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Aunty Aloha

A researcher's look into Lei Day's founder leads to an influential but mysterious Maui woman

By Tom Markle

Special to the Star-Advertiser

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 10:01 a.m. HST, Mar 05, 2013


For 50 years I've collected and researched Don Blanding, author, artist and the father of Lei Day in Hawaii.

My research has taken many twists and turns and is presently focused on a Hawaiian woman, Aunty Pinau Kalaukalani. Blanding referred to her as "Aunty Pinau" in his 1930 book, "Hula Moons."

In 1934 it was reported that she was "80 Hawaiian summers" in age. That would have made her birth date around 1854. In 1935, Blanding wrote a tribute poem in her honor when he learned of her death.

The University of Hawaii, Hawaiian websites and independent searches have been unable to locate an obituary or any reference to her. She has seemingly disappeared from written history.

Blanding, who was born in Kingfisher, Okla., in 1894, arrived in Hawaii on Dec. 24, 1916, with nowhere to stay and $5 in his pocket. On his voyage from San Francisco, he became acquainted with a Hawaiian family who invited him to their home in Hono­lulu.

He stayed with them for several weeks. The father of the family recognized Blanding's fascination with the beauty of Hawaii, as he was always drawing or doing watercolor paintings that vividly portrayed the raw natural beauty of Hawaii.

The man suggested that he go to Maui and stay with one of his relatives, who was named Aunty Pinau. This would have been in early 1917, and she would have been in her early 60s.

Blanding, who worked during this time as a cartoonist for The Hono­lulu Advertiser, spent several months as her guest on Maui in the area of Kaupo, Kipahulu and Hana. Her nephew Pua and her grandchild Nalani befriended Blanding and helped teach him Hawaiian culture and language.

Blanding's summation of Aunty Pinau in "Hula Moons" is as follows:

"This remarkable and admirable old woman was a joy to me. She was ripe with living, and her tolerant understanding of human frailties and weaknesses was godlike. She had seen the passing of the old days with regret, but she kept herself well informed about the new. Her fund of stories was inexhaustible, and her pride in Hawaii and Hawaiians earned my sincere respect."

After several months and some pleading from Blanding, Aunty Pinau decided his Hawaiian name would be "Alohi Lani." Blanding asked what it meant, and Aunty Pinau said, "When you get up in the mornings before the sun comes up, you see its light on the bottom of the big clouds in the sky and you see it shining down from the clouds on the water. That is light from heaven. So, Alohi, for that is your name now, when you go to the States with your pictures of Hawaii and your stories of our gods, you will show the people the beauties of our land, although they cannot see it except through you. You will be Alohi Lani of Hawaii."

From this time on, Blanding took his love of Hawaii to heart and became a famous author and artist of the islands as Aunty Pinau predicted he would.

Though he didn't always reside in Hawaii, his heart, spirit and mind remained here. He often returned to the islands to refresh himself or finish a book he was writing. Hawaii was always an inspiration to him.

Aunty Pinau influenced him greatly, and he had a respect for her until she died. It is my belief that she was an inspiration for his early writing.

Portions of Blanding's first book, "Leaves from a Grass House" (1923), have similarities with his time spent on Maui with Aunty Pinau and her family. This book set the stage for 21 published books of his art and poetry.

Her name also appears in the 1970 autobiography of Harry Owens, "Sweet Leilani." He was the 1930s bandleader for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Owens reports it was Aunty Pinau who sang 10 old Hawaiian chants for him.

The music for the chants was never written, as per Hawaiian tradition. The chants were passed down orally for centuries.

Owens created his first Hawaiian big-band songs from his interpretation of these chants. She continued to mentor him as she did Blanding.

Owens does report in his book that she lived until 1946 or 1947. I believe that to be a mistake and that she actually died in or around 1934.

In the months before his death in 1957 at age 62, Blanding wrote a column for the Hono­lulu Star-Bulletin's Hawaiian Life magazine, each one signed, "Aloha, Don Blanding."

I am interested in finding information about Aunty Pinau and believe there might still be family in the islands who know of her.

———

Contact Tom Markle at tjmarkle@sbcglobal.net or call 530-966-3816.






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allie wrote:
what a lovely, gracious lady. In this day and age of hatred by a few Hawaiians toward Asians, this article remind us how odd today is compared to the past
on March 5,2013 | 05:48AM
todde wrote:
I am a 68 year old Asian. Born and raise in Hawaii and still live here. Where did this "hatred by a few Hawaiians toward Asians" come from. That is just BS. Enough Allie, get a life and stop blogging.
on March 5,2013 | 07:39AM
tjmarkle wrote:
Can you connect me with any local Chinese historians? I'm also researching a Chinese candle maker named, Chin Chong, who befriended Blanding in the early 1920's. Chin Chong was influential with Blanding and taught him the art of Chinese brush work. Any assistance would be appreciated. tj
on March 5,2013 | 05:44PM
allie wrote:
guess you missed Faye Hanahano's tirade against ASIANS?
on March 6,2013 | 05:06AM
joewilly wrote:
Check the respective kupuna's of the Kukahiko and Malaikini Family on Maui. They know.
on March 5,2013 | 05:55AM
tjmarkle wrote:
Might you have more specific information, such as names, addresses, emails, etc? From there I can initiate contact with them. Or, if you know them, please give them my contact information at the end of the article. You have my permission to do so. tj
on March 5,2013 | 05:41PM
tjmarkle wrote:
I am the author of the article. Don Blanding was interested in each person, their culture and what he could learn from them. His second mentor shortly after meeting Aunty Pinau was an elderly Chinese Candle maker in Honolulu, named, Chin Chong. From Chin Chong, Blanding learned the art of Chinese brush work that influenced his artwork from that time on. I will be researching Chin Chong very shortly and have some info on him now. If you know something of Chin Chong or have connections into researching him, please let me know. Mahalo.
on March 5,2013 | 08:57AM
hapaguy wrote:
Is it me or is the print edition missing most of this article? The print edition says "Please see AUNTY, D3" but when you turn to page D3 no article!
on March 5,2013 | 09:04AM
rakuadmrr wrote:
hapaguy, same here. had to come here to read the complete story. Mr. Markle, am eagerly waiting to hear about Chin Chong. aloha, rakuadmrr.
on March 5,2013 | 11:52AM
tjmarkle wrote:
Do you know any local Chinese historians that I might contact? Chin Chong and Blanding would have befriended each other in the early 1920's. I doubt there is anyone living that knew them and so I must rely on historians and perhaps archival searches of newspapers of that era.
on March 5,2013 | 05:38PM
Kealaula wrote:
The Kalaukalani family lived on Kauai, I think in the Poipu area, in the 40's-50's-60's.
on March 5,2013 | 03:35PM
tjmarkle wrote:
Might you have more specific information? I live in California and long range research is difficult. I'd appreciate any help or information. What else might you know?
on March 5,2013 | 05:35PM
cojef wrote:
A very charming story of great individual who took, but also gave back from influence received from a magnificent Lady of Hawaii. Love this ancedote from the past.
on March 5,2013 | 04:33PM
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