Eddie Aikau is one of the most famous of all Hawaiian big wave surfers and watermen. During the ten years he served as head lifeguard at Oahu’s Waimea Bay, his supervisors credited him with over a thousand rescues. In 1971, because of his daring and disarmingly humble demeanor, he was voted “Life Guard of the Year” by his peers. In 1977, he won the prestigious Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship. A year later Kālepa Baybayan (now a pwo navigator) met Eddie for the first time at a Hōkūle’a crew training session – and was introduced to a man that he will never forget.

“In 1978, when the canoe was going to go back to Tahiti, I got to try out for the crew. That was a big experience in my life, and the whole richness of the experience was the guy I met in crew training. When I walked into the room for the first meeting I saw that they were looking for big-time lifeguards and I felt kind of intimidated. I was from the neighbor islands and I was real shy. I didn’t know anybody and I thought that my chances probably weren’t real good. I walked into the room and there was this big wave surfer that had just won a surf contest on Oahu and I kind of didn’t want to hang around in that crowd. I just wanted to leave right away, so as soon as the meeting got done I rushed up to the elevator and as I got into the elevator, that big wave surfer got in with me. It was just me and him and I remember standing in the corner and trying to blend into the walls and that guy looks me in the eyes and in this real Hawaiian way he walks over and looks at me and he says, ‘Hey brother, we’re going to be trying out for this crew together, hey, more better we start out by being friends.’ And I still remember those words, ‘more better we start out by being friends.’ And he stuck his hand out and he says, ‘Hi, my name is Eddie Aikau.’ And that’s how I met Eddie Aikau.
Eddie Aikau was probably the most different guy I ever knew. He was this big wave surfer but he was just so humble, just so pleasant to be around, so befriending, you know?
He gave me a ride back to school that night and he drove this old beat-up bug and I remember that his car was like bussup on all sides, but inside it was immaculate. And he said he had a rule that no one could smoke in his car. And then, he said, ‘hey, call me up if you ever need a ride or if you ever want to come over and hang out.” He took me over to where he lived and I met his family and I just found out how really different was this guy. He was really healthy. He told me ‘I have to be healthy because of my job as a lifeguard. It requires that I don’t do drugs or anything like that. I just can’t. If you are going to surf big waves,’ he said, ‘if you want to survive you got to be strong.’ Here was a guy that to me recognized the things he wanted to do in life – which was to surf big waves and be a lifeguard – and he also recognized that to do that and survive there were certain things that he couldn’t do, so he was really disciplined. He was in great shape. He lived next door to his parents. He had his own house. His house was the same way like his car – immaculate. You walk into his house and there are all these surfboards in the rafters of the ceiling but it was just so neat. And you know he used to go to church on Sundays. He would take his parents to church, which I found really unique. Most guys, if the surf was up, they would go surfing but Eddie had a commitment to his parents. He cared for them that way.
His middle name was Makua Hanai, which means “raised by parents” or “caring for parents” – both ways – your parents care for you and you care for your parents. Meeting Eddie just changed my whole attitude toward how you treat people. I still remember those words, ‘more better we start off by being friends.’
My esteem – my evaluation of myself – was not very high and here was a guy that really just wanted to be my friend. He was just a humble guy and he just – that was all he wanted to do, He was a famous big wave surfer but so what? What it changed was my attitude towards treating people when they step on the canoe. You know, we are going to start off by being friends. I am going to treat you like family because that is what you deserve. Anybody that steps on the canoe, or anybody that becomes involved in my life deserves that kind of respect.
I had never been recognized that way – that I had something valid, and some kind of potential to offer – anything. In the Voyaging Society I soon realized that I had a lot to offer but part of that was recognizing that when you get on the canoe you gotta treat each other like friends, like friends.”
The above is from an interview in February 1999 by Sam Low. He hopes that the insights captured in this interview will last through all time…
Eddie Aikau perished at sea in March of 1978 after Hōkūle’a capsized while on a voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti. He heroically attempted to paddle to land to alert rescuers of the peril of his crew clinging to the overturned canoe drifting in high winds and seas.
His memory is carried aboard Hōkūle’a on all of her voyages in the hearts of her crewmembers. The “Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau” event was established in 1984 in his honor.
Inspired by Eddie’s treatment of him at that crew meeting, Chad Kālepa Baybayan has come a long way. In 2007, Mau Piailug initiated him and four other Hawaiian navigators into the order of Pwo, the two-thousand-year-old society of deep-sea navigators. He has sailed on all major Hōkūleʻa voyages and has served as captain on Hōkūleʻa as well as voyaging canoes Hawai‘iloa and Hōkūalaka‘i. Kālepa currently is the Navigator in Residence at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i developing wayfinding activities, curriculum materials, and conducting outreach.

Sam Low repostet this in The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific 11.06.2020

Economic fairness in tourism in Hawaii


Earlier, I addressed one aspect of economic fairness in tourism in Hawaii, and elsewhere. There are many other concerns but this is just a sample of the type of equity or pono we need to infuse with all of our activities.
The next area which I did not address is the humanity aspect of tourism, what’s good and what’s bad. Tourism or visiting is not good or bad in and of itself. People’s curiosity, wonderment, and discovery are wonderful things for the human spirit. Exchange of understandings, appreciation and friendliness are traits we should all support. But when that exchange of humanity is turned into an economic commodity within a run-away capitalist system, we degrade the beauty in this exchange and degrade the people who are used as pawns and “economic factors”. We somehow lose the essence of human interaction with a pretend sense of “Aloha” which cheapens the tourist experience and ourselves who engage in it merely for economic profit. We can compare it to fresh flower leis picked and sewn by human hands and plastic leis manufactured in chemical laboratories and mass produced on conveyor belts.
We need to reassess tourism as an exchange, first and foremost, of humanity and for Hawaii, Aloha. In all interactions among guests and hosts, we must cherish those interactions as valued cultural expressions of ourselves. Guests should come to our shores with some understanding of who they are, where they come from and what values they have. They need to explore what’s in their own baggage and what they can share with people they will interact with. Money is not the only commodity of trade on their end. They could also commit to learning of the history and cultures of Hawaii and return to their homelands as ambassadors of pono.
On our part, we must see tourism as people wanting to fulfill a part of their human spirit to explore, to understand, to experience, to learn of the vast treasures in this prism called Hawaii, which somehow is a window into many other parts of the world. We should be proud of our Hawaii, yet be frank about the challenges we face, in our environment, in our economic system, in our colonization by the U.S., and in our hopes and dreams of a future for Hawaii and the world.
In this fair treatment of Tourism from a humanities perspective, we can convert this important economic activity into a boon for Hawaiian political rights, for cultural rights of our multiple cultures, for religious tolerance and appreciation, for environmental protection, and many more things of great value to our society.
Aloha `aina, Poka Laenui

