26 Dec 2023

Waiʻanae Speaks

history makaha and waianae
Text by Lindsey Kesel | Images courtesy of Ed McGrath | Source: Hale Issue 11

A half-century after its release, an epic narrative of Waiʻanae’s bygone era is revived.

In 1969, 23-year-old O‘ahu newcomer Ed McGrath arrived on the Waiʻanae Coast, ready to mold young minds at Mākaha and Waiʻanae Elementary Schools. His mission as a newly minted member of Teacher Corps was to instruct fourth, fifth, and sixth graders on curriculum that included Hawaiian history—something he knew very little about. When McGrath asked his students to share what they knew about Waiʻanae’s past, not a single hand went up. “I told them to go home and talk to their moms and dads, aunties and uncles, kūpuna (honored elders), then write out what they’d learned,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I don't care what your grammar is, I don’t care if you misspell, just write from your heart.’”

history makaha and waianae

Waiʻanae Elementary principal Bob More heard McGrath was on the hunt for local stories and suggested he talk to Emily Picadura, a revered kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) woman in her early 90s. Picadura had witnessed dramatic transformation of the West Side and was married to Jacinth Picadura, a former plantation blacksmith, electrician, and irrigation expert in Waiʻanae Sugar Company’s heyday. McGrath spent several afternoons as Picadura’s guest, listening to stories of her youth and sifting through weathered photographs.

Through the friendship, he met many kūpuna who possessed a wealth of knowledge of olden days, including Nānākuli resident Jay Landis. “Uncle Jay” took McGrath under his wing and introduced him to other Waiʻanae natives eager to share their recollections.

history makaha and waianae

What began as curiosity about his new home transformed into an all-out crusade to capture not just the history, but the spirit of the Waiʻanae Coast and its people. McGrath recruited Honolulu Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss to assist him in shaping the manuscript. For the mammoth task of information gathering, he enlisted the help of fellow teacher Ken Brewer. Over the next two years, the pair sat down with more than 100 kanaka maoli residents spanning from Nānākuli to Mākua, meticulously recording each interaction by hand. Though McGrath and Brewer were outsiders, every person they reached out to readily agreed to be interviewed.

More collective memoir than history book, the project became a safe passageway for multi-generational stories to come to light. “They could see our intentions were pure,” McGrath says. “Most, if not all, of the legends Waiʻanae residents entrusted to us had never been shared in the same way outside the family.”

On December 8, 1973, Historic Waiʻanae: A Place of Kings completed its sole print run of 42,000 copies. It sold out within six months. Today, the book is considered a collector’s item and is regarded as one of the most detailed regional histories ever written about Hawaiʻi.

history makaha and waianae

Now, 50 years after the book’s release, McGrath has partnered with the Waiʻanae Hawaiian Civic Club to make the intricate quilt of firsthand accounts and family legends available again— this time as an e-book and audiobook. When club president Georgette Stevens got a call from McGrath in early 2023 asking for funding support, the timing was eerily perfect. “We had just received a big donation from Hui Huliau—a nonprofit serving Native Hawaiian families in Waiʻanae,” Stevens says. “I remember thinking, why not us? Hawaiian people preserving Hawaiian history—what a way for our club to leave a legacy!”

Stevens has been a fan of Historic Waiʻanae: A Place of Kings since she first picked it up at age 12 and discovered journal entries from her great-great grandfather Harry George Poe. “It gave me a glimpse into his life in 1906, the financial hardship, and all the things that he did to provide for his ‘ʻohana (family),” she recalls. For the re-release, Stevens is narrating portions of the audiobook alongside Hui Huliau founder Adrian Nakea Silva and master storyteller Lopaka Kapanui. In one highlight clip, Kapanui retells the legend of Waiʻanae’s Kāneana Cave— home of the shark god Nanaue and the many spirits who’ve fallen victim to his trickery—from inside the walls of the mystical sea cave.

history makaha and waianae

Historic Waiʻanae: A Place of Kings, 50th Anniversary Edition was released via a unique platform created for the project. The new versions include roughly 400 digitally enhanced images—many of them more than a century old—along with additional bonus content that takes readers deeper into Waiʻanae’s storied past. “This book will give our community the opportunity to see who we were, and how far we’ve come,” Stevens says.

And in the e-book, one small but important change has been made: On the inside title page, the expanded text now reads, “Historic Waiʻanae: A Place of Kings, Queens, and Heroes.”

For more information or to order Historic Waiʻanae – A Place of Kings, 50th Anniversary Edition.
Visit historicwaianae.com.

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