Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Ripe Old Age

Here's an interesting story about Kepoolele Apau, a woman, 124 years old.  She died in 1898 at the age of 127.  In some ways this story reminds me of that made for TV movie I saw as a child back in the 70's, "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman".  Like the African-American slave, Jane Pittman recalling historical events in her 110 year life, Kepooleleapau recalls historical events in Hawaii's history.

Familiar "With Earliest Events in History.  Visited Kilauea Volcano With Kaplolanl I Trained by the Missionaries.

After passing Smith street, walking on the mauka side of King, one notices a 'number of dingy, muddy alleys.  In the second one from the bridge there is a relic of the early days of the Hawaiian Islands. Walk through the alley, and when you get to the rear of the store facing King street, there is another passage way, narrower than the one which leads from King street, to a collection of old tumble down cottages occupied by Hawaiians.  If you want to find and converse with the oldest inhabitant of the Islands, turn into this narrow way and stop at the two-story house on the left. It is an old place, so old that the date of the erection of it is almost forgotten by the people who live in it or in the cottages around. On the upper veranda an old koa bedstead stands exposed to the Kona winds and rains of the winter months. A bit of bedding and a bunk, at some time used by the younger generation of Hawaiians, has been cast aside for the Hawaiian of the old school, is not a believer in soft beds; a mat on the floor has greater attractions than the most modern spring mattress.  On the lower floor the house is divided into three rooms: a large one in the center and flanked on either side by two small ones. Here the family eat and sleep? 'the'"cooking is done on a keronsene tin in the yard.  On a mat in the largest of the three rooms a reporter for the Advertiser found the old woman. She piped an "Aloha" to her visitors and took their hands with the grasp of a girl of 20.  She is not a beautiful woman, though the traditions of her family aver that she was noted for her charms in her youth. The hand of Time, however, has seared her face and left many wrinkles as evidence of the years' she has passed through. Being to an extent deprived of her hearing it was with difficulty that one in the party who spoke Hawaiian, could make himself understood. She was willing to talk, and she was able, but she must be allowed to go on in her own way without being bored with questions. Sir. Atkinson, General Inspector of Census, made several visits subsequently,
and investigated the case of the woman, who is supposed to be anywhere from 120 to 124 years of age. He tells his story in his own inimitable way.

"Among the census returns received in my office were many which gave ages of natives varying from 100 to 110 or so. These cases I had investigated by the district superintendents, but when I came across an old lady in Honolulu who claimed to be 124 years of age, I thought it was time to make investigations on my own account.
"To carry out this investigation I asked Prof. Alexander and Mrs. to accompany me. Prof. Alexander has a wide-world reputation as an historian of the Islands, as a man of exact thought and of the highest culture.  Mrs. Nakuina is an Hawaiian lady of high cultivation, both in English and her own language, and has also a very thorough knowledge of the history of the country. For myself, my training as a newspaper editor has made me ready to watch facts, and a long period of work as Inspector General of Schools has forced me to value evidence and weigh it carefully. "I give the above statement, because I wish the deductions we have made to bear the stamp of exactitude. The case being a peculiar one and likely to be doubted.  "On entering the house we found the old lady sitting up on the floor. She was attended by two women, one of whom was the wife of a grandson.  She was very deaf and though not blind, could not see very clearly, though when I held a dollar in my hand she saw it, put out her hand for it, and placed it in her pocket. This was at the close of the interview, but I mention it here to show what the old lady's faculties were.
"Prof. Alexander, after some preliminary remarks, in order not to alarm the old lady, suggested a number of historical questions, which were put by Mrs. Nakuina. From those we learned that she remembered the abolition of idolatry, that she remembered the war in that connection. She stated that she was a married woman and an attendant of Kapiolani I, when the latter descended into the crater of Kilauea and broke the tabu, and that her name was changed from Kepoolele to Apau in consequence of the event. She then (her ideas coming more quickly as she continued talking) told us that she remembered Keoua being killed at Kawaihae. This occurred in 1791. The event is thus described in Alexander's History of the Hawaiian People, on page 132, which says: "'Toward the end of the year 1791 two of Kamehameha's chief counselors, Kamanawa and Keaweaheulu, were sent on an embassy to Keoua at in Kau. Keoua's chief warrior urged him to put them to death, which he indignantly refused to do. " 'By smooth speeches and fair promises they persuaded him to go to Kawaihae and have an interview with Kamehameha, in order to put an end lo the war, which had lasted nine years. Accordingly he set out with his own double canoe, accompanied by in another canoe, and followed by friends and retainers in other canoes.
"'As they approached the landing at Kawaihae, Keeaumoku surrounded Keoua's canoe with a number of armed men. As Kamakau relates: "Seeing Kamehameha on the beach, Keoua called out to him: 'Here I am,' to which he replied: 'Rise up and come here, that we may know each other.' " " 'As Keoua was in the act of leaping ashore, Keeaumoku killed him with a spear. All the men in Keoua's canoe and in the canoes of his immediate company were slaughtered but one.  But when the second division approached Kamehameha gave orders to stop the massacre. The bodies of the slain were then laid upon the altar of Puukohola as an offering to the bloodthirsty of Kukailimoku. That of Keoua had been previously baked in an oven at the foot of the hill as a last indignity. This treacherous murder made Kamehameha master of the
whole Island of Hawaii, and was the first step toward the consolidation of the group under one Government. But, as Fornander says: "We may admire the edifice whose foundation he (Kamehameha) laid, but we must note that one of its corner stones is laid In blood." '  "Finally she volunteered the information that she remembered the digging of the well in Kau, and that she was a child at the time, similar to a child running about the house, a child of between 6 and 7. This event occurred in 1781, and is described in Fornander's History. "This would make her 122 years old, according to exact calculation, but it is quite permissable to allow her a couple of years more, as she claims. "I followed up another method of investigation and inquired how many children she had, tracing their descendants.  This I was enabled to do to the fifth generation. Allowing the ordinary 30 years for a generation, four generations would give 120 years, and we can easily allow four years for the fifth, bringing out her age at what she claims by an entirely different method of investigation. We were, therefore, satisfied that the old lady had spoken the truth.
"What a curious link with the past she is. She must have been a little toddling child when Capt. Cook came to the Islands. She has seen the monarchy of Hawaii consolidated and she has seen its fall. She remains today a monument of the past, but one which must soon glide away and pass to the great unknown." We certify that the above statement is correct.

