Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, March 29, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
1999: Pualani Mossman is honored with the Hookahiko
Award from Duke's Canoe Club for her role in teaching
the world about Hawaii.

Face of

For more than 50 years,
Hawaii's 'poster girl' has
personified the aloha spirit

By Tim Ryan


Imagine a Waikiki with more homes than hotels, more canoes than cars, more leimakers than hookers. Pualani Mossman, 81, remembers and misses it.

"I remember dancing at the opening of the Royal Hawaiian hotel when all you could see along the beach were the waves and the sandy beach," said Mossman who has lived in Florida since 1951. "And you could walk all the way from Kaimuki to Waikiki under all those beautiful date trees."

1937: Pualani Mossman becomesthe Matson Girl.

She became a symbol of Hawaii, not only because of her beauty but also for her aloha spirit.

It is because of her pioneering efforts teaching visitors about Hawaiian culture, her role in establishing Hawaii's early reputation as a paradise, and her dedication to living Hawaii's traditions daily, that Mossman on Friday was named the first recipient of Duke's Hookahiko Award from the Duke's Canoe Club restaurant.

Mossman was not aware she was receiving the award until it was announced at a special event Friday at the restaurant.

The annual award was established to honor one person who exemplifies the traditions cultural values that make Hawaii unique.

Mossman was originally tapped by the Hawaii Tourist Bureau in 1934 to star in "Song of the Islands," the first color movie made in Hawaii, intended to promote tourism. After the film, she started modeling and appeared in Matson brochures promoting cruising to Hawaii.

In 1937, Matson sent Mossman to New York City to be photographed for the company's national advertising campaign. She became known as the "Matson Girl," appearing in Life, Time and Fortune magazines.

"That photo appeared all over the country and was everywhere in New York City, even a year later," she said. "My, that was exciting, to be the Hawaiian poster girl."

George Mossman, her father, was a teacher and Mormon minister whose first business was making Mossman Belltone Ukuleles. The shop was on Lusitana Street.

George started giving ukulele lessons, then got the idea to have a place in Waikiki where he could teach and perpetuate Hawaiian culture. It was an idea the family embraced.

So in 1931, Pualani and her mother opened Lalani Hawaiian Village on the Kalakaua Avenue property where the family resided, building several grass huts for demonstrations of Hawaiian crafts, hula lessons and luaus.

"At our Hawaiian village, people from all the hotels would come down so happy to see our beautiful show, the imu, taste real Hawaiian food, see the boys climbing the coconut trees, perform the knife and fire dances," Mossman said. "All for $1 or $2."

Pualani and her sisters were featured dancers at the family's "village," a combination cultural center and safe haven for Waikiki's beach boys and their surfboards, from 1936 until World War I closed it down.

Special to the Star-Bulletin
Pualani Mossman helped promote Hawaii
with Duke Kahanamoku .

Mossman later performed in New York as one of three Aloha Maids dancers in the Lexington Hotel's Hawaiian Room. Her photograph still hangs in the hotel.

In New York, Mossman met her future husband, Randy Avon Sr. The couple returned to Hawaii for a few years, then relocated to Florida in 1950 where she taught hula. Eventually, the couple together gave hula lessons, performances and Hawaiian luaus.

Mossman was one of the most active fighters for statehood in Washington, D.C., in the early 1950s. Her family later endowed the University of Hawaii with funds to perpetuate the Hawaiian language and traditions.

These days, Mossman returns to Hawaii annually to visit family in Kailua and on the Big Island.

"I always go to the Moana Hotel and when the boys come out to sing I dance to 'Song of Old Hawaii' -- because I was the first one to introduce that song in New York City and I've been doing it ever since," she said.

"Even though I don't live in Hawaii, it is always in my heart."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin