An Instant Classic

Eddie and Myrna Kamae’s eighth documentary film features three legendary Hawaiian women

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - October 26, 2005
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The team in an editing session, putting together title graphics
The team in an editing session, putting
together title graphics

Eddie Kamae says his teacher Mary Kawena Pukui told him, “If you are having any pilikia (problems) with your wife, you’re wrong.”

Kamae says he lives by that, and his wife of 40 years, Myrna, handles the business affairs - including their eighth documentary film, Keepers of the Flame: The Cultural Legacy of Three Hawaiian Women. The film is a one-hour in-depth look at what shaped the destinies of three Hawaiian icons, Mary Kawena Pukui, Iolani Luahine and Edith Kanakaole.

It premieres at the 25th Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival at the Hawaii Theatre on Oct. 27. Wearing his other hat, Eddie will play music with the Sons of Hawaii before the film.

“They’ve all played a big role for me in my life,” says Eddie of the three women.

Clockwise from top left: Eddie and Myrna Kamae, Dennis Mahaffay, List Altieri Sousa and Stan Chang
Clockwise from top left: Eddie and Myrna Kamae,
Dennis Mahaffay, List Altieri Sousa and Stan Chang

The film delves into so much more behind Pukui’s contribution to the Hawaiian dictionary, Luahine’s dancing and Kanakaole’s family’s traditional Pele-style hula. Although all three have passed away, the film features archival photos and candid interviews with friends, family members, students and cultural expert Coline Aiu. Some of the highlighted talks are with Pukui’s hanai daughter Pat Nakama Bacon, Luahine’s students Hoakalei Kamauu and Nathan Napoka, Kanakaole’s daughter Pua Kanahele and granddaughter Kekuhi Kanahele-Frias and master chanter Kaupena Wong.

For the Kamaes this is the first time in 17 years of making documentaries that the subject is three women. And more women are involved with this production, including narrator Elissa Dulce. And it’s the first time they’ve used a female writer and editor, Lisa Altieri. Also contributing to the creative efforts are writer Robert Pennybacker, director of photography Rodney Ohtani and musician Gaylord Holomalia.

Co-producer Dennis Mahaffay shares what was special about working on Keepers of the Flame:

“I’ve lived here all my life, and Hawaiian music’s been a large part of my life and my career,” says Mahaffay, who began producing and directing with Kamae in 1978 on a Christmas special. “It’s really amazing how much I didn’t know about them. It’s a tribute to three remarkable women. It’s an inspirational story.”

Mary Kawena Pukui
Mary Kawena Pukui
Edith Kanakaole
Edith Kanakaole
Iolani Luahine
Iolani Luahine

Mahaffay adds that one of the most exciting aspects of working on the documentary was when they did a brief screening with DeSoto Brown, who is in charge of the Bishop Museum archives.

“DeSoto Brown’s wheels started turning, and he started searching in his archives for rare footage of Mary Kawena Pukui,” adds Mahaffay. “It was a challenge to find rare footage of these women.”

Mahaffay notes that these three overcame barriers and thrived during a time when the the culture may not have been so supportive of women.

Pat Bacon has seen excerpts of the film, and is also one of its important sources.

“I thought they did very well, and I look forward to seeing the finished product,” says Bacon, who has worked at the Bishop Museum since 1959. “Eddie knew my mother, and they went to Kau on one trip with his wife. This film is about somebody he knew, so it has a special feeling about it.”

Eddie, a Farrington High alum, shares with MidWeek some of his own personal recollections about these three women that are not included in the documentary:

“Iolani is a dear friend of mine,” he says. “If something was on my mind, I would wake her up at 7 in the morning and talk to her. She was a free spirit and she loves everything she does.”

He says hula priestess Luahine has done things he’s never seen in his life before. For instance, hula master George Naope told Eddie this story. One time, the Queen of Tonga and an FBI escort were visiting on the Big Island and the queen would not get out of the car because it was too windy.

“Iolani turned around, chanted, and the wind stopped,” Eddie says, retelling Naope’s story. “After that, the queen and the FBI were supposed to go to a hotel in Kona, and instead they went to Iolani’s house in Napoopoo, where she summoned all the animals to greet the queen. Her dog barked, her cat meowed, her rooster crowed, her pig oinked, and they bowed to the queen.

When someone said that they are not supposed to be at Iolani’s house, an FBI agent replied, ‘If she can stop the wind, we are going to be here.’”

When Kanakaole and Eddie were both honored as Living

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