An Interview with Estria, Urban Art Living Legend and Co-Founder of The Estria Foundation

Estria is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Estria Foundation, which raises social consciousness on human and environmental issues through public art and educational programs. He pioneered a number of programs, including Mele Murals, which focuses on Hawaiian lyrics (mele) that explore stories of place (mo’olelo ‘aina); Water Writes, which highlights critical water issues in 10 cities around the globe; and the Estria Battle, which served as the premier U.S. urban art competition and honored Hawaiian culture and community. Before co-founding The Estria Foundation, he received commissions from President Bill Clinton, MTV, Redbull, and others, co-founded Visual Element, a series of free-for-youth workshops which targets at-risk children, and presented the first ever TEDx talk on muralism. Estria used his 1994 arrest to speak out about graffiti’s sociopolitical impact on CNN, the National Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other platforms. He is the recipient of a number of awards, including Miami New Times’ Best Mural, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s Certificate of Congressional Recognition, and East Bay Express’ Best Graffiti Artist.

As I understand, you’re originally from Hawaii. How did you become interested in graffiti?

When I was a teenager, my mom sent me to the YMCA to volunteer after school and in the summers. My friends were break dancers, and they’d look for stuff with breakdancing. They’d see graffiti on jackets, in the backgrounds, or on trains, and they were like, “what is this?” One day, we got an airbrush kit, and we hopped the fence and went into the canal to paint it after school. It was bright daylight and people were walking by watching. No one was really freaking out over what we were doing. I don’t even think we really realized that it was… illegal. We tried to do the word ‘fresh,’ and because it was a little airbrush kit, we did ‘fr’ and then ran out of air. But, it got us juiced, so we went and got spray paint and started trying that. I fell in love with spray painting and just kept going with it.

Did spray painting speak to your friends too? Or did they just go back to breakdancing?

We spray-painted for a year– or maybe two years. I think I was 16 years old when we started, so I’m pretty sure by 18 they had already quit. But, when I went to college in San Francisco at 18, I think it was probably by the second week that I had gone painting at the project rooftops already. Back then, people had 110 film cameras and little flash cubes on top of them. For every photo, you would think, “it’s going to cost me this much to take this picture.” It wasn’t like digital cameras or cellphones nowadays, where you don’t even think about that– you just click away. So, these guys who I’d just met took me painting. But, at the end of it, no one took pictures of my piece. I was like, “Oh, I suck!” [laughing] I didn’t know I sucked until that moment! It was one of those turning points where I went, you know what? I want to get good at this. I want to be as good or better than these guys. I started painting all the time.

It sounds like you really channeled your frustration into positive energy and motivation, two qualities that undeniably show through your work. Do you think that particular experience shaped your belief in the mission of empowerment?

Oh, yeah! Writing is like a contact sport: you can run into cops, gangs, trains, trucks. You might even have to walk for three miles, in the dark, to get to a wall. It’s kind of crazy to think that we were doing those things. But, you know, it makes you feel alive. You’re in a train…you’re out at night trying to paint cold steel… and there are sound that you just can’t explain. You know they’re from the trains, but they just sound like eerie monster things, I guess as the metal is contracting and expanding with the temperature drop. And so, you’re just kind of freaked out. But, I also think you feel alive– your heart is pumping and your senses are hyper-aware. It’s almost this rite of passage for young people to do this dangerous thing, to know what it’s like to really be alive and out there. And it’s dangerous… so yeah, there was definitely that thrill.

And to be honest, I sucked at doing the lettering, which is the whole main part of style writing. But, I could draw characters and stuff. All of the guys that were really good at the letters were like, “Okay, I’m gonna do my name– you do the background….” Right? They wanted me to do the stuff around their pieces. [laughing] But because of that, I later ended up getting the commissions, because people would say, “Oh, can you paint this Middle Eastern restaurant scene?” or whatever scene their business needed–grapes, pizza, or whatever. The style writer guys could only do letters, so they didn’t get the jobs.

That’s just on a more superficial level. Maybe, looking at past lives, it was almost meant for me to be in a creative expression pathway. You know, having that experience, or working in the YMCA and giving to kids, or taking care of other people at an early age… it just infused that whole idea that you give back, that you take care of others, that you teach others. I always think I was trying to say more than just my name, or that I’m alive, you know? I did my share of that, but I reached a point where that wasn’t gratifying anymore. When you’re going out bombing, and you can bomb a billboard over the freeway or a tunnel of the freeway– you’re just like, “Wow, I’m alive. I can do whatever I want. I have power.” Then, you have to learn to be responsible with your power… like Spider-Man. So, I think that just pushed me towards using art for some kind of purpose– to say something.

What did your mom think of you graffitiing?

Back in the day, we had a Betamax, like a VHS recorder. I remember the first time the news covered graffiti, they were interviewing this guy from a different part of my island. To this day, he’s still world famous– he’s made a good career for himself. But, as I’m taping the interview on the Betamax, my mom is sitting next to me watching the interview, and she’s like, “I hope they catch these hoodlums!” [laughing] I’m not sure she even knew that I was doing graffiti yet. Then, years went by and she could see that, in college, I was trying to make a career of it already. So, she started to want to understand it: she took drawing and photography classes at the local museum just to have a deeper understanding of why I do these things. Now, she’s on my board, and to me, she’s my biggest fan.

On the Estria Foundation website, it seems like there’s a lot of emphasis on incorporating Indigenous themes and even preserving specific language, like mele (Hawaiian lyrics) or mo’olelo ‘aina (stories of place). Do you want to speak a little bit as to some central Hawaiian themes?

