Lessons of a Hawaiian Grandmother

Lessons of a Hawaiian Grandmother

By Kaui Goring

Everyone experiencing a place or event has their own reality of it. What they take away from the experience is often different. This is certainly true talking to three sisters, who, as children, grew up playing at Lanikuhonua (meaning “Where heaven meets the earth”), located within the resort of Ko Olina.

To the Flanders sisters, granddaughters of Alice Kamokila Campbell, the place was simply referred to as “‘Ewa.” In the late 1930s and early 1940s, ‘Ewa was a sugar plantation with miles of swaying cane baking on the dry, flat plain. Kamokila Campbell’s father, James Campbell, pioneered the area years before, finding water and making the land prosper.

What her granddaughters, Alice Guild, Mary Philpotts McGrath and Judy Staub, remember is an area of sandy roads, kiawe trees and the absence of decent drinking water. But at the sand’s edge were coves and pools cooled by springs of fresh water bubbling up and mixing with the salt, making swimming a refreshing surprise. As children, the area taught each of them different lessons in what it means to be Hawaiian.

Kamokila was the daughter of a Hawaiian mother and Scottish father, which often made her a contradiction of sorts in early 20th century Hawai‘i. Lanikuhonua was brought to her attention by her son, Walter MacFarlane, a well-known Hawaiian waterman. He saw the coves first from the ocean and contacted his mother who was then living in Northern California. She, too, resettled on the property shortly afterward.

“Kamokila took the Hawaiian system of konohiki, or the protection of water and land rights, seriously,” says her granddaughter, Alice. “The concept of only taking what you needed and respecting limu, or seaweed, gathering and fishing rights was strictly enforced.” The fish were so plentiful, says Alice, that they were almost tame.

She also learned how benign and seductive the ocean could seem in this area of protected coves. “But it can turn on you in seconds. We learned through experience never to turn our backs on the ocean.”

Alice remembers swimming in the large pool near the area now called Paradise Cove. Icy cold, natural springs shoot up under the water as you swim. In one corner, near the rocks, you can find natural clay. The children made pots and tiny figures; then baked them in the sun.

Mary’s best memory is of her grandmother’s famous Hawaiian hospitality. “She was gracious and charismatic, but she could never remember anyone’s name. So she called everyone ‘dear.’ There was an unhurried aura that surrounded her. She even spoke slowly and on Hawaiian time,” she says.

Mary learned the connections to things past, and the need to continue traditions, such as family loyalty and the sharing and wearing of favorite lei. “The giving of lei was different in those days, “ she says. She also remembers that poi was served at every meal.

Alice tells of her grandmother’s frugality and contradictions. She would have the girls pick up kiawe beans and put them in heavy bags that scratched and poked them. She’d pay the children 10 cents a bag and then sell the beans to pig farmers in Nanakuli for 25 cents a bag.

Even though she was an heiress, whose family mingled with nobility of the time—Mary remembers her grandmother noting that King Kalakaua would play “poka” with her father at his Honouliuli ranch—Kamokila lived among the kiawe trees much of the time wearing a simple mu‘umu‘u made up of two pieces of fabric sewn together. She would even go into the water in the dress. At other times, done up in an elegant black holoku (that Mary still owns) wearing strands of lei reaching down to her knees, she would duck into her limousine, driven by her private driver, to an upscale function in town.

Strewn throughout the property were military buildings and structures made from army packing crates. She lived in one of them, her driver and groundskeeper lived in others. A much more stylish home had been designed by famed architect Vladimir Ossipoff prior to World War II, but the plans were abandoned when the war broke out and she turned the area over to Admiral Nimitz to use for rest and recreation for soldiers.

The surprise came, says Alice, when you entered one of the old buildings. The furnishings were fine, plush furniture and objects from the high-end Grossman Moody Company mixed with precious Hawaiian artifacts. She was always an enigma.

For Judy, the youngest of the sisters, Lanikuhonua was a happy and spiritual place. She suffered from allergies at her Nu‘uanu Valley home and the dry climate of ‘Ewa suited her. From the very beginning of her time there, Judy felt the sacredness of the land. She suspects that the spot was a place her grandmother reconnected with the Hawaiian part of herself. For the most part, she threw off the lavish lifestyle she had enjoyed when she was younger and found peace and simplicity. Judy, too, remembers the simple mu‘umu‘u and her grandmother sitting at a picnic table just gazing at the ocean. She even drank her coffee made with brackish water, because fresh water had to be brought in large bottles. “I think the land grounded her,” says Judy, who sees the honor of her grandmother living between two worlds—yet in the end, tried to hone in on her Hawaiian nature.

Please give back. Support these non-profit and community organizations »

Lessons of a Hawaiian Grandmother