round image on layout top

Life in Business: Kadota Liquor

November 2, 2011 by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Nov-Dec LIB Kadota

Ryan Kadota, third-generation owner of Kadota Liquor and K’s Drive In, grew up in the family business.  “Both Kadota Liquors and K’s Drive In were started in 1964 by my grandparents, Thomas and Kazue Kadota. They were affectionately known as Mr. and Mrs. ‘K’ to most of the community. I personally grew up in Kadota Liquor, it was my first job,” Ryan says.

“After the 1960 tsunami destroyed the Kadota Brothers’ Grocery Store, Thomas and Kazue opened both businesses and both have been Hilo institutions for over 45 years,” he says and describes the store’s customer base as being “as wide and diverse as Hawai‘i itself. ”

Active with the businesses for the majority of his life, Ryan has witnessed changes in the business climates. “At one time there were a number of liquor retailers throughout town. Now we remain the last of the independent liquor stores in Hilo. I like to think of ourselves as the premier liquor purveyor in East Hawai‘i. Our overall selection is vast and one of the best on the island, if not in Hawai‘i. We also take pride in our customer service, whether it’s your first visit or if you’re a regular.”

If you’re unsure about the kinds of liquor or wine you want, the store has lots of expertise. “Our wine buyer has extensive knowledge of wine, sake, beer and spirits, with certifications from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and Sake Service Institute. It is that knowledge and expertise which sets us apart from the national chains,” he says.

Born and raised in Hilo, Ryan Kadota also accumulated extensive knowledge throughout the years. “I would work at Kadota Liquor during my school vacations, often doing supplemental wine purchasing based upon my own research of books and periodicals. I went to college on the mainland and worked there after graduation. Throughout my time in Southern California, I stayed involved in the wine scene as a consumer, cultivating relationships with other retailers as well as producers. My spirits education would at first be self-taught through reading and tasting, then later I would polish that with formal classes. I was in California for almost 20 years until I returned to Hilo in 2010 to the family and Kadota Liquor.”

The Kadota family of businesses includes Kadota Liquor, K’s Drive In & Mr. K’s Recycling and Redemption. “We appreciate the support of the Big Isle community. It has been a privilege to serve you for the past four decades and we look forward to serving your beverage needs going into the future!” Ryan exclaims.

Location: 194 Hualalai St., Hilo

Phone: 808.935.1802




Life in Business: Aaronʻs Blue Kalo

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Nov-Dec LIB Aaronʻs

Selling poi was not as easy as Aaron Sugino thought. So, with the poi that wasn’t selling, he started putting it in his mom’s (Aunty Bea’s) cookie recipe. And that’s how he started making the “macpoichip” cookies… and that is how a business called Aaron’s Blue Kalo got started.

Even though Aaron had earned his BA degree in therapeutic recreation in 1984 and worked as a social worker, a farmland venture led him in a new direction. He wanted to purchase land in Waimea for his parent, but the realtor (a family friend) persuaded him to buy land in his home town of Hakalau and pay off the land with vegetables and fruit that he would grow. So in 1986 he purchased a little more than five acres and became a part-time farmer as well as a full-time social worker. He made his first $9 with green onions. Then he started to plant taro, corn, string beans, eggplant and sweet potato and decided to add value to his products by making poi. The rest is history.

Today he and his wife, Vinel, have a sweet little shop on Banyan Drive, in front of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, and it offers all kinds of delicious treats. Aaron’s original “Macpoichip” cookie is still the most popular. In addition, they sell crispy cookies made with the sweet potato, ulu (breadfruit), lilikoi, coconut and other non-tropical cookie ingredients. And then there are the chips Aaron makes from both purple and yellow sweet potato, taro and ulu (breadfruit). He also makes a banana bread with poi and sweet potato. Yum.

The business uses the Hakalau Incubator Kitchen to process chips, cookies and baked goods. Vinel’s sister Wendi helps out with the baking, and you can usually find Vinel in the store welcoming both the tourist and local customers. She also has a degree in accounting.

Even though Aaron’s Blue Kalo attracts the many tourists along Banyan Drive, “Our primary market is locals,” says Aaron. “We have supportive customers from Honolulu, Maui and Kaua‘i that come to visit us when they’re in town. Our biggest challenge is growth. We do not have the equipment to keep up with the demand. We have markets wanting to carry our products and people wanting to do fundraisers and we have to turn people away because we can only do so much with what we have.”

The entire family was born and raised on the Big Island. “We all have family roots in Hakalau,” adds Vinel, proudly.

Find Aaron’s Blue Kalo at 71 Banyan Drive, Cabana D
(in front of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel).

Phone: 808.935.8085


Visit us on Facebook.





Life in Business: Aloha Kona Kids

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Nov-Dec LIB Aloha Kona Kids

Winonna Tina Cerezo was pregnant with their fifth child when Aloha Kona Kids was born. The oldest of three siblings that today share in the store’s ownership, she and her husband, Eric, (a Hawai‘i County Police Officer who passed away five years ago) wanted the best for their baby boy,, Winonna says. “So we decided to open a baby boutique that would bring the latest and greatest baby products to the Big Island.”

With some research, passion and an “amazing support system,” the Tina kids—Winonna Tina Cerezo, Kahea Tina Soberano and Pilipo Tina— opened Aloha Kona Kids. With eight babies as inspiration (and still growing) the store continues to grow, too.

At first the family business had a small kiosk at Ali‘i Gardens, then they opened their first store at the Kona International Market in 2006. Two years later, Aloha Kona Kids expanded and moved to the brand new Kona Commons.

They have adjusted to the ups and downs of the economy over the past few years, says Winonna. “ We have been blessed with amazing customers that have shopped with us from the day we opened.”

Our market is “from birth to surf,” she said. “We carry everything from prenatal to elementary-school-age products. Belly casts and journals, cribs and nursery furniture, strollers and carseats, nap mats and toddler beds—we have everything for your growing keiki.”

