'Voices of Hawai'i' chronicles history through personal stories

John Berger, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·3 min read

Apr. 11—When Jane Marshall Goodsill began writing a book about her father in 2018, she started by talking with people who knew him. A prominent Honolulu attorney, who practiced law in the islands from 1941 to 2004, Marshall Max Goodsill was known by many. As Jane Goodsill listened to stories about her dad, people also talked about themselves, their families and their families' experiences, inspiring her to expand the book to include those experiences of isle residents.

Seventy-five of those conversations became "Voices of ­Hawai 'i : Life Stories from the Generation that Shaped the Aloha State " (Watermark Publishing, $24.99 ; bookshawaii.net ). It is a fascinating collection of oral history excerpts—all the more so for readers who know the people whose memories are included.

Goodsill, who was born and raised on Oahu, organizes these memories in categories that include life in Hawaii during World War II, what it was like to grow up here before statehood, relations between members of different ethnic groups, ranching and paniolo (cowboys ), the growth of the visitor industry and the struggle to control Hawaii's natural resources.

Taken from a 1999 audio clip, Goodsill's father explains why Dillingham choose to shut down the Oahu Railway in 1947. Peter McKenney shares a lesson in Hawaiian protocol he got from his mother-in-law. Oz Stender describes growing up hunting and fishing in rural Hauula. Puakea Nogelmeier recalls the circumstances of his immersion in Hawaiian culture. Kenneth Makuakane tells how he was surprised to learn after he began boarding at Kamehameha Schools that most of the people he had grown up calling "aunt " and "uncle " were not actually family relatives.

Through these stories younger generations of Hawaii-born Asian Americans might be surprised to learn how much their grandparents, great-grandparents and previous generations overcame to get opportunities they now take for granted. For instance, even into the early 1960s, upper-­level executives at Hawaii's Big Five oligarchy, and the law firms that represented them, came exclusively from a pool of Caucasians whose families had lived in the islands for several generations ; no Asian Americans or "mainland haoles " were permitted into this upper echelon.

Asians were also not welcome at Hono ­lulu's prestigious private clubs. A Caucasian member of the Outriggger Canoe Club in the 1940s resigned his membership after his Japanese American guest was refused ­service in the dining room. It wasn't until the mid-1960s that Asians were accepted as members at the ­Pacific Club.

Several interviewers mention ways that things changed after the Hawaii Democratic Revolution of 1954, and how the election of Democratic Party leader John Burns as governor in 1962 led to the political, economic and social changes that started the state on the path to where it is today.

As with any such book there are the inevitable questions about Goodsill's choices of interview subjects. None of her choices read as fillers, but I would have liked to see other viewpoints and different cultural perspectives, such as recollections from former Gov. George Ariyoshi and his wife, Jean, champion surfer /state legislator Fred Hemmings, Joyce Fasi, Nina Keali 'iwahamana, Ka 'upena Wong, John Henry Felix, Pat Saiki or the late Patience 'Pat' Namaka Wiggin Bacon. Goodsill notes that some interviewees did not wish to share their stories in print—perhaps that accounts for certain absences.

Goodsill ends the book by answering questions she's been asked about the experience of putting the book together. As for her future plans, they could include a "Voices of Hawai 'i II." Here's hoping.