Patience “Pat” Namaka Wiggin Bacon was a living connection to old Hawaii, a repository of knowledge about Hawaiian hula, language, culture and history.
The longtime Bishop Museum employee, scholar and hanai daughter of renowned Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui died Jan. 23 at the age of 100.
Born Feb. 10, 1920, in Waimea, Kauai, Bacon, who was of Japanese ancestry, lost her mother from complications of childbirth. She was brought to Honolulu and adopted at 8 weeks by Henry and Pa’ahana Wiggin, whom she would consider her grandparents because their daughter, Mary Kawena Pukui, became her hanai mother.
The girl learned her first hula at age 4. By age 14, in 1934, she would begin formal training with Keahi Luahine, who had been a court dancer for King David Kalakaua and later for Queen Lili‘uokalani. She would later train under hula master Joseph Ilalaole.
Mother and daughter seemed to be inseparable, a team that studied hula and culture together. Pukui, a revered authority on Hawaiian language, is said to have conducted her research with the girl by her side.
As a young woman, she married George Bacon, an Army soldier she met during World War II. Together, they were blessed with a daughter.
Over the years Bacon shared her knowledge of hula and the Hawaiian language through numerous workshops and lectures.
Known as Aunty Pat, she touched many lives.
“She was a force in my life,” said Puakea Nogelmeier, University of Hawaii Hawaiian language professor emeritus. “She was one of the pillars I turned to. She was understated and quiet, but her words had knife-like precision.”
A 2005 Kamehameha Schools documentary about Bacon described her as “an unwavering keeper of Hawaiian traditions in an unsympathetic sea of change,” and “a remarkable woman whose contribution to her culture is colossal.”
Just as Pukui, who died in 1986, worked at the Bishop Museum for years, so did Bacon. Her time at the museum extended for decades under five different directors.
At age 19, her first job was as a museum telephone operator and bookstore employee. She left in 1945 to start her family, then returned in 1959 and eventually became secretary of the Anthropology Department. In the early 1990s, she transferred to the library and archives.
In her later years, Bacon served as the senior adviser for cultural affairs, spending most of her time transcribing and translating oral histories in the Hawaiian language that were recorded by Pukui in the 1950s and 1960s.
She spent countless hours listening to oral histories on scores of audiotapes, transcribing and translating the recordings into Hawaiian and English manuscripts that were to be made available to the public.
During an interview with the Honolulu Advertiser in 2005, Bacon said there were hundreds more to transcribe.
“What I’m doing, I will never finish,” she said. “I’m just scratching the surface.”
The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii named Bacon one of its Living Treasures of Hawaii in 2004, and in 2017 her contributions to hula were honored when she was selected as one of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ inaugural Na Mamo Makamae o Ka Po‘e Hawai‘i: Living Treasures of the Hawaiian People.
The Bishop Museum in 2005 recognized Bacon with the Robert J. Pfeiffer Medal for her dedication to the advancement of Hawaii’s cultural heritage.
She retired from the museum in 2010.
In an online tribute to Bacon following her death, the museum offered these words: “Patience Bacon is as much a part of this aina as are the famed winds that inhabit it, from where the sun rises each day at Kumukahi to Lehua where it sets — sometimes dancing along like a gentle breeze, sometimes making her presence known with a playful gust to remind us to keep on moving forward with purpose. That is the Aunty Pat we all will remember, carrying with her so much life and living, and just like the wind, generously sharing it with those in her path.”
Bacon’s family requests that donations in her memory be directed to the Bishop Museum library and archives.