The Tina siblings were born and raised on the Big Island. All attended Kamehameha Schools on O’ahu and returned to Kona. Kahea now lives on O’ahu with her husband and three children and manages the Aloha Kona Kids rental program from home.

“We also have expanded our business to include quality baby products for rental,” says Kahea. “We provide almost anything our guests would need while on vacation to the Big Island. Highchairs, cribs, strollers, children’s bikes, beach tents, toddler beds. We also hold informational classes and offer baby registry and personal shopping.”

Address: Kona Commons, 74-5450 Makala Blvd, E107,

Phone: 808.854.5369





Life in Business: Concrete Technology of Hawai‘i

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Nov-Dec LIB Concrete Tech

The mission of Concrete Technology of Hawai‘i is “to transform all boring and plain concrete into a beautiful long lasting and durable solutions for all of our customers. To cover all of Hawai‘i one slab at a time.”

So says the owner of the residential and commercial repair, restoration, and concrete resurfacing business, Gerald (Jerry) Garland. It’s a family business, with son Alika Garland serving as operations manager.

They provide concrete treatments to residences and commercial properties, creating the look of tile, brick, stone, staining, epoxies, stencils, and company logos.

The father and son team returned to the Big Island in 2005 to start a family business that could grow with the islands, they say. “We lived here in the 1970s and 80s and couldn’t wait to return.”

Custom treatments for any concrete surface include: modified acrylic cement overlays with custom colors, designs, staining and patterns; application of commercial epoxies, sealers, and logos; crack repair, chipped edge and spalling repairs; concrete preservation and waterproofing treatments.

“We beautify concrete without having to remove and pour again,” says Alika.

Operations manager Alika has been resurfacing concrete since 2000, and brought this expertise to the island in 2005. They are licensed and bonded in Hawai‘i.

“Our products are made in the U.S.A. and are the best concrete resurfacing products money can buy. CTI products have been proven and tested over 40 years and are manufactured in the U.S.A. The products are only available to factory trained authorized dealers. There are dealers in all 50 states and 22 countries,” Jerry said.

Address: P. O. Box 9024 Kailua-Kona, HI 96745

Phone: 808.324.7600


Visit us on Facebook


A Passionate Kanaka Maoli: Keoki Kahumoku

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Ke Ola Magazine - Keoki Kahumoku - pgA

A Passionate Kanaka Maoli*: Keoki Kahumoku

(*Native of this land)

—Inspiring the Next Generation with ‘Ukulele, Guitar and Life Skills

…By Shirley Stoffer…

Keoki Kahumoku is a passionate guy. His beautiful musical talent comes naturally, genetically, from a family that’s well-known in Hawaiian music. But it’s almost secondary to his passions — about many things, from teaching kids music and survival skills, to living sustainably and helping survivors of the recent Japanese tsunami. As his girlfriend and assistant, Tiffany Crosson, says, “His passion is what we all love most about Keoki.” His enthusiasm is contagious. When he talks about the things that matter to him, you can hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes. In fact, the current of passion that flows through his singing and playing makes his musical performances stand apart.

“Really, everything I’ve done has been out of necessity, to survive,” Keoki tells me. “I wanted to stay in Hawai‘i; and I would rather not work for someone else. I never thought I’d be a musician and a teacher. I thought I was going to be a hunter and fisherman all my life—and maybe grow some pakalolo, like so many people I knew.” Many of Keoki’s acquaintances, and even some family, ended up in prison due to drug charges, and he had a close call himself, when he was 19, that made him determined to go another way with his life.

Fishing and hunting receded to the background in Keoki’s life in 1989, when he was called upon suddenly by his father, George Kahumoku, Jr., to fill in for his uncle Moses in the Hawaiian music group that George led at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Keoki had to learn the ‘ukulele fast, out of necessity. It was imperative to keep the group going because George had experienced a medical emergency, in the form of an aneurism, that left him unable to continue his heavy farm work. With his Kahumoku resourcefulness and creativity, George decided he would support himself and his family with his music.

The Mauna Kea job “kick-started” Keoki’s productive music career. At first he was only allowed to play on one string on a baritone ‘ukulele! Then two strings, and on, up to four as he improved. After the ‘ukulele came the learning of slack key guitar. His early teachers included his father, his uncle Moses Kahumoku, Marcus Wong Yuen, Pekelo, Sam Ahia and others. His unique, rich voice and mastery of slack key guitar and ‘ukulele have all contributed to making him the fine musician he is now. As of this fall, 2011, at the age of 41, he has played on five Grammy-award-winning CDs. Even so, Keoki says, “My life is about ‘humbling.’ Every time you think you’re hot stuff, you meet someone who does it better or knows more than you do. Sometimes when people are humbled they give up, but I knew that if I didn’t ‘get over myself,’ nothing would happen. I was taught that whatever I did, I should just do the very best job that I could do. When you’re humble, you’re more able to receive information and be able to take that information and share it with other people.”

Keoki’s passion for the process of sustainability is a motivating factor behind many of the commitments and interests of his life; learning about and living in a sustainable manner himself, and teaching kids how to do it too. A natural and compassionate teacher, he says, “I want to teach them basic life skills, and how to be able to survive in the real world. I feel like Hawai‘i has ‘dodged the bullet’ so many times—with earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis. Now we have a chance to prepare.” He’s raising livestock on a farm in Hilo for the benefit of his extended family and families he knows who can use the food. Pig farming goes way back in his family. He’s using a “game-changing,” dry litter method of pig and chicken farming that was initiated many years ago by his dad and grandfather in Kealia, as a way to be able to farm with little or no available water. The method is in practice at Masazo Pig Farm in Ka‘ū, among other places. And, as anyone who’s attended one of Keoki’s fundraisers or camps knows, not only does he raise pigs, he’s become a “smoke meat” master!

