Patience Elmay Namakauahoaokawenaulaokalaniikikikalaninui Wiggin Bacon (1920-2021) was a living connection to old Hawaiʻi, a repository of knowledge about Hawaiian hula, language, culture and history.
Born Feb. 10, 1920, in Waimea, Kauai, Aunty Pat, who was of Japanese ancestry, lost her mother from complications of childbirth. She was brought to Honolulu and adopted at 8 weeks by Henry and Pa’ahana Wiggin, whom she would consider her grandparents because their daughter, Mary Kawena Pukui, became her hānai mother.
Aunty Pat learned her first hula at age 4. By age 14, in 1934, she would begin formal training with Keahi Luahine, who had been a court dancer for King David Kalakaua and later for Queen Lili‘uokalani. She would later train under hula master Joseph Ilalaole.
Mother and daughter seemed to be inseparable, a team that studied hula and culture together. Pukui, a revered authority on Hawaiian language, is said to have conducted her research with the girl by her side.
Working quietly, often in the background, Aunty Pat helped Pukui produce her classic works including “Hawaiian Dictionary, Hawaiian-English, English Hawaiian,” written with Samuel H. Elbert; “Place Names of Hawaii,” written with Elbert and Esther T. Mookini; and “Olelo Noeau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Political Sayings.”
Seated for hours in her tiny office at the Bishop Museum, Aunty Pat transcribed and translated into English hundreds of oral histories that Pukui had recorded of elderly Hawaiians describing their lives in late 19th and early 20th century Hawaii.
“Without Aunty Pat Bacon, there would have been no Kawena Pukui; they were so important and helpful to each other,” said Napoka.
She spent countless hours listening to oral histories on scores of audiotapes, transcribing and translating the recordings into Hawaiian and English manuscripts that were to be made available to the public. During an interview with the Honolulu Advertiser in 2005, Aunty Pat said there were hundreds more to transcribe. “What I’m doing, I will never finish,” she said. “I’m just scratching the surface.”
The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii named Aunty Pat one of its Living Treasures of Hawaii in 2004, and in 2017 her contributions to hula were honored when she was selected as one of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ inaugural Na Mamo Makamae o Ka Po‘e Hawai‘i: Living Treasures of the Hawaiian People.
The Bishop Museum in 2005 recognized Aunty Pat with the Robert J. Pfeiffer Medal for her dedication to the advancement of Hawaii’s cultural heritage. She retired from the museum in 2010.
Aunty Pat lived a full life and passed away on January 23rd of this year. She exemplifies the validity in our ancestors’ practice of hānai, which precedes the colonial idea of defining kanaka as “Hawaiian'' through blood quantum. Though her biological parents may not have been defined in this, Aunty Pat’s contributions to our culture alongside her hānai mother is an important milestone that we recognize here today.