What's in a Name?
A few weeks ago, Lewis Taylor, reporter for the Eugene, Oregon daily newspaper (The Register Guard) spoke with me about a story he was planning to write about an “upsurgence” of Hawaiian cultural activities in and around the city of Eugene in recent times. He spoke of “Hawaiians” going into elementary schools in and around the Eugene area teaching the children to play ukuleles, to dance the hula, to sing the songs of Hawaii and even learn basic olelo (Hawaiian language)! Lewis spoke of the emergence of Hawaiian themed clubs like Mele O Hana of Oregon which would meet monthly at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Eugene to kanikapila; this group started with three members five years ago and now numbers over eighty. Lewis spoke of Hawaiian music groups like Sweet Aloha and Iron Mango which would entertain virtually anywhere/anytime just to promote the traditional Hawaiian songs and dances that they loved so well! Another project emerging in the Eugene area was a local branch of the Ukes for Kids Project (which originated in the Santa Cruz, CA area) where ukuleles are provided to schools and other organizations that express an interest in integrating ukuleles and, consequently, Hawaiian music into their programs. While Lewis Taylor credited several individuals for the renaissance of the Hawaiian culture in the Eugene, OR area, the one person who seemed to be linked in some way to most of the Hawaiian cultural activities in the Eugene area was a lady named Maggie Matoba!
So......what’s in a name? When I first contacted Maggie Matoba and told her I would like to feature her in my Profile column, the first words she said to me were “Well,Uncle Danny, I hate to disappoint you but I am not originally from Hawaii and am not Hawaiian”! Yet, Maggie Matoba is the person who became the “Artist in Residence” for schools in Lane County, Oregon teaching elementary school students how to play the ukulele, how to do basic hula steps, how to sing Hawaiian songs, even how to speak and spell some basic words in the Hawaiian language! Maggie Matoba is the co-founder of the Meleo Hana of Oregon organization and member of the Sweet Aloha band and leader of the Iron Mango music group. Maggie Matoba also helped establish the Uke for Kids franchise in Eugene. So who is this “non-Hawaiian” person who is spreading so much Hawaiian culture in Eugene, OR?
Maggie Matoba is of Japanese ancestry, born in Los Angeles and a graduate of Hollywood High School. Maggie’s parents owned a place called the Atomic Cafe in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles and it was there that Maggie first got exposed to that thing called the Aloha spirit. The Atomic Cafe menu ranged from Japanese to American to Chinese to Hawaiian foods and there was a huge Hawaiian Islander clientele who ate there regularly (especially for the Saimin that was reportedly the best outside of Hawaii). The Juke box was filled with lots of Hawaiian tunes of the 1960’s and 70’s. The first song Maggie remembers learning was “Kaimana Hila” and her favorite music group was Hawaii’s “Society of Seven”. But it was not until Maggie moved to Eugene to attend the University of Oregon that she began to play Hawaiian music with a group of older Hawaiian ladies she calls her Hana`i aunties. Maggie and her “aunties” would hold huge backyard Luaus where she honed her considerable talents for playing both the ukulele and “standard” guitar. Then she attended the Next Generation Tour in 2002 (featuring Dennis Kamakahi, Patrick Landeza, HerbOhta Jr and Keoki Kahumoku) and fell madly in love with Kiho`alu. Maggie has attended several of the Kahumoku music camps on Maui and the Big Island and is now an excellent Kiho’alu and ukulele player; she has been a member of the Hula Halau O Na Kaikuahine for over four years and is a very good hula dancer.
Maggie Matoba says there indeed is a huge renaissance of Hawaiian culture in the Eugene, OR area and while she feels honored to be our Profile guest, she points to others who have been an important part of this renaissance, people like Leilani Beymer, Kumu for Hula Halau O Na Kaikuahine and Carol McIntyre, both of whom have been major influences in helping make the hula more popular in Eugene. Paul Prince, Rick Hanapi and Ed Barnett are three of the best players/teachers of Kiho`alu (Hawaiian slack key guitar) in the Eugene area.Craig Chee is the premier Ukulele strummer in Eugene who entertains at the renowned Noho’s Hawaiian Cafe in Eugene most Friday evenings and is very active with the U of Oregon Hawaiian Club. Indeed, all of the above have contributed to this Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance in Eugene, OR and are to be commended for their efforts in promoting our Hawaiian culture.
So what’s in a name? In this case, H-A-W-A-I-I-A-N fits Maggie Matoba very well because, ethnicity aside, Maggie is totally and truly one of us! Mahalo so much Maggie for all that you do to nurture and perpetuate our Hawaiian culture down South in Eugene, OR......Maggie Matoba: you da Man!!!!
Until next time, be kind to each other.......me ke Aloha pumehana.........Danny