Yeah! I think there’s two things I could start with. One is the concept of ‘we. When we say the word ‘we,’ we normally refer to we in this room, or our family, or our friends– those that are living right now. And ‘we,’ in a Hawaiian and Indigenous perspective, doesn’t just go laterally– it goes up and down. It means connecting with the earth, connecting with the heavens, connecting with your ancestors, and the belief that you never walk alone: that your ancestors walk with you– your ancestors on your father’s side and your ancestors on your mother’s side. With the Hawaiian and Indigenous ‘we’ comes the idea of being mindful. Are you living a righteous life? Are you making righteous decisions? Being mindful is something that Hawaiians tend to think about a lot. Whereas, in Western society, that’s not always up for concern. [laughing]

Also, in the Hawaiian perspective, things aren’t separate: there’s no separation of church and state, or education and religion. Spirituality, cultural practices, environmentalism– all of those things are connected, not separate. So, the Hawaiian perspective means coming to understand that the Earth is a living thing and that you need to communicate with it in order to take care of it. Our role is not to have this ego and to conquer Earth; our role is to take care of it. Our position is between the heavens and the Earth. In that way, you always set priorities. Is this good for the land and the water? Is this good for people? And then, is this good for business?

That’s really how I think government should set their priorities too– in that order. But, politicians are allowed to say whatever at election time and then do whatever later… without any agenda that they’re actually held accountable to in a way that a CEO or a board of directors would be held accountable. If we held politicians accountable, a whole lot would be different– so many of our decisions would be different. The reason the cultural piece, the environmental piece, and the spiritual piece are all so important to us is because, if we keep going the Western way– we’re not an entire continent, where it’ll take you a long time to destroy it. We’re a small island. You could probably destroy it in our lifetime. So, we need to redefine our notion of ‘success’ from, “How do you go off to college and make a lot of money?” to “How do you become a guardian, or a caretaker, of this place?”

In Hawaii, we have what we call a ‘brain drain,’ where supposedly our best kids go to private school, because their parents will do whatever it takes to pay the tuition, and then private schools are always college-preparatory, so the best kids all go off to college. In my class, only one or two kids didn’t go to college. That’s less than 1 percent. So, a half of my class went to the continent for education. Then, out of that half, a huge percentage of my class never came back to Hawaii. We’re developing our best and brightest kids and then exporting them to the continent permanently, as opposed to using their brain power to solve problems here. For us, redefining ‘success’ would be shifting the idea of a successful person from one who’s financially successful to one who’s grounded in their place, who’s in tune with it, and who knows how to take care of it, or is willing to find solutions to fix it in sustainable ways. That would be successful for us because those people are going to be around for the future generations.

So, on one hand, lots of Hawaiians come to the continent to study and be successful in a Western, business sense. On the other hand, there seems to be a culture of Hawaiian residents who define success differently, who are maybe more community-oriented and in tune with the land. From what you see, how does that dynamic play out more concretely?

I see the hope for Hawaii in the young people. We have a lot of Hawaiian immersion charter schools. In the ’80s, they were saying that Hawaiian, as a language, was going extinct. Then, they started forming these charter schools and teaching the Hawaiian language– Hawaiian perspective and Hawaiian values. Now, it’s not weird to hear Hawaiian out in public.

With the language comes the perspective. In English, there’s usually one word and one meaning. A sentence is defined to be very specific so as to avoid confusion about what you’re saying: this person did this thing to this place. But, in Hawaiian, words are structured around a multitude of meanings. If you’re pregnant, people will say you’re hapai. But, hapai doesn’t mean ‘pregnant’– it means ‘to carry.’ The mountain could be hapai with waterfalls, or the land could be hapai with food growing. So, when you think with hapai in that multitude of ways, you should be seeing how it connects you back to the Earth, or back to ancestors, or back to the stars– it connects you to your place at all times with several different meanings.

For us, we didn’t have a written language. When people have written language, they have secret codes, secret ways to communicate messages to the troops, or from royalty to royalty. But, without a written language, our secret code had to be hidden in poetry. There was language structured for the common folk, or for everyday use, and then there was that poetic, riddlelike way of using the language that was taught to chiefs so that when they spoke in public, only the chief would get what they were trying to say. And the public was like, “Oh, everything’s okay!” [laughing]

How do you connect with your Hawaiian heritage now? Do you just bring the message along wherever you travel?

At this point, I can’t say that I’m a writer anymore– I just say I came from there. Now, the purpose of my artwork is to tell the stories of our places. Most of these stories have never been put down on paper, so they’re being cast from generation to generation. When Westerners came and started settling here, Hawaiians died off by the tens of thousands, and those storytellers went with them. So, they tried to tell those stories. At this point, Hawaiians are about 10 percent of the population in Hawaii, and I would say that most people living here know next to nothing about Hawaiian culture.

That being said, people living here don’t realize that a lot of the daily, little things are Hawaiian. The way we behave in this situation… that’s a Hawaiian thing. [laughing] I tell people that we may be 10 percent of the population, but we should be 100 percent of the voice on the walls. Using the walls as our visual storytelling medium, instead of books or other things, is a more powerful way of communicating our culture; it works perfectly for someone like me that’s a community-based artist, where my work is in the community. I don’t paint highbrow, high-end art. I don’t paint modernism. I’ve gone to archives and all these different art shows around the country, and my takeaway is that modernist art is about nothing and for rich people. It’s got nothing to do with the culture; it doesn’t talk about change; and it’s rare that it’s got really insightful criticism. I think art gets off really easy nowadays on having no content. It’s a shame because I think we’ve got to hold artists to a higher standard. Not to say that I’m better or higher than everybody else, but my art isn’t for that audience: it’s for the commonfolk in the streets, here in Hawaii.

When I see a Hawaiian family stand there and watch us paint, or start crying just by looking at the painting… then you know they’ve never been to an art gallery. They don’t have art. They haven’t studied art or art history. None of them can name five American artists, whereas in Europe, they can name all their favorite artists. But, when a Hawaiian family stands there and takes in what we’re doing, when they start crying and understanding it, when they come up to me and explain what they see, and when I start crying with them– it’s like, “yeah, this mural is for you guys.” If I painted in the gallery, they never would have seen it; I did it in the community, and they get to see it every day. It’s a different purpose, a different intention.