At his Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Camp each winter in Pahala, Keoki teaches kids how to raise their own food and prepare it from the ground up. Adults are welcome, too! This “everything from scratch” approach really makes his camps unique. The lifestyle camp also has music and cultural workshops as a major part of it, with world class performers/teachers such as Ledward Ka‘apana, the Rev. Dennis Kamakahi, Sonny Lim and Canadian ‘ukulele genius, James Hill, among others serving as faculty. Hawaiian food preparation is taught, including taro preparation, imu building, pig roasting and laulau making, in addition to hula, Hawaiian language and chant (oli). Kupuna from the area also share their knowledge of Hawaiian culture. Aunty Kaiwi Perkins teaches lauhala weaving at the camps. Her influence was responsible for getting the program started with the Big Island ‘Ukulele Guild which donates locally-made ‘ukulele to kids in Ka‘ū. Keoki’s ‘ukulele building workshops, using kits made in partnership with KoAloha ‘Ukulele Company, have resulted in 120 ‘ukulele being built for kids in need. Aunty Diana Aki, the famous “Hawaiian Songbird” from Miloli’i, is also often at the camps. Keoki feels strongly that “the future is in the hands of our kūpuna and young children.”

In addition to the Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Camp, Keoki leads spontaneous “long weekend” camps for school kids at different locations around the island; they are usually tied in to school holidays. Keoki’s camps and workshops have made a huge difference in the lives of a lot of kids, especially in the district of Ka’ū, which is one of Hawai‘i’s most economically depressed areas since the closing of the Pahala Sugar Mill. Many of these kids have attended the camps using scholarships funded through his non-profit Center for Hawaiian Music Studies. Philanthropist Edmond Olson of Ka’ū has helped fund Keoki’s enterprises over the years, as has the Queen Lili’uokalani Children’s Trust and Alu Like, which supports indigenous cultures (Diane Kai from the Hilo office has been especially helpful). Terry Shibuya of BISAC (Big Island Substance Abuse Council) has referred at-risk kids from Pahala High School to Keoki’s workshops, and Miss Tonini, a teacher at Na’alehu Elementary, has arranged for Keoki to do an after-school program once a week in Ka’ū, teaching ‘ukulele. Some of Keoki’s older students are now able to take over teaching a few of the classes, which makes him very happy. Keoki is teaching music at Pahala Elementary and Ka’ū High School three days a week now, too. He teaches some private lessons and often instructs at his father, George Kahumoku Jr.’s, annual music camp on Maui.

Keoki is a true mentor to the kids he teaches, and he shares his past mistakes with them in the hope that it will help them make good decisions about which way to go with their own lives. “I’ve lost three friends to suicide lately,” he says. (West Hawai‘i Today newspaper just ran a feature article by Carolyn Lucas-Zenk on Sept. 6, 2011, about how high the suicide rate is on the Big Island, stating that according to a 2009 risk study, “Hawai‘i high school students had the highest self-reported prevalence of seriously considering suicide, making a plan and attempting suicide, in the nation. They also had the third highest rate of being sad or hopeless.”) Keoki has had to battle his own demons: “I know about heartache and depression,” he says. “Sometimes people just need a little help to tip the balance the other way.” Keoki tries to live his life in a way that sets a good example for his students.

Keoki credits his father with exposing him to a lot of different music genres from a young age. (The late harmonica legend, Norton Buffalo was a close family friend, as is internationally-known steel guitar wizard, Bob Brozman, to name a couple of influences.) Keoki helps organize bluegrass workshops twice a year on Maui and the Big Island, with talented young bluegrass performers from Alaska and the mainland serving as teachers. The program started out five years ago as a collaboration between a wonderful elderly woman fiddler, the Rev. Belle Mikelson from Alaska, and the Haleakalā Waldorf School on Maui. Christ Church in Kealakekua sponsors the bluegrass workshops on the west side of the island, and members of the church’s congregation have opened up their hearts and homes to the visiting musicians while they’re here. The musicians call themselves the Olowalu Outfit band when they’re in Hawai‘i, and they usually do a dinner/concert at Christ Church, a concert at the Blue Dragon in Kawaihae, and a dinner/concert at Hana Hou Restaurant in Na’alehu. They’ve also performed at Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo with Brittni Paiva, another student of Keoki’s.

As far as his music performance goes, Keoki is still touring regularly with his dad and others, but he’s currently only doing a select number of local appearances. His primary music gig on the Big Island is at Hana Hou Restaurant in Na’alehu on the second Friday of every month, from 6-8 p.m. (reservations recommended!), and he usually plays at the Blue Dragon in Kawaihae one Saturday a month. Sometimes, too, he will hop a plane to go over and play at his father’s Masters of Hawaiian Music Slack Key show at Napili on Maui, and, of course, Keoki participates in the annual Slack Key Guitar Festival, which comes to the Big Island every September.

“Always thinkin’!”, Keoki intends to start a community garden in Pahala soon, on the property of the Pahala Plantation House.

Contact writer Shirley Stoffer at

For more information about Keoki, visit

For information about the family’s low-water method of pig farming, visit

To find out more about the Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Camp:


Gary Washburn: Jazzing Up a High School Band

November 1, 2011 by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Ke Ola Magazine -  Gary Washburn - pgA

Gary Washburn: Jazzing Up a High School Band

—Heʻs Taken Honoka‘aʻs Music Program to the Top

…By Catherine Tarleton…

It’s a bright, windy afternoon in Honoka’a for the Peace Day Festival, and the Honoka‘a High School Jazz Band is rocking the field with some big, belted-out blues by a diminutive female vocalist. The kids play with heart — a crisp, professional sound that has the crowd dancing in the grass.

Stage right, squatting down, a tall guy holds fluttering sheet music clamped to the stand while the saxes wail. That’s Band Director Gary Washburn, doing what it takes, the way he has for over 30 years, to make the Honoka‘a High School music program the best it can be. Good enough to win an award from the Grammy Foundation in April as one of 36 “Grammy Signature Schools” nationwide, out of 23,000 eligible schools. Pretty much proving it’s one of the best anywhere.

