Hawaiian Noir

Murder Calls

The first time I heard the term, “Hawaiian noir,” was in reference to a 1954 movie, Hell’s Half Acre. Filmed in Black and White, the movie tells the story of a woman whose husband was listed as MIA at Pearl Harbor. She goes to Honolulu to find him. In reality, he was an ex-racketeer who changed his name to hide his criminal activities. He is being blackmailed by his former criminal partners, who come gunning for him and his wife. The man’s girlfriend kills one of the ex-partners, for which he takes the blame. The story is set mostly in and around the dark alleys of Honolulu’s Chinatown. 

As far as I can tell, that was the first time the term “Hawaiian noir” was used. However, there have been murder mysteries set in Hawai‘i prior to this movie, most notably the Charlie Chan stories. Charlie Chan is the creation of Earl Derr Biggers who visited Honolulu in 1919 and got the idea for the character. He published the first novel, The House Without a Key in 1925. Five more books followed, as did movies, more than thirty in all. 

Biggers conceived of Chan as an affable Chinese alternative to the “yellow peril” characters such as Fu Manchu who were popular at the time. Chan is known for his intelligence, his family devotion, and the aphorisms he frequently spouts. Are the Chan stories “noir?” They tend to have happy endings with Chan’s theories of the crime being vindicated. However, they are not cozy mysteries either. Chan has to deal with hardened criminals and with violence, often in places that most people would view as dangerous and threatening. Chan is not an amateur sleuth, but a police detective with a certain amount of cynicism about human nature. I think the Charlie Chan stories, while not “noir,” represent an important stop on the hardboiled mystery road.

Bad alibi like dead fish—cannot stand test of time. Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)

It’s another ‘Ukulele Wednesday. Today’s song is a fun number from the Ka‘au Crater Boys called Opihi Man

My rendition of the song can be found here: https://youtu.be/6ISTfpQ2Wp0

If you are not familiar with opihi, they are a Hawaiian delicacy. A type of limpet, they cling to rocks. They are made up of a very hard shell, inside of which, is a creature with a big sucker foot. Here is an article on preparing the opihi. https://onolicioushawaii.com/opihi/.

Harvesting opihi is done by opihi pickers or opihi men. It’s a dangerous job as it requires getting out on rocks in the surf with a knife to pry the little suckers loose. Pickers occasionally lose their lives picking. Thus the warning in the song: “Keep your eye on the wave, don’t ever turn your back.” A good lesson for all of us.

Aloha until next Wednesday.

Election season in Texas means we are bombarded by political ads telling us that crime is on the rise, that our borders are porous, and that, whether stated explicitly or by implication, the two are related. 

Is crime really on the rise? The violent crime rate in the US reached an historic high in 1991 (758/100,000) and has declined precipitously since. By 2014, the rate had been cut in half (370/100,000—51%). Since that year it has increased slightly to where, in 2021, it was 47% of the peak (400/100,000). So yes, it is on the rise, but not as political ads would have us believe.

Is unauthorized immigration on the rise? In 1990, an estimated 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States. That number reached a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 and has declined to 11.4 million in 2018. So, during the same period that crime decreased by roughly 50%, unauthorized immigration rose by 71%. 

Is there a relationship between crime and unauthorized immigration? It has long been known that the crime rate among immigrants is about half the rate of crime among native born citizens, only reaching parity in the third generation. But what about unauthorized immigrants? Are they rapists, murderers, and drug dealers as Trump asserted? No. That was an egregious lie. A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the crime rate in Texas among native-born citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants during the years 2012 to 2018. (https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2014704117).

The authors summarize: “Contrary to public perception, we observe considerably lower felony arrest rates among undocumented immigrants compared to legal immigrants and native-born US citizens and find no evidence that undocumented criminality has increased in recent years. Our findings help us understand why the most aggressive immigrant removal programs have not delivered on their crime reduction promises and are unlikely to do so in the future.”(emphasis mine.) More specifically, “Relative to undocumented immigrants, US-born citizens are over 2 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested for property crimes. In addition, the proportion of arrests involving undocumented immigrants in Texas was relatively stable or decreasing over this period.” 

While crime was rising, the rate of crime remained flat among immigrants. It was among the native-born US citizens in Texas that a rise in crime was observed. Texas has spent billions on border security programs ostensibly to reduce crime, to no effect because the migrants that the programs target are not criminals. 

Texas has spent a lot of tax-payer money to bus migrants to cities such as Boston, Chicago, and New York, so called “sanctuary cities” in blue states. In MAGA-speak, this stunt “owns the libs,” whatever the hell that means. Those cities to which Texas is sending non-criminals, have lower than average crime rates already. An influx of unauthorized immigrants will mean a net increase in safety in those cities and a net decrease in Texas (https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/crime-rate-by-state, https://www.thirdway.org/report/the-red-state-murder-problem).

