The Long Blue Line: Hawaiian keepers of the light

This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.

Written by William H. Thiesen
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian

Photo of Kilauea Point Lighthouse where Samuel Amalu served for 10 years. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

Photo of Kilauea Point Lighthouse where Samuel Amalu served for 10 years. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

In 1898, the same year the United States triumphed in the Spanish-American War, Congress passed legislation annexing the Hawaiian Islands. This act solidified Hawaii as an outpost for American commerce and the U.S. military. The new territory proved a source for outstanding U.S. Lighthouse Service lighthouse keepers, many of whom were native Hawaiians. Among others, native-born keepers included William Aalona, Isaac Kalua, Frederick Nihoa, John Kaukaliu, Edward Moealoha, John Kanekoa, Charles Akana, and David Kahaunaele; and locally famous keepers Samuel Amalu and Manuel Ferreira.

Photograph of keeper Samuel Amalu scanning the horizon from one of his many lighthouses. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

Photograph of keeper Samuel Amalu scanning the horizon from one of his many lighthouses. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

A service trailblazer, Samuel Amalu set the standard for fellow lighthouse keepers. Amalu joined the Lighthouse Service in 1906 and, in 1915, he became keeper of the famous Kilauea Point Lighthouse. Built two years earlier, the Kilauea Light is the northernmost lighthouse in Hawaii and was the last manned light in the Hawaiian Islands. Kilauea guided the first transatlantic aviators to the islands in 1927, and was the first American lighthouse to incorporate a radio beacon. Amalu had the longest tenure of any keeper at Kilauea serving there for 10 years. Back then, the Lighthouse Service Commissioner awarded efficiency pennants to the best kept station in each district and Amalu earned one at Kilauea for the years 1920, 1921 and 1923. In a newspaper interview, Amalu claimed that a “lighthouse keeper is a good job. I’m my own boss. A lighthouse keeper is master of all trades. He works with pick and shovel in the garden. He is a machinist to keep the timing mechanism of the light going. And he is a carpenter, painter, and engineer.”

A 1934 aerial photograph of the brand new Barber’s Point Lighthouse, where Samuel Amalu served from 1929 until he retired in 1941. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

A 1934 aerial photograph of the brand new Barber’s Point Lighthouse, where Samuel Amalu served from 1929 until he retired in 1941. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

Already renowned as Hawaii’s dean of lighthouse keepers, Amalu oversaw Oahu’s Barber’s Point Light twice. The second time, he served from 1929 to 1941 and, in 1933, saw a new tower erected and modern electrical generators installed. The next year, the Lighthouse Service Commissioner awarded Amalu the efficiency pennant due to “the fact that during this period his wife was critically ill, being confined to her bed by an incurable illness which culminated in her death in the latter part of the year. Also Barbers Point Light Station was made a one-keeper station on Jan. 18, 1934, and the station is located on a large reservation. The efficient rendering of his duties under all these conditions by keeper Amalu is worthy of the highest praise.” In 1941, having served more than 30 years (13 of them at Barber’s Point), Amalu retired from the Coast Guard, which had absorbed the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1939.

Manuel Ferreira and his family in 1926. Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Digest.

Manuel Ferreira and his family in 1926. Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Digest.

Manuel Ferreira was born on the island of Maui in 1885 and began his career with the Lighthouse Service in 1908. In 1919, he rescued the crew of a Japanese trawler that ran aground near the Barber’s Point Light. In 1923, he helped save the schooner Bianca and its crew after the ship lost its sails and drifted onto a reef. Ferreira was unable to launch his skiff due to heavy surf, so he sprinted three miles to the nearest telephone and called for help. A U.S. warship reached the wallowing schooner in time to tow it off the reef and out of danger.

Known as one of the grand old men of Hawaiian lighthouse lore, Ferreira served as the keeper of seven Hawaiian lighthouses, including Ka’uiki Head Lighthouse on the island of Maui and Moloka’i Lighthouse on Moloka’i. He also served as the keeper of Makapu’u Light on Oahu from 1929 to 1942. In 1941, after a dozen years as Makapu’u’s keeper, the Coast Guard officer overseeing lighthouse operations in Hawaii wrote, “Mr. Ferreira has had the reputation of being one of the best lighthouse keepers in the Honolulu district during the past 20 years.” Ferreira retired in 1946 after serving nearly 30 years as a lighthouse keeper.

The Moloka’i Lighthouse, one of seven lights that Manuel Ferreira kept during his nearly 30- year career. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

The Moloka’i Lighthouse, one of seven lights that Manuel Ferreira kept during his nearly 30- year career. U.S. Coast Guard collection.

Travelers visiting Hawaii admire the beauty of the state’s lighthouses and their picturesque surroundings. However, these structures are hollow reflections of the native Hawaiians who stood the watch through good times and bad. As members of the long blue line, they helped build the history and heritage of the United States Coast Guard.

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