Last year, the band received a NAMM Award (National Association of Music Merchandisers) as one of the best communities in the US for music education, and Gary earned a “Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award” by the National Society of High School Scholars. They’ve performed on National Public Radio’s “From the Top” and opened for the Royal Hawaiian Band at ‘Iolani Palace, where they were recognized by the State Legislature; they do a multi-concert tour of Oahu annually to celebrate “National Jazz Appreciation Month,” and their 11th CD has just been released.

Originally from Oklahoma, Gary and his brother Kent took piano lessons from a teacher, coincidentally named Ruth Washburn, who played piano with a traveling “one-car band” in the 1930s. She made music fun for the boys, and her lessons stuck. In school, the band director had him play whatever instrument was needed: saxophone, clarinet, oboe, etc., although Gary wanted to be a drummer.

He started playing professionally at age 16, touring in the summers with his brother Kent,  of EmKay Productions in Los Angeles. Their band, the “Shadow Lake Eight” (aka “The Jades”) played with Brenda Lee, worked behind Ray Hamilton, Johnny Nash and the Charlie Daniels Band, among others, and appeared on the Bob Hope Show. Radical, because the band teamed up with an African-American girl group, the “Del Chiffons,” and popular, as they toured night clubs and college campuses across the Midwest in the 1960s, they ultimately disbanded when one of their number was drafted to serve in the Viet Nam war.

Gary attended Oklahoma State, switched his major from veterinary medicine to music, and traveled to Univerisity of Hawai‘i at Manoa to earn a Master’s Degree in music composition. He studied in Boston, worked in Los Angeles, and in 1978 came to the Big Island to settle down, teach and play music. When he began at Honoka‘a High School, they had a band room and instruments, but no music program to speak of.

“We started from scratch with 15 kids who played wind instruments,” he said. “I had a chorus class, guitar class, ‘ukulele class and a band, but no beginning band….and I told the school, ‘You are never going to have anything unless I can get to them before puberty and cars set in.’”

Washburn set up 7th and 8th grade music appreciation classes, then discovered a way to make them more fun, the way Mrs. Washburn did for him. “I was going through some state books of the kinds of classes you can offer, and there was one called ‘ensemble,’ where you combined students for a particular kind of music,” he said. The light bulb flashed on. “I thought, ‘OK, rock-and-roll works.’”

“I kind of turned it around on them,” he said, “applying it to what kids were listening to –Kalapana, the Caz, Olomana. They put something in for me to listen to and I could write it down. It inspired them; it turned them on.” Out of his own pocket, he bought a drum set, an electric keyboard and other instruments, and soon had a rhythm section for the chorus class. Although they learned by listening at first, as the kids got more into it, they wanted to learn how to read music, so Washburn taught them.

He also developed an innovative chart system, like a little league or soccer coach might use. Tracking for each song who had the solos, who played bass, drums, guitar, etc., he gave every student both a visual map of arrangements and a chance to play to their abilities.

Along the way, the band grew larger and stronger. It occurred to Washburn, “Why do we produce all this music and never play for anybody? ” They started offering free school concerts in Laupahoehoe, Waimea, Kohala, Kea‘au and many other schools and community programs.

Their current performance schedule includes ensemble shows, an annual Jazz Band Concert, a talent show in Honoka‘a, an alumni “Legacy Band” Concert, school concerts around the island, community events like Relay for Life, the Visitor Industry Charity Walk, Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival, a trip to the Honolulu Jazz Festival, and an invitation to play for a large convention group.

Expenses are funded by the kids and their families, community donations, proceeds from concerts and the Jazz Band CD recorded each year. Washburn emphasizes that the CD is not for sale. “We give it away for a donation of $10 or more,” he said.

Washburn does most of the arrangements for the Jazz Band and Ensembles. “It’s one of my joys because I am in love with writing music,” he said. Although, unlike “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (a movie he’s never seen), Washburn doesn’t have a master work in progress, he does have original music he would like to finish, including an orchestral piece once played by the Honolulu Symphony. His CD of original compositions, “A Life In A Day” by the group Justin Thyme, was produced by Milan Entertainment and ex-Motown producer Kent Washburn, for a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and is very popular in Japan.

Gary also continues playing gigs with the Olliephonics, Doug Johnson, Ati Mohala, Bill Noble, and Terry Secor and Full Circle. Proficient at most instruments, “I call myself ‘the resident sub,’” he said. “I never witnessed a teacher who could pick up any instrument and play with the kids,” said Washburn.

“It helps me understand the kids…Working with kids is just truly a blessing. I learn from them every year. There’s always some kid who looks at things a different way, and I think, ‘Wow I never thought of that.’”

“Some music teachers are so jaded by their own education, they’re not able to look at things and expand on their own creativity,” he said. “Kids are going to pursue music in college, they are going to pursue it in high school, to play for family parties, work at the hotels, or keep it for themselves. They are going to learn different ways for their own satisfaction.”

“What percentage are going to be professional musicians? Probably more than athletics. A large percentage will at least supplement their income. They develop a love of music and take it a step farther,” he said, “They will have music in their lives.”

Many former students do have music as a very big part of their lives. Polynesian recording artist R.J. Lanui Kaneao is a Jazz Band success story (Class of ’92), whose father helped build stages and support the band while R.J. was in school. Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning producer Ryan Hiraoka (Class of 2000), learned to play bass from Washburn in the 7th grade. Hiraoka earned a BA in music from UH Manoa, founded Rubbah Slippah Productions (RSP) in 2005 and topped playlists in 2006 with the hit song “Big Island Ladies” from his debut CD.

“I think he is inspirational in that he expects a lot from these kids,” said band mom Calley O’Neill, whose son Noa is a percussionist. “And when you expect a lot, they rise to the occasion every time—when you are inspirational yourself. And, after 30 years he has built a reputation as the
single best music teacher in Hawai‘i.”

