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“Kulolo,” Friend, Aug.–Sept. 1983, 42


Sitting on the steps of the weathered frame house, Pualani added a seashell to the strand she was stringing. She spoke to the dog stretched out in the shade of the trumpet vine that climbed over the porch. “This will be the most beautiful collar I’ve ever made, Kulolo.” Measuring the collar around his neck, Pualani murmured, “It fits.”

“Lani,” her father appeared in the doorway—“I’m taking a load of pineapples to the cannery.” He stopped and frowned, then grumbled, “Always wasting time on that no-good mongrel.”

“I don’t care if he’s a mongrel, Papa.” Pualani gently scratched the back of her pet’s ear.

Swinging his long tail back and forth, the dog looked up into the girl’s face.

“See, Papa!” exclaimed Pualani with delight. “His eyes talk to me, and his tail is smiling.”

Her father shrugged his strong, broad shoulders. “Once a tramp dog, always a tramp dog.”

That’s what Mama said the day I brought Kulolo home, thought Pualani. She remembered how Mama had stared at the scruffy dog.

“This is the ilio (dog) you want to keep, Lani?”

Mama’s dark eyes had narrowed as she took stock of the dog—floppy ears, long tail, spindly legs that buckled at the knobby joints when the trembling creature shifted his weight. “Auwe (oh, dear)! So skinny!”

“I want to keep him, Mama,” Pualani had pleaded, her words tumbling out. “I want him for my own. I’ll call him Kulolo, and I’ll get him a collar—leather, maybe.”

“Leather collars cost money,” her mother had declared firmly. “Papa’s wages must be spent on food and clothing. But a few scraps of food we can spare if it means so much to you. But don’t get all huhu (upset) when he wanders away. And he will, as sure as he’s a tramp dog.”

That was months ago, thought Pualani, and Kulolo has never strayed far from our house. She tied the seashells around the dog’s neck.

For a moment her father studied her in silence. “Lani”—he paused to clear his throat the way he always did when broaching an unpleasant subject—“yesterday the mayor said that there are too many stray dogs on the island. From now on every dog must have a license. Licenses cost money, Lani.”

“I’ll earn it,” Pualani said. “Everyone trusts me with their children, Papa.”

“Plantation workers can’t afford to pay you.”

“A job at the cannery, then.”

“You’re too young.” Papa’s shoulders slumped. “Try to understand, Lani.”

Pualani felt a cold numbness creeping through her body, but she forced herself to ask, “What will become of him?”

Again her father cleared his throat. “If nobody pays his fee, they’ll destroy him. Painlessly,” he added quickly.

The following morning, news of the threat to Kulolo traveled among the neighbor children. Keoni, Manuela, Satoshi, Ana, and little Joe all came, determined to save Kulolo.

Manuela said, “My father told me that a license costs five dollars. Maybe if we put our money together, we’ll have enough to buy one.”

Manuela counted their money, then shook his head glumly. “Three dollars and twenty-eight cents.”

Keoni broke the silence that settled over the group. “Maybe we could keep Kulolo from running loose until we can earn enough money. But where could we keep him?”

Ana piped up, “At the end of the island there are some caves in the cliff above the tide line. We could build a fence across the entrance to one of them and keep him there.”

Pualani nodded. “I’ve been there with Kulolo. He likes to run out on the reef and sniff the coral heads.”

“There’s no school tomorrow,” little Joe reminded them. “Let’s take Kulolo then.”

“All right,” everyone agreed, “tomorrow.”

Manuela planned aloud: “Everybody should bring something—some food for Kulolo and old pineapple crates, tools, and nails for building the fence.”

Late the following morning they started out. When they reached the seashore, they cooled their hot, tired feet in the white ruffled edges of the waves. Soon they reached the far end of the island. Trudging along the winding seaside road, little Joe pointed to the wind-lashed trees. “Why is it so blowy and so noisy?”

“There’s always a wind whistling through the trees here, and it makes the sea rough and noisy.”

Soon the children could communicate only by shouts and gestures. Clambering up the craggy rise, they followed Pualani into one of the caves.

