As our summer comes to a close, I look back to one of the highlights of this summer – attending the annual kumiai picnic from my childhood neighborhood. Growing up, I looked forward to the picnic and hanging out with all the other keiki in the neighborhood. This summer, I brought along my husband and daughter. Many of my childhood friends have moved away or no longer attend the kumiai picnic, but their parents still attend and are the glue that holds the kumiai together.
All these years, I always assumed kumiai was a Hawaiian word that meant neighborhood. But it was pointed out to me that it is a Japanese word used primarily on Hawai’i Island. It stems from the plantation period when the community would pull their resources together especially for a funeral or when a family needed help. Now that I think about it, I remember the assigned representative of our street stopping by to let us know when someone from the neighborhood had passed and informing us about the funeral service.
Chatting with a few other folks who grew up in Hilo, they remember how the kumiais would get together for a friendly game of softball. Many other neighborhoods are dismantling their kumiai association primarily because the members are getting older and can no longer continue the momentum of planning their gatherings or the original owners have moved away.
At our annual picnic, neighborhood updates are shared, but it is a time for everyone to catch up with one another over a delicious lunch. With our busy lives, we wave and drive past one another, and don’t find the time to chat with one another like we once did a decade ago. One of the traditions of our kumiai picinic is the fun-filled BINGO. After a couple hours of playing various versions of bingo, everyone went home with oodles of prizes. Hearing the keiki as well as the kūpuna shout out “BINGO!” reminds me how as a keiki we would want to be the first to yell out and run to the front to grab our prize. This tradition still remains and will be passed down to the future generations. Let’s hope this kumiai association holds strong.