“It’s having fun,” said Washburn, “having fun with music. I love music. I’m driven by that and by the needs of students to enjoy it.” When asked how long he plans to continue, he said, “I used to say I would retire when I stop having fun, but I don’t see myself ever stopping having fun.” ϖ

To find out more about the band, make a donation and obtain your CD, please call Gary Washburn at Honoka‘a High School, 775.8800 ext.287.

Contact writer Catherine Tarleton at


The Art of Clayton Bryant Young

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Ke Ola Magazine -  Clayton Young - pgA

Bold and Dynamic: the Art of Clayton Bryant Young

—Former Green Beret Creates Paintings with Spirit

…By Karen Valentine…

When you consider that artist Clayton Bryant Young was once a Green Beret, spending 11 years in the U.S. Army, you might wonder how being a soldier has affected his art and his art career. The luscious, undulating style of painting he developed while at the University of North Texas School of Fine Arts, compliments of the G.I. Bill, is bold and action-packed. That might be a clue.

Young brought his family to Hawai‘i Island in 2001.  The energy of the island added a new dimension to the size and emotion of his paintings—his abstract, expressionistic designs blended naturally with the dynamic spirit of Hawai‘i and the colors came alive.

“We went to Hawai‘i to spend the rest of our lives—have our kids in a healthier environment with traditional values. Like others, we sold everything, I quit my job, and we built a life we loved in Hawai‘i,” said Young, whose works are now part of the architecture of several local, public buildings.

As a kid, Clayton loved to paint and play around with art. “Like many artistically inclined kids, my parents indulged my creative nature until I became a teenager. Then I was expected to seek out a ‘real career’ that I could make a living at.” Young didn’t let that stop him, though.  “After 11 years in the Army, I had an opportunity to return to college on the G.I. Bill,” he said. “It was a chance to start over and pursue my passion. It was a huge gamble—I was a single parent returning to college.”

Fearlessly he forged ahead and, since then, Young has also applied the Green-Beret spirit to getting his art out in front of the public eye.  The way he charged boldly into the Hawai‘i Island art market in just two years is a case in point.

“It’s true that making a career of art takes work—not just honing your skills and learning art history, but learning about business, marketing, psychology, buying and selling. You have to set about finding and developing the people that want to own what you create. It involves a lot of donating, promoting
and communication.”

In August 2003, Clayton’s multi-canvas and textural version of “Pele” was chosen for exhibition at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Clayton has made significant contributions to the Big Island community with his large-format painting located at the Hilo Medical Center and four permanently displayed in the Hawai‘i County Annex Building in Hilo. One of Young’s paintings was redesigned as a giant, glass floor mosaic at the entrance to the $28 million ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, a beautiful and dynamic museum dedicated to the science and Hawaiian culture
on Mauna Kea.

Also in 2003, the Wailoa Art Center in Hilo hosted Young’s first Hawai‘i show, “One Paradise.” It was  comprised of 11 pieces that he designed specifically for that space. “The works were about my emotional and spiritual response to the Big Island of Hawai‘i and the Hawaiian culture. The show was received well, it led to several commissions and, most important, I felt a lot of aloha from Hawaiians and the community.”

At the University of North Texas, Young says, he had experimented with many forms of art before honing in on his signature painting style. “In my last year, I concentrated on large-format oil paintings that were strictly about shape, color and texture, as it sets up emotional content. My work is derived from colorful puzzles from my childhood, stained glass, and the influence of artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Salvador Dali, Van Gogh and Picasso. I call it hard-edged abstraction. Determining the subject, then reducing to the important elements, I intuitively break up the shapes and then paint each section from light to dark.”

His monochromatic painting, “Wallflowers II,” for example, uses dramatic light and shadow to represent the forms in foliage without the vibrant colors that one would expect. It invites the viewer to appreciate the sometimes-overlooked flowers and plants. “Life Under the Sea” reminds you of a child’s game of find-the-fish among the abstract forms, illustrating the interplay of sea life in their underwater world.


A Waking Dream


Preparing for his one-man show, the malihini reflected on his creative approach. Adapting his style to the spirit and culture of Hawai‘i was a surrealistic process. “I didn’t grow up in Hawai‘i. I asked myself, ‘Would my artistic response to Hawai‘i be embraced by a culture intimate with the ideas that I was compelled to express?’ It took me six months and a waking dream to put paint to canvas. We lived in the rainforest in Puna. I had all of these canvasses out in the studio ready to paint. I was down to six months before my one-man show. I woke up one night about  2 a.m., with a vision of a double-hulled canoe leaping straight up in a stormy sea. I ran outside and sketched what I had seen, adding in a star constellation—Scorpio—not knowing that it was called ‘Maui’s Fishhook,’ nor how important it was to Hawaiian
celestial navigation.”

That dream image became “The Navigator,” a dramatic depiction in blues, greens, purples and gold, of a voyaging canoe in wind-tossed waters.

“The next day I set up three easels and didn’t stop painting for six months. I was about halfway through the series when my wife Amber came outside to tell me the news that the Volcano Art Center was asking for art submissions. In four days I finished ‘Pele and Lehua.’ I entered the contest along with 240 other artists. It was totally different—made of two canvasses and a textured Plexiglas relief over the bottom section with the volcano representing Pele’s hair. It made the top 60 and was displayed at Volcano House. It didn’t win, but my piece found a good home on the
Big Island,” he relates.

After his show, the artist looked for “a place where I could have my other work on display for the general public. I saw a space at the County Annex in Hilo and decided to donate four pieces to the County. I went before the County Council to offer the pieces, and they graciously accepted. The next week we had the unveiling with my family and Mayor Kim present. It was a really great honor to have my work up for everyone to experience. I even had art students from local schools write to me and ask me to meet their classes at the site for lecture and discussion.”

Clayton’s commission to create a piece of art for the new ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center came after he submitted one of the versions of “The Navigator” painting, which included a volcanic mountain in the background.

