HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Summer Bon Dance Season 2014

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Bon Dance Season is Here
by Kelly Moran

In the Buddhist tradition, during the summer months, Japanese residents welcome back the spirits of departed loved ones at lively and festive dance events called o-bon (most in Hawaii shorten the word to bon). There are numerous o-bon dances at venues around the island of Hawaii set for this summer season between June and August.

Photo: Hawai’i Magazine (

In Japan, the summer o-bon festivals date back to more than 500 years. In Hawaii, Buddhist temples take turns hosting the festivals and these dances have become as much social affairs as religious observances.

Everyone is welcome at the Hawaiian festivals, regardless of religious background or ethnicity making the temple festivals well-attended.

What can I expect to see at an o-bon festival?

  • Dances that participants can engage in (called bon-odori). These generally involve people circling and dancing around a high wooden scaffold called a yagura (wooden musicians’ tower). Flutes and gongs may accompany singers and taiko drums.
  • A variety of foods for sale, including musubi (rice balls wrapped in dried seaweed), stir fried noodles, andagi (sweet fried dough), barbeque sticks, stew & rice, chirashi sushi, bentos, Spam musubis, shave ice cones and more.
  • Some dressed in a yukata (summer cotton kimono) or a hapi coat.
  • Plenty of colorful chockin hanging lights. O-bon translates to “lantern festival” and the lanterns are believed to light the way for ancestral spirits, who are then greeted with offerings of flowers, food and incense.


Here are the upcoming festivals for this year:

• July 11, 12
Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, 398 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, 7 p.m.

• July 12
Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission, 79-7241 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kealakekua, 7 p.m.
Kohala Jodo Mission, Hawi, 7 p.m.
Paauilo Hongwanji Mission, 43-1477 Hauola Road, Paauilo, 7 p.m.

• July 18, 19
Hilo Meishoin, 97 Olona St. Hilo, 7:30 p.m.

• July 19
Honokaa Hongwanji Mission, 45-5016 Plumeria St., Honokaa, 7 p.m.
Keei Buddhist Church & Cemetery, 83-5569 Middle Keei Road, Captain Cook, 7 p.m.

• July 26
Papaaloa Hongwanji Mission, Papaaloa, 6 p.m.
Hilo Hongwanji Mission, 457 Manono St. Hilo, 7:30 p.m.
Kona Hongwanji Mission, 81-6630 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kealakekua, 7 p.m.

• Aug. 2
Hawi Jodo Mission, Hawi, 7 p.m.
Paauilo Kongoji Mission, 43-1461 Hauola Road, Paauilo, 7 p.m.
Taishoji Soto Mission, 275 Kinoole St., Hilo, 7 p.m.
Kurtistown Jodo Mission, Iwasaki Camp Road, Kurtistown, 8 p.m.

• Aug. 9
Hamakua Jodo Mission, Honokaa, 7 p.m.
Kona Koyasan Daishiji Mission, 76-5945 A Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa, 7 p.m.
Hilo Higashi Hongwanji, 216 Mohouli St., Hilo, 8 p.m.

• Aug. 15
Life Care Center, 944 W Kawailani St., Hilo, 6 p.m.

• Aug. 16
Kamuela Hongwanji Mission, Church Row, Kamuela, 7 p.m.
Hakalau Jodo Mission, Hakalau, 8 p.m.

• Aug. 23

Pahoa YBA Kaikan, Pahoa, 8 p.m.

• Aug. 30
Honohina Hongwanji Mission, 32-896 Mamalahoa Hwy, Ninole, 7 p.m.

SOURCE: Tsukikage Odorikai (

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – A Shakespearean Double Feature

By Kelly Moran

A Shakespearean Double Feature

You might not think of Hilo as a venue for Shakespeare. But every July, the Hilo Community Players presents one of the Bard’s plays – free of charge – right downtown in Kalakaua Park. And this year they’re doing not one but two. Well . . . almost. They’ll perform Antony and Cleopatra –Shakespeare’s historical drama of love and war in the Roman Empire. But they’ll also present a modern comedy, with a lot of youngsters in the cast, called This Is Hamlet.

