The legacy of a Hawaiian language protector lives on in Bishop Museum archives

Updated: May. 9, 2021 at 6:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every Mother’s Day is a chance to remember how important moms are.

A mother’s love transcends all barriers, including ethnicity. That was especially prevalent for one notable Hawaii family who took in a Japanese orphan and raised her with Hawaiian values.

Stored in the Archives Department of Bishop Museum, the work of Patience Namaka Wiggin Bacon lives on. She was known to so many simply as ‘Aunty Pat’.

Those who knew her said her outward physical appearance didn’t exactly match her wise and spunky personality.

“She looked like this little ole Japanese lady, but she was a lot more worldly than that,” Bishop Museum Archives Department Historian DeSoto Brown said.

Brown worked alongside Aunty Pat for many years at the museum.

“She could be very funny. She could be stern. I remember saying something to her once and she gave me the most severe stink eye look I think I could ever remember having in my life,” Brown said.

Japanese by blood – but Hawaiian by Heart, Aunty Pat was a living capsule of cultural knowledge.

She was often revered as a beloved protector of ‘Olelo Hawai’i. She invested countless hours to logging and translating rare audio clips from the early days of modern Hawai’i.

She died earlier this year at the age of 100. But it was her upbringing that showed how a mother’s true love can shape an entire life.

“She was torn between Hawaiian-ness and Japanese-ness. She had no connection to Japanese culture because she wasn’t raised that way,” Brown said.

Many often questioned how a Japanese woman became so rich with Hawaiian knowledge.

“If somebody didn’t know who her family was and how she’d been raised, they could be critical of her, like ‘What do you know? You’re just some Japanese lady. What do you know about Hawaiian culture?’ So that was something that was always present for her, I know, that she did have to deal with,” Brown added.

She was born on Kaua’i in 1920. Her biological mother died shortly after childbirth and she was brought to Oahu and adopted by Pa’ahana Wiggin.

Wiggin’s other daughter, Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Puku’i, would later play the role of her hanai mother, raising Aunty Pat as if she were her own.

It was through Puku’i that Aunty Pat learned Hawaiian values, the language – and of course, Hula. She often avoided the spotlight herself, but was a frequent judge at Merrie Monarch and other competitions, adhering to her very high standards.

“She was very strict. She was not an easy judge,” Brown said. “She said she never gave a perfect score because she never saw a perfect dance. So she was one of the strict judges.”

Throughout her life, she was selective in sharing knowledge with the right people. But its because of her Hanai mother’s love and life lessons that a valuable link to Hawaii’s past exists today.

“Its there. Even though I can’t quantify it for you, I know its there,” Brown said.

In addition to her decades of work at the museum, Aunty Pat also served on a language and cultural preservation committee with the University of Hawaii. To this day, her work continues to shape the Hawaiian Language Curriculum at UH.

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