“All of my commissions have been based on existing work, including the giant glass floor mosaic in the entrance to the ‘Imiloa Center in Hilo,” he said. “When I am moved to create around a particular subject or idea, it is usually too big to be restricted to one canvas, so I usually create a series.”

When the ‘Imiloa Center planners called for artists’ concepts for the building, Young says, “My wife, Amber, found an article interviewing  Dr. Marlene Hapai, then the new director of the soon-to-be ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. Amber pointed out that my work, ‘The Navigator’ depicted exactly what the Center was about—a bridge between astronomy and Hawaiian culture, celebrating the first astronomers—Hawaiian navigators. Having seen the ‘The Navigator’ in an art gallery in Hilo, Dr. Hapai invited me to
submit art and bid for the entrance floor mosaic. I won
against 30 submissions.”

Synchronicity continued to follow the process all along the way from dream to installation. “It was a dream come true, literally,” Clayton says. The commission required a circular image. “After painting a new circular version of ‘The Navigator,’ [including Mauna Kea in the background and titled “Voyage of the Navigator”] a digital image was sent to a tile company in Italy where they cut, partially-assembled, and shipped the 14-foot diameter mosaic with 144,000 glass tiles to Hawai‘i. The floor mosaic was then laid with a titanium ring around the edge. What I didn’t know was that the architect designed the entrance with a circular skylight. It was also 14 feet in diameter! We later discovered that we could teach people about the sun’s annual transit of the sky as the sun would align on or about May 20 with the skylight and mosaic, filling the disc
with sunlight (provided the weather cooperated.)”

The mosaic was unveiled during a gala opening celebration, and framed copies of “Voyage of the Navigator” were given to Senator Daniel Inouye, NASA Space Center, ‘Imiloa benefactor Dr. Earl Bakken and the director of Subaru Telescope.

“The other part of my dream come true,” says Clayton, “is I was hired to be the Visitor Services Supervisor at ‘Imiloa. It was one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had: to share my art and its relationship to the Center with thousands of guests from all over the world, and to hopefully inspire the visiting school children of Hawai‘i and Japan.”

Clayton and his wife have two teenaged daughters who he says have great promise as prodigies in other creative fields. One is a screenwriter/filmmaker and the other a ballerina in a dance company.

“What I’ve learned and now apply to raising my own children,” Clayton says, “is that what’s really important is fostering that natural gift—the one that drives our passion.”

This philosophy led the couple to make the difficult decision to return to the Mainland for their daughters’ educations.

“We only left our home in Hawai‘i out of necessity. My oldest daughter was 15, and being mentored long distance by a veteran screenwriter. My youngest daughter was in ballet, and very promising. We were too far away from any schools or companies where she could progress. So we made the heart-wrenching decision to move to Southern California until such time as the girls’ careers were self-sustaining. They are building their own production company and have garnered attention from veteran writers, producers, and actors with their projects. They are currently producing an original fantasy action/adventure web series due to come out next year.”

The artist hopes to return to Hawai‘i and continue making art, he says. “My art work has never been as inspired as it was in Hawai‘i. I have much more to do. We look forward to someday returning to our home, our friends, and artistic endeavors. ϖ

Young’s artworks are in private collections across the Continental United States and in Hawai‘i. Several of his paintings are now available as limited edition giclée prints. They may be viewed and purchased online at

Contact writer Karen Valentine at


Fallen Trees Turn to Art with Tai Lake

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Ke Ola Magazine -  Tai Lake - pgA

Fallen Trees Turn to Art with Tai Lake and Family

—Fine Furniture and Art Collaboratives

…By Margaret Kearns…

At the very top of an unmarked, dead-end road in charming Holualoa Village lives a unique family of Lakes, five in all. Fired by vision, passion, and inextinguishable energy, this family is headed by internationally-acclaimed artist and designer Tai Lake. He leads the charge as “supreme commander” of the family’s successful fine furniture design business and approaches each day as if launching a campaign for environmental protection and conservation, innovative, unbridled thinking, and artistic freedom —couched in supreme perfection.

Tai is joined by sons Jonah, 28, “supreme co-pilot,” and Noah, 25, “field marshal and tree-cycler extraordinaire.” Steadying the course, navigating any and all hurdles, are wife and mother Mary Jo and daughter Kristin, 23, a recent graduate of Southern Oregon University with a degree in lighting design. In total, they form a small ensemble of enthusiastic, optimistic collaborators, creating an artful, socially responsible lifestyle here on Hawai‘i Island.

“I attend lots of academic conferences, industry association meetings, workshops and art collaboratives worldwide — they all seem to want a title. We’re not really about that, so we have fun coming up with outrageous, whimsical tags,” Tai Lake said.

Tongue-in-cheek titles aside, Lake has collected plenty of prestigious designations over his nearly 40-year career — the past 31 years of which have bloomed from roots firmly planted in Hawai‘i. He arrived here from the Pacific Northwest in 1980 as an architectural woodworker, turning to fine furniture design in 1991. Among the formal titles earned along the way: architect, furniture designer, artist, president, advocate, mentor, and, most recently, gatherer.

With just a glance at his exquisite collection of ever-evolving, hand-crafted furniture and decorative art pieces — all created using woods grown on Hawai‘i Island — Lake’s foundation in architectural design is apparent. Clean, contemporary lines and fine, precise details reveal that this is the work of an exceptionally gifted artist and a highly-trained design engineer, one who is keenly aware of the finite supply of the natural resource his work depends upon: native island forests.

“Every piece of work has a story and every story begins with the tree,” he says. “The rich history of woodworking here in the islands, the international recognition Hawai‘i has received for this work, and most importantly, the health of our fragile eco-system are at risk without proper care and propagation of these incredible resources.”

