A time of remembrance, preservation, and community service
By Gayle Kaleilehua Greco
“My first impression of the property and ponds was that I didn’t think there were places like this that still existed.” says Danny “Kaniela” Akaka, reminiscing back to a day in 1972 when he first stepped foot on the grounds at Kalāhuipua‘a on the west side of Hawai‘i Island. Having grown up in Honolulu, Danny recalls, “There were no places like this where a house would be miles away from another residence.”
One house that Danny frequented in the 1970s was near the site of the current Eva Parker Woods Cottage on the grounds at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows. Larry Kimura, a Hawaiian language teacher, introduced Danny and his wife, Anna, to Abraham and Emily Kihe who lived at Kalāhuipua‘a with their children, grandchildren, chickens, pigs, and a dog. “We would kōkua (help) them with the ponds, hauling coconut leaves out of the ponds, clearing the property, making burn piles. We could smell the coconut burning.” A smell that, to this day, is reminiscent for Danny of his early days at Kalāhuipua‘a.
At dusk, Danny, Anna, Hawaiian Studies classmates, and the Kihe family would gather on the lānai of the cottage, Mama Kihe sitting on the front steps of the porch; everyone would have a soothing cold beverage after the hot, long day of work that had passed. Some of the work group would pick up a guitar and Mama Kihe would talk story, some of legends and some of history. During Mama Kihe’s talk story time, one or more of those gathered there in the nostalgic setting would start playing music, another would do a hula, beverages would be shared, and the picture begins to take form as Danny confirms, “The earliest seeds of Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a started back then.”
Property Tours and Preservation of Hawaiian Culture
In 1983, Danny worked as a landscaper at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel’s Tennis Gardens. In a time before formal cultural guest activities were offered, guests asked if there was anyone who could tell them about the grounds, the vegetation, and the fish ponds. Danny says, “The Front of the House employees would tell them, ‘Yeah, there’s a Hawaiian guy who works at the Tennis Gardens’.” The guests would find Danny, who had his degree in Hawaiian Studies, along with the stories from his own ‘ohana (family) and his early experiences with the Kihe family. With that knowledge, Danny began informal tours. “I would tell the guests, I finish work at 3pm and I’ll be happy to take you out on the grounds on my own time after work.” Danny would spend an hour or more, sharing stories and educating the guests about the property. The small groups quickly became larger groups as Danny became the ‘Pied Piper’ of storytelling, which gave the guests more knowledge about Hawaiian culture and the place they were visiting.
Always a family affair, Danny’s brother-in-law (Anna Akaka’s brother) Tim Lui-Kwan was an archeologist/anthropologist from the University of Hawai‘i, working at the Bishop Museum, and had done the archeological project on the hotel property. Anna shares, “Tim took Danny around and said ‘here’s some places you should know about’.” Tim was a cave crawler, one who professionally crawled through the nooks and crannies of the caves and documented his findings. Tim recorded his discoveries for the historical archives and in a few cases, disclosed the information privately to Danny. This knowledge allowed Danny to be mindful as he toured guests through the property.
Over time, with growing interest in the property tours, the hotel administration created the position of Hawaiian Historian and Danny moved into the official role. Constantly looking for ways to perpetuate Hawaiian culture, Danny entered into conversations with former Mauna Lani Bay Hotel Chairman, Kenny Brown (great grandson of John Papa I‘i, advisor to King Kamehameha II), George Kanahele (a native Hawaiian activist, historian and author), and Mark McGuffie (then resident manager of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel) on ways to restore and maintain music, hula and storytelling during this time of Hawaiian renaissance in the 1980s. These conversations grew to include leaders of many of the local Hawaiian families who regularly discussed how to bring back the Hawaiian culture from each of their diverse lineages and perspectives. The core group meetings took place at the round table at the Eva Parker Woods Cottage and were the seedling starters for the non-profit Friends of the Future (founded by Kenneth F. Brown) and aptly named by Pua Kanaka‘ole as Ka Piko Lōkahi, the uniting center.
One of the main subjects of these meetings was how to keep the stories of the kūpuna (elders) from fading away; how would the kamali‘i (children/future generations) pass along the elders’ stories? Drawing back to his early time at Kalāhuipua‘a with the Kihe ‘ohana and evening storytelling, Danny, with the hotel team’s support, decided to host a seaside ‘talk story’ at the Eva Parker Woods Cottage, with the porch serving as the natural stage.
The Early Beginnings of Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a
In September 1997, as the full moon arrived, Danny and Anna Akaka assembled their children, other family members, friends and a few hotel guests, and recalled the days of sitting on tūtū’s porch, watching the sunset, having tea and crackers with peanut butter, talking story, playing music and dancing hula. Anna made stew and rice, the Akaka children cleaned the cottage and set up chairs outside, Danny was the sole musician with one lantern and no sound system. The moon lit up the grounds and shined on the smiling, mesmerized faces. Quietly as the evening ended, the Akaka family put everything away, the guests returned back to their rooms, and the seed was planted for what would be monthly gatherings for years to come.