The Hilo Community Players is the second-oldest theatrical organization in the Islands, having been formed in 1938; and it’s the only troupe in Hawaii that does Shakespeare every year. They’ve been doing it since 1978.

HCP Shakespeare Stage 2014

A chessboard for giants?  No, it’s the stage set for the Hilo Community Players’ production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and for the comedy This is Hamlet, in downtown Hilo’s Kalakaua Park.

The park used to be the front lawn of King Kalakaua’s vacation-house; Kalakaua Street is the park’s southern border; and a statue of the king by local sculptor Hank Bianchini is in the center. Everyone knows he was an enthusiast for hula: Hilo’s huge “Merrie Monarch” festival and competition is named for him. But he loved stage plays, Shakespeare especially, and the Players have long felt that performances in “his” park similarly honor his legacy.

This year’s audiences will see an innovative Antony and Cleopatra. The script is all Shakespeare, of course, though carefully edited to run just about two hours, with one intermission. But the director, Jake McPherson, has chosen to take what he calls a “minimalist” approach to the play. It will be performed by only six actors, four of whom play multiple roles; even the actors playing Antony and Cleopatra will take on one extra role apiece. McPherson will also clothe his actors not in history-evoking togas and silks, but in monochromatic costumes with only an accessory or two to establish which character they’re portraying. McPherson is one of Hilo’s most experienced directors, and has taken a similar approach in other plays, because, he feels, it focuses the audience’s attention on the most important aspect of the theater-going experience: hearing the spoken word.

This is Hamlet is something completely different. It’s a lighthearted guided-tour through Bard’s most famous play, led by a couple of old biddies and a gaggle of kids, poking fun at the most serious parts, yet never losing touch with what makes Shakespeare great.

Families have always come to the Players’ productions; indeed many of the actors who are now in their twenties and thirties first came with their parents, or joined the Players after having been in Hilo High School’s famous Performing Arts Learning Center – a for-credit afterschool activity. But This is Hamlet is the start of what director Jackie Pualani Johnson sees as a new tradition for the Players, which she calls “Kid Shakes.” Johnson is the chair of UH-Hilo’s Performing Arts Dept., and is the city’s best known actor (she had the title role in the Players’ production of The Trial of Lili’uokalani last summer.) Her concept is that plays with young people in the cast will give not only children but grown-ups too an easy entry-point into the local theater community, and into the wider world of Shakespearean theater as well.

Antony and Cleopatra will be performed on at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from July 10-26; and at 2 p.m. on Sunday July 13 and 20.

This is Hamlet will be performed at 11 a.m. on Saturdays July 12, 19 and 26, and Sundays July 13 and 20.
Admission is free; seating is on bleachers or on the grass (bring your own lawn chair); and “the show must go on” – meaning performances will begin on schedule, rain or shine!

To learn more about the Hilo Community Players, access Cast Lists, audition, become a volunteer or see upcoming productions, click here.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Wednesdays at “Uncle Robert’s”

By Kelly Moran
Wednesdays at “Uncle Robert’s”

You can always find something to do on a weekend night on the East side of the Big Island.  Rock bands, jazz bands and movies are entertainment staples on Friday and Saturday evenings; some weekends there are stage-plays or theatrical musicals, too; and a few restaurants are destinations in themselves.

But suppose it’s Wednesday night.  What is there to do in the middle of the week?  Where can you go to listen to good music and eat great food?

The answer is: at the end of Hwy 137 in Puna (follow the signs to Kalapana).  It’s there that you’ll find “Uncle Robert’s” – the nickname for a place, a destination, an experience, really, that’s part local culture, part family outing, part stage show, part farmers’ market, part crafts fair, and all fun.

Uncle Roberts Entry

Uncle Robert’s, in Kalapana, is the place to be on Wednesday nights

The eponymous uncle is Robert Kali’iho’omalu, whose ancestral compound has been the site of this extravaganza for the past four years.  A few dozen vendors set up their food and craft booths in the late afternoon, and the music – under a large, purpose-built wooden shelter – gets under way around 5 o’clock.  One of Uncle’s sons (Junior, by name) heads up the “house band,” but on the night you go, you may well hear other musicians too.  And don’t be surprised to see some “aunties” get up and dance in front of the stage, just for the love of hula.

