Whenever friends come to Hawaii to visit, my inner trolley driver comes out and I share whatever stories and info I have about the different places and buildings we see. When we pass the old Kaka‘ako Pumping Station, with its large dusty windows and rough stone walls I always tell them, “this is one of my favorite buildings!”  The interesting architecture and looming steeple usually prompt them to ask, “what is it?” It’s what’s left of the first waste disposal facility in Honolulu and despite its original purpose, a charmingly beautiful building. It’s a silent reminder of our past and an icon of the Kaka‘ako community.

Kaka‘ako As We Knew It (Mutual Publishing, 2011) by Marsha Gibson is an interesting new book about the multicultural neighborhood history of Kaka‘ako. It’s a combination of history and personal recollections from some of Hawaii’s most notable citizens and celebrities. They share their memories of growing up and living in “the crossroads of Honolulu” and how it’s changed. Some of the people featured in the book are Brickwood Galuteria and Emme Tomimbang, plus plenny more are featured in the book (anyone wanna play six degrees of Kaka‘ako?).

The book begins with a breakdown of how Kaka‘ako was organized into “camps”, the areas were determined by the main streets and blocks, and the families lived in them. There are chapters that focus on recreation in the area, the schools, the neighborhood businesses, theaters and entertainments, and a whole chapter about living in Kaka‘ako during the war. What I liked reading about the most was Kaka‘ako’s reputation on the island and how its residents were often mistakenly considered underdogs.

Although it’s full of information, pictures and anecdotes, Kakaako As We Knew It isn’t very long, with about 156 pages including the notes.  As far as non-fiction history books go, this one is pretty casual and easy to read. I actually found myself wishing there was a little more meat to a few chapters, especially the section on the various religious centers in the community. I would have loved to read more about the Kewalo Holy Ghost Society. My Grandmother would tell us stories about the strong Portuguese presence in Kaka‘ako and all the festivities she would participate in during the holidays… like having to put on her best dress and march in the Pentecost parade. She would say that it was an honor for the family to be able to march and an important chance for everyone to see the family at its best so they had to make sure to “march good!”  Being a part of and living in Kaka‘ako helped define them.

Kaka‘ako as we see it today is mostly comprised of businesses and dealerships. It’s a vast difference from the residential neighborhood it once was.  But, for all that’s changed there are a few silent reminders standing proud. Unfortunately, Kaka‘ako is still a place that is often overlooked and hugely underappreciated. It’s interesting to see the pictures of Kaka‘ako from before and read about how involved everyone was in the community. It’s also a little sad. Change is inevitable and even exciting, but you gain some and you lose some—not all progress is progress. It makes you think about how our island is changing now and wonder how different it will be in the future.

I highly recommend this book! Then, when your friends and family visit and YOUR inner trolley driver comes out, you’ll have that much more to say about Kaka‘ako. And if you’re the one visiting Hawaii, it’s a great book because it demonstrates, on a smaller neighborhood scale, what makes Hawaii so special. Plus, you might find you know more about Kaka‘ako than your trolley driver. Unless of course, they were one of those lucky people to have grown up there.

Book Event!

This Saturday & Sunday, August 6 & 7, come to Ward Warehouse for Kaka‘ako Days: Remembering the Early Years, a celebration of Kaka‘ako and its rich, diverse heritage.  In addition to all of the performances, food booths, and demonstrations, Marsha Gibson will be hosting a Kaka’ako As We Knew It Book Signing on both days, from Noon to 3:00 P.M.  There will be a “talk story” including special guests who grew up in Kaka‘ako and a video on the “good ‘ole days” from Emme’s Classic Island Moments.  Hope to see you there!

* a copy of Kaka’ako As We Knew It (ISBN Soft Cover: 1-56647-943-6) was given to HBB by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.