So, in your view, there’s a whole world of untapped potential for art–what’s the disconnect?

Oh, yeah. Art in a gallery is like, “man– get it out!” Even in discussions on a community organizing level… people around the country, and especially museums, talk about breaking the fourth wall and getting into the community– that’s because they tried to get the community into the museum, and they only had so much luck doing that. They know their sweet spot is really people who are over 40, white, and single. Those are the ones that are going to give them the endowment. Those are the ones who are going to sign up for annual membership and come to all the events. The sweet spot, for museums, isn’t Mexican family with 10 kids down the street, or the Black family across the way. These highbrow art museums just aren’t culturally, or historically, part of their daily life. So, instead of trying to get the community to the museum, they’re trying to take the museum to the community. What some museums will do is actually coopt what non-profits are doing. They’ll see what the non-profits are doing, they’ll write a grant for the same thing, they’ll get the project, and they’ll put that non-profit out of business. Then, when that project is no longer in vogue, the museum will move onto the next flavor. It sucks! Trying to do this by the people for the people in the community is a whole different thing.

When Banksy’s painting self-destructed during an auction and a highbrow art collector decided to pay even more for it, how did that make you feel?

Well, it’s a novelty, right? It’s an exciting thing. I think Banksy is cool– it’s a great example of using street art, in public, to exploring new ways of saying something. But, for us, it’s really about going back to who we are. The bulk of education in the United States was designed in the industrial age to create factory workers. And with Common Core standards still in place, we’re actually still trying to produce factory workers. But, we don’t have factories anymore, so it’s not benefitting us to create obedient soldiers: we need out-of-the-box, visionary leaders to do creative problem-solving. Our system doesn’t encourage that; it encourages potential leaders to use their heads, to learn how to take tests, and to study standards. All of that is using your brain, and we’ve forgotten that the other way to access knowledge, to tap ancestral knowledge, is through your gut, through activities like meditation, or talking to your ancestors, or praying. Rather than going through your head, you’re going through your gut to tap into that knowledge.

I’ll give you a good example. We have this canoe called Hōkūle’a, which means “brightest star.” Basically, they built a canoe, using mostly traditional methods, to navigate by the stars; they don’t navigate Hōkūle’a by newer instruments or GPS. So, they’ve gotten all these other nations–Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa–to build canoes too, and they’ve got this whole fleet of canoes to sail around the world. They just completed the trip about a year or two ago. They went all the way around the world to prove that Hawaiians didn’t just end up in Hawaii by chance; we were navigating to places. The message they were trying to spread, everywhere they went, was that we should take care of the ocean. But, the knowledge of how to build that canoe had been lost. There was no one alive who knew how to build that canoe, so they looked at artist drawings. Some of the things they had to figure out–how to carve a certain way, what to carve with, what kind of knots to make, all of these little details–they had to do so by going inside and tapping that ancestral knowledge. They had to meditate in the forest, where trees were chopped, to regain that knowledge. That’s not a project that Western thinking will even allow you to entertain.

It does feel like we’re kind of desensitized in the West, often thinking mechanically with our heads rather than our guts. Do you want to expand a bit more on the difference between the Western and Indigenous perspectives, especially with regards to Hawaii?

Think about how the average person can walk down the street, spit anywhere, and piss anywhere. Western thinking is like, “I want to climb the highest mountain, or I want to climb any peak, so that I can jump off of it with a snow board, or a parachute, or whatever.” Westerners just think they can go anywhere and do anything. But, Indigenous thinking is like, “These are sacred spaces. And you need to ask for your ancestors’ permission before you enter.” You can’t just go. Take Mauna Kea for example. They’re going to build this huge telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea that’s going to affect the wind patterns. It’s the start of the water cycle, so they’re going to pollute their own water on the island. And it’s because they don’t think the earth is sacred. They think that, in the name of science, we need to see farther… “Hello!” You can close your eyes and see farther than that telescope can see.

When we talk about what is ‘sacred,’ most people don’t actually know. I was trying to teach the kids the other day. I asked them, “who determines if a space is sacred?” A kid’s answer was “Oh, somebody said the space was sacred!” and another said, “Maybe somebody was buried there.” Okay. Those are good possibilities… well, what makes a person say a place is sacred? They’re like, “I don’t know, somebody just said.” The thing you’ve got to understand is that if you listen to the land, you will know what parts of the land are more sacred, because the land feels different in each space. So, I try to teach the kids to meditate in different places in order to start to feel the difference in the power, or the mana, of the land. In the olden days, when people built sacred temples, they all built them on portal sites, or on ley lines. I see it in Peru, I see it with the Aztecs, with the Incas, and with the Mayans. I think it’s because they had people who were more in tune and could feel like, “Oh, this is the spot right here!” So, it’s not a person telling you that the space is sacred; it’s the land telling you it’s sacred right here. The land has its power– you’re just trying to tap into that. Since we’re no longer connected to the land in that way, there’s no considering those things anymore. We need to start listening to the land again in order to take care of it, or we’re not going to be around for much longer.

We’ve covered a lot of topics conceptually, but I wanted to give you the chance to speak about projects like Water Writes, Mele Murals, the Estria Battle, or “Sin Armas ni Violencia.” It would be great if you could connect them with some of the central Hawaiian and Indigenous topics we’ve been discussing!

Well, the Estria Battle… Man… I did that out of pocket for five to six years. I was finally like, “Alright, I’m done!” and people just thought I was making money. I’m like, “Dude, it’s free admission! What am I making money on?” From there, I went to Water Writes. We went to all these different cities and countries, where we would partner with people in those places. And I couldn’t get it funded, because the funders couldn’t see how two weeks in a place could make a lasting impact. But Water Writes was the older sibling of Mele Murals, and Mele Murals had a deeper connection to the land and to the community, so that’s the one that’s gotten the most support, both in terms of finances and community support.