The music’s almost all Hawaiian – meaning local, and not exclusively in that sweet language.  But the food defies categories.  The last time I was there, I had beef ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, vegan spring-rolls, Korean-style chicken wings, and dairy-free ice cream made from coconut milk.  I skipped the friend wontons, pumpkin curry and everything else because I was just too stuffed.  And I didn’t even tempt myself by perusing the crafts, for fear I’d do all my Christmas shopping too early!

Eating and Listening at Uncle Roberts

There’s plenty of room to eat great food, and listen to great music, at Uncle Robert’s

Before you jump in the car, be aware that there will be crowds, and that along the last stretch of road cars will be parked on both sides; so don’t be in a hurry to get there or to leave.  There’s a big parking lot on the mauka side, right next to the entrance, for $5/car; but I recommend turning makai and parking on an asphalted stretch of lava, for just $2.  (Incidentally, from there you can walk about a quarter-mile to the ocean, and see a newly-formed black sand beach – just don’t try to swim there: it’s too dangerous.) 

Also remember: this place is not on the way to anywhere else – it’s a destination in itself, and truly at the end of the road.  A few years ago, Madame Pele – that is: lava from Kilauea – closed the highway and smothered a couple of subdivisions.  Less than a hundred yards past Uncle Robert’s, there’s no trace any more of Kaimu, a picture-perfect, coconut-fringed black sand beach.  And nobody knows when “she” might send more liquid rock down there again.  So don’t put off going to Uncle Robert’s any longer.  Go next Wednesday!

Food and Crafts at Uncle Roberts

You won’t go hungry at Uncle Robert’s – and you’ll probably wind up buying something handmade, too.


What They Really Mean?


By Kelly Moran

What They Really Mean?
It’s Springtime, and I’m feeling so good, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

When you see an ad for a property, consider that the words might not mean what you think.  For instance, “Small” means it’s small.  “Cabin” means it’s very small.  And “Cozy” means it’s really, really small.  So, here are a few terms, euphemisms and otherwise, to help you find the perfect home.


“Needs Your Touch” = “needs paint and flooring.”

“Needs TLC” = “needs work.”

“Needs Work” = “needs a lot of work.”

“Fixer-Upper” = “needs everything.”

“Contractor Special” = “consider tearing it down.”

“Quiet Neighborhood” = “maybe when school’s in session.”

“Lively Neighborhood” = “keep your door locked.”

“Nighttime Security” = “streetlights shine in your window.”

“Close to Schools” = “playground next door.”

“Close to Park” = “ball field next door.”

“Close to Sports” = “ball field with night games next door.”

“Close to Town” = “you’ll still have to drive there.”

“Central Location” = “no on-street parking.”

“Close to Transit” = “the bus stop is a block or two away.”

“Steps to Transit” = “the bus idles in front of your house.”


There may be more, but as I said, this is Spring, and . . . well, actually it’s April 1st!

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – The People’s Theater – a Hamakua gem


By Kelly Moran

The People’s Theater – a Hamakua gem

Quick – what’s the biggest historic theater on the Big Island?  There are several, after all: The Aloha in Kainaliu (built in 1932), with 298 seats?  Downtown Hilo’s Palace (from 1925), with 485 seats?  Getting warmer.  Believe it or not, it’s the 525-seat People’s Theater in Honoka’a.


When it opened in 1930, it was the largest of three(!) movie houses on Mamane St., the main artery of Honoka’a, which was then the booming center of sugar production on the Hamakua Coast.  (Hilo, about an hour’s drive away, and Kea’au, further away in Puna, were the cane-capitals to the south.)

The People’s Theater was built by the Tanimoto family, which owned several other theaters on the Big Island; and like many theaters in that era, one of the owners lived in an apartment upstairs.  (The Palace and Aloha had similar apartments, which are now their offices).  By 1988, however, the matriarch of the Tanimoto family was too ill to manage the family business, and she sold it to her physician, Dr. Tawn Keeney, who undertook a massive renovation project.

