Inside HONOLULU: One of Hula’s Living Legacies Graced Our Cover Twice, 60 Years Apart

It’s no surprise that kumu hula Puanani Alama appeared on the cover of our magazine. Only she’d done it once before, when she was just 15 years old.


Didi Alama called me as the holiday rush subsided this past January to ask about getting a copy of a photo of her auntie, noted kumu hula Puanani Alama. We had just featured the respected teacher on the cover of the November HONOLULU Magazine and I was happy to help.


Puanani Alama, who is also one of the original Merrie Monarch Hula Festival judges, was among six kumu who graciously shared their stories of culture and the subtle meanings of hula. She spoke with writer Lorin Eleni Gill, a hula dancer herself, and acclaimed photographer Olivier Koning, who shot the portraits for the story. Koning captured her dancing, smiling, glowing with her love of hula.


I figured the niece was asking for a few copies of the November issue to share with family. Then, Didi Alama kindly clarified her request: Not the November 2017 issue, she explained, but the one published in 1957 when HONOLULU Magazine was called Paradise of the Pacific.


In a corner of our From Our Files page, three tiny rectangles display magazine covers from years ago. In December 2017, that’s where Didi Alama, the sharp-eyed niece, spotted Puanani Alama’s photo.


In 1957, Paradise of the Pacific magazine covers featured a mix of pretty pictures of people, scenery and artwork, sometimes painted in-house. An issue sold for 35 cents.


I found the original cover by leafing through bound volumes from 1957. The caption identified the photographer as Fritz Henle, adding, in the florid style of the times: “The subject is lovely Puanani Alama, who wears a swimsuit and beautiful flower lei over her island-browned shoulders.”


It took me some time to unravel more of the photo’s origin story since kumu Alama was traveling out of state, spending time with her daughter, Puanani Jung, in California. When I reached them, the story had more twists. Alama recalls the photos were shot 10 years before they appeared in the magazine, when she was 15 years old, as part of a cover shoot for another magazine. They were shot the same day as the cover of Holiday magazine’s April 1948 issue, with her wearing the same outfit with a different backdrop.


Alama remembers Henle taking photos in front of the Halekūlani hotel, in the greenery by the entrance and also on the beach near an outrigger canoe. She was dancing with performer/composer Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln at the time, so when a photographer called looking for an Island girl to pose for some photos in Waikīkī, Lincoln thought Alama would work and simply let her know when to show up.


As glamorous as it might sound to us now, Alama says the photos were just a part of her experience in a hula troupe. “To be honest, I really didn’t know any better,” she says. She recalls buying plumeria to make the lei for the photos: “It was only about a dollar a bucket.”


Her daughter says other photos of her mom have turned up in Royal Beer ads, in National Geographic and other publications, many taken by Henle, a world-renowned photographer from Germany known for shooting with the twin lens Rolleiflex camera.


“My mom was one of his favorite subjects,” Jung explained. Now in her late 80s, Alama is still taking all of this in stride, as people once again recognize her from the cover of a magazine. “All of a sudden I’ve become very popular,” she says with a chuckle. “I feel very, very blessed.”


And we feel fortunate to be able to share her story. Again.