Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Obituaries reflect changing directions of living in Hawaii

By Cynthia Oi


When Sam King died last week, some of the younger members of the news crew were understandably puzzled by the buzz his death created among the veterans on the staff.

The events connected with the longtime federal judge weren't as vivid to them as to those who had experienced King's years on the bench and seen the transitional effects of his rulings.

He had been out of the public limelight for decades, reemerging most recently in 1997 when he co-authored "Broken Trust," the essay that eventually compelled restructure of Bishop Estate, whose vast land holdings, wealth and reach into politics and public and private organizations made the trust an inordinate powerhouse in the state.

King's significant career and influence warranted an account of his life, taking notice of concurrent societal and cultural changes through the passage of his times.

In much the same way, obituaries published daily on these pages record the shifts in the narrative of Hawaii's inhabitants.

Brief as they are, they contain snippets of information about ordinary people as modest but eloquent chronicles of days gone by.

Simply revealing what a person did for a living presents evidence of changing times.

Few today, for example, would be described as owner of a shoe-shine stand, as was Eugene Pete Pavao, or a retired dairy farmer. Keds, Nikes and Top-Siders don't need a spit-polish as much as a run through the Maytag and burgeoning urban sprawl doesn't mix well with raising and milking cows.

Long gone are such jobs as pineapple cannery trimmers, telephone switchboard operators and coconut-leaf weavers.

Though occupations like alterations supervisor and seamstress still exist, employers -- Liberty House, McInerny, Nakamura Dry Goods -- have gone out of business or been bought out.

Women who had traditional roles aren't called housewives anymore in obituaries, the politically correct term being homemaker or -- for younger generations -- stay-at-home moms. The honorable position, however, is the same under any term.

Immigration to the islands also shows up in places of births -- and where in the last century Japan and China were most common, the Philippines, Korea and Southeast Asia are now typical.

Adventurous souls arrived on these shores during the war years from distant points like Scotland, Morocco and Greece and stayed on, hints of their personal and perhaps painful histories incorporated in designations like former prisoner of war.

Some had day jobs as bus drivers and bookkeepers but their true passions are disclosed in that they played slack key or ukulele at clubs at nights and at wedding parties and baby luaus on weekends.

It is said that the names of most people appear twice in a newspaper -- at their births and deaths.

That didn't hold true for Sam King, but through the catalogue of articles about him, the most memorable words for those closest to him likely weren't his public ones. They were the private exchanges in day-to-day occasions that were meaningful.

The less distinctive, average people similarly sculpted in incidental ways the small slips in courses and directions of living in Hawaii.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at

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