Really, people have to go to a Mele Mural, or come to an unveiling, or come to the meditation sessions with the kids, to really understand the project. To see a group of kids meditating outside and getting messages…. What do you think would happen if you got twenty to forty kids to meditate together, and I’m telling them, “Okay! Ask the land what message should be in the mural. Ask the land what it wants.” What are they going to come up with? I’ve sat with groups on the continent for three hours, trying to come up with a concept for the mural while no one has an idea, and I walk out of the meeting clueless. I’m like, “I’m not doing this project!” The groups aren’t grounded, they’re not based in anything, so they don’t know what’s important.

But then you get kids. I remember one kid said, “Oh, I see the hands of ancestors carrying the baby’s spirit to the body of one of our kings.” And then, eight people went, “Whoa, that’s what I got too!” You can’t make that up! Right? We weren’t even talking about that. How did you even get that? Your schools not spiritual, so you wouldn’t talk about spirits and ancestors in that way. But, it’s confirmation: that’s the message they want us to paint about. So, we keep going around, and I circle any ideas that come to more than one person. I circle those ideas because I know we have confirmation. Our ancestors speak in riddles. They don’t give us the message directly, so you’ve got to figure it out. That’s how we arrive at the concepts of the murals, but unless you’ve seen that process, you don’t know what magic it is, or how trippy it is.

Then, each mural is loaded with messages from the spirit realm, and so many trippy things happen that it becomes normal. The first time I did this, I was like, “Oh, please, please work! I’m going to meditate and ask for the concept, and I don’t even know where it’s coming from. Please work!” And now, I don’t even question it. I know it’ll come. The process has built faith in me, and so now we meditate on all the big decisions for our organization. The crazy thing is that I’m often talking to spirits, ancestors, or guardians. Sometimes I see stuff, and sometimes they speak through me. All kinds of amazing things open up once you accept that side of life. But, to accept that side of life, you’ve got to let go of the Western perspective.

Photo Gallery

Hawaiian legend Willie K

Hawaiian music legend Willie K dies at age 59 after 2-year battle with cancer


By John Berger ;    May 19, 2020 – Staradvertise , Hawaii


Social media lit up with fond memories and messages of support Tuesday following an announcement late Monday night on Facebook and Instagram that Hawaiian music superstar Willie K — a multi-Hoku Award-winning musician, vocalist, songwriter and record producer — had died at his home on Maui after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 59.

“We are sad to announce that Willie K has passed away on Monday night (May 18th) in his home in Wailuku surrounded by his ohana,” according to an announcement on his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Willie K was diagnosed with small-cell cancer in his upper right lung in early 2018.

“He fought hard for over 2 years while still performing. In mid-February of this year, he was hospitalized for pneumonia which caused complications with his lung cancer,” his family wrote in the posts. “He was in positive spirits and doing okay, and he was looking forward to performing again. He then suddenly turned for the worse and lost his battle.”

The family thanked everyone “for all the love, support and prayers you have given.”

Many local politicians issued statements honoring Willie K.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz recalled him as a man who had “bridged blues and Hawaiian, local and mainstream, music and culture. Willie K blazed a trail that redefined music in Hawai‘i and helped other local artists succeed. … While he will be greatly missed, his music will live on.”

Gov. David Ige accurately described him as “a unique talent whose huge voice effortlessly ranged from Hawaiian music and the blues to opera — all in one performance.”

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino remembered him as a man who “fought cancer bravely for two years, still choosing to perform and entertain fans even while ill. He was generous with his time and immense talent. … We mourn a great loss for our community. He will truly be missed but never forgotten.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also hailed Willie K’s commitment to his music and to Hawaii: “What he revealed in his last years was the sheer courage and stamina that it takes to perform while seriously ill. … Honolulu is mourning the loss of a great man, a son of Hawaii, but we are also feeling privileged to have known his grace.”

Two-time Grammy Award winner Kalani Pe‘a described himself as “heartbroken” at the death of a man he described as both a role model and a teacher.

“He always taught me to be authentic, to be real and to be true to myself and others,” Pe‘a said Tuesday on a phone call. “He was very straightforward, but he always taught me never, ever, ever try to please every single person. You’re not going to please everybody; just be you and do what you do best.”

Music historian Harry B. Soria Jr. spoke for many in saying simply, “There may never be another Willie K, with such raw yet polished talent.”

Born William Awihilima Kahaiali‘i on Oahu on Oct. 17, 1960, Willie K grew up on Maui and started working with his father, veteran musician Manu Kahaiali‘i, when he was 11.

By the time he graduated from Lahainaluna High School in 1979, he was playing everything from Top 40 and Latin to American country music and the classic rock of Jimi Hendrix. He spent several years in California where he expanded his musical repertoire further to embrace everything from European-American classical music to acid rock.

Willie K exploded on the Hawaii music scene in 1991 after Kelly “Kelly Boy” De Lima saw him playing in a bar on Maui. De Lima and his manager, Ken “KT” Thompson, signed him to a record deal with KDE Records and persuaded him to move to Oahu.

“What I saw in him was a talent far beyond what you would expect,” De Lima reminisced Tuesday. “‘Incredible’ — I don’t know if that’s a strong enough word, but the versatility that he had — he could do these sweet little Hawaiian ballads and bring the house down with that, and then he could jump on the guitar and do Jimi Hendrix.”

Waikiki entertainment scene veteran Jack Law brought Willie K to Waikiki when he booked him for a weekly engagement at Malia’s Cantina on Lewers Street. Playing Malia’s launched Willie K as an island superstar. The release of his debut album, “Kahaiali‘i,” increased his star power and won him his first of five Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

Law remembered him as “the most talented person to come out of Hawaii since Bette Midler.”

“He had a great sense of humor. When he was nominated for his first Hoku Awards (in 1992), he asked for me to come along, so I was sitting with him and his parents at the table. After that, whenever he performed for the LGBT community — and he performed in public a lot for the LGBT community — he would always say that I had been his ‘date’ at his first Hoku Awards.”

Pierre Grill, the veteran studio engineer and multi-instrumentalist who co- produced “Kahaiali‘i,” recalled him as “the best musician I ever recorded with.”

Willie K’s next three albums reaffirmed his place as one of the most versatile — and popular — performers in local music. Then, a move to another label almost ended his career as a recording artist.

