Dr. Katharine Luomala passed away on February 27, 1992. She was the folklorist at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and the person most responsible for the perpetuation of the oral traditions and folklore of these islands. Almost every student in anthropology at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa went through Dr.Luomala's course, Anthropology 269, and many came through with a profound understanding of and appreciation for folklore and storytelling.
Picture Taken at Dr. Luomala's Retirement Party at the Willows Restaurant Picture Courtesy of the Bishop Museum
Nearly everyone assumed that Dr. Luomala was of Polynesian ancestry because of her name. She would readily indicate that she was of Finnish origin, but we could see in her smile a reflection of her satisfaction at being mistaken for a Polynesian.
We undergraduates learned a lot from her. She was the only instructor that took time to write voluminous notes on the edges of our papers suggesting changes and making comments on our grammatical abstractions. She eagerly took time to talk to all her students and to encourage them continuously, even when we thought we could never measure up to her rigid expectations. Once you were her student, you were always her student, and she was there for your presentations, notebook in hand,writing comments on how to improve your next presentation.
I was well acquainted with her notebook because I was one of her students who struggled endlessly with my grammar. Dr Luomala was kind and patient, yet forceful, and she always thought of her students. After all these years, the only teacher I still emulate is Dr. Luomala. I try to be like her. What a wonderful role model she was! I had the opportunity to see her after she had retired from the University, about a year before she died. She was still the same person as ever and our discussions were about my welfare.
I remember telling her that I had developed the same Anthropology course on Legends and Myths after her original course and that I have my students collect folklore as she had required us to do. She seemed genuinely happy and in her shy manner was quite appreciative of the honor. I am glad I shared this with her. In 1976 , two former students of Dr. Luomala, Dr. Adrienne Kaeppler and Dr. Harold A. Nimmo, collected essays in honor of her. The result was a book published by the Bishop Museum entitled Directions in Pacific Traditional Literature: Essays in Honor of Katharine Luomala.
I was honored to contribute an article on the fireball motif for this book. Dr. Luomala was a giant in her field, and her presence will be sorely missed. ALOHA NUI A LOA.