I can’t say this strongly enough: The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is using a vile, inhumane ploy to screw Texas and Texans. Immigrants make us safer. Greg Abbott makes us unsafe.


Here we are, another ‘Ukulele Wednesday. Today happens to be Mary Fran’s birthday, so I have two songs for today. Listen to them here. The first is Las Mañanitas. This is a birthday song that is popular in Mexico and Central America. Here are the lyrics:

Estas son las mañanitas

Que cantaba el rey David

Hoy por ser tu cumpleaños

Te las cantamos a ti

Despierta mi bien despierta

Mira que ya amanecio

Ya los pajarillos cantan

La luna ya se metio

The second song is He Wahine U‘i

The song was written by Johnny Almeida, one of the greatest Hawaiian composers and performers. During Almeida’s career spanning more than 70 years, he composed over 300 songs, many of which are classics in the Hawaiian genre. His mother gave birth to him while gathering maile vines to make leis. She was not able to clean her hands of the toxic maile sap before birthing him. The sap affected his eyesight and he was totally blind from the age of ten. Almeida was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

Almeida loved flowers and women. In He Wahina U‘i, he simply says over and over, here are some beautiful flowers for you, beautiful lady. He names the lokelani (rose), the mokihana (the official flower of Kaua‘i), the kukui or candlenut flower, and the ilima. He promises to make leis of each of them for the beautiful lady.

Diamond Head (Kaimana Hila) at sunrise.

For today’s ‘Ukulele Wednesday, we go to the island of O‘ahu to the majestic crater of Diamond Head, also known as Kaimana Hila. The island of O‘ahu is about 3.5 million years old. Diamond Head is believed to have last erupted about 200,000 years ago. The Hawaiians called the crater Leahi, which means the brow of the tuna, because that’s what it looks like in profile. This view is looking east from our condo in the Colony Surf. In the lower center of the photo you can see Dillingham Fountain. To the left you can see part of Kapiolani Park. Not seen in this photo is Waikiki, which is behind us.

Diamond Head, or Diamond Hill, got its name when British sailors found what they thought were diamonds on the slope. In fact, what they found was volcanic glass called olivine. The Hawaiians were unable to pronounce Diamond Hill. The Hawaiian language has few hard consonants like ‘D’ so most hard consonants are heard and pronounced as ‘K.’ Another feature of Hawaiian is that all syllables end in a vowel. Thus, the ‘d’ becomes ‘k’ and ‘a’ is affixed to the end, so ‘diamond’ is pronounced ‘kaimana.’ The same applies to the word ‘hill.’ The ‘i’ is pronounced ‘ee’ and ’a’ is added at the end. Kaimana Hila.

So here is the song, Kaimana Hila, written by Charles E. King and Andrew Cummings.

I am performing this on Mary Fran’s Kamaka Standard ‘ukulele, which she won as a door prize at a concert by the group NUE at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in June.

Kaimana Hila lyrics

I wahou makou ika po nei

A‘ike i ka nani Kaimana Hila

Kaimana Hila, kau mai i luna

I waho makou i Waikiki ea

A‘ike i ka nani papa he‘e nalu

Papa he‘e nalu he‘ehe‘e malie

I waho makou i Kapi‘olani Paka

A‘ike i ka nani lina poepoe

Lina poepoe, ho‘oluhi kino

Ha‘ina ‘ia mai ana ka puana

A‘ike i ka nani Kaimana Hila

Kaimana Hila, kau mai i luna

We went out last night

To see the grandeur of Diamond Head

Diamond Head, so majestic.

We went to Waikiki

And looked with wonder at all

The riders of the surf gliding swiftly.

We went to Kapiolani Park

And saw the circular racetrack

Tire of the horse races and gambling.

And now my song is ended

repeat first verse.

Aggie Park opened Friday at Texas A&M after almost two years of development. I visited this morning with my KoAloha longneck soprano. It’s a great place to sit and play music. Here is Ulupalakua.

‘Ulupapakua sung at Aggie Park 9/7/2022

Well, it took awhile to figure out how to embed this YouTube video, so I’m going to leave this post with that.

Here are a few more shots of Aggie Park where we used to tailgate for many years.