Danny said, “For the next month, I wanted to invite a guest.” Danny was playing music at Kona Village where the gifted Aunty Eleanor Makita also worked. Aunty Eleanor was a pure Hawaiian native who was a composer of music and chants, and danced hula. What a perfect guest for the next gathering of ‘talk story’. That evening’s success prompted who would be there the following month and Danny decided on the Parker Ranch cowboys, who through the night told stories and sang of the paniolo (cowboy).
As the first few gatherings took hold, the word spread and the management at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel was fully supportive of a regular schedule. Anna said, “At first, we got together on the actual full moon night, no matter if it was a weekday or weekend.” They soon realized that moving the event to a Saturday closest to the full moon date was prudent for the musicians, hotel guests and community. With the dates set, Danny knew they needed a proper name for the event and took great pride in preserving Kalāhuipua‘a as part of the title. Danny wanted a way to blend the English and Hawaiian languages together and shared, “Twilight, that magical time of evening when stories were passed on by the kūpuna; the same time at sunset when spirits who departed would go to the next realm.” The name Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a was established and has remained as the moniker for this treasured event for the past 20 years.
Continuing the Vision
Danny speaks about the importance of this monthly gathering, “The goal of Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a is to perpetuate the lifestyle of storytelling as an example of bridging generations and offer it to the community.” Through the years, the entertainers have ranged from friends and family to award-winning musicians, singers, and dancers. “Some of these entertainers you only see on the big stage, that’s why we keep it secret. I let people know, it’s like giving you a gift, do you want me to open it for you and tell you what it is?” Danny laughs at how many times he’s had to explain the reason for keeping the entertainer list hush-hush, “You are here to open the gift.”
That gift has produced the likes of Nona Beamer, Aunty Genoa Keawe, the Pahinui family, Dennis Kamakahi, Amy Hanaiali‘i, the Lim family, Jake Shimabukuro, Raiatea Helm, Darlene Ahuna, Kahulanui and even a spontaneous performance from an audience member, Don Ho, as monthly entertainers on the porch of the historic cottage. “All the shows are special,” says Danny as he remembers one night in 1999 when he sailed as a crewmember of the Hōkūle‘a, Hawai‘i’s treasured voyaging canoe. They were back from their 1999 voyage and tied up to the buoy across from the Eva Parker Woods Cottage. As the full moon talk story night started, the master navigators and crew became the musicians of the event while the Hōkūle‘a sat as a silhouette in the bay giving way to the music and moon above. “It was a magical moment,” recalled Danny.
“It’s remarkable,” says Rodney Ito, General Manager of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows. “The evening is not only about the entertainers; it’s about the stories they tell and what they share.” Rodney reiterates that having the event open to the community is a way of learning about the culture and giving back is part of the overall vision of the hotel. Rodney acknowledges the Akaka’s with, “A big mahalo to Danny and Anna for growing Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a as a commitment to give back to the community. It is still here because of them.” Danny and Anna, in return, offer their sincere appreciation to the many volunteers, friends, and family who give of their time to set up chairs, run the sound system, work the camera for the archives, manage the seating, and clean up when all is pau (ended). Danny and Anna comment, “We couldn’t do it without these unsung heroes. They are our Twilight Angels.”
Thinking back over the years, Danny and Anna recall the entertainers who have graced the porch, the audience guests and impromptu moments. “What an amazing thing that has come about through simply wanting to preserve talk story between generations,” says Danny. “We always hope, wish and pray that it will go beyond our time.” Anna adds her heartfelt thoughts, “It’s not such a hidden treasure anymore, but it still is a gem.” ❖
Senator Daniel (Sr.) and Millie Akaka talk story about Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a
In a unique set of circumstances, Senator Daniel and Millie Akaka, Danny’s parents, joined the interview for this story. When Senator Akaka heard his son talk about creating the name for this monthly event, Daniel Sr. offered, “When you put those together, the moon, the time of the day, the relaxing place where people sit on the ground, there’s only one place, that is Kalāhuipua‘a, there’s no other place where it fits.”
Millie Akaka reflected about a rare time when all of their children were present at Mauna Lani for the talk story night and said, “It was twilight, the end of daylight and beginning of evening, the stars were ready to come out. They (Danny Sr. and the Akaka children: Millannie, Danny, Gerard, Alan and Nicky) sang a song, which was Daniel Sr.’s mother’s, (Annie Kaleiānuenue-Rainbow Lei) favorite song “Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha”. Millie continued, “All of a sudden out of clear skies, a rainbow came. There was a little mist of water, as they were singing the song, and just at the end of the song, the rainbow and the mist went away. Chicken skin, Ma was here.” Danny echoed the sentiment, “Kalāhuipua‘a is a dry place, when it does rain, it pours, it rarely mists”. Senator Akaka added, “There was a rainbow with stars just coming out in the sky. That’s Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a.”
Twilight at Kalāhuipua‘a is offered on the Saturday closest to the full moon from 5:30–8:30pm at the Eva Parker Woods Cottage on the property of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows. For dates visit maunalani.com.