Soon the cave echoed with the staccato beat of hammers. The children were so busy that they failed to notice Kulolo’s running back and forth between them and the edge of the cliff. Finally, when he nuzzled Pualani’s hand, looked up into her face, and whimpered, Pualani called to the others. “Kulolo’s bored. I’ll take him for a run on the reef now.”

Outside the cave Kulolo leaped down the craggy cliff and bounded toward the shore road. Then he raced back and leaped against Pualani. Turning, he again bounded toward the road. Near the shore he stopped and barked frantically. Never had Kulolo acted so strangely. As Pualani picked her way over the jagged rocks toward him, he ran along the shore road, then stopped and waited for her to follow.

When she reached the road, Pualani heard it—the tsunami (tidal wave) siren! A terrible fear gripped her. Her fear turned to horror as she remembered that the other children couldn’t hear the tsunami warning.

“Kulolo!” she cried. “Go home!”

Kulolo hesitated only an instant. Then he took off. He was still picking up speed as he rounded the bend in the road.

Stumbling, slipping, Pualani made her way back over the rough terrain and flung herself into the cave. “Tsunami!” she cried.

The children had heard tales of monstrous tidal waves that could travel over four hundred miles an hour, rise fifty feet into the air, and suck everything into the sea. Paralyzed with fear, they stared at Pualani.

Frantically Pualani roused them to action. “Manuela, you’re strong enough to carry little Joe when he tires. Come on. Let’s go.”

Too frightened to cry, the children scrambled down the cliff and made their way toward the road. Half-carrying Ana, and tugging Satoshi by the hand, Pualani urged them on. Suddenly Satoshi clutched her arm. “Why is it so spooky, Lani?”

A dead calm had settled over everything. The frothing white foam had disappeared from the lifeless sea. Only the distant wailing of the siren broke the silence.

“There’s no high ground around here,” Keoni spluttered, “and we don’t know how long the siren has been sounding.”

“We have to stay on the shore road,” Pualani said. “That’s where the searchers will look for us first.”

Pualani urged the weary band along the twisting road. Slowly she became aware of a pounding, pulsating sound. Is it the tsunami? she wondered, knowing they could not escape if it was. The noise grew closer and louder. Then the plantation truck labored into view! In front of it ran Kulolo, panting heavily.

Papa slammed on the brakes and leaped from the cab to hoist the children—and Kulolo—into the truck. Within seconds they were headed back down the road.

Pualani’s father was grimly silent as he swerved to avoid the deep ruts in the tortuous road.

Ana’s voice rose above the clatter of the truck. “Where’s the sea going?”

The sea, now dark and murky, was drawing away from the land.

Pualani’s father took one glance at the awesome sight and jammed the accelerator to the floor as he shouted, “Hang on!”

The shore road lay perilously close to the beach. They had to reach—and climb—the dirt road that wound through the pineapple fields up to the plantation.

“Almost to the dirt road!” Father shouted.

Two minutes more. One minute. With a screech the truck swung sharply from the shore road and started its climb toward safety.

A cry of relief rose from the islanders who had flocked to the plantation. While parents rushed to their children, a murmur rippled through the crowd. Trembling fingers pointed toward the horizon, where a dark strip approached. It grew into a towering, raging, thundering wall of water rushing at them.

When it struck, a shudder shook the whole island. Fierce white foam licked at the lower slopes of the plantation. With a great roar, the wave receded, carrying with it trees, shelters, boats, and docks. Again and again it struck, but with less strength each time. As the wave slowly sank into the sea, it left behind huge mounds of dredged-up sand, and torn-up plants and buildings and boats.

For a long time no one spoke. Then Pualani’s father broke the silence. “Let us thank Heavenly Father that there has been no loss of life.”

That evening Papa told Pualani, “Our neighbors have given us the money for a license for Kulolo. He isn’t a tramp dog anymore. You must make him a sturdy collar, Lani, so that he will never lose it.”

Pualani smiled. “I will, Papa,” she said.

Illustrated by Larry Winborg