Archive for the ‘Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii’ Category

Our old house lot in Kapoho was covered with lava a few days ago. The poem below describes the original Kapoho of my childhood, not the current Kapoho:


Once There Was a Kapoho


Once there was a Kapoho

Where children played barefooted

Until the evening sun disappeared

And kerosene lamps and gas lamps

Beckoned each child home.


Once there was a Kapoho

Where outhouses and water tanks

Prominently stood as sentinels

And ohi’a firewood sent signals

Above rooftops, announcing

A hot furo* for the tired and the toiled.


Once there was a Kapoho

Where mothers pumping sewing machines

Marked the end of summer.

Homemade clothes and one-strapped schoolbags

For the first of September.


Once there was a Kapoho

Without television,

But battery-run radios,

Crackling “The Romance of Helen Trent,”

Dr. Malone and Arthur Godfrey.


Once there was a Kapoho

Without washing machines

But wooden washboards

Against concrete tubs

Slippery, muddy denims

Boiled in Saloon Pilot cans.


Once there was a place

Without shopping malls and Macy’s,

But catalogs from Sears and Montgomery Ward,

Dream-makers, before Charmin or MD.

Once there was Christmas without lights.

Yes, once there was a place

So simple and free

Where children swam in Warm Springs

And fished in Green Lake,

Played marbles and Ojame

And Steal Steal Stone.


Once there was a place

Where life went on without question.

Sons went off to war,

Teachers taught the 3 Rs

Parents were the PTA

And children pledged allegiance.


Yes, once there was such a place

Until Madam Pele** said, “No more!”

And scattered all the children

Like stars in the universe,

Echoing Thomas Wolfe,

“You can’t go home again.”


From Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii


* furo: bath

**Kapoho was destroyed by lava flows. Madame Pele, fire goddess in Hawai’ian lore, is believed to be the creator of eruptions.


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I gave the following speech in my freshman class at the University of Hawaii while my home town Kapoho was being destroyed by Kilauea Volcano.  Yesterday I heard of someone from Sacramento who hired a private helicopter to see the “beautiful” once in a lifetime eruption. This is from my book Kapoho: Memoirs of a Modern Pompeii.

“Kapoho, my home town, is being destroyed by lava as I stand here. In the snack bar downstairs, in the media, and in conversations among many of you who have taken helicopter rides to view the eruption, I hear you saying things like “spectacular”, “awesome”, and even “inspiring.”  The camera lens, the first hand sightings from low-flying helicopter rides only show Pele’s  fire. That  can be awesome. Spectacular, even,  if Kapoho were just a piece of dirt, a nowhere place that nobody cares about. But Kapoho is where I grew up.

            My family has evacuated to my aunt’s house. I was there last weekend when my father’s name shrieked  from the radio to identify the next house that was destroyed. My father’s response made me feel  afraid for him as I watched his disbelief. I was  afraid that his mind could crack like the  land beneath our house, cracked wide open by earthquakes.

            My father looked at us and said,   “That can’t be me. That must be another Sadame Kakugawa.” It was spooky to hear him say that.

            My father is a simple plantation worker. He earns minimum wage to support our family of seven and send me to school. We depend on our thirteen acres of cane land  to pay off our   debts.  Losing our home would just kill him

            When my mother told him, “It is your house. There is no other Sadame Kakugawa,” my father just sat there. I could see him looking for some way out. The hardest thing I had to watch that sad day was his resignation. He said, “If Pele wants my house, she can have it.”

And that’s just one story, mine. There’s a village full of stories like this, and the saddest part is,  there isn’t even a village anymore. You want spectacle? There’s a spectacle for you.

I sat abruptly down. At least one person had heard me that day, because for the rest of the year, my purchases were paid for at the snack bar.  All I knew about my benefactor was that he was a veteran.

We knew we  were living on top of  a live volcano. The steam rising from small fissures that were under our house would rot some of my father’s fish nets.

“I think Pele lives under our house,” my father would say. Scientifically, it was a canary.

