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Community Collections Grants: An Interview with Mark “Boots” Lupenui

Below is an excerpt from an interview by Folklife Specialist Guha Shankar with Community Collections Grant recipient Mark “Boots” Lupenui entitled, “Heirloom Songs” from Kohala, Hawai’i: Documenting a Fragile Musical Legacy, as part of a series on the Library’s Of the People blog featuring the 2022 awardees of the AFC’s Community Collections Grants program. The Community Collections Grants program is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, which seeks to create new opportunities for more Americans to engage with the Library of Congress and to add their perspectives to the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story. 

A promotional graphic featuring a photo of Community Collections Grant recipient Mark Boots LupenuiMark “Boots” Lupenui’s project, “Unearthing the Lost Songs of Kohala,” seeks to document old, unrecorded songs of the Kohala region in the northwest portion of the island of Hawai’i. Lupenui calls them, “heirloom songs,” and his project is an urgent one as the numbers of elders who carried on the tradition dwindle. He notes, “We are trying to preserve these heirloom songs, these snapshots of our history, culture and way of life before the last remaining memories of them disappear forever.” In our interview, he offers his view on progress to date on the team’s efforts at archiving the cultural heritage of the community.

Boots, you have noted previously that your approach to documentation involves artists/ practitioners performing and/or telling their own stories in their own voices to the community as well as to wider audiences. How has this concept worked in actual practice? 

It makes such an impact on me to hear these folks telling their own stories and singing the songs they wrote. They are the true voices of Kohala and those voices are fleeting, so preserving the recordings of them is important. Most of these people are not professional performers, and so it requires a bit of explanation and a ‘kid gloves’ approach to get them to give more complete information on camera. They can be a little shy about performing, as they are always surprised that anyone wants to record the songs they wrote years ago. Still, it makes me smile to hear these salt of the earth folks tell their stories. I get chills listening to their humble songs and imagining what they might sound like to people who listen to these recordings years or even generations from now.

In what ways is this project important/meaningful for you as a documentary field worker who is also a community member and performer?

As an artist and musician myself I hope to move people with my work. When I think about the songs I am documenting, I am reminded that each of these pieces is the work of someone who was trying to move people as well, trying to share some idea or emotion during a moment or time that is past. Also, these songs provide a window into a simpler world, a glimpse of a magical Kohala that is quickly changing …and I am grateful for that glimpse. My hope is that others will hear these works and will recognize in them the call to care for the amazing place we call home.

Read the rest of the interview here!

AFC’s Community Collections Grants Recipients: Habele Outer Island Education Fund, Federated States of Micronesia

This is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting the 2022 AFC Community Collections Grant recipient, Habele Outer Island Education Fund and their project, “The Warp and Weft of the Remathau.” Written by AFC Senior Folklife Specialist Nancy Groce, the post is part of the Of the People blog […]

Homegrown Plus: Traditional Dance from American Samoa

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with a very special presentation of Samoan dance. In addition to the dance video, the blog features an interview with Eti Eti, one of the members of the dance group. The dance video was created by the Student Association For Fa’asamoa, a program of the Samoan Studies Institute at American Samoa Community College. The Samoan Studies Institute’s mission is to ensure and promote the continuity of Samoan culture, traditions, language, and heritage. Since its inception, SAFF has been active in performing the Siva Samoa (traditional Samoan dance), and in teaching and practicing old Samoan customs. For their Homegrown video, the SAFF dancers performed a 30-minute program of traditional dances in several locales at the college, under the direction of Molitogi Lemana. See the video right here in the blog!

Homegrown Plus Premiere: ‘Ukulele Master Herb Ohta, Jr.

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with international recording artist Herb Ohta, Jr., who is one of today’s most prolific ʻukulele masters. In this blog you’ll find an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore! We’re very excited to present Herb Ohta, Jr. in the series. Influenced by jazz, R&B, Latin and Brazilian music, as well as traditional Hawaiian sounds, he puts his stamp on Hawaiian music by pushing the limits of tone and technique on this beautiful instrument. The son of ʻukulele legend “Ohta-san,” he started playing at the age of three, and began teaching at the age of nine. Based in Honolulu, he shares the music of Hawaiʻi and the beauty of the ʻukulele with people around the world, performing concerts and conducting instructional workshops. As a special treat, Herb asked his good friend Jake Shimabukuro to join him for a medley of traditional Hawaiian songs. Shimabukuro, also a Honolulu native, is one of the most highly acclaimed ʻukulele players in the world, and has collaborated with many great musicians, including Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Loggins, and Amy Mills. He’s never forgotten his roots in Hawaiian music, though, and was kind enough to join Herb in his Homegrown concert.

Navigating AFC Collections Geographically: U.S. Territories

Staff at the American Folklife Center continue to use new digital tools to support remote discovery and access for our resources by users of all kinds. Whether you are a community scholar, a teacher, an academic researcher, a creative artist, or a curious consumer of local culture we hope that our geographically-oriented research guides offer […]

Navigating AFC Collections Geographically: Pacific Region States

Staff at the American Folklife Center continue to use new digital tools to support remote discovery and access for our resources by users of all kinds. Whether you are a community scholar, a teacher, an academic researcher, a creative artist, or a curious consumer of local culture we hope that our geographically-oriented research guides offer […]

Holehole Bushi: Franklin Odo on the Work Songs of Japanese Sugarcane Workers in Hawai`i

Japanese agricultural workers began immigrating to Hawai`i in 1868, primarily to work on sugar plantations. This immigration peaked in the late 19th century. At this time the population of Native Hawaiians was crashing. As Hawaiians had more contact with Europeans they contracted diseases that they had no immunity to. Sugar plantations, mainly owned by American […]

King David Kālakaua: Royal Folklorist

This blog post is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. King David Kalākaua (1836 – 1891) is often known outside of Hawai’i by his nickname, the Merrie Monarch, so-called for his patronage of Hawaiian music, dance, and culture.  He […]

How Hawaiians Saved Their Language

At the time that turned the heat of the earth, At the time when the heavens turned and changed, At the time when the light of the sun was subdued To cause light to break forth, At the time of the night of Makalii (winter) Then began the slime which established the earth, The source […]

Recognizing the Service of Asian Pacific American Veterans

The following is a guest blog post by Andrew Huber, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). Throughout the month of May, we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, and remember the contributions made by people of Asian Pacific descent. Those contributions are numerous, from Duke Kahanamoku, who brought the sport of surfing […]