- from Hawaiian Son:The Life and Music of Eddie Kamae
Since founding his legendary band, the Sons of Hawai'i, more than forty years ago, Eddie Kamae has been a leading voice in Hawai'i's cultural renaissance. The following chapters are excerpted from a new biography published in fall 2004 by 'Ai Pöhaku Press in Honolulu. Tracing his career as both musician and filmmaker, Hawaiian Son is a Polynesian odyssey measured by the numerous teachers Kamae has met along the way: dancers, storytellers, healers, and elders who have guided him in his quest to find the sources of a rich musical tradition and thus to find himself.—J.D.H.
Have You Heard of the Tutu Man?
Eddie had been hearing reports of an old songwriter, a Tutu Man, who lived out near Waipi'o Valley, or had once lived there, on the northern side of the Big Island of Hawai'i, past the end of the county road. That's where Sam Kamae, Eddie's father, had grown up. Maybe that would be a trip worth taking. As of 1970 Eddie had been hearing stories and rumors about this fellow for quite some time, like folktales heard around a dinner table late at night with the lights turned low. Waipi'o was known for its waterfall, Hi'ilawe, which provided the title for Gabby Pahinui's first slack-key hit. Some musicians in Honolulu thought the Tutu Man was the original composer of that song, one of dozens he'd written. Others said, No, it was the long-dead father, though the son had been a legendary fiddler in his day. Others said, Well, whoever wrote that song, they're probably dead now, but if we sing it, they won't be forgotten.
Eddie went to his teacher and fellow composer, Mary Kawena Pukui, then the foremost authority on Hawaiian language and traditional lore.
"Kawena," he said, "I wonder if you have heard of Tutu Man Li'a."
Her eyes opened wide, as if taken by surprise. "You mean Sam?"
"I think so. Yes. Is he the one who wrote songs?"
She nodded, smiling. "I know him. Sam Li'a Kalainaina. He's a very fine poet too, one of the best." [End Page 152]
"I heard he lives in Waipi'o."
"Pretty close by."
"You think he's someone I should meet?"
"Someday I hope you can meet him..." Her eyes held him as she went on. "Yes. I think the time has come for you to meet Sam Li'a. And I can tell you where he lives."
"Should I get in touch with him first?"
She shook her head. "He will be there, and he will be glad to see you. And I will tell you how to find another man too. Both of them have spent their lives on the Big Island—long, long lives. They know things you can only find there. But Sam...he is the one. He is like no one else. He is the last."
Eddie watched her warm eyes fill with moisture and the brightness that comes when joy and grief are intermixed.
"The last what?" he said.
"This man writes in the old way, Eddie. No one knows how many songs, or where they all are. He never cared about recording. He writes in Hawaiian, and he gives it away, with his aloha. In our time, there is no one else like him."
The intensity in Kawena's eyes told him this was more than information. This came as a message, a kind of directive.
Where the Songwriter Lives
A week later, Eddie and his wife, Myrna, were heading north from Hilo, following the Hämäkua coast. A two-lane road hugs the shoreline, crossing countless streams that lace the rain-watered slopes of Mauna Kea. For several miles a muddy cane truck slowed them down, then swung off onto a plantation trail, rumbling inland.
They passed through Honoka'a, the main town out that way, a plantation town where porches tilted under darkly rusted sheets of metal roofing. From there the round-the-island belt...