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people on a stage and person talking into a microphone
Paula Rath seated with a mic and the panelists in the background: from left, Ikaika Dutro, Chris Maʻafala, Cha Thompson and Brother Noland.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Center for Oral History (COH) has had a rich partnership with Palama Settlement for decades, helping to tell the stories of the influential non-profit that has been a fixture in the Kalihi-Palama community for more than 125 years.

people standing and smiling for the camera
from left, Ikaika Dutro, Chris Maʻafala, Paula Rath, Cha Thompson and Brother Noland

In September 2023, four community members recounted their history of Palama Settlement at a panel session. Brother Noland, a multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano award musician; Ikaika Dutro, a renowned kumu hula; Chris Maʻafala, a former NFL player; and Cha Thompson, Tihati Productions CEO shared their personal experiences, ancestry and time at Palama Settlement. COH Director Mary Kunmi Yu Danico moderated the event. This was the latest project that the COH took on to preserve the stories of Palama.

“The oral histories from this night highlight how critical it is to have a safe space for our youth and community folks,” Yu Danico said. “Palama Settlement was a place where you felt safe, had aloha for one another and shaped our narrators’ choices in life. The evening felt like a family reunion.”

COH, Palama Settlement partnership

people sitting on chairs in front of a crowd
Center for Oral History Director Mary Kunmi Yu Danico and Paula Rath, granddaughter of the founders of Palama Settlement seated in front of the audience.

COH first got involved in 1996 as part of Palama Settlement’s 100th anniversary with a committee chaired by Paula Rath to document and share the organization’s rich history. Together with her parents, Robert H. Rath Sr. (board of trustees), and Jacqueline J. Rath (settlement archivist), they approached then-COH Director Warren Nishimoto about doing an oral history project that ended up being two volumes published in 1998.

In 2020, COH had an online public program and podcast series in partnership with Hawaiʻi Public Radio that featured a segment using the original audio recordings from the late 1990s Palama Settlement project. Following this program, Paula Rath reached out to COH to initiate a second oral history project on Palama Settlement for its 125th anniversary in 2021.

In 2022, Palama Settlement received a grant from the Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities to do a follow-up oral history project with Paula Rath as the lead interviewer. COH Associate Director Micah Mizukami provided the oral history training and advising for Rath and others at Palama Settlement, and Rath worked closely with Landon Tom, one of COH’s graduate assistants, and Sidney Louie, the settlement archivist to bring this project together, culminating in the September 7 panel event and the creation of a new COH-sponsored, community initiated oral history project, Reflections of Palama Settlement II Oral Histories. This collection makes accessible both the transcripts and the audio recordings.

“I was excited when Paula reached out to us about a follow-up oral history project after our online public program and podcast event, and it was so touching to see the impacts of these stories in person and the amazing community that Palama Settlement has created,” Mizukami said.

Tom added, “Almost everyone we interviewed remembers Palama Settlement as a safe space, a kind of place of refuge during their youth. These oral histories show the importance of a site like Palama Settlement across generations and it couldn’t have come together without the hard work of Paula Rath and Sidney Louie.”

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