Besides making necessary repairs, painting and restoring historic details, he installed a 50-foot movie screen and a modern sound-system, and encouraged producers to bring in musical and dramatic acts.  The theater also became the home venue and practice-hall for the national-award-winning Honoka’a High School Jazz Band.  The current manager is Dr. Keeny’s daughter Phaethon; and the lobby now boasts a café with locally-made refreshments.

It’s on the “circuit” for many touring musicians, such as Maria Muldaur and John Sebastian, who are well-known to the Big Island’s sizable population of baby-boomers.  On April 3, for example, the theater will feature bluegrass dobro-guitar virtuoso Jerry Douglas, playing with Hawaiian slack-key guitar giants Ledward Ka’apana and Mike Ka’awa.  One-night-only acts like these can command top ticket prices of $40 or more.  But regular first-run movie tickets at the People’s are only . . . (wait for it) . . . $6.

Visit for schedules and more info.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: Ethanol-Free Gas is Best for Small Engines

By Kelly Moran


Ethanol is ethyl alcohol – the kind you can drink. Diluting gasoline with this home-grown fuel, distilled mainly from corn, reduces America’s demand for imported oil.  The mixture has helped to moderate the rises in crude-oil prices, but it is widely criticized, from left and right both, as a subsidy to big agribusinesses, and as a diversion of corn that ought to be food for people and livestock.

Gasoline with ten-percent alcohol is called E10; with 15% it’s E15.  Burning alcohol yields less energy than burning gasoline: it takes 1.5 gallons of alcohol to equal the propulsive power of one gallon of gas.  In today’s automobiles – those built after 2000, anyway – that doesn’t matter.  Hundreds of times a second, the computer in the engine senses the percentage, and makes the optimum mix of fuel, air, and ignition timing, no matter what the fuel.  But small gas engines, like those of lawn-tractors, and particularly the even smaller gas engines of lawnmowers, chain-saws and weed-eaters, don’t have computers.  They have old-fashioned carburetors, which can’t make adjustments for the difference between gas and alcohol.  So they simply don’t perform as well burning E10 or E15 as they do burning pure gasoline.

Ethanol-Free Gas - Bayfront Chevron
This pump at the Bayfront Chevron calls its ethanol-free fuel “100% Gasoline,” but notes that it’s “not a Chevron product.”

With ethanol in the gas, though, there’s an even bigger problem for small engines than mechanical inefficiency.  If you have any landscaping to do at home, here, you probably have some small-engine tools.  But you probably don’t mow your lawn or whack your weeds as often as you drive your car.  So in a typical small engine, the fuel can hang around in its tank for a while, unused.  After a few weeks or a month, the alcohol separates from the gasoline; it starts dissolving things made of fiberglass (like the tank itself!), and corroding a few metal components.  And when those residues get into the fuel line and carburetor, they gum up the works.  Small-engine repairmen get business from this, but they are not necessarily happy about it.  They tend to have great respect for these well-engineered, highly efficient and reliable machines, and they hate to see them fail for fully preventable reasons.

The best “ounce of prevention” is ethanol-free gas.  Some automotive-supply stores sell it in small cans, by the pint or the quart.  But it’s cheaper to buy it and pump it yourself, by the gallon, and you can do that easily at a couple of gas-stations here on the Big Island.  For a long time, the only outlet was the Aloha station in Mountain View, on Hwy 11 between the 14- and 15-mileposts.  Recently, though, Hilo’s Bayfront Chevron, on Kamehameha Ave. at Pauahi St., has begun selling it too.

Chevron on Kam Ave
The Chevron station on Kam Ave. in Hilo has begun selling ethanol-free gasoline. Is this a sign of things to come? As more people become aware of the problems that ethanol causes in small engines, will more stations start to offer gas without the added alcohol?

Ethanol-free gas does cost a bit more than Regular E10 (about the same as Premium E10).  But a gas engine without alcohol is a cleaner-running gas engine.  Use it in your mower, chainsaw and weed-whacker, and you can take comfort in knowing that those tools will be giving you a big “Mahalo,” and working a lot longer for you.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: “What About All My Books?”

