'Aunty Pat' honored by Bishop Museum


POSTED: Sunday, April 25, 2010

A half-century at anything is pretty amazing, and Bishop Museum recently honored Hawaiian culture specialist Patience Namakauahoaokawenaulaokalaniikiikikalaninui Bacon — they just call her “;Aunty Pat”; — for 50 years of continuous service.

“;Aunty Pat is beloved by those in the Hawaiian community and beyond because of her commitment to the preservation of the Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions,”; said museum president Timothy Johns. “;We are so fortunate to have her continue sharing her mana'o here at Bishop Museum.”;

In real time, though, it has been more than 50 years. As a child, while Bacon's hanai mother, Hawaiian linguist and culturalist Mary Kawena Pukui, was busy translating manuscripts and recording oral histories, Bacon helped out, and spent the rest of the time playing with other museum kids on the Kalihi campus. That is, “;when we weren't carrying stuff,”; said Bacon, smiling at the memory. She's a slight, regal woman, 90 years old, treated as a living treasure by other museum employees.

In the '20s, when Bacon played on campus, the museum campus still included the Kamehameha School for boys, and Lahilahi Webb, Queen Liliuokalani's last lady-in-waiting, greeted visitors at the front desk.

Webb impressed upon Bacon that the queen “;was a loving and gentle person who had to make the hard choice to be either American of Hawaiian. The choice she made was for her people, not herself.”;

The secretaries and their kids packed their sandwich lunches at home and walked to work from the streetcar stop on King Street.

“;We ate together in THAT room, over there,”; recalled Bacon, indicating a cozy office space that still sports wooden file cabinets. “;It had a little stove and an ice refrigerator. Things were smaller then, not too many folks here. It was like a family. The scientists had secretaries to do their typing — now everyone has a computer! — and the ladies brought their children. The scientists also did archaeology and anthropological work at the University of Hawaii, so we were there, too.”;

Bishop Museum's reputation as a leading center for anthropology and cultural sciences was already established, and famous scientists like Kenneth Emory and Yoshiko Sinoto (who also marked 50 years at the museum this spring) worked there.

Pukui aided anthropologist Edward S.C. Handy in sorting out the subtle differences in Hawaiian culture.

“;Each island had its own way of doing things, and mother also translated Hawaiian-language manuscripts and newspapers so there would be a historical context,”; said Bacon. “;She was proud of her heritage, and at the time, Hawaiian culture was treated as silly. It bothered her. At least the scientists were eager to know about what Hawaiians did and thought.”;

Bacon's formal schooling ended when her religious high school on Fort Street demanded she formally join their church. When she turned 19, Bacon was hired by the museum to operate the telephone switchboard. “;There was only one line, with 12 extensions. Plenty of time to also do typing!”; It was 1939, and when war broke out couple of years later, the military moved in.

“;Dr. Emory taught classes in South Seas survival, and after the war, some soldiers even came back to thank him. Bishop Museum was so much help to the Army in the Pacific, and that made him happy. There were army dorms everywhere. And Italian POWs built the fence around the Great Lawn. But the best thing was that the Army medical clinic was next door, and we got flu shots for free!”;

Starting a family in 1945, Bacon returned to the museum in 1959, the formal date of her half-century of museum paychecks. Secretary to Peter H. Buck, Bacon continued in that sort of work until she transferred to the museum archives in the '90s. She is the museum's Senior Cultural Advisor, with a steady train of visitors seeking advice. She's also a long-standing judge in the Merrie Monarch hula competition.

“;It's good have young people about, to pass things on. The spirit of Hawaii has always been here at the museum, to kokua each other, not to expect anything in return. That is aloha, I feel.”;