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Facts about La’ie you probably never knew.

The "Shaka" Sign Hukilau Beach
Flag Raising Mosaic Street Names in Laie
Joseph Kekuku Sam Choy, Celebrity Chef
Joe Dela Rosa  


The "Shaka" Sign

How can you tell if a person is from Hawaii? He'll flash you a "shaka" sign in greeting. Little is known about the La'ie origin of this local gesture. A large Hawaiian man by the name of Hamana Kalili lost the index, middle and ring finger of his right hand from an accident at the Laie sugar plantation. He was well-known to everyone in this quiet Mormon town. When Hamana conducted church services on Sunday, one would only notice the thumb and little finger.

The children would imitate Hamana by bending their index, middle and ring fingers and say, "right on." Through La'ie's children, this sign spread. A local car salesman, Lippy Espinda, used the "Shaka" sign in his TV commercials. It gained state-wide popularity when Frank Fasi used it while campaigning for Mayor of Honolulu in the early seventies.

*This story was shared by Kupuna LaVerne and Rueben Pukahi and confirmed by Hamana's grandson, Walter Wong, former Head Custodian of La'ie Elementary.


Hukilau Beach

Edging La'ie Bay is a necklace of white coral sand. The more popular section is called Hukilau Beach. The other sections are called Malaekahana and Temple Beach. Before it was called Hukilau Beach, the community called it "Hamana beach" after Hamana Kalili who had his boat house there.

Hukilau Beach was made famous by Jack Owen's song, "Going to a Hukilau." He penned the words to the song after visiting Laie as a tourist and participating in a community fundraiser. Godfrey enjoyed his experience at the Hukilau so much he wrote a song about it and sang it while playing an ukulele. The Mormons in La'ie were organizing weekly hukilaus, luaus and entertainment on the beach at Laie Bay to raise money to build a new chapel. (The old one had burned down.) The main fishermen of the village, Hamana Kalili, Jubilee Logan and Moke Hiram were responsible for the fishing. Community members were organized into work groups to prepare food for the luau and put on a show. Hamana Kalili, being a large Hawaiian, portrayed King Kamehameha. When the money was raised and the chapel built, the weekly community hukilau was discontinued. Once in a while, if you're lucky, you'll see a group pulling hukilau nets. If you do stop what you're doing and get in there to help; it's not often you get to experience a real hukilau.


Flag Raising Mosaic

A mosaic depicting a school flag raising ceremony graces the front wall of the McKay Building foyer at Brigham Young University. "In 1921, as he (David O. McKay, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) visited the mission at Laie, he was inspired by the sight of the flag raising ceremony at the Church elementary school there. His feelings were articulated the next day on Maui when he indicated that a school of higher learning would be built in Hawaii. The college (Church College of Hawaii) was established (in 1955) and has since been designated as Brigham Young University Hawaii Campus." (Great are the Promises unto the Isles of the Sea. Joseph H. Spurrier. Hawaii Honolulu Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, c1978. pp.26.)

That church elementary school was later turned over to the Territory of Hawaii. Laie Elementary School continues this tradition of flag raising accompanied by bugle. Everyone on campus stands at attention with hand over heart when the bugle sounds in the morning, the JPO's raise the flag, the bugle ends and the day begins.


Street Names in Laie (As told by Wylie Swapp)

As a plantation village, Laie had few streets, Lanihuli, Wahinepee and Puuahi, already used by the Hawaiians. Lanihuli Street was named after the rise or hill where the temple grounds are. This street led right to the door of the Mission Home (of the LDS church in Hawaii). The mission home was called Lanihuli House.

In the old days, Wahinepee Street was the main thoroughfare of Laie, not Kamehameha Highway, and is a name selected by the City and County. The villagers didn't particularly care for that name which means "secretive woman" but the City and County didn't want to change the name.
Puuahi means "hill fire." At the ocean end of Puuahi used to be a tall sand dune on the beach. Fishermen would bring in their catch and build a fire on top of the sand dune to cook the fish. When the villagers saw this fire, they knew that there was fish cooking for everyone...it was a sign to "come and get it." There was no refrigeration in those days.

Poohaili is an old Hawaiian name for the district and area where the street is located.

Wylie Swapp, one of the original faculty members of Church College of Hawaii and long time community leader, named most of the streets in Laie. In 1956 he was serving on the board of "Hui Laulima" the community organization of Laie. As Church College was built he was asked as a board member to name the streets. He used the Hawaiian-English Dictionary and selected names that were interesting, had meaning, and a nice flow to it. Hale Laa is the road that leads to the Mormon Temple, the sacred house. Kulanui joins the elementary school with the University, the "big school." Originally, Naniloa Loop was called Pohakuhonua, but was changed because it was too cumbersome to say. Loala means "to play" and was meant for the street by Laie Park. The City and County put the sign on the wrong street and that was that. Moana means "ocean." Wylie Swapp was surprised that no street was given that name on Oahu, so he claimed it for Laie. The City and County wouldn't allow duplicate street names. Palekana was also another unused name that was claimed for Laie. Iosepa Street was named for the people who returned to Laie from a desert colony in Utah by that same name. These families that returned settled along that road.


Joseph Kekuku (1874-1932) is regarded as the inventor of the steel guitar.

Kekuku was born in La’ie, a village on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. As a boy, he would experiment with guitar technique; sliding ordinary household objects across the strings to see what sounds could be produced. By the time he was an adult, he had developed a unique style of playing. He traveled extensively, teaching and performing throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Joseph Kekuku died in Boston, Massachusetts.


Sam Choy, Celebrity Chef

"Hawaii's Culinary Ambassador" is the honorary title bestowed upon chef Sam Choy by the Big Island mayor. But Sam prefers to think of himself as "just a local boy who made good."

"Made good" is an understatement for a four-time nominee for the James Beard Best Pacific Regional Chef award. Sam is also one of United Airlines culinary consultants in the company of such superstar chefs as Norman Van Aken, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin. He wrote five top-selling cookbooks published by Mutual Publishing, a local publishing company: Cooking From the Heart with Sam Choy, Sam Choy's Cooking, The Choy of Seafood, Sam Choy's Kitchen, Sam Choy's Poke, Hawaii's Soul Food. In 1999, he released a national compilation of these books, titled Sam Choy's Island Flavors (Hyperion).

Sam grew up in the small town of La’ie on the North Shore of Oahu. He and his brother and sisters learned to cook in their father's restaurant, the Hukilau Cafe. His Chinese father, Hung Sam Choy, was known to make the best pot roast in the neighborhood. Sam's Hawaiian-German mother, Clairemoana, enrolled Sam in the local Kapiolani Community College, where he discovered that he truly loved cooking. After honing his skills in major hotels, Sam opened his first restaurant in 1991 on the Big Island of Hawaii. Today, Sam Choy has eight restaurants that bear his name, including one in Tokyo and one in Guam.

Sam's weekly cooking show, Sam Choy's Kitchen, garners high ratings on his local NBC affiliate. When he's not filming his show or traveling for cooking demonstrations, Sam oversees his talented team of executive chefs.

In 1999, Nation's Restaurant News named Sam one of 50 tastemakers influencing America. Sam has also been featured on numerous cooking shows and in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Sunset Magazine, Bon Appetit, and Gourmet.

Sam summarizes his success simply. "I think of my cuisine as a melting pot, of gathering the freshest ingredients from every culture on these islands." He is exuberant when talking about Hawaii, the local people, and the "aloha." "You heard that saying, 'Lucky you live Hawaii'? I say that everyday!" (Courtesy of Food Network)


Joe Dela Rosa

You would see him hanging out at Foodland, Sam Store, or La'ie Chevron. When Goo Store was still in business years ago, Joe would sit next to Goo's juke box and nod his head to the tunes.

Brother Joe was born and raised in La'ie, Hawaii and was an exceptional athlete in his time. He attended Kahuku High School and was named OIA All-Star tackle in 1966. Joe is also believed to be the first Kahuku School football player that was named to the All-State team.

Joe was a very handsome young man, but unfortunate circumstances entered his life which led to his dependency on certain drugs, and consequently his countenance and lifestyle had changed. Those who did not know Joe were afraid of him and would simply avoid him. However, Joe's appearance had absolutely nothing to do with what was in his heart. He was a gentle giant whose mission was to give us all the opportunity to love, serve and overcome our weaknesses in judgment. Joe is a La'ie icon that we will never forget.

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