Stories Of Kaua’i And Its People

‘People are more fascinating than they think they are,’ which helps explain the popularity of Pamela Varma Brown’s new book and ‘talk story’ sessions

When Pamela Varma Brown first conceptualized writing a book filled with personal stories of Kaua’i, she wasn’t sure how to find people whose own experiences would encapsulate the island’s warmth, diversity and distinct character. “But things unfolded magically,” she says.

The result is Kaua’i Stories: Life on the Garden Island as Told By Kaua’i’s People, a collection of 50 joyful, humorous and inspirational stories that capture the spirit of our island. Residents share candidly and colorfully their experiences of growing up in sugar plantation camps; playing in the ocean; keeping Hawaiian traditions alive including hula, slack key guitar, quilt-making and salt-making; and sailing aboard the Hokulea, navigating only by the stars, the moon, the sun and waves as ancient Polynesians did 1,500 years ago. There’s even a humorous chicken chapter, complete with “chicken nuggets.”

“People are more fascinating than they think they are,” says Brown, who has lived on the Garden Isle for 25 years. “When I hear great stories, I love being able to share them to show everyone how inspiring people can be just by being ourselves and following our passions.”

Following her own passion is what spurred Brown to create Kaua’i Stories. While boxing up three years’ worth of issues of Kaua’i People, a weekly feature newspaper that she edited before it was replaced in 2010 by MidWeek Kaua’i (to which she also has contributed), Brown had an epiphany.

“When I was looking through those old issues, I felt as if all the stories were coming alive again,” Brown says. “I wondered how I could share stories of Kaua’i but in a long-lasting format. That’s how the book Kaua’i Stories was born.”

She knew she wanted to start with Kaua’i’s World War II veterans, but didn’t know how to find one. A chance encounter with the 23rd annual Old Soldier’s Reunion of Hawaii, which was being held at a Kapaa hotel where Brown was attending an unrelated business luncheon, led her to the first of four WWII veterans who now are included in Kaua’i Stories. Soon after, the coconut wireless lit up with people wanting to tell their stories.

Since January, Kaua’i Museum has hosted “talk story” events with people featured in Kaua’i Stories with Brown facilitating conversations in front of live audiences. The format has allowed touching moments.

A recent “musical talk story” featuring slack key guitar masters Hal Kinnaman and Paul Togioka gave the two musicians the opportunity to publicly and unexpectedly honor one another – Kinnaman for being Togioka’s teacher, and Togioka for taking slack key to new heights.

“They spoke and played from their hearts because it was unscripted, and the audience loved them both for it,” Brown says.

Brown’s next talk story at the museum Oct. 5 will be with Hokulea crewmembers Dennis Chun and Keala Kai, “both chicken-skin storytellers.”

Brown now is working on Kaua’i Stories 2, and currently is accepting stories from the public. She specifically is seeking humorous anecdotes about people’s experiences with “island cars.”

Kaua’i Stories is available islandwide in paperback and on in e-book. For more information, visit