The Story of the Kamiya Family

Here is the story of my family as written by my dad, Kenneth Kamiya.

The story for the Kamiya family in Hawaii begins with the immigration of my grandfather, Kama Kamiya, in 1911 to work for Honokaa Sugar Company in Hawaii. He was 23 years old. In 1913 grandmother, Manchi, arrived in Hawaii and the family settled in Kukuihaile, Hawail.

Tomonobu Kamiya as a young boy in Okinawa

During this period my father, Tomonobu, was too young to immigrate to Hawaii and he remained in Okinawa to be raised by an aunt until 1924 at which time he joined his parents in Hawaii at the age of 17.

The aunt who raised my grandfather

As with other immigrant families who found plantation work to be very demanding, the family moved to Oahu in 1925 to begin working in the dairy business. Some of the original dairies were located in the present day Waikiki area, but as development progressed in Honolulu dairies were established on the windward side of Oahu and the family followed. It is a known fact that because of all the dairy farms in Kaneohe, day or night you knew you were entering Kaneohe because it had that distinct dairy odor of abundant cow manure.

The early days of the dairy in Kaneohe

My father continued to work with dairies owned by prominent Portuguese dairymen such as Campos, Souza, and Freitas. His brothers, Tom, Don, and Larry, also continued to work in the dairy business and eventually established the Kamiya Dairy which was located near the present day Halekou Street and across the present day Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery. This dairy eventually moved to Maili, Oahu, and became one of the largest dairy in Hawaii.

Mom and dad’s marriage was a traditional “arranged” marriage and this occurred in 1935, about the time by older brother, Paul, was born. In 1941 my parents eventually settled on a farm site in Kaneohe where the Keaahala subdivision is now located. Here, my parents raised various crops including taro, hogs, cows, bananas, papaya, and vegetables. I was born at this time and my sister, Ruth, and brother, Lawrence, were born in 1946 and 1947 respectively. It should be noted that Mr. T. lida generously helped my parents build their first home at this site.

Banana fields

Although the family was poor we had a great time living on a farm. Kaneohe was a small town and neighbors and friends were always willing to lend a hand for whatever needed to be done. My recollection of Kaneohe was that it represented a true community.

People took care of each other and crime was almost nonexistent. An indication of this fact was houses and cars were never locked. Fishermen shared their catch, farmers shared their produce, and tradesmen helped put things together. Conversations in gatherings included storytelling, history, and the sharing of good happenings. Of course, the bad things were also covered.

Because the location of our farm was mauka of Kaneohe stream and because stream flows during heavy rains prevented bridge building the stream was constantly graded to allow crossing and access to our house. As children, it was always a thrill riding a car or truck at this crossing. It was more thrilling if you had to walk home and cross on a 12X12 beam. Night time foot crossing was all the more thrilling. But as children, flooding in Kaneohe was always welcome because it gave us a valid excuse to stay home from school and play.

Growing up in Kaneohe elicits fond carefree and fun memories. In my formative years Kaneohe was “country” with lots of open spaces, a small tidy town that served the needs of the community and with abundant opportunities for adventurous activities that would test the creativity of country kids with limited funds. There were open pastures with lots of guava trees and as we explored we all knew which trees were “sweet guava” and which trees were good for mom to make guava jelly.

There were many streams and these streams provided unlimited fun and activity. For one, we could fish for crayfish and with an empty coffee can and a little salt the boiled crayfish would make a modern day gourmet jealous. And to fish for crayfish all that was needed was a short pole, a length of cotton string saved from the rice bags, a suitable pebble, and handful of dried shrimp or ebi for bait. Lower this rig in a calm part of the river and within seconds you would have a crayfish dangling on the line. If mom didn’t want to part with a handful of ebi, one single ebi was enough to catch the first crayfish which was then used for bait to catch everything therafter.

The river also provided fishing for oopu and “puntat” or catfish. Upstream large mouth oopu was the best for pan frying. Here again a short pole that was easy to maneuver in the underbrush, 20# sugi line fitted with a lead sinker and a good size hook was all that was needed. A can with earthworms served as bait. Of courses having a sharp eye to “spock the bugger” was also necessary. Carefully lower the hook baited with the earthworms in front of the oopu without scaring it and “wham” you had a one pound oopu hanging.

For “puntat” or catfish a different method was used. Using a longer bamboo pole with heavier sugi, sinker, hook and earthworm bait and at night we could hook a small number of catfish. I believe that this fishing method was more of a excuse to horse around on the river at night. 

