2018 Living Treasures of Hawaii to Be Honored at 43rd Annual Program

NEWS RELEASE – for immediate release
January 21, 2018

Contact: Derrick Inouye 808-522-9200, dinouye@honpahi.org


HONOLULU, Hawaii – Masters in the ancient art of Native Hawaiian weaponry and the martial arts, to a teacher who turned her passion for Korean dance into preserving the culture, to a specialist perpetuating the culture through language. These are just some of the five individuals who have been chosen as this year’s Living Treasures of Hawaii and demonstrate excellence and high standards of achievement in their particular fields.

The 43rd Living Treasures of Hawaii Recognition Program and Gala Luncheon will be held on Saturday, February 10, 2018, 11 a.m. in the Coral Ballroom at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.

The “Living Treasures of Hawaii” program was created by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii in 1976, inspired by the Living National Treasures of Japan. Bishop Yoshiaki Fujitani started the program at the suggestion of the late Paul Yamanaka, a local insurance executive, who wanted to honor those unique to the islands who give unselfishly of themselves and continue to make a significant contribution towards enriching our society.

The following individuals have been chosen as the 2018 Living Treasurers of Hawaii:


Mitchell EliDr. Mitchell Eli has devoted his life to perpetuating and preserving the heritage of the Hawaiian culture as a master of the arts, medicine, and ancestral health practices. Having earned the title of Olohe, or Master, of the Hawaiian martial art of lua, Dr. Eli has helped develop a new generation of leaders by stressing the development of character and leadership through the values of discipline and self-defense. In this ancient practice and through his Hawaiian martial arts school Pa Kui a Holo, the emphasis is on peace, rather than aggression. In addition to his cultural expertise, Dr. Eli is a highly trained and experienced chiropractor whose healing hands have helped many patients achieve harmony, balance and well-being. Dr. Eli continues to educate others on traditional Hawaiian culture as a member of the non-profit Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts (RHATA), and as an author, consultant and mentor.


Mary Jo FreshleyFor more than 50 years, Mary Jo Freshly has dedicated her life to the preservation, nurturing and promotion of Korean culture through her teaching of traditional Korean dance. Her love of dance was always present in her life, even while teaching health and physical education at the Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, where she integrated dance into the curriculum to share the diverse cultures of Hawaii. Mary Jo began studying Korean dance at the Halla Huhm Dance Studio and after Huhm’s passing, became the primary teacher and eventually the director. Mary Jo founded the Halla Huhm Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports activities relating to Korean culture. She is credited with cultivating and maintaining the archives for the studio to preserve the history of Halla Huhm. At 83 years of age, and despite the fact that she is not of Korean ancestry, Mary Jo Freshley continues to be a living resource of traditional Korean dance as an active participant in cultural and artistic activities locally and as a volunteer director and teacher.


Hailama FardenAmong his many contributions to preserving and perpetuating Hawaiian culture, Hailama Farden, is most recognized and respected as one of Hawaii’s leading language and cultural resources. Hailama is often consulted as a name giver, a culturally significant gift that is bestowed upon people in traditional Hawaiian practice. His assistance is sought after for cultural advice and translation, names of community developments, buildings, recording projects, and musical group names. Besides being a traditional name giver, he is also called upon as a wailer for funerals. It is considered an honor to be asked to deliver this type of chant and Hailama has presented this very distinct style of oli for Hawaii royalty, former Presidents and numerous respected Hawaiian elders. He is also called on to be a Hawaiian language, chant and music judge for hula competitions both in Hawaii and Japan. In these various roles, including his civic and leadership contributions, Hailama continues a strong personal commitment to the vibrancy of the Hawaiian language and culture.


Gordon "Umi" KaiIn the more than 40 years that Gordon Umialiloalahanauokalakaua Kai has been crafting Hawaiian weapons, Umi, as he is known to friends, has become one of the world’s foremost practitioners in the art of traditional na mea kaua (things of war). More than just shaping weapons, to Umi, it is a way to connect to life and cultural identity. As an Olohe (Master) he serves as a cultural advisor and mentor through his practice of the ancient Hawaiian art of lua. In an effort to cultivate more Hawaiian men to become leaders in their families and communities, Umi co-founded the non-profit organization, Aha Kane, where he is able to share his expertise in both Hawaiian artifacts and discipline of lua. He is sought after throughout the state for his knowledge as a cultural practitioner and for his generosity in sharing his skills as a master artisan. Whether it is through the making of weapons or in the lessons of lua, Umi continues to transform the younger generation by instilling pride while preserving the Hawaiian culture.


Takejiro HigaAt the age of 17, Takejiro Higa was one of the youngest Nisei Military Intelligence Service (MIS) team soldiers in the Pacific theater during World War II. Although he never fired a shot while serving in the MIS, he is credited with saving as many as 3,000 lives by using his language skills to persuade Okinawan civilians to retreat from the caves rather than be killed by explosives or commit suicide. Takejiro’s MIS Nisei Team gathered, translated, and interpreted all forms of Japanese intelligence that were used to enhance combat strategy and tactics which helped save many American lives during the war. Takejiro’s story and extensive work with the MIS was unknown to many until about ten years ago when it finally became declassified. Takejiro received the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal on December 17, 2011 as a MIS member, along with members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. With his remarkable memory and his unique role in history, Takejiro contributed the story of the MIS to the Center for Oral History, Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii. He also contributed to The Hawaii Nisei Story – American of Japanese Ancestry During World War II by the Hawaii Nisei Project produced by the University of Hawaii. After the war, Takejiro graduated from the UH and served with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax examiner. Even at 94 years old, he continued to serve the community as a volunteer for Hui Makaala, as a public speaker at schools, and with the Jikoen Buddhist Temple as a former president and advisory of the Board of Directors. Takejiro Higa passed away on October 7, 2017, but his role in history and contributions to preserve and share the story and legacy of the MIS will always be remembered.

For more information on Living Treasures of Hawaii, please visit https://hongwanjihawaii.com/living-treasures.

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