They are values clearly modeled for his children and lived large in the many leadership roles he plays to ensure the conservation and preservation of Hawaiian Islands’ dryland and upland forests of primarily koa and ‘ohia trees. Lake is current president of the Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association (HFIA), a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1989 by and for people committed to managing and maintaining healthy and productive forests.


Artists Collaborate in Holualoa

Some 20 Island artists, set aside ego and sole bragging rights when they participated in the first Hawai‘i artists’ collaborative event in Holualoa in late October.  The inaugural theme sums up the spirit of the event: Ho‘o hui a ho‘opa‘a, ‘Olelo no‘eau – “Bringing together all skillful artists and the talented/wise to gather as a people and stand together.”

“The three-day, invitation-only event gathered artists—all masters in their individual media—together to share ideas, inspiration and skills. We worked together to create numerous pieces of art—all with at least two and in some cases many more artists working in collaboration on each piece—using a mixed media approach,” says Tai Lake, designer and fine furniture maker, who together with Holualoa artist Cliff Johns organized this year’s event.

The completed art is being shown as the “Hawai‘i Collaboration Artists’ Exhibition” through November 17 at The Holualoa Gallery and Cliff Johns Gallery, both located in the heart of Holualoa Village. The art will be offered at a “no reserve” auction during a special event at Holualoa Inn on November 19, with all proceeds benefitting future collaborative events in Hawai‘i.

“Our goal was to encourage artists to venture outside their usual media, working in alternative art forms to expand their vision and skills,” Lake says. “And the concept was to start small and grow slowly over subsequent years,” he says. “This year, the participating artists represented every district on Hawai‘i Island, as well as a diverse range of media from wood turning, jewelry making, glass blowing, hand-painted fabric, ceramics, painting and more,” he said.

The collaborative is fashioned after established events in Canada and New Zealand, and in its initial year was limited to just 20 artists. In addition to the Hawai‘i Island participants, the debut event included one artist from Canada and another from California. Eventually, Lake says, the Hawai‘i Artist Collaborative will welcome artists from throughout the Hawaiian Islands and countries worldwide.

Space is somewhat limited for the November 19 auction event; for more information and to reserve your space,
contact Tiffany Shaftoe at



Crafting Papahe‘enalu

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Ke Ola Magazine - Wooden Surfboards pgA

Crafting Papahe‘enalu:

…From Tree to Sea: Traditional Wooden Surfboard Shapers

… By Hadley Catalano…

Every surfer remembers that first surfing experience…

When Bob Russell began as a child, he surfed on blue and yellow canvas rafts along the Kona Coast. When Keith Tallett grew up in Hilo his father couldn’t afford to buy his son a board, so he shaped him a foam one in the backyard. Carlos Kuhn had his first surfing adventure south of Moloka`i, on a racing canoe.

The story behind the legendary water vehicle has evolved, reshaped its curves and lines with time. The history behind papahe’enalu, or surfboards, is as old as the sport itself, and as the saying goes, history does repeat itself. Riding on the wave of the emerging Hawaiian renaissance, the ancient practice of wooden surfboard shaping has been revived, led by the renowned O`ahu surfer Tom “Pohaku” Stone.

Big Island surfboard shapers, such as Russell, Tallett and Kuhn, have all caught Stone’s contagious enthusiasm through their respective encounters with the legendary board builder. Inspired by Stone, each shaper has embraced and developed a unique style while adhering to the cultural accuracy of the craftsmanship of wooden boards. Keeping one eye ahead, these three have sought to look behind them too, to where surfing first originated, and to carry forth the original Hawaiian surfboard traditions.

While Polynesians all across the Pacific are widely accepted as the first to make evolutionary advances in riding waves and surfboard design, dating back as far as 1500 BC according to the Hilo-based Surf History Preservation Collection, early experts noted in their journals that they considered the Hawaiian surfboards — and surfers — to be superior to all others. Six-foot planks of wood seemed to be the standard height used among outer-lying Polynesian islands, but Hawaiian boards  were made in a variety of sizes to accommodate wave differentials and surfers’ sizes and builds.

Boards were built of three pre-contact woods, ulu (breadfruit), wiliwili (a Hawaiian balsa, used only for ali`i, or royalty) and koa (a Hawaiian mahogany). Sizes ranged from the two- to five-foot paipo (the original knee or/and body board); the alaia, six to 12 feet; and the kiko`o, 12 to 17 feet (referred to as “Duke Style” board), up to the olo boards, 18 to 24 feet, that were carved to be ridden strictly by royalty. The larger boards varied in weight from roughly 77 to 150 pounds.

The physical design and shape of the surfboards were measured by eye and carved by hand, with handmade tools. Once the blank was split off a log, it was shaped into a rounded nose and a squared-off tail. The blank was then sanded with coral blocks, rubbed with sand, smoothed with water and sharkskin, and finished with kukui nut oil.

Over the centuries, the heavy wooden planks morphed into hollow boards (an invention by surfer Tom Blake in the 1920s) and with modern technology, the transformation continued into today’s lightweight and easily maneuverable foam and fiberglass boards with fins, leashes and rockers. The practicality and allure of shaping traditional boards was, for a period of time, lost, reminiscent only in museums and wall hangings.

Around 2004, Stone began to invest his energy into reviving a family heritage:  the traditional Hawaiian shaping practices of wooden papahe`enalu. Russell, a woodworker in Holualoa, had access to koa wood.

“When he was shaping at my house, I began to learn through observation,” explained Russell, who is currently working on his 45th wooden board. “ I give my kumu respect; I wouldn’t be doing it without him.” As Russell went on to describe the details of the grains and twists of the wood, the movement of the drying planks and the time-consuming process of shaping a wooden board and finishing it with an oil coat, he stressed that there is a difference between traditional and nontraditional Hawaiian boards.

“Many people shape wooden board, but for example, an alaia is a specific type of board. To me it’s not an alaia if it’s not made from Hawaiian wood,” he said.