But he came back in a big way in 1997 when the Mountain Apple Co. retained him to resurrect the career of singer Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom after her first album for the label had gone almost unnoticed.

With Willie K as her producer and mentor, Gilliom switched from singing mainstream pop to traditional Hawaiian falsetto. Gilliom was an instant hit, and a string of Hoku Award-winning albums followed — several of them recorded by the new duo of Amy Hanaiali‘i & Willie K.

In 2000 the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts made a rule change that suddenly defined “Nostalgia,” an album recorded by Hanaiali‘i & Willie K, as the work of a female vocalist rather than the work of a duo; Willie K became the first male performer in HARA history to be one-half of a duo that won an award as a “female vocalist.” (The rule change was later reversed.) That same year, he also received a well-deserved solo Hoku for his imaginative Christmas album, “Willie Kalikimaka.”

Shortly after that he returned to Maui and recorded and released a two-CD live album that captured his roots-rock repertoire. He then established a new record label, Maui Tribe, and released an album of traditional Hawaiian music.

In 2003 he reunited with Gilliom for a concert tour that produced a live album in 2004 and became one of the five finalists for the newly created Hawaiian music category at the Grammy Awards in 2005.

Back on Maui he formed a new duo, Barefoot Natives, with Gilliom’s brother, Eric Gilliom. The duo’s self-titled debut album won a Hoku Award (contemporary Hawaiian album) in 2005.

In the years that followed, Willie K continued to enjoy a prolific and eclectic career as a recording artist, concert headliner, record producer, film actor and event promoter. Another reunion with Hanaiali‘i produced an aptly titled album, “Reunion,” and earned them another Hoku Award in 2015.

Willie K received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

An important part of his legacy is the example he set for younger musicians as a role model and mentor.

“I saw Willie K once when I was 9,” Hoku Award winner Kamuela Kahoano said. “I knew even back then there was something greater about his performances — and I have been chasing that level ever since. We can’t all rock forever, but what Willie K did — how hard he jammed, with unbridled passion, and his unforgettable local repertoire, that massive contribution and staying power — that’s why he’s a legend to me.”

Willie K is survived by his wife, Debbie Kahaiali‘i, and children, Karshaun, Max, Lycettiana and Antoinette.

A celebration of his life will be announced at a later time, the family said.



Today I am sad to have lost a good friend, Uncle Willie K. My memories come up of how we had discussed and laughed together. I keep your words, your voice and pictures in my memory and you will be eternally remembered for me and all your friends with the great variety of music that was your life. It was always nice to meet you and I am thankful to know you. Thanks Willie for the great time together. Gérard

federal recognition when you can have a free Hawaiian Kingdom?

Today I am starting to post or repost from my friend Poka Laenui, his reports, thoughts, radio shows and interviews . His way of thinking about what’s going on, about the Hawaiian history, about the law, it’s a new way of thinking and philosophy for us all. With a calm, friendly and with a special sense of humor he tells his stories, his thoughts, which fascinate me so much that I leave everything else behind and I just have to listen to him. I would like to share his impressive, grandiose, exciting stories with a larger readership and give him, Poka, another platform in the wide world:


This is a re-post on another page, (Aha Aloha Aina). I am re-posting believing it important to be shared here as well.

A woman writes, “Why would you choose federal recognition when you can have a free Hawaiian Kingdom with reparations for the illegal occupation?”

1st, she presents the question as either one or the other, i.e. one automatically eliminates the other! Federal Recognition OR Independence. I challenge that limited view of the fight for Hawaiian Sovereignty. As a Hawaiian National, I will not limit my fight for Hawaiian Sovereignty by sticking my head in the sand and pretend that there is no other reality. As I stand in the U.S. Courts and challenge the jurisdiction of the courts over myself or my clients, I also prepare to use the laws of the United States, of Hawaii, of the applicable rules of court, of the U.S. & Hawaii Constitutions, the Ordinance of the various counties, etc. in defense of my clients. I will also use international laws and principles to assert such defense. The fact that I declare myself a Hawaiian national in no way foreclose my right and responsibility to my clients, to raise all appropriate defenses, wherever found.

Of course, those who do not want the Hawaiians to have sovereignty are glad to see this all or nothing approach. It means there will be no trouble with Hawaiian nationals who will not fight but just complain about lack of U.S. jurisdiction as they are marched (defiantly) off to jail!

There is also the other extreme side of Federal Recognition. Those are the folks who do not want Hawaiian independence, wants to stay now and forever, a part of the United States. At most, they can go along with a degree of reparation – ala the Native Alaskan Settlement Claims Act, or the Aloha bill with an attached extermination clause! They see Hawaiian rights only to the extent of Indigenous people’s rights to autonomy within a U.S. colonial regime.

As for me, I choose to use whatever tool, weapon, device, tactic, or advocacy that is appropriate to the fight for Hawaiian sovereignty. As I’ve said before, “The quest is not to walk the straight path, but to learn to walk the crooked path straight!” To the extent Federal Recognition can provide advantages which can be used to advance our education, the protection of Hawaiian trusts, loan programs, etc., I say use those advantages. To the extent Federal Recognition will give greater assurance to the protection of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, to the protection of the Hawaiian Homestead programs, to the protection of and recovery of Native Hawaiian burial and other sacred sites, to the protection and practice of our traditional religious forms, to secure the perpetuation of our environment, I believe we should champion those provisions.

Any time any program within Federal Recognition calls for the extinguishment of our right to self-determination or any other right established in international law, we should fight against it and always stand firm that any declaration of such extinguishment made by the colonial administration is legally and morally invalid. We need not wait to see that call for extinguishment when Federal Recognition comes into effect. Even today, without Federal Recognition, the State and Federal government’s agents carry on a pretense that we must accept extinguishment of our National claims in order to work within the U.S. systems. We need to be vigilant to those attempts and stop it in its tracts.