By Kelly Moran

“What About All My Books?”

This column isn’t for everyone.  People who move to the Big Island typically bring some household goods: important pieces of furniture, family heirlooms, photographs, artwork and other decorations that have aesthetic or personal significance.  Most also bring some favorite books as well, for which a couple of shelves will suffice in their new home.  But some people bring a great many books here.  And if you’re one of them, it’s to you that this particular column is directed.

How (you may well ask) do I transplant a personal library?  It’s not just a matter of shelving – about which, more later.  It’s a matter of climate.  Hawaii, and the east side of the Big Island especially, is warm and humid all year long.  Mold and mildew have a particular affinity for book-paper here, and as if that weren’t bad enough, the paper in most books, especially older books, is vulnerable to decay, having been manufactured in a process that leaves it slightly acidic. If it gets damp, the moisture releases the acid, which then starts to eat away the pages.  (This, incidentally, is why professional framers mount photos and artworks on “acid-free” paper.)  The same fate awaits other paper collectibles that may be brought here from drier climates, like vintage magazines or sheet music.  Tightly compressed, moist paper is also the favorite breeding-ground of mold and mildew, as well as bookworms and “silverfish” roaches.

Obviously, the best way to maintain a library’s worth of books is to keep them very dry.  You could set aside a room for them, an extra bedroom, perhaps; seal it fairly well against the damp, and install an air conditioner or dehumidifier that vents to the outside.  This is relatively easy to do, though it’s not as practical as it seems. If you keep the room closed off, you may not use your books as often as you would if they were always visible. (Admit it: If you have that many books, you probably love looking at them as much as reading them!)  And you’ll be forever hectoring your family to “Close that door!”  Besides, air conditioners and dehumidifiers draw a lot of electric power, and at more than $0.30 per kilowatt-hour, Hawaii has the highest electric rates in America.

So, alternatively, you can shelve your books in the open, take each one down once in a while, and riffle the pages to air them out.  Do this, and you will still have to resign yourself to replacing the books you especially love, as the oldest editions inevitably disintegrate.

But wait – you can have it both ways: a library open 24/7 that nonetheless preserves your collection.  The secret is to ventilate it.  Even in microclimates where humidity is highest, at sea-level, a breeze may wick away excess moisture before it can cling to a page.  Let me tell you about two homeowners who have protected their large book-collections that way.

One family owns a trio of plantation-vintage houses that they rent by the room to graduate students and visiting researchers at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.  They have long had more books than their family home (one of the three) could hold; so a few years ago, they decided to create a library on the ground floor of one of the rental houses.  By coincidence, just as they were planning that renovation, the local Borders bookstore closed, and they wound up buying the display-shelves.

Like many of Hilo’s houses, theirs is built atop a concrete slab, supported by posts-and-piers on the ground floor within a low perimeter knee-wall.  They clad the exterior walls with cementacious Hardie panels, installed screened windows on three sides, laid colorful vinyl tiles on the slab, and installed lights and power outlets all around.  The slab stays cool, and the house above shades the new library.  Most days there’s cross-ventilation, a gentle breeze that helps to keep the books from molding, and also cools whoever’s using the library, which has become a bonus study-space for their tenants, too.

Library Under the House
Library Under the House: Beneath this house in Hilo, a large library features shelving from a shuttered bookstore, screened windows for ventilation, and plenty of comfortable seating.


On a ridge above Hilo, there’s a husband and wife to whom I sold a three-bedroom house that needed upgrades.  They were moving here from San Francisco, with 36 boxes of books.  And as they both worked from home, they needed space for an office as well as a library.  Using their extra bedrooms was not an option: one had to give up a wall to make their living room bigger, and the other had to remain as their guest-room.

What they did was to take over the old carport, which was more than two-cars wide, and already had a door into the house.  They built a wall and a big window on the side that had been open to the road, added a door into a new shed-roof carport around the corner, and installed a new hardwood floor of red eucalyptus robusta.  For the wooden shelving, which now fills three sides, they designed a simple, modular system using inexpensive Douglas fir, that their contractor sized to fit.