Edith Kanaka‘ole, a dancer, composer, teacher, and kumu hula, was one of the leading lights of the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970’s. She will be featured on U.S. quarters next year as part of the Treasury Department’s American Women Quarters Program. You can see more designs here:

Edith was born in Honomu, Hawai‘i on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, in 1913. She was taught hula from an early age and began to compose traditional Hawaiian music in 1946. She choreographed hula to accompany her chants and founded the hula halau, Halau o Kekuhi, in 1953. She taught Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies at Hawai‘i Community College and the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo from 1970 until her death in 1979. Her legacy continues to be felt today through the foundation that bears her name. It’s mission is stated on the website:

Established on the vibrant traditions and rich cultural heritage of the Kanakaʻole family, it is the Foundation’s mission to elevate Hawaiian intelligence through cultural education founded on the teachings and traditional practices of Edith and Luka Kanakaʻole.

Of her songs, my favorite is Ka Uluwehe o Ke Kai (The Plants of the Sea), which tells of a task common to Hawaiians who live near the sea—the gathering of seaweeds for eating. She wrote it in 1978 in the studio when the producer told her there was running time left on her record.

My instrument is a KoAloha long-neck soprano, which I purchased in 2018

Kihei Maui, 6/12/2022

Napili Kai waves.

Eleven days ago we arrived in Maui for the 24th George Kahumoku Jr. Ki Ho ‘Alu and ‘Ukulele workshop. The workshop was held at the Napili Kai resort, as it was last year. Just leaving the airport felt like we were arriving back home. We were met at the airport by Destiny Aponte, whom we had met last year while touring George’s farm. Destiny is a remarkable woman. Originally from San Antonio, she has worked as a chef, as a farmer, as a student of agriculture, and as an entrepreneur. It was great to see her again.

Napili Kai is beautiful. It is situated on a crescent shaped beach, whose soft golden sands slope down to beautiful blue waters. Across the bay, the islands of Moloka’i and Lana’i are clearly visible. Our first two days, Maui was under a high surf advisory. The waves were huge, bigger than we’d even seen on Oahu in May. I ventured out into them for a brief swim but thought better of it after one crashed over me. For the remaining days of the workshop, however, calm waters returned.

George and Nancy Kahumoku telling a story about George finding edamame floating in the water while swimming and eating it.

Beautiful as Napili Kai is, its beauty is not what makes the workshop magical. George and Nancy Kahumoku are the spirit of the workshop. I would say they are the driving force, but driving does not describe the workshop. “Aloha,” “ohana,” “kanikapila,” “hang loose.” are the best descriptors. As soon as we arrived, we renewed friendships we’d formed last year with participants and instructors alike. The music began immediately and didn’t end until eight days later. Nobody was too busy to talk story or to teach you a chord. or a riff, or a song. Everybody encouraged you to try and nobody criticized you for failing.

There is a strong feeling of community or ohana among slack key guitar and ‘ukulele players. Even though we play different instruments employing different techniques (some musicians play both) the music and the history unite us. That feeling of unity is felt no more strongly than at the kanikapilas (let’s play music). I might be sitting between such masters as Ledward Ka’apana on guitar and Bryan Tolentino on ‘ukulele and we’re all playing the same song. No judgement. When I screwed up on a song, Bryan jumped in to get me back on track.

Morning Kanikapila. Instructors: Sonny Lim, Bryan Tolentino, Stephen Ingliss (partially hidden), Led Ka’apana, Brad Bordessa, Kevin Brown, Jeff Peterson, George Kahumoku.

Every morning about 5:30, Led Ka’apana would set up and start playing in the pavilion or under one of the tents. Other instructors would soon join him and they’d all play until breakfast. You can’t get better performances than that. I showed up with my phone (like a lot of other participants) and captured more than an hour of videos of uke players—mostly their hands—so I can study them later. Each evening after dinner, instructors and students would get together for more kanikapila.

Speaking of ohana, or at least ‘ukulele ohana, Bryan Tolentino, whom I already mentioned, and Herb Ohta, Jr., another great musician and instructor, left the workshop a day early to attend a memorial service for Sam Kamaka, Jr. who passed away in March at age 99. Sam was the patriarch of the Kamaka family (yes, Kamaka ‘Ukuleles) and Bryan and Herb are close to the family. Sam Kamaka Jr. ran the ‘ukulele business for many years before turning it over to other family members. It is still a family owned business. Sam Jr. and his brother, Fred Kamaka, inherited the business from their father, Sam Kamaka, Sr., who started the company down in Kaka’ako in 1916. Kamaka introduced the pineapple shape about 1920. That was the first significant change to the ‘ukulele since its arrival in 1879. Prior to starting his own company, Sam Kamaka had apprenticed with Manuel Nunez, who is generally credited with inventing the ‘ukulele. So how’s that for ohana and six-degrees of separation?

