I've made more mistakes wrangling two columns on the history of the complicated Antone F. Tavares family into shape than I can recall on any other single subject in my entire newspaper career. Seriously.
Maybe it's because Bill Tavares, the former Makawao Elementary School principal, has been kind enough to point them out. (Calls from relatives, some of whom live on the Mainland and read The Maui News, brought that about.)
This seems like an ideal time to let the readers weigh in, a column I've been contemplating for some time. But before we get there, some more Tavares facts.
I got carried away researching the history behind the hanohano names Antone Tavares gave his sons ("Did you know Hannibal's father was the king of Carthage in North Africa whom the Romans defeated in the first Punic War?"), so much so that I conflated them with those buried at Po'okela Church in Olinda, may they rest in peace.
Fred Tavares, however, the beloved musician and steel guitar maestro, is not among them. He and his brother, Ernest, a virtuoso who played more than 20 instruments, were regulars in Harry Owens' orchestra at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the '30s. The brothers played with Owens in the popular "Hawaii Calls" program at the Moana Hotel, where, according to Paia writer Shannon Wianecki in Hana Hou, Fred's "mesmerizing steel guitar" opened each show for the first few years of its 37-year run.
When World War II broke out, the band permanently relocated on the West Coast and the Tavares brothers went with it, gaining fame in performances with the likes of Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Dean Martin and the Andrews Sisters, and appearing in several popular movies including "Gidget Goes Hawaiian." That was Fred strumming ukulele beside Elvis Presley in "Blue Hawaii."
Fred is most celebrated, though, for his work as assistant engineer with the Fender Musical Instrument Co., where he designed amplifiers with crystal-clear sound and helped create the famous "Stratocaster," among the first solid-body electric guitars. Rock stars snapped up the instrument that Eric Clapton called "as close to perfection as an electric guitar can be." Outgoing, funny, articulate, Fred "showed up for work six days a week wearing an aloha shirt and a smile."
Upon his death in 1990, he was buried at Oahu Cemetery in Honolulu, in the Mo'okini plot of his wife's family. Hawaii musical greats came to the funeral and serenaded him farewell. Kala mai i'au, Fred.
Now to my next point. Bill Tavares does not have a Chinese grandfather. True, he told me he did, and I have the notes to prove it, but what he said was in the spirit of hanai.
Tong Akana lived with the Tavares family when Bill was a child, grandfather to the 10 children his daughter Julia bore to Antone Tavares. The family lived in a fine home in Makawao that was the forerunner of the home that is now Cherie Attix's charming Hale Ho'okipa bed-and-breakfast. A Norfolk pine in the garden stems from that time.
When Julia contracted tuberculosis, Antone Tavares moved the family to Kuau, hoping the dry weather would help. After her death, Bill and his brother Carl ("He had an IQ of 140. He started the first travel school in Hawaii."), were born to Tavares' second wife, Matilda Silva, a cultivated woman educated at Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu who, as far as anybody knows, was pure Portuguese.
Are you still with me? Bill's 10 older siblings had a Chinese grandfather, but not he.
A good thing about that column is that John Harrison picked up the information about Tong Akana for a book he has written, and Effie Cameron is overseeing, celebrating the 125th anniversary of Haleakala Ranch this summer.
The ranch's P'iholo lands came from the ahupua'a Queen Emma gave Akana, also known as Akanali'ili'i, for his marriage dowry. I remember puzzling with Camille Lyons, then the ranch's secretary, over who this mysterious person was.
When Pi'iholo Plantation failed, (among other misfortunes, the ship carrying its mill to Maui sank), Akana started the East Maui Cattle Co. with W.P. Brewer, which eventually was purchased by Henry P. Baldwin and incorporated into Haleakala Ranch.
That's not all. Peter Baldwin, former ranch manager, forwarded a note to me from Robert Cup Choy, who, it turns out, is working on a history of Tong Akana. The version of his name I use is from accounts in The Maui News of his efforts at Huelo and Pi'iholo Plantations, but Cup Choy says he was born Tong Kan in China, and, a small man, named Akanali'ili'i when he arrived in Honolulu.
I'm going to have to save readers' comments for another column.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.