Mrs. Nakuina, at Mr. Atkinson's request, visited the old lady on several occasions, and has elicited the following facts:
“She was born in Keahialaka, in Puna, Hawaii, and was about 6 years old when Kamehameha made the attempt to sink a well at Kalae, in Kau.
“Kapoolele, her first name, was called after a chief, Kaiakauilani, brother to Haalou, who was Kaahumanu’s mother.  This Kaiakauilani was accused of having cause the death of some high chiefs by sorcery, and a petition was made to the King to have his head cut off as a dangerous character, henc the name Kepoolele (the dissevered head).
“Her second name of Apau, by which she has been known longest, was given to her in commemoration of Kapiolani’s visit to the crater of Kilauea, and her defiance to Pele, when it was generally prophesied that Kapiolan would be swallowed bodily by Pele for her temerity.  Apau means ‘you will be ate up.’  She was a woman grown at the time she received the name.
“Her father’s name was Kapa, afterward Piena.  Kapa was called after the mother-of-pearl fish-hook of Kaleipuu (otherwise Kalaniopuu).  Kapa was born during a fishing expedition of the King of that name, Kapa’s father being a head fisherman of Puna at the time and thus the name to commemorate that visit of the King.  Her mother’s name was Kanealoha.  They were fisherfolks.
“During childhood she lived mostly in Puna, with occasional visits to Hilo, and more rarely to Kau.  She distinctly remembers seeing Kamehameha during the attempt to sink the well at Kalae.  Also remembered Keoua’s last visit to Puna to raise recruits to go to war with Kamehameha, just before he was induced to go meet the latter at Kawaihae, where he was treacherously put to death and offered in sacrifice for the dedication of the Heiau at Puukohola.  The incident of Keoua’s visit was fixed on her mind by the extra efforts made by her father to find unusual hiding places, in which to stow away his family, so they would not be discovered by the King’s messengers, and thus be compelled to betray his own.  All the well known caves and usual places of resort being useless for that purpose.
“Apau was a full grown woman when Kapiolani and Naihe went from Kona to Kau to cut sandalwood.  Naihe remained in kau with the workmen, but Kapiolani extended her trip to Hilo by way of Puna, where she saw and took a liking to the subject of this sketch, and made an aikane of her (a friend with privileges of an own sister-a sort of second self), and according to the custom of those days, took her back with her on her return to Kona.  Apau did not see Puna again for many years.
“Kamike, the daughter-in-law of Apau, tells of the family tradition of Apau’s great beauty as a young woman and up to the time she was disfigured by bing poisoned.  Her personal beauty was such that Kapiolani ordered her hair cut and combed to fally evenly over her face to her nose (a sort of ancient forerunner to the modern bangs), and she was required by her august friend and mistress to always dress her hair in that style, that is falling like a veil before and half way down her face.
“The cautious chiefess, having fears as to the firmness and stability of her lord’s recent conversion to Christianity and prudently thought, no doubt, that the constant and familiar presence of unsual beauty was rather distracting and tended to weaken the good and virtuous resolutions of a chief heretofore accustomed to have a wish gratified as soon as expressed.
“Apau was converted to Christianity with Kapiolani, and both were taught letters along with the whole household.  They were first taught from a haole (English) book and afterwards from a native one.  She has been a constant reader of the Bible until about two years ago when her sight failed, and when in the mood can repeat almost whole chapters of the Bible.
“Kapiolani would not permit her protege to have a husband for many years, but after repeated entreaties by a member of her own household added to those of Apau herself, she consented.  
“Just before the marriage was to take place Kawika, who was a cook in the family of the missionary who was Kapiolani’s religious teacher, told his master he had obtained favors proper for a husband from Apau and she ought to become his wife, as he loved her.
“The master pleaded Kawika’s cause with Kapiolani and Naihe, and although Apau strenuously denied the fact of favors given or received from Kawika, she was ordered by that very religious and perhaps over-zealous lady to marry Kawika.