So what did I get out of the workshop? First, I gained some insights into how Hawaiian music is structured. Last year, I had the songbook, with the chords and lyrics, vitually glued to my hand.
Still, I was always a few beats behind on every song. This year, I was able to anticipate the chord changes and rely more on my ear than the book. I still missed chord changes, but I know where I made mistakes. I also learned to play on more of the fretboard instead of only the first four. After all, I paid for all the frets so why not use them? Our workshop songs were “Sweet By and By” by Dennis Kamakahi, and Kauanoeanuhea by Keali’i Reichel. I also learned Ulupalakua and, before the workshop, Kaimana Hila. Ulupalakua is a paniolo (cowboy) song and Kaimana Hila is about Diamond Head.

I’ll do more reflections on the the workshop in the coming days. We’ve already decided we’ll be back next year.

Napili Kai Sunset

I can’t believe we have been here almost a month. Last evening I swam in the water off our condo and watched the sunset between my feet as I floated on my back. It felt both familiar and new at the same time. Tuesday we head to Maui for the ukulele workshop. I’m looking forward to that, but i’ll miss Oahu.

Mai Tais at the Mai Tai Bar, Royal Hawaiian. Vic’s ’44 in front.
Mai Tais at Beach Bar, Moana Surfrider
Royal Hawaiian Band at Iolani Palace

Update on the Mai Tais. Two more stops on the Mai Tai trail: The Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian and the Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider. The Mai Tais were great at both. The Bar at the Royal Hawaiian serves two versions: the more common version with fruit juices and rum; and the Vic’s ’44—the original recipe created by Vic Bergeron in the 1940’s. The Vic ’44 is based on lime juice and two kinds of rum. I kind of like the ’44 better because it is not as sweet. The setting at the Royal Hawaiian was great. The drinks were great, the music was nothing special. The Moana Mai Tais were the fruit juice kind. They were good. The setting was great, but the music, again, was nothing special. Overall, the Mai Tais at the House Without A Key are my favorite because of flavor, setting, and music. Our friends Marilyn and Ernie joined us on the last stops on the Mai Tai trail.

Speaking of music, we caught a performance at The Blue Note, featuring Henry Kapono and Ledward Kaapana, two legends of Hawaiian Music. The concert was fabulous. Ledward makes magic with his guitar and ukulele. He’ll be one of the workshop instructors on Maui. We also caught a performance of the Royal Hawaiian Band at Iolani Palace. We’ve been trying to catch them, but without luck until yesterday. A previous try was rained out.

I’ve been taking uke lessons, while here. The instructor is Jody Kamisato, who performs for Disney on cruises and at resorts. Jody is a contemporary and friend of Jake Shimabukuro. He’s also taught performers such as Honoka Takiyama.

With uke instructor Jody Kamisato.

From Jody, I learned the song ”Kaimana Hila” about Diamond Head. Kaimana Hila are not Hawaiian words. they are the Hawaiian pronunciation of Diamond Hill, another name for Diamond Head. Hawaiians do not have hard consonants such as D or T in their language, so those already sound like K. Hawaiians also end all syllables in a vowel. Thus Diamond becomes Kaimana. The hotel next to ours is Kaimana as is the beach next to the hotel, all in the proximity of Diamond Head.

Speaking of Diamond Head, I climbed it with my friend Ernie. We also hiked Manoa Falls Trail and Kaena Point.

View of Honolulu from the summit of Diamond Head
Manoa Falls
Kaena Point, the westernmost end of Oahu. Leeward Coast on my left, Windward/North Shore on my right.
It’s lychee season. We got these at Maunakea Marketplace
Hawaiian Sunset over the Waianae Mountains

Aloha Oahu!

Another stop on the Mai Tai Tour

Allison Chu, Miss Hawai’i 2021, and Pa’ahana at The House Without A Key

Wednesday night we made another stop on the Mai Tai Tour, this time at the House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that this would be the top spot on the tour. The setting can’t be beat. The House Without a Key is on the spot where a beach house used to sit a hundred years ago. Earl Derr Biggers stayed there and made it the setting for the first Charlie Chan story, The House Without a Key. It is now part of the Halekulani Hotel, which is absolutely gorgeous. The Halekulani was remodeled during the pandemic and was still undergoing renovations in August when we visited. The best place for sunset cocktails is the outdoor lanai where you can find a musical group performing every evening under the 100-year old kiawe tree. We heard Pa’ahuna. the bass player, Pakala Fernandes, is a member of the Farden family of muscians, the most famous of which is his cousin, ”Auntie” Irmgard Farden Aulili. Pa’ahana has performed there for many years. The performance always includes some numbers performed by a dancer. On this evening, the dancer was Miss Hawai’i 2021, Allison Chu. She was gorgeous. We arrived before the band opened their first set and stayed until closing. You can’t beat listening to Hawaiian music under a tropical moon near the ocean. The Mai Tais were the best. Made of two kinds of Baccardi with Lemon Hart 151 floating on top and garnished with lime and sugar cane.

