“The school was opened at Punahou, July 11th, 1842, with fifteen scholars in attendance that day. During the first year there were thirty-four pupils, of whom fifteen were boarders, their ages varying from seven to twelve.”
“It was in that year (1842) that some of the pupils planted the old tamarind tree, which still stands in front of the ‘Rice Building.’” (Punahou Jubilee, 1891)
At the time of planting the tree was a seedling, about a year old. It descended from trees first brought to Hawai‘i in 1797 that were planted by Don Francisco de Paula Marin in Pauoa Valley. The species quickly became a favorite of early settlers and was planted on many old homesteads. (Punahou)
The tamarind tree is the oldest living object on the Punahou School campus. In those days, morning and evening student work supplied the school with corn and vegetables for the table. (Punahou)
“In the old time there was hardly less sunshine in the life at Punahou than at present. Nor was moral culture given in those times to the neglect of physical training.”
“The pupils were taught to labor; and their work brought good returns. Sometimes the labor was irksome; and boylike some of them would exclaim of the institution ‘Punahou-hoe-hoe.’”
“Sometimes the fruit produced was too carefully kept; and the refrain was ‘Bananas rot, which I have not.’ While the mission were obliged to practice strict economy, and were hardly able to bear the expense of starting the school, there were not the means to teach the manual arts, as there are hardly now the requisite means for such a purpose.” (Punahou Jubilee, 1891)
In 1941, Punahou prepared for its first centennial celebration; a Centennial Committee was formed. Great Great Granddaughter of Hiram and Sybil Bingham, Lydia Sutherland (my mother,) a graduate of the 1941 centennial class, served as the Student Chairman of the Centennial Committee.
“One hundred years ago a hot and tired woman, Sybil Bingham, bent under an unrelenting sun to pick up stones and pile them on a wall. She was doing her share of the work on a school for her children and the children of her fellow missionaries to the Sandwich Islands.”
“The whole story of the past century carries with it a message which we can take to heart. Faith attended the beginning of Punahou, faith that through knowledge might come understanding and from understanding a finer life. That same faith has led Punahou through the years, guiding its development, expansion and activity.” (The Friend, June 1, 1941)
“The occasion demands, however, a double vision. One looks backward over the past and gathers up the history of what has happened. To this man responds by honoring those who have labored so meritoriously and by giving heed to the lessons of success and failure experience teaches.”
“The other vision looks forward. It peers into the dark and unknown future, building into it a pathway upon which human beings may tread. Quite wisely have Punahou’s leaders looked both ways.” (The Friend, June 1, 1941)
“One Hundred Years, the Story of an Era, as this centennial pageant has been named, will be presented on a massive stage 175 feet long and 50 feet deep, which will he built on Alexander Field at Punahou School.” (The Friend, June 1, 1941)
One centennial event was in memory (and recognition of) the school’s tamarind tree – the Tamarind Derby, a centennial event that paid homage to the tamarind tree.
The Tamarind Derby was a gardening contest. It featured seedlings from the great tree that were distributed to Centennial attendees. Planted throughout O‘ahu, the seedlings were to be later measured to see who had grown the largest tree in one year’s time. (Punahou74)
The elementary children then brought out the year-old tamarind seedlings and placed them on the former Bingham Hall (1883 – 1959) lanai for sale while tamarind punch was served. (Punahou)
Those who bought the trees also bought the opportunity to compete in the “Tamarind Derby Race.” Entry was guaranteed for each registered seedling planted on the island of Oahu before July 31.
Annual tree inspections would be held for five years and prizes awarded to both the purchaser and the school’s Living Endowment fund for the best trees. A final inspection would be held in 1951 with $2,500 paid to Living Endowment in the name of the owner the winning tree.
But no derby winners would ever be named. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 more pressing matters came to occupy the minds of Hawai‘i’s people. (Punahou)
The derby was called off. On September 1, 1942 Dr. Shepard wrote to all derby entrants: “At the Centennial Celebration you kindly purchased a tamarind tree which was registered for the Tamarind Derby.”
“One of the conditions of the competition was that a written report be filed at the Punahou School office between May 1 and June 30, 1942, stating that the tree was ready for inspection. Since no one filed such report and since war conditions hinder or interfere so much with inspections, it has been decided to call off the race.”
“While we regret this necessity, we are pleased to announce that the Steward of the Race (Walter F. Dillingham) is contributing funds in addition to the $265.00 realized from the sale of trees to purchase $1,500.00 in War Bonds to be credited to the Scholarship Fund of Punahou School. We hope that this provision will be satisfactory to all who entered the Race.” (Punahou)
Punahou was quickly converted to wartime service. Immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, because a follow-on air attack was considered possible, Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu district engineer Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Wyman Jr moved his office from the Alexander Young Hotel to a preselected, less conspicuous location: the Tuna Packer’s Cannery at Kewalo Basin.
Realizing the vulnerability of the cannery, the district engineer sought a new headquarters location away from the coast. Faced
with the district’s increased construction work load, he needed a facility where he could immediately resume engineering operations.
The commanding general of the U.S. Army assumed the role of military governor. Shortly after midnight, only 18 hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, Wyman moved his headquarters to Punahou School.
A library room became the district engineer’s office; the reading room, the administrative office; the cleared book area was converted to sleeping spaces; and the basement became a temporary officers’ mess. The remaining district officers were set up in other buildings on campus. (Fitzgerald; HJH)
About two weeks after the attack, the small Pleasanton Hotel, across Punahou Street from the school, was rented to provide a larger mess and accommodations for military families prior to their evacuation to the Mainland. (Fitzgerald; HJH)
The tamarind tree still stands on the Punahou Campus, between Alexander Hall and Mamiya Science Center. (Punahou)