“Obon in the Gardens” at Lili`uokalani Gardens

Keith Haugen will speak on the background and history of obon traditions during Sunday’s 5/28 “Obon in the Gardens.” The event is sponsored by Friends of Lili`uokalani Gardens from 1 to 4 p.m. in the small parking lot near Shoroan, the Urasenke tea house in Lili`uokalani Gardens.

Haugen was a teenage soldier stationed in Japan in the 1950s. He recalls “donning a yukata, tying a tenugui around my head, and learning to dance the Tanko Bushi. Nobody seemed to mind that I was a foreigner or that my ancestral home was in Norway.

“Thousands of miles away, on the island of Maui, my future wife was learning the same song in the multi-cultural community where she was born and raised. Residents of Hawaii, just like the residents of Japan, take the summer obon dances for granted. But where did they originate, and why? What are all those folk songs used year after year?”

Keith wrote and produced an obon special for Hawaii Public Radio more than10 years ago dealing with the background, meaning, and history of obon dances. His continuing presentations state-wide are in demand.

“Obon began as a Buddhist tradition and evolved into a cultural and community event now held annually all over Japan, in Hawai`i, California, Canada, South America, and other places Japanese settled.

“There are perhaps more than a thousand of these traditional Japanese folk songs, called minyo. About 100 of them are extremely popular and have been since the 1800s,” Haugen explained. “There are songs about fishing and seagulls; pretty girls and flowers; even pride in great liquor stores. Some tell of rice and herbs, the moon and winds, and of men riding logs down the river. Others tell of drinking sake, and of courtship.”

Born in Minnesota and resident in Hawaii since 1968, Keith recently taught Hawaiian language and music at Star of the Sea School in Honolulu.

“My earlier education was in journalism and I worked for many years as a writer/reporter, editor, columnist, photographer, bureau chief at several daily newspapers including the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (1968-77), where I was State Editor when I was appointed by Gov. George Ariyoshi to be State Director of Information. For more than 10 years, I doubled as a lecturer and instructor, teaching Hawaiian music and language night classes at the UH College of Continuing Education, now called UH Outreach College.

“For most of my adult life, I maintained a second career as an entertainer, songwriter, recording artist, and record producer, radio producer and host. My wife Carmen and I performed together in Waikiki and all over the world for nearly 40 years.”

Keith and Carmen are familiar to HPR listeners as the hosts of Music of Hawai`i. Keith was the creator of Ke Aolama, the first Hawaiian language newscast on radio, and the Hawaiian Word of the Day.

For further information on Obon in the Gardens and other centennial events, please refer to the Friends of Lili`uokalani Gardens page on Facebook.

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