'From Alone to Aloha': Poulsbo author writes about journey from abandonment and abuse to healing and joy

Sonia Lien at age 8, and today. - Sonia Lien
Sonia Lien at age 8, and today.
— image credit: Sonia Lien

POULSBO — “From Alone to Aloha” is Sonia Lien’s story about her journey of hope — from the destructiveness of bigotry to the defeat of bigotry, from abandonment and abuse to healing and joy, from profound loneliness to reunion with long lost family.

Lien, a keyboardist and vocalist living in Poulsbo, read and signed copies of her book Nov. 5 at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo. Visitors met the author, and enjoyed ukelele music, hula dancing and food.

The book is co-authored by K.D. Kragen of Bainbridge Island.

Lien was born in 1935 in Long Beach, Calif., the daughter of Winifred Powell, a Navy officer’s wife, and Sam Alapai Kahanamoku, who had had an affair on the cruise ship S.S. Lurline, sailing to Hawaii from Los Angeles.

Mother and daughter were rejected by Powell’s Virginia family. “I was only 4 when I became a ward of the court,” Lien wrote. “The state of California placed me in homes and institutions professing to practice religion, but my spirit was broken in the name of God. Yet I never gave up hope that somewhere there had to be a kinder God.”

She suffered abuse and abandonment, and by the time she was 15 was angry and rebellious. She also grappled with her identity.

“Having lived in foster homes and group homes, I never knew the feeling of belonging to a loving family. I never thought about my Hawaiian roots,” she wrote.

She writes about how, through her Christian faith, she came to accept who she was. The rewards have been great.

In February 2010, she had lunch with a friend who asked about her Hawaiian background.

“I told her what I had heard from my mother: that my father was a popular and prominent Hawaiian and sheriff of Honolulu when I was born,” Lien recalled. “My mother had said his name was Duke Kah–something. My friend's partner, an avid surfer, became curious. He googled ‘Sheriff of Hawai’i in 1935’; that was all it took for him to obtain the name ‘Duke Kahanamoku.’ As it turns out, it was (his brother) Sam Kahanamoku (who was on that ship and) who had the affair with my mother and is my true birth father.”

That year, during Lent, Lien “had an ‘aha’ moment” where she understood she could no longer reject the “other half” of who she is. “My faith was deepened to a point of total acceptance of what I had been told was unacceptable. My mother had had a brief affair with a Hawaiian man that resulted in my birth in 1935. Both she and I were abandoned by my prejudiced family from Virginia. I had internalized this rejection — until now.”

On Aug. 24, 2010, she celebrated her healing and reconciliation with her long lost family in Hawai’i, at the 120th anniversary of the birth of Duke Kahanamoku, her uncle.

“A thorn planted in my heart at birth has been removed,” he wrote.

The Kahanamoku family is prominent in Hawai’i. Duke (1890-1968) was an athlete who won Olympic gold medals in swimming in 1912 and 1920, and silver medals in 1912 and 1924. He served as sheriff of Honolulu in 1932 to 1961, and appeared in 18 movies and documentaries. He was inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame, Swimming Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Sam (1902-1966), won an Olympic bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle in 1924. He and other Kahanamoku family members appeared on the TV show “This Is Your Life” in 1957.

“I have to give credence to the strength and character I inherited from my real father from Hawai’i,” Lien wrote. “The Aloha that he and his family professed as their creed lived and thrived in me, as I struggled in those early years. And it remains today, through the grace of God.”

“From Alone to Aloha” has received touching reviews.

“It filled me with the spirit of Love,” wrote Earl Maikahikinapamaikala Tenn of Ka Pa Hula Manu, Hawai’i. “Mahalo nui for this beautiful story. Hawai'i is truly honored. You have brought so much dignity and awareness of Aloha to your family.”

Janette Kragen, executive assistant to the dean of California Northstate College of Pharmacy, wrote that the book “immediately hooked me, beginning with Sonia’s discovery of her Hawaiian roots and union with her family. Early on, I wanted to learn more about her past, to discover what she went through, and how she experienced God’s presence and healing power in her life — an extremely compelling testimony.”


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