Carport Library
Carport Library:  This combination of library and home-office is crowded, but well-organized. Good ventilation keeps the books, which include many collectible vintage editions, safe from the predations of moisture and insects.

They also purchased a dehumidifier, but to their surprise, they have almost never run it.  The house is at a breezy 2,000-foot elevation, and the constant air circulation has been enough, by itself, to inhibit mold and mildew and discourage insects.  There is a small trade-off: during the winter months, that office/library is the chilliest room in the house.  But cool air holds less moisture than warm air, and that too helps keep the books safe in what would otherwise be the wettest time of year.

So, bibliophiles take note: you don’t have to give up your books to live in Hawaii.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: “Cooperative Education” — A Conversation with Krishna Dhir …

By Kelly Moran


Krishna Dhir is an agent for change at UH-Hilo’s College of Business and Economics (COBE).   In 2013, he was named its dean, and, as he sees it, “The college is a reservoir of intellectual capital that businesses will want to access.  During the past few years, it was focused on acquiring international accreditation – which was, of course, vital to its standing and to attracting students.  But now that we have accreditation, it’s time for us to focus on implementing the mission articulated by the college’s faculty members, and make progress toward achieving the goals defined by them.”
Dhir came to Hilo after running the business school at Berry College, in Rome, GA.  But he is not your typical academic administrator.  He does hold an MBA, which he earned in the late 1960s at UH-Manoa in Honolulu.  But his initial preparation is in chemical engineering and PhD (from the University of Colorado at Boulder) is in operations research; and he worked for several years at a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland.  “It’s not uncommon for engineers to be involved in business schools,” he explained.  “Engineers are typically obsessed with optimization, and there’s a whole aspect of the business school curriculum that focuses on that.  In many areas of manufacturing, industrial engineers overlap with production managers: there is a commonality.  The best engineers also have to be focused on finances, so there’s a good bit of overlap when it comes to operations research, management science, and methodologies.”

UH-Hilo’s COBE, he noted, is “an under-valued school.  People here may not realize what an asset they have.  It’s accredited internationally, which means that its alumni are considered fully qualified to go to graduate schools around the world.”  And since COBE is fully accredited now, Dhir feels he can focus on bringing its certifiably high quality of education into the local business community.

“On the Big Island,” he said, “about half of the high school students go to college; and statewide, the percentage is only a little better. And when high school graduates go into the workforce, they soon discover they’re inadequately trained for mid-level management responsibilities.  To take just one example: In hotel guest relations, resort operators here find their local entry-level employees don’t have the skills to move up the ladder.  So they recruit talent from off-island, especially from the Mainland: and those people don’t usually stay here to run the operations – if they move up the ladder, it’s within the company’s faraway headquarters.”

The educational model that Dhir says he is “trying to sell,” is non-traditional.  “Go to medical school, and you get an education with both an academic part and a clinical part.  Business schools should have an equivalent curriculum: they shouldn’t just hand over degrees to people who have never run a business!  We need to augment our faculty with practitioners, to draw people from the business community who will affiliate with the college: bank CEOs perhaps, or plant managers, people who are experts in their own areas – including retirees, looking for a way to ‘give back’ to this wonderful place in which they live.  We can help enable them to develop curricula, along with our faculty, that draws on their expertise.  Not everything in the COBE has to be about academic credit.
Krishna Dhir
“It’s true that ‘learning’ has been traditionally measured in ‘credits.’ So the problem,” he admitted, “starts with the college.  And business-school faculties have been focused mainly on academics, within the school, and mainly on courses taken for credit.  The age of the college student is going up; education is becoming a commodity. Workers are staying at work longer, and living longer.  So they may need to go back to the university for more education – but only for short periods of time, not for days or for semesters.  And with cooperation between faculty and industry, the college can develop non-credit courses to augment their credit-based programs.”