Incidentally, we soon learned from our Filipino friends that to catch catfish just go after them with bare hands in the holes on the river banks. Stick your hand in the holes, feel for their sharp spines, put the one spine between your thumb and index finger and the second spine between your ring and little finger, squeeze and pull the fish out.

Very simple if you were brave enough.

To me catfish was not very tasty or eye appealing so if we did catch any catfish we tried to sell them to the old Chinese workers.

Along with oopu, crayfish, and catfish the river also provided for lots of frogs or bull frogs as differentiated from toads. In the evening during certain seasons it was common to hear the frogs sing their lullabies. This was the best time to go “frogging.” As soon as night fell, with a strong flashlight in hand and a bag to hold the catch, wade in the river and shine the light to locate the frogs; when one is located carefully hold the light on it to keep is mesmerized and with the other hand grab it from the back. You had to be quick and certain when you grab because the frogs can be slippery. If lucky the catch was sold to any vendor willing to take it. We ourselves were adverse to eating frog legs; only rich people considered it gourmet food. How we missed out!

Aside from the fishing, the river also played an important role in the lives of children growing up in the country. Because there were no public swimming pools back then I learned how to swim in the river. We learned from the older kids who made the river a natural water playground. Kaneohe was fortunate because of the many rivers flowing from the Koolaus to the bay. At certain spots due to the contour of the land and artificial dams built to accommodate irrigation for the rice paddies and taro fields, the river created deep pools perfect for swimming.

My dad harvesting grasses for his waterbull

We had the Haiku pool just below the present day Kahekili Highway, “green lake” pool near Benjamin Parker School, and of course “blue lake” pool next to our farm. As long as the river flowed and the swimming holes remained intact most of the neighborhood kids made the river their playground throughout the year. It was never ending fun. 

Pools that had high banks were perfect for high dives, “Buddha jumping,” and special “Paea” jumping the object of which was to create a specific directed splash. As with all creative children we also enhanced these swimming holes by damming the downside with rocks and branches.

At these swimming holes we also created our own athletic events without any formal organization, but with simple and specific rules. We played water “chasemaster” the object of which was to avoid being “tagged” and becoming the “it.” We also played “submarine” the obiect of which was to pass through a line of swimmers without being detected or “tagged.” This game required good underwater breath control and very strong underwater swimming skills.

In addition to swimming we built “tin” boats made from a sheet of salvaged corrugated roofing iron, pilfered tar from roofing kettles, and any discarded 2X12 and 2X4 lumber.

Depending on the length of the roofing iron or “totan” boats were six to eight feet long and able to carry one or two riders. Although these tin boats served their purpose they did have their drawbacks. If overloaded they sank easily. Also, they were not stable and would capsize if not skilled. And finally by nature of their design they had sharp sides and riders had to be extra careful not to get scraped from roofing iron edge. We also became creative by joining two boats together to make a river catamaran.

Although many young girls and boys enjoyed the swimming holes, I recall a specific tragedy near one of our favorite swimming spots. It happened in the late 40s or early 50s when a boy who was not a good swimmer tried to ride one of the tin boat and it capsized in deep water. He was found tangled under the river edge grass. After this incident this swimming hole was avoided by all for fear his ghost was still there to suck you in.

As Kaneohe experienced more development and new people and as our generation out grew our swimming holes we turned to the ocean and our skills learned in the river served us well to take to the ocean. Our playground became larger as we fished, dived and surfed all the beautiful beaches on the windward side.

Although change is inevitable and despite new subdivisions, highways, shopping malls, and the many families moving in Kaneohe of old will always be a part of me. There are too many friends, many who have moved away or passed, and memories that are still vivid in my mind that make Kaneohe my home always.

1940’s Census


4 thoughts on “The Story of the Kamiya Family

  1. Thank you for sharing. My family moved to Kaneohe in 52 when my father took a position at Castel High as the band/music teacher. We lived in Waiawi St. and remember the stream in back of us. Thanks for the memories of Old Kaneohe.

  2. Thank you for your memories. I remember my father taking fish he caught to your house after a day on the bay. I was very young at the time and don’t remember anyone but the name.

    • Could it have been Ken? If your dad was Sam Gorai, he was a good friend of my grandfather. He would go to Waikane and drive the tractors to plow their fields. Years later I met Aunty Ulu who watched my son as a baby.

      • Yes that was my dad. He was known by many and loved by all. I remember meeting I would guess your brother at BYU with my father. He was working in the papaya farm they had there. I’m kinda spoiled that way. I can’t eat a papaya from anywhere and be satisfied! It’s like that for a lot of things when you live so far away from Hawaii.

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