Pele was warning us, but we never gave it a thought. We took it for granted, the dampness, the smell of rotten eggs, it was an normal and natural as the wrigglers or the tiny fragments of stones caught in the Bull Durham tobacco bags that hung around our tap to filter water from the wooden water tanks.

My father’s relationship with Pele was personal. He often went fishing at nights and returned in the early hours of the  morning. When he returned within an hour, we knew there was a story that he would tell us later.

“I was about to throw my net when something told me to turn around.  I saw this old woman with long white hair, standing behind me on the rocks. She had no feet. I know it was Pele warning me that the waves were too rough and dangerous,  so I picked up my nets and said, ‘thank you, Pele,’ and came home.”

My father is not the only family member who respects  Pele.


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Thank you for asking about my Kapoho book: Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii.

I was 18 when our town was covered by the same Kilauea Volcano who has returned to the same area.  Book is available on Amazon, Watermark Publishers , Barnes & Noble, and other local bookshops. The  cover shows the main part of Kapoho: The pool hall, the Nakamura store, and the theater which used generators to show films. My grandmother’s house was one of the first to be totally covered by lava.

3 by 4 kapoho cover

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The Sea Meeting Pele*


He explodes

Into a million


As her fiery tongue

Laps into

His undulating loins,

Sizzling and burning

Every ecstasy.

frances kakugawa

* Hawaiian legendary Goddess of Fire

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The on-going eruption in Hawaii brings back memories of how our village Kapoho was demolished by Kilauea Volcano. We evacuated to Pahoa  which became our second home,  and now Pahoa and it’s neighboring areas are being destroyed or threatened.  Thank you, readers, for asking about my memoir about Kapoho: Yes, Kapoho is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Watermark Publishing. My heart goes out to all the people in the Puna area. The book cover below shows the main part of our village. What was inspiring was how the villagers turned into philosophers and said, as my father did, that if Pele wants our house, she can have it. I hear this from some of the current  evacuees.  A stronger bond grew  among the people as each reached out to others. Kapoho still exists in the lives of its residents although Pele scattered us all over the country.

Kapoho cover

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A Kapoho Christmas


It was Christmas without lights.

It was Christmas without indoor plumbing.

It was Christmas without carolers at the window

Muffed and warm under falling snow.


But there was Christmas.


A Christmas program at school

Where the Holy Night reenacted:

White tissue paper glued on spines of coconut  fronds

Shaped as angel wings and halos.

Long white robes, over bare feet.


Santa Claus with bagfuls of hard mixed candies

Ho ho hoed by the plantation manager,

His yearly holiday role in the village where he reigned.

Fathers  in Sunday best

After a hard day’s work in sugar cane fields.

Children in home-sewn dresses and shirts.


A fir tree from the hills,

Needles not lasting 24 hours.

Chains from construction paper,

Origami balls and strands of tin-foiled tinsel.

Kerosene  and gas lamps

Moving shadows on the walls.


It was not the Christmas of my dreams.

No carolers at the window,

Singing Silent Night, Holy Night.

No large presents under a real Christmas tree

No fireplaces and rooftop chimneys.

No blue-eyed  boy handing me hot chocolate.


For 18 years, the true Christmas

Lived in my head until Madame Pele*

Came to my rescue

And buried our kerosene lamps.


Finally, I said, running out fast

On unpaved roads

To the Christmas of my dreams.

* Fire of Goddess of Kilauea Volcanic Crater









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I met with members of a book club who selected my book Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii, as one of their selections. The hostess, Jill Thornburg, was incredible. She had Sears ads in the bathroom as toilet paper and she served Vienna Sausage, Kapoho style. They really knew the book. One woman who was stationed in Hawaii with her military husband in the 60’s said she got to know my soul while reading the book; that it was more than a group of stories. Each discussed their favorite story.  I was asked to discuss writing and other aspects of the book. They expressed gratitude for the discount my publisher had given to their Kapoho purchase.

What a lovely visit back to Kapoho. And in Denver, too.

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