An example of this practice was employed against me by Federal Judge Sam King who insisted that I could not practice law in the Federal Court if I refuse to say I was a U.S. citizen. He found me in contempt of court. I challenged that determination and the result is that I continue to be authorized to practice law in all the Federal and State courts in Hawaii, without having to declare U.S. citizenship. There are many other examples of such tactics to erase our identity as Hawaiian nationals. Many of our public schools continue to practice the morning American pledge of allegiance as part of the school day. My daughter, when in the 1st grade at Wai`anae, told her teacher she would not join in because the American government stole the Hawaiian nation from our Queen. The next day, a boy in her class said that if Pua`Ena need not say that pledge, he was not going to say it as well. Within a month, the full class refused to join in that pledge. Our vigilance in protecting our national identity must be a constant alert, regardless of whether Federal Recognition is accorded us by the U.S. government.

Progress has been made. You may recall the State/OHA attempt to call a Native Hawaiian Convention, sometimes called the Na`i Aupuni convention in 2016. Three significant things occurred there. 1 – the State/OHA did not require one be a U.S. citizen in order to be nominated or vote for delegate in that election process. 2 – the U.S. government’s Department of the Interior changed course in its final rule, dropping the requirement that a member of a Federally Recognized Hawaiian nation must be a U.S. citizen! 3 – the members of that congregation agreed that we should continue to strive for our full rights of self-determination as understood in international law! The failures of that gathering were numerous but let us not also observe those positive aspects of that aha. (My full evaluation is scheduled to be published soon.)

Hawaiian Independence and Federal Recognition contain numerous common attributes. We need to see the potential for both pathways to unite our people as we continue to strive to bring about our sovereignty. A nation divided against itself cannot stand.

A hui hou. Poka Laenui

Ke Aupuni Update – May 9, 2020

In our last update, we pointed out a stark contrast in styles of governance… how we expect the soon-to-be restored Hawaiian Kingdom to operate differently from the current US/State of Hawaii, by using Kapu Aloha… treating everyone with respect and aloha …even if we do not agree with them.

When Gov. Ige visited the Mauna Kea puʻuhonua last July, all the news media reported on how he was received by the kupuna and the kiaʻi. Hawaii News Now said: “The governor received a remarkably warm welcome ― with lei, chants and embraces … in his first visit to the TMT protest.” It was essentially the same in all the news accounts as well as the live-streamed and eye-witness postings.

In spite of the fact that the two “sides” were diametrically opposed on the TMT project, Kapu Aloha prevailed and was maintained by the kiaʻi all the way to the successful suspension of the TMT project and the noa (ending, putting to rest) of the puʻuhonua.

This was the peaceful and orderly narrative at the ʻofficialʻ levels — government, developers, protectors, community, media.

But in the arena of public opinion, it was harsh… and some people — on both sides — got completely out of hand… especially on social media… making accusations, recriminations and threats. Definitely not Kapu Aloha.

This is the area that really requires our personal, individual attention. Each of us in the nation, if we are to be a lāhui that governs with Kapu Aloha, we have to be people who strive to live by Kapu Aloha… personally… and in a culture that upholds Kapu Aloha.

The current crisis over the coronavirus has caused Gov. Ige to adopt draconian measures, shutting down practically everything. Even those that donʻt present any health hazard. Everyone his hurting. It is already an economic disaster. Those demonstrating for re-opening certain activities and businesses are being arrested and villified in social media. (Sound familiar?). This crisis is an opportune to take Kapu Aloha to the next step… making it personal in your own life and putting it into practice!

This crisis will pass, but what will be on the other end? What kind of a people will we be? What kind of a nation will we model? If not one showing Kapu Aloha, then it will be pohō, a wasted opportunity.

It is the amazing power of Kapu Aloha that will carry us through the rebirthing and rebuilding of our nation. Eō!

Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom

If you are (or if you know of someone who is) interested in being a facilitator for any aspect of the Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom Celebration, please contact:

The campaign to Free Hawaii continues to grow … as soon as this pandemic subsides, we expect significant movement in gaining support from the global community. Your kokua is vital to this effort…
Your kōkua, large or small, is much appreciated will help greatly to move this work forward.

To contribute, go to

To contribute in other ways (airline miles, travel vouchers, clerical help, etc…) email us at

Check out the great FREE HAWAII products you can purchase at…

All proceeds go to help the cause.
Mahalo Nui Loa!
Malama Pono,
Leon Siu
Hawaiian National

New Subproject of ToH

© Foto and Drawing Gérard Koch, 2020

This is another subproject to the overall project of „Tales of Hawaii“. I would like to take a fresh look at the friendly, economic and social relationships of the Hawaiian king Kalakaua and their family with the new western immigrants and missionaries and their interests, needs to the point of greed for power, the change through contracts, changes in law and the influence of the royal family to annexation of the USA.
Perhaps I would like to be able to answer and prove my questions, such as:
– Was King Kalakaua influenced by the missionaries and their new immigrants?
– If yes, how and by what was it influenced?
– Has the West’s new friendships and close relationships with the King made law changes that negatively impacted Hawaii?
– How did the annexation come about?
– What are the reasons behind it?
– Who exactly was behind it?
– How was it organized?
– How long did the takeover planning take?
– How were the Hawaiians circumvented?

the W-Questions – ©Foto Gérard Koch 2020

I have many more questions about where I would like to have answered. It’s like a crime thriller looking for a breakdown of who the suspect was. Can it be solved at all? One piece at a time must be put together. The idea is also to ask known and unknown people to interview, as well as to look for evidence in the archives. It will be a long-term undertaking where I am not sure whether I can satisfy all my curiosity first and whether I can find the solution at all.
In order for all the information that I will collect to be neatly documented and I have quick access to search filters and can link to them, I first have to set up my own database.
To do this, I took the first step today with brainstorming, which everything has to flow into the database. As soon as I have worked this out, I will program the database. All the information that I have already collected in the meantime certainly results in over a thousand data records.
Yes, such a project should also be given a name, I owe it to this work. I let my mind wander to find a suitable name. Maybe you just have a perfect name for it or you might even want to help solve this puzzle. I would be very happy if I could get support and tips from you. Just write to me at:

Brainstorming 1 ©Foto Gérard Koch, 2020
Brainstorming 2 ©Foto Gérard Koch, 2020

Ke Aupuni Update – April 13, 2020

Kapu Aloha going “viral”

The corona virus situation has abruptly forced people to confront and reconsider their priorities… that it is just as important to value the well-being of others as much as you value yourself. In the past few weeks commercial messages in print, broadcasts and social media have changed from the usual obscene, “What’s in it for me?” to the virtuous, “We’re all in this together!”