“Business people,” he said, “are more interested in capacity – in the ability of someone to do something.  This is not an earthshaking idea.  I want local industry to benefit from this approach.  We’ve done our homework; we’ve come up with these new ideas.   I want to put our students into cooperative education.  On the industry side, internships are only one part of that cooperation.  When a company really cooperates with educators, the students gain skills.  In cooperative education, students can work in the summer months, earning a decent paycheck which they can apply to tuition, while gaining and using skills they’ll be able to use long after. This requires everyone to consider fresh ideas, and frankly, the practical applications may require adjustments where the process touches on laws regarding, say, work-hours or benefits.  ”

Who would he bring in to this process from the business community?  The tourism industry, to start.  “There aren’t too many large companies here in East Hawaii ,” he said, “but in West Hawaii there are excellent prospects, since tourism there is so much bigger than in East Hawaii.  The challenge will be to show those industries how the COBE can work with their workers, in the context of their corporate needs.   Interns from big name mainland universities who are subsidized by our industries won’t be staying on in Hawaii.  The hotels need local students, from here.  And they are people who will stay on afterward, and become full-time employees.”

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: Beautiful Fruit Trees


By Kelly Moran

Beautiful Fruit Trees

In the 1970s, it was hard to buy a fruit tree on the Big Island.  A handful of people grew fruit commercially, but none raised young trees for sale.  “It’s a whole different world today,” said Susi Hamilton, whose Plant-It Hawaii nursery now supplies about one-fourth of all the fruit trees you’ll find here at retail.

Susi came here 35 years ago from California, looking to grow her own food, but she especially wanted to grow fresh fruit on the six acres she and her brother Eric bought in Hawaiian Acres.  But in those days, she recalled, “There was no nursery trade.  Only a few varieties of fruit trees were actively cultivated here, and many of them, like the rambutans, were descended from seedlings.”  She went to the University of Hawaii’s experimental station on the Stainback Highway, but they didn’t teach nursery skills.  So she turned to growers like Mr. Iwasaki, who raised only citrus trees, but taught her how to graft and bud; and Phil Ito, from whom she learned propagation  techniques.

Armed with those skills, she went to southeast Asia and brought back “named” varieties of tropical fruit trees, planted a dozen or so, and selected the ones that did best here to specialize in.  Most of the longon that’s grown here now, for example, came from varieties she found on the Chinese mainland across from Hong Kong.

Kelly and Susi
Kelly Moran and Susi Hamilton

Bob Hamilton, who grew up here, was a homebuilder when he and Susi met and started dating, but he soon became her partner in the nursery business, which they moved to the present 20-acre site in Kurtistown.  Eric worked with them in the fields, in the early years, but nowadays he runs their post-harvest fruit export processing facility.

“For a while,” she said, “we operated a successful fruit stand on Highway 11, mauka of Kurtistown, and sold vegetables there too, from local ‘micro-farmers.’  We started a tropical fruit cooperative with other growers, to purchase and sell together, which helped to keep prices stable and ensure high quality control.  But we were always the packers.  Even today, our products are shipped in what we call ‘the yellow box,’ which wholesalers and retailers know stands for high quality.”

But their goal, all along, was to have a fruit-tree nursery.  And in the 1980s and ‘90s, with the demise of sugar, a lot of acreage that had been in cane was put back into production with fruit trees. “Our timing was impeccable,” said Susi. “The formula, so to speak is: ‘Ag land plus nursery cultivars equals synergy.’

“We’re selling Plant-It Hawaii because we’re getting older, and I’m happy about that.  I’ve had a great time doing this.  But our kids are grown, and it’s time to move on. I’m still healthy, so I want to paint, do photography, and travel.  But we’re not leaving.  It’s only the nursery and processing business we’re selling: not Hula Brothers, our fruit business.  We’ll stay and provide consultation and training for new owners.  I want them to be successful.  There are expansion opportunities in exports, and online sales.  Demand is driving local expansion too, and I haven’t wanted to expand.  If the turnkey nursery sells, it will be to someone young and energetic who can take my place.  I think they might want to focus on lychee – there’s a crop that totally under-planted!”

