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Finding Honouliuli: Rediscovering an Almost-Forgotten Chapter of Hawai‘i History

How a phone call to a retired librarian led to the rediscovery of the state’s largest internment camp.


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(page 2 of 3)

The old aqueduct that divided the camp was a key feature leading to its rediscovery.
Photo: Odeelo Dayondon 

 

The Revs. Takahashi and Yano lead a blessing ceremony on March 31. 
Photo: Odeelo Dayondon

Since the discovery of the site in 2002, JCCH has been busy acquiring grants, putting together artifacts and displays, taking students down into the gulch and talking with families of the internees to preserve their stories. Some of them, including Sam Nishimura’s children and grandchildren, were able to visit Honouliuli for the first time since the ’40s. Going to the site has helped them find closure, says Grace Fukunaga, Nishimura’s daughter, who was only 7 when her father was taken away. “I was really happy when [they found the camp] because all that time, it was like a blank. Was there really a Honouliuli? Because nobody knew what that word was,” she says.

 

Fukunaga’s sister Edna Saifuku says every time she went to Wai‘anae she would look for the Hawaiian Electric transformer she remembered passing as a 16-year-old going into the camp, but she never found it. “I remember the sentry post, the tower with a machine gun facing us,” she says. “I thought, are they gonna shoot us? That scene comes back to me all the time.”

 

Fukunaga was able to visit their father quite often, though they were not allowed to touch. They sat across from each other on benches in the mess hall. “His words were very positive. That helped,” she says, but, once he came home, he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

 

“I think he was angry,” Saifuku says. “He was angry that he was locked up. My mother had to suffer so much, taking care of six of us, plus my grandfather.” But, as Saifuku’s daughter Sandi Chang says, “He didn’t show that he was bitter. That’s one thing that I admired about him. He was a happy-go-lucky man.” Chang believes that if Nishimura were alive today, he would be happy to know that his hardships would result in valuable lessons of understanding, hope and peace.

 

Fukunaga’s daughter Wanda says that everything happens for a reason. Though internment is a terrible part of her family’s history, she believes that her grandfather was in a good position in the camp to help others, because he was very well-spoken and outgoing. And she feels fortunate that he shared his story years later. “The fact that we are willing to share what we have with everybody, I think all of that put together, there’s a reason—taking a bad situation and making it into a positive one. And we’re not afraid to talk and get the word out.”

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Honolulu Magazine March 2017