Everywhere we turn, the message of caring for each other, for family and community is being spread faster than the virus. Suddenly the world is waking up to the notion that it’s not about the rat-race, it’s about the human race. It’s about taking care of one another. That if we want to survive pandemics and even worse, we have to make it a kakou (together) thing… to malama (care for) each other and everything around us… even the air we breathe.

This past year, we saw Kapu Aloha miraculously transform and defuse the volatility of TMT on Mauna Kea and how that spirit spread to numerous other tense situations such as Kahuku and Hunananiho. Now, we see the world spontaneously embracing this spirit — in essence, Kapu Aloha — to get through the corona virus crisis.

Just think, this amazing power of Kapu Aloha is what will carry us through the rebirthing and rebuilding of our nation. Eō!

Ke Aupuni Update – March 21, 2020

Room at the Palais des Nations where the Human Rights Council conducts its plenary meetings.

At the UN

I arrived in Geneva as Switzerland was beginning to react to the Coronavirus emergency. The day before I got there, thousands of people who had traveled to attend the famous International Geneva Motor Show were abruptly told, on the eve of its opening, the week-long event was canceled. Within two days, Geneva hotels, hostels, BNBʻs, etc. plummeted from 100% occupancy to 15%!

The UN also began to make adjustments, canceling all of the panel events that make up the bulk of the activities at the Human Rights Council. Civil society delegates who had come from all over the world, some at great cost and sacrifice, were told they could not make their presentations. It was devastating to many. After two weeks of schedule and venue changes and other disruptions, the last week of the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council was cancelled. It was time to “Get out of Dodge.”

I left Geneva a day earlier than originally planned, just a few hours before the Europe “travel ban” went into effect. I intended to stay in New York for a couple of weeks, but things were shutting down there also. So I flew back to Honolulu. Good to be back home.

The delegation from Incomindios, a Swiss NGO that has been faithfully supporting our efforts at the UN for the past 10 years!

What happened at the UN

As you know, I go to the UN headquarters both in New York and Geneva several times a year. We are not trying to join the UN. We are there to point out that one of its principal members, the United States, is committing international wrongful acts with regard to the Hawaiian Islands; and that the United Nations needs to stop aiding and abetting these criminal acts.

Foreign affairs is also called foreign relations. The building of friendly relations is crucial to the interest of our nation. The disruptions in the UN agenda in Geneva meant that many of the diplomats had some unexpected spare time. Thus, I was able to use the opportunity to have face-to-face, talk-story with several ambassadors and officials to update them about our situation and to discuss strategy. For this reason, I consider this trip as one of the most productive for our purposes.

Having these extra one-on-one talks was a God-send, and will prove extremely beneficial to our cause when things settle down a bit and the UN resumes its meetings… and we are able to launch our initiatives to Free Hawaii.

Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom
If you are (or if you know of someone who is) interested in being a facilitator for any aspect of the Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom Celebration, please contact:

Ke Aupuni Update February 29, 2020

Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono. The sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.

“The Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom”

June 11 2020 – June 11 2021

What is this about?

The Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom is going to be a year-long celebration of the anniversary of the birth of our nation 210 years ago, and a celebration of the re-birth and re-generation of the Hawaiian Kingdom as a sovereign nation.
In April of 1810, Kaumualiʻi the aliʻi nui of Kauai and Niʻihau, traveled to Oʻahu to give fealty to Kamehameha the Great, thus ending a 15-year stand-off with Kamehameha and completing the unification of the Hawaiian Islands under the sovereign rule of Kamehameha. With that, what became known as the Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands, was born.
Although there will be some preliminary observances in April honoring Kaumualʻi’s noble action, the actual start of the Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom celebration will be, appropriately… King Kamehameha Day, June 11, 2020.
King Kamehameha Day was first proclaimed by King Kamehameha V on December 22, 1871 as a day to honor his grandfather, Kamehameha the Great, the founder of our country.
The first observance of the holiday happened in 1872. It was an immediate success and grew to become the biggest holiday in Hawaiʻi nei. By the late 19th century, the celebrations featured elaborate parades, carnivals and fairs, foot races, horse races and other festive events. King Kamehameha Day is the only Hawaiian Kingdom holiday that survived intact through “the fake territory” and “the fake state” of Hawaii.
With the Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom celebration, we are going to not only reclaim Kamehameha Day as a Hawaiian Kingdom national holiday, but use it as a festive and positive reminder to everyone that this is still the Hawaiian Kingdom! … and the people of this nation… natives, subjects, nationals… still live here.We donʻt have to start from scratch…We are excited! Many great ideas are being proposed to make this an incredible celebration.The Year of the Hawaiian Kingdom can piggy-back on upcoming international events like the Pacific Arts Festival starting June 10 in Honolulu; the Tokyo Olympics in July, along with our own national holidays (Kamehameha Day, La Hoʻihoʻi Ea; Onipaʻa, La Kuʻokoʻa…) We can use other platforms such as Aloha Festivals, Hula Bowl, Merrie Monarch… and, of course we can also, as we have done in the past, commandeer U.S. holidays (like the 4th of July, Statehood Day, etc.). We can do amazing social media stuff, like live-streaming concerts and other events globally; have some invigorating messaging on instagram, twitter, etc. (“Aloha, Iʻm so-and-so and I live in the Hawaiian Kingdom”) and all kinds of fun merchandizing…But we still need a committee to spearhead, coordinate and promote the events for celebration. If you are (or if you know of someone who is) interested in being a facilitator for this project, please contact:


Things are intensifying… this year is going to see some breakthroughs as we travel and interact with the global community to support our initiatives. Your kokua is vital to this effort… (see below about contributing through GoFundMe)


Your kōkua, large or small, is much appreciated will help greatly to move this work forward.To contribute, go to
To contribute in other ways (airline miles, travel vouchers, clerical help, etc…) email us at
Check out the great FREE HAWAII products you can purchase at…

All proceeds go to help the cause.

Mahalo Nui Loa!
Malama Pono,
Leon Siu
Hawaiian National