Mai Tais, House Without A Key

For flavor, ambience, and music, the House Without A Key Mai Tai surpasses all the others.

Museum Visits

We did four tours this week. The first was to the Hawaiian Plantation Village which showcases how Hawaiians lived during the plantation era. We were guided by a gentleman named Take. He’s Japanese and grew up on a plantation. The Plantation Village houses replicas and restorations of the homes that Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican immigrants lived in as laborers in the sugar cane fields. Sugar was one of the canoe plants, along with taro and sweet potato, that Polynesian voyagers carried during their colonization of the Pacific. By the time Cook arrived in 1788, it was growing on all the islands, and he noted it in his journal. Around 1840, some missionaries started a sugar plantation, but the sugar industry got its real start during the California Gold Rush when Hawaiian beef and sugar fed the Forty-niners. American and European businessmen were quick to see the potential for Hawaiian sugar. During the Civil War, the Northern states were cut off from Southern sugar so they turned to Hawai’i. In 1873, King David Kalakaua entered a Reciprocal Agreement with the United States, under which the US eliminated tariffs on Hawaiian sugar in exchange for access to Pearl Harbor as a naval base.

Sugar is a very labor intensive industry. The Hawaiian population, which numbered between 250,000 and 1 million at Cook’s arrival, had been decimated by imported diseases so that, by 1850, they numbered around 25,000. Those that survived had little interest in working on plantations. They continued their lifestyle of subsistence farming and fishing. Planters looked to other countries for labor. Growing sugar is hard work and conditions are terrible. In order to reduce labor strife, the planters adopted a divide and conquer strategy of bringing in people from different cultures, different nations, speaking different languages in the belief that laborers would stick with their own kind, and that, without a common language, would be unable to communicate grievances and organize for better conditions. The plan didn’t last long. In 1879, the Portuguese arrived and brought the ukulele. Soon it was the national instrument. The uke is a laborer’s instrument, made by laborers for laborers. It was played on the porch of the plantation store and under the mango tree by the sugar mill. Music attracts people and soon people were getting together and sharing their meals. In time they developed a common language—Hawaiian Pidgin—which defeated the planters’ plot. Pidgin can still be heard all through the islands along with Hawaiian music. The third legacy of these gatherings is Hawaiian cuisine known as ”mix plate” which can be had at many local eateries. Mix plate might be kalbi from Korea, or katsu from Japan, or Chinese short ribs, or chicken adobo from the Philippines, or other combos of meat and fish along with rice, mac salad, and maybe kim chi or musubi. It’s become a metaphor for the mix of cultures in Hawai’i.

Kitchen in a Chinese Plantation Home

We took three other tours this week. We spent the better part of a day at the Bishop Museum. They have a fascinating exhibit of Samoan tattoo designs and culture. We also caught a movie in the planetarium called ”The Wayfinders” about Polynesian voyaging and navigation, and especially, the voyages of the Hokuleia. The Hokuleia is currently in Tahiti, having arrived there last week. The director of the planetarium gave an overview of the Hokuleia’s celestial navigation. You can get more of it here. I’ve been getting up late at night to look for the stars used by the navigators.

We visited Iolani Palace, which has been undergoing restoration in the last 20 years. Iolani was the home of the last two monarchs—David Kalakaua, who had it constructed, and Lilioukalani who lived in it as queen and was imprisoned in it when the monarchy was overthrown. It’s an impressive symbol of Hawai’i as a nation, but also a sad and sobering reminder of American imperialism.

The third place we visited was Shangri La, the home of Doris Duke, tobacco heiress, who amassed a huge collection of Islamic art to fill her Diamond Head home. The art is beautiful and inspiring. She clearly had great knowledge and taste for Islamic art. But as you wander through it, you can’t help but wish that it was presented in a context that told about the creators of the art and their lives. Who made these tiles and tapestries? Why and how did they create such beauty? What did it signify to the people who viewed them? Without that context, I’m sorry to say, you see only what one person, with an excess of money acquired through a monopolistic, rapacious capitalist enterprise can accumulate.

Tonight, we are going to the Hawai’i Theatre in downtown Honolulu to hear Raiatea Helm, a great Hawaiian songstress..

Fishing at Colony Surf, 5/9/2022
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