Plant-It Hawaii is well-positioned for a new owner: the production manager, ten full-time and two part-time employees are all in place.  “Our workforce is terrific!  Even the managers do production work – whatever needs to be done, everyone pitches in.  They’re loyal people, dedicated to the business; most have been here ten years or more, a few have been with us more than twenty years.  And that gives us very high quality control.  We stand behind all our products.  Trees don’t go out of here until they’re ready to plant.”

And Plant-It Hawaii is doing very well.  “Last year was our biggest ever,” she said, “with $800,000 in gross sales, yielding over $250,000 in profit.  Even in an otherwise down-market, fruit trees are a growth industry.” Plant-It Hawaii is the leading nursery in its field for a variety of reasons, but as Susi puts it: “What we really do best is grow beautiful fruit trees.”

For more information on this incredible offering, see:

“The Trial of Lili‘uokalani”

By Kelly Moran

 “The Trial of Lili‘uokalani”

It’s 1895.  Hawaiian nationalists have tried – but failed – to restore the Queen and her government by force of arms.  Convicted of treason against the new Republic, they’ve been sentenced to death.  And now Lili‘uokalani  — the deposed Queen — faces an American military court, accused of knowing her people were going to rise up, and not stopping them.
This month, the Hilo Community Players present The Trial of Lili‘uokalani, a historical drama about these real events and historical figures, with some characters created by the playwright to personify loyalties in conflict.  In the throne room and the court room, we see the loss of her kingdom and her husband; the frustrations of her supporters; the defense of her reign against the men who ended it . . . and the political undertow of America’s westward “manifest destiny.”  Atop a stellar cast, as the Queen, is Jackie Pualani Johnson, celebrated local actor, and chair of UH-Hilo’s Performing Arts Dept.  Directing the play is Justina Taft  Mattos, PhD, director of “Much Ado About Nothing” for HCP’s Shakespeare in the Park; the Palace Theater musical “Once Upon One Noddah Time;” and UH-Hilo’s production of “Go Dog, Go.”

The Trial of Lili‘uokalani was written here in Hilo in 1973 by Maurice Zimring, a Hollywood screenwriter who’d retired to Keaukaha – a largely Hawaiian community — and was active in the Big Island Press Club.  Drawing on remembrances, books, archives and transcripts, Zimring combined historical figures and dramatic characters to create this drama of patriotism and passion.



[In The Trial of Lili‘uokalani, politics threatens the budding romance between Jenny Thornton (Nicole Cowan), daughter of the leading Annexationist, and Paki Kealoha (Ray Campainha), the firebrand Hawaiian nationalist.  Can the Queen (Jackie Pualini Johnson) bring them together?]


2013 is a significant year for this play.  It is the 120th anniversary of the Queen’s overthrow, the 50th anniversary of the creation of the play, and the 75th anniversary of the Hilo Community Players (HCP), the second-oldest theatrical organization in the Islands.  HCP’s mission is “to educate, enrich and entertain” through theater.  So the program for the show is also a study-guide that leads the playgoer to explore what Hawaii was like in the 1890s, and to understand the people who lived what the playwright and the players bring to the stage.



[In The Trial of Lili‘uokalani,  the fate of the Queen (Jackie Pualani Johnson) hangs in the balance, as Presiding Judge Whiting (Peter Veseskis, l.) and defense counsel Paul Neumann (Randal McEndree, r.) argue over her indictment for misprision of treason.]


The Trial of Lili‘uokalani will be performed upstairs at the East Hawaii Cultural Center (EHCC), 141 Kalakaua St. in downtown Hilo.  Friday and Saturday evening shows start at 7 p.m. on September 6, 7, 13, 14, 20 and 21.  Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. on September 8, 15 and 22.  Individual tickets are $15 at the door; $10 in advance and for students with ID; $5 for keiki 12 and under.  Group discounts are available (by advance-sale only) at $9 each in blocks of ten or more; and at $8 each in blocks of twenty or more.

For tickets, please phone the box office at EHCC: 808-961-5711.  For more information about the production, or more background on the play, please contact my friend Hal Glatzer, who is Secretary of the Hilo Community Players.  Email or phone 808-895-4816.