Stories as legacy

27 03 2010

Stories can be legacies. I was reminded of this when my cousin Galien sent me the Hawaii island press photos and story of Kalahikiola church with a note, “It shows you how Kohala takes care of its own, rarely waiting for the government or others to do their needs.”

The photos show the congregation seated in pews of a renovated interior. The news article reports that on February 27, 2010, while most of Hawaii waited for a potentially damaging tsunami from an earthquake in Chile, the people of North Kohala were in church to dedicate their newly rebuilt Kalahikiola church building, a casualty of an earlier natural disaster: The earthquake on October 15, 2006, off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii caused the stone walls of the church, located at Kapaau, to crumble.  A dramatic photo showed the damage to the world.

Among the relatives of my mother’s side of the family, what we noticed in the 2006 photo was that the bell tower was intact. (Click on “dramatic photo” in the above paragraph.) Growing up, we were told the story of how our grandfather — who managed the grounds of Dr. Benjamin D. Bond’s estate that included the church — repaired the bell tower in the early 1900s, replacing rotted timbers one by one.

Yet, actually, someone read and quoted the anecdote in Father Bond of Kohala: A Chronicle of Pioneer Life in Hawai‘i by Ethel M. Damon (Honolulu: The Friend, 1927) about “Ah Nee, the faithful Chinese workman,” the only carpenter who dared to undertake the repair. (He was called Ah Nee, which means Two for the second son, but his correct name was Chong How Kong.) And that quote is re-cited in our cousin J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard’s The Chong Family History (Kaaawa: Chong Hee Books, 1992).

Our grandfather died in 1930, but when we saw the 2006 photo of the church with the untouched bell tower, we patted him on the back anyway. We cherish this connection to Kohala. It’s the story we pass down, even though there are so many more stories, given that my mother and her 14 siblings were born and began their lives there. But that’s the story we know about our grandfather.

Accuracy is part of my training and experience. My 6th grade teacher taught how to use a dictionary, how to outline, and drilled us on “speed and accuracy.” When writing the daily news, it’s customary to check facts with more than one source; two to concur, but three are better. In the Sunset test kitchen we made a recipe a minimum of three times before publication.

Recently I became involved for five years in designing and managing the publication of bi-lingual children’s story books in Hawaiian and English for a non-profit educational organization in our area. The stories were to ring true to the Hawaiian culture, places, customs, heritage, etc.

The storybook project was by the indigenous community and involved many partners, writers, reviewers, elders, editors, photographers, designers, and translators. While allowing an author’s voice, I lobbied my darndest to avoid what I felt were inaccuracies, but sometimes I wasn’t successful.  In the end I relaxed and said okay to some things that I’d now regard as modern myth.

This past week the publisher, Na Kamalei – K.E.E.P., released its Hawaiian-culture-based early childhood education curriculum for families. It’s wonderful, and it integrates 20 of the story books into the lesson plans. It is for use by family and child interaction learning programs.

I still feel accuracy is important, so as not to perpetuate something that’s not so, thereby creating a myth.

What stories do you remember? What stories will you write or tell? What legacy will you leave?

Copyright 2010 Rebekah Luke
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