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For the Best Years of Our Lives

Mary Ann Lim | By Catherine Tarleton


unty Mary Ann Lim piles out of her Honda CR-V and hands me her ‘ukulele as she gathers up two fragrant puakenikeni lei and a spritzer bottle. Hair perfect, white mu‘umu‘u, Tahitian pearl, lavender jade and Hawaiian bracelets jingling, she clips on shell earrings, finds her lipstick, and adds color to the flashing smile that completes her look. Once inside, seated in the open atrium at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, with late afternoon sun streaming across the ocean-blue tile, she spritzes the lei and places it around her neck, folds the other back into a kitchen towel. “It’s sad if you have flowers and don’t use them,” she says. She picked the flowers this morning, after weeding the garden a while, tossing in some laundry and making breakfast for her granddaughter. She’ll give the second lei to Halani Berard when she arrives, completing the musical duo they laughingly call the Golden Girls, who serenade guests three nights a week. | May–June 2016

Puakenikeni Lei and the hands that created it.

“My dad taught me to play,” Mary Ann says. “I think I still play like him. Simple, simple. Sonny scolds me. I just like the way it was.” Her musical laugh says she is teasing about her son Sonny Lim, award-winning Hawaiian musician and slack key artist. Sonny’s sisters are Charmaine Davis, and Nā Kumu Hula Nani Lim Yap, Lorna Lim, and Leialoha Amina. As matriarch of the legendary Lim Family, Mary Ann’s ‘ohana includes Merrie Monarch champions, winners of Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, songwriters, singers, dancers, kumu hula, and more. Grandson Manaola Yap is an up-and-coming fashion designer in demand. A busy family with widespread branches, the Lim’s are deeply rooted in Kohala, where mother Mary Ann’s genealogy reaches back to Hawaiian ali‘i. Mary Ann Neulu was born in her grandparents’ home in Hawi Homestead March 23, 1936. “All my mother’s sisters went to their parents home to give birth,” she says. “They had a midwife who helped.” Her father, William Neulu, worked for Niuli‘i Mill, eventually Kohala Sugar. “Neulu is an old name,” says Mary Ann. “You can’t find it today. Neulu was one of the ruling chiefs of Hawai‘i—from the line of ‘Umi, chief of Waipi‘o.” Her parents and grandparents would speak Hawaiian at home. “I heard it all,” says Mary Ann. “They could speak but they couldn’t teach us. I can understand, but can’t speak it, only a very little.” Until the Hawaiian Renaissance era, schools suppressed teaching Hawaiian language, and other elements of culture. Thankfully, interest was revived in the 1970s. Life in Niuli‘i and other communities revolved around the sugar cane industry. Before Mary Ann was born, there were seven


May–June 2016  
May–June 2016