were mostly Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and they were so eager to learn what I was teaching," Smith said.
Smith was the first woman and first Caucasian to perform the Iwakuni style of bon dance drumming. She was the host for the 51st annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology in Honolulu.
"Now I do consulting work at the students' request," said Smith, 86. "People credit me as being an expert, but I don't really consider myself one. It's the students in those early classes who should get the credit for being the stimulus to get the ethnomusicology program going."
DOROTHY "AUNTIE DOTTIE" THOMPSON
Merrie Monarch organizer
Dorothy "Auntie Dottie" Thompson is the backbone of the Merrie Monarch Festival, the premier hula event in Hawai'i. She adopted the festival, which was about to be dropped by the Hawai'i Chamber of Commerce because of a lack of interest. Held every year in Hilo since 1969, the Merrie Monarch Festival is what it is today because of all the behind-the-scenes work done by Thompson, said Luana Kawelu, Thompson's daughter.
"My mom has nurtured it for more than 30 something years," Kawelu said. "She's not one who likes attention. She likes to stay in the background."
Thompson received the 2000 Outstanding Non-Hawaiian Perpetuating the Hawaiian Culture award by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, and she was named a Living Legend in 1996 by the County of Hawai'i Department of Parks and Recreation
In selecting Thompson, 86, Oda cited her role in preserving the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture.
"Dorothy Thompson carried (the Merrie Monarch) when it was about to close," Oda said. "The committee decided that both (Thompson and Na'ope) should be recognized because they've done so much. It's really interesting how the nominations and recommendations have come from many more areas, which is wonderful."
Youth sports advocate
A career in Japanese professional baseball and a short stint in professional football gave Wally Yonamine the ability to help Hawai'i's youth by creating a foundation that gives out scholarships to college-bound student-athletes and sponsors the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association baseball tournament.
The Wally Yonamine Foundation last year donated $200,000 to the association.
"I am so grateful to baseball in Hawai'i," said Yonamine, 82. "It gave me a good start. When I retired, I wanted to do something for the Hawai'i kids."
His generosity and years playing baseball for several Japanese teams captured the attention of the Living Treasures committee, Oda said. He overcame prejudice as an outsider while playing for Japanese teams, earning the respect of players and fans and winning the Most Valuable Player award in 1957 when he led the Chunichi Dragons to their first Japan Series championship.
Born on Maui, Yonamine attended Farrington High School and in 1944 led the Governor football team to the Interscholastic League of Honolulu crown. Right out of high school he signed on with the San Francisco 49ers, but an injury cost him the second year of his contract. But that didn't stop Yo-namine from playing sports. He moved to his second-favorite, baseball, and wound up his career as a Japanese Professional Baseball Hall of Fame member in 1994.
"I'm very honored," Yonamine said. "I always tell my children and grandchildren, 'Whatever you do, try your best. Don't give up and always give 100 percent and you'll have a good chance of succeeding.'
"I hit a home run with my life."
Reach Suzanne Roig at email@example.com.