“She had to obey, and was married to him, but always resented the fact of having to live with a man she did not love, who, she maintains to the present day, told a lie in the matter of her conduct, just to obtain her.
“Three children were the fruit of that marriage, the last girl, Makui lived to womanhood and died about 20 years ago.  Soon after the birth of the girl she had a chance to visit her parents at Puna, and went there.  She did not return to her husband, who finally obtained a divorce from her.
“After their divorce they became quite friendly.  He sent her a present of some raw fish, which she claims was poisoned, for as soon as she ate of it her lips and nose began to itch and then swelled.  
“In a little while the swelling extended all over her face and head, and was only relieved when running sores formed.  She was sick a very long time.  She finally came to Hilo for medical treatment.  Her husband was lving there, and the misisonaries got after the both and induced them to consent to live together again.
“They were remarried by Mr. Coan, and the child now living, Kalanao, was the fruit of that union.  Apau was by this time permanently disfigured.  The child was left with the grandparents while the father and mother went to Waimea, Kohala, in the service of the missionary.
“After some time a chief died in Honolulu, and Apau came to the wailing.  She seized her opportunity and never returned to her husband.
“In Honolulu she first lived in Kaeo’s lot on maunakea street, on the Waikiki side, between King and Hotel.  She, with others, washed for the shipping and also sewed for a living, having been thoroughly taught in those domestic duties in the household of Kapiolani, as well as during her service under the missionaires.
“After some years she moved to Kaaione’s lot on the Ewa side of the same street, and lived with her sister and brother-in-law.
“After some years they moved to Kapuukolo, below King street.  Here a woman, called Paele, who, it is believed, is still living and at Ewa, was her friend and co-laborer in the wash business.
“Thsi Paele was the first native to be taken with smallpox on the Hawaiian Islands.  Apau claims Paele got the infection from a bundle of clothese fromt eh ships for which they washed.  Every one around them was stricken with the disease, but Apau escaped entirely, though she continued to live in the infected quarter, to care for or to prepare for burial her relatives and friends.
“The old lady made the remark when telling of her immunity from smallpox that God did not care to inflict her witht heat disease, as she was already disfigured by the man whom the chiefs, acting by advice of their religious teachers, had compelled her to take, and that he knew she had suffered enough.  Her husband, i the meantime, had obtained another divorce from her and remarried.
“When her son, Kalauao, came to Honolulu to live, she moved up to about where she is living now.  Her son was born some time before the volcanic eruption, when the lave flowed to Kumukahi.
“Apau continued to take in washing till very recent years, when the Chinamen, having absorbed all that business, she confined herself to such washing for her son’s family and other work as was needed.  Two years ago she slipped in a bath room, wehre some one had been washing clothes, and the floor was slippery from soap.  A bone was dislocated by teh fall, and she has been a cripple ever since.
“She is getting purblind, but her general health is good and her appetite fair.  She is confident that if she had not had that fall she would have been still able to be useful.
“The writer saw her, on one of the visits paid, for the purpose of getting her history, pick a patch to pieces on the seat of a working man’s pants with the intention of repairing it, and as the old lady was evedently waiting for the visitor to leave before going on with her work, though urged to go on, the latter had perforce to leave, though very desirious to see her at work.  She handled the articles understandingly, and as if it was her usual occupation.”


  1. I love this story! Very apropos since everyone in the genealogy world is discussing censuses this month, what with the release of the 1940 census countdown. A very good use of old Hawaiian newspapers, too.

  2. Some of my DIL's family (although in later years) migrated from Portugal to the Azores and then on to Hawaii. I love reading about old Hawaii and can't wait for the 1940 census to be released too.

  3. This is a very good example of naming as I have explained this very thing to people. They talk about how Kepoolele got her name and same for her father too.


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