Uncle Sonny Kamahele of Makuu

Kamahele Family of Makuu, Puna, Hawaii

I’ve been talking with my extended Kamahele family over on my Facebook page. It’s got me thinking about our Kamahele family of Makuu and how it was back then.

I’m going to rerun five posts I wrote back in 2009 about life in Maku‘u and my family there. Every Monday I’ll post another one, and here is the first.

My Kamahele Family in Maku‘u

Today I was thinking about my Kamahele family and especially my grandmother Leihulu’s brother, Ulrich Kamahele.

Everybody knew him as Uncle Sonny, as if there was only one “Uncle Sonny” in all of Hawai‘i. He was a larger-than-life character. In a crowd, he dominated by the sheer force of his personality. Since I have been thinking about him, I thought I would write a several-part story about Maku‘u.

My extended Kamahele family came from Maku‘u. When we were small kids, Pop took  us in his ‘51 Chevy to visit.

He turned left just past the heart of Pahoa town, where the barbershop is today. We drove down that road until he hit the railroad tracks, and then turned left on the old railroad grade back toward Hilo. A few miles down the railroad grading was the old Maku‘u station. It was an old wooden shack with bench seats, as I recall. That is where the train stopped in the old days. A road wound around the pahoehoe lava flow all the way down the beach to Maku‘u. That was before there were the Paradise Park or Hawaiian Beaches subdivisions.

We did not know there was a district called Maku‘u; we thought the family compound was named Maku‘u. Of the 20-acre property, maybe 10 acres consisted of a kipuka where the soil was ten feet deep. The 10 acres on the Hilo side were typical pahoehoe lava. The property had a long oceanfront with a coconut grove running the length of the oceanfront. It was maybe 30 trees deep and 50 feet tall.

The old-style, two-story house sat on the edge of a slope just behind the coconut grove. If I recall correctly, it had a red roof and green walls. Instead of concrete blocks as supports for the posts, they used big rocks from down the beach.

There was no telephone, no electricity and no running water. So when we arrived it was a special occasion. We kids never, ever got as welcome a reception as we got whenever we went to Maku‘u.

Tutu Lady

The person who was always happiest to see us small kids was tutu lady Meleana, my grandma Leihulu’s mom. She was a tiny, gentle woman, maybe 100 pounds, but very much the matriarch of the family. She spoke very little English but it was never an issue. We communicated just fine.

We could not wait to go down the beach. Once she took us kids to catch ‘ohua—baby manini. She used a net with coconut leaves as handles that she used to herd the fish into the net. I don’t recall how she dried it, but I remember how we used to stick our hands in a jar to eat one at a time. They were good.

She would get a few ‘opihi and a few haukeuke and we spent a lot of time poking around looking at this sea creature and that.

Between the ocean in the front and the taro patch, ulu trees, bananas and pig pen in the back, there was no problem about food. I know how Hawaiians could be self-sufficient because I saw it in action.

The house was full of rolls of stripped lauhala leaves. There were several lauhala trees and one was a variegated type. I don’t recall if they used it  for lauhala mats but it dominated the road to the house.

There were lauhala mats all over the place, four and five thick. There was a redwood water tank, and a Bull Durham bag hung on the kitchen water pipe as a filter.

Years later when I showed interest in playing slack key, I was given Tutu’s old Martin guitar.

She played it so often that the bottom frets had indentations in it where her fingers went.


8 thoughts on “Kamahele Family of Makuu, Puna, Hawaii”

  1. beautiful…thank you for sharing, the first time I heard of your family was within our Pai Ohana reunion talk story time with Papa Auwae. The powers that be. may you be more successful and blessed this new year. continue your amazing hana. Mahalo.

  2. Mahalo for sharing….beautiful…my grandfather—Samuel Kaloka Kamahele and my grandmother—Cecelia Kawahineka’apune Makua Kamahele. .Their daughter is my mother—Cecilia Leiali’i Kamahele Nehls. Hello to your wife June. Her brother Carl was married to a best friend Christina Bonilla Perreira, she has passed on. Her sister Asucena Bonilla Kamahele was married to my mother’s brother-Herman Kamahele.
    Aloha, aloha!

    1. Aloha Flo K. Tabag. Yes, Papa Auwae and the Pai Ohana is in the Kamahele Genealogy book. Mahalo so much for reaching out. Everything we write adds to the historical record.

    2. Aloha Cheryl Jacot. Now, all the pieces fit. I did not know the connection. Is Keith Braddah Skibs Nehls related to you? Mahalo very much for sharing.

  3. Thank you Dicky, I love these stories where all us cousins grew up. Makuu will never ever be forgotten, nor Tutu lady. We were very fortunate to grow up where we did.

    1. Aloha Aunt Nani. I learned so much about Maku’u from you. It has been wonderful to meet more and more of the family. We knew your dad as Uncle Dempsey- spelling not right. Not exactly sure, but I think your folks house was close to Pahoa Cash and Carry?

  4. I am Keoki (George Kamahele Esperago) daughter, when I was there in 87 for the reunion I remember the green walls and straw mats and the ocean and they had a generator to run the lights and the water tank was still there and Uncle Sonny cows mooing in the morning I climb the coconut tree and won the teak bowl which I still have and cherish Love my O’hana

  5. Dicky, you spoke of tutu and catching ohua, it reminded me of an incident involving my son Dallas and his sister Jonna when they were in elementary school. I had some dried ohua that I brought from home, and unbeknownst to me these two kids used to take a bag of them t o school and eat some on the bus. A little boy wanted to try some so my kids gave him some, the kid threw up on the bus. My kids ate them as snacks. As a little kid I loved going to the beach with tutulady.

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