Russell has replicated a number of boards from the Bishop Museum collection, designed boards for professional wave riders and crafted boards for collectors on the East Coast. Each time, Russell connects intimately with each one of his boards and the entire shaping process. “There is history here on the Big Island. Writings from the time of Captain Cook talk about surfing,” said Russell, who is native Hawaiian, noting that the first surfer could possibly have surfed at Holualoa Bay (Lyman’s). “Hawaiians want to get into their culture, whether it’s through the resurgence of hula, our language, pounding poi or carving and riding a board. We want to connect to our roots, teach our children. Taking it from a standing tree to a finished, rideable board brings a lot of satisfaction. There are not too many people that can say they’ve done that.”

Following in the ways of his teachers, Carlos Kuhn, who resides in Āhualoa, has many similarities to the ways Stone (and Russell) have developed into wooden shapers. A tree trimmer in his mid 20s, Kuhn carries with him a board-shaping motto, “Bringing the tree to the sea.”

“I first took part in shaping a wooden board at Waimanalo beach with Uncle Pohaku [Stone],” said Kuhn, who became interested in wooden boards after a visit to Bishop Museum. “I like people who aren’t afraid to share knowledge. People who want to see other people strive.”

Studying at O‘ahu’s Marine Educational Training Center, he learned small-vessel fabrication and manufactured molded fiberglass canoes and a variety of custom composite parts. But, after the “seed was planted,” Kuhn returned to tree trimming, the occupation of his father when the young shaper was a boy. He stayed involved, however, with Stone’s shaping clinics organized in conjunction with non-profits aimed at sharing craftsmanship skills with Big Island children, and he quickly became enthralled with the beauty of shaping.

“Old boards have the most gradual tapers. Some were cumbersome for sure, but others were just the opposite. It had to do with the shaper and his experience in that time. Every board is an evolution of a mind in time. Kanaka had every tool at his disposal and already created all functional shapes used for riding this ocean. I don’t doubt that many would be considered artwork by today’s standards,” he said.

Harvesting the trees he fells, Kuhn utilizes what his clients discard. “We started using our resources to create functional artistry, which pays respect to the skills of older generations,” said the shaper, who has donated eight of his 10 boards, like the one on display at the new Eddie Aikau Restaurant in Waikoloa. “There is empowerment in giving someone the tools to create something to ride on. You can create a straight connection through the shaping of the board to its life from the mountain to the sea.”

Kuhn has kept a written account of all the boards he has made (as has Russell), describing in detail where the tree was felled, the type of tree (he has also shaped nontraditional boards out of mango and other local woods), the milling, the spline drawing, the rough shaping, the planning (with hand and power tools), sanding and finishing with both kukui nut and tung oil.

One plank Kuhn shaped was part of a dead wiliwili tree that came from Moloka`i. He finished the board and named it “Kipu`upu`u,” a name he says was suggested by Aunty Linda Bertelmann. He lent the alaia to his friend Hualalai Keohuloa, who surfed the board at Waipi‘o Valley —
an empowering experience for both surfer and shaper.

“Surfing wooden boards feels like nothing else; it takes a lot of skill, but you are more connected,” Kuhn said, describing the humbling experience. “Hualalai is a versatile rider. He’s in tune with the ocean. In shaping these planks I have made relationships along the way and I get to see the trees make a connection when surfed in this ocean by friends.”

The board holds stories and those stories are shared out on the water, and it’s that cultural sustainability of board making that first sparked Tallett’s interest.

A native Hawaiian artist, Tallett earned a bachelor’s degree from UH-Hilo in 1995 and a master’s at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999. Based in Pa’auilo, he and Stone have recently received a Cultural Apprenticeship Grant through the Folk and Traditional Arts Program at the Hawai`i State Foundation for Culture and the Arts. According to the Foundation, the grants are awarded to help masterful and accomplished teachers of the traditional arts share their knowledge in a deep and meaningful way with the experienced individuals who they feel are best equipped to carry on the tradition.

Having grown up immersed in the surf culture in Hilo with homemade foam, fiberglass and resin boards made by his father, Tallett joked that he learned to shape through osmosis. Though kidding aside, the shaper did learn to shape out of necessity.

Over the years, and with growing maturity, Tallett’s youthful embarrassment turned into gratitude as he realized the importance of expressing himself through art and the connection to his culture through board shaping. However, it wasn’t until a few years back when Clark Foam, the company from which Tallett and his father bought supplies, went out of business, that Tallett turned to wood and back to the basics.

“It sparked an interest that I had to engage with the board physically,” said the artist.  “It’s a utilitarian craft. I wanted to participate in the grant so that I could one day teach the knowledge.” He explained that he was first introduced to Stone through a workshop at Pine Trees, a surf spot in Kona.

“He got everyone interested. He said, ‘Here’s a chainsaw and pencil, let’s go,’” said Tallett, explaining that through cultural protocol, Stone is his guide, teaching him the way. “It is comforting to know that if it doesn’t work out the first time, you can make another. It’s okay to mess up.”

Tallett will be apprenticing with Stone over the course of the next year and through the grant will detail a plan to help preserve traditional board building and share it with others. This plan has led Tallett to find a kindred spirit in Kuhn. Both have connected over the positive repercussions of providing Hawaiian children with a sense of tradition, perpetuating the culture by sharing, inspiring self-sustainability and not to mention the biodegradable novelty of wood.

“In the Hawaiian culture there really is no word for art. Everything was made for its usefulness and practicality,” said Tallett, a founding member of AGGRO culture, a Hawai`i based art collective, who, along with Russell and Kuhn, will be featured at the Kahilu Theatre exhibition ‘Contemporary Hawaiian Crafts’ through November 27. “When I met and worked with Pohaku, what struck me most was his commitment to passing on knowledge, his openness to sharing the tradition. I feel that for our traditions to remain living, we have to practice them. I believe that not only should the art of crafting wooden boards continue, but we should celebrate and give them life by using them and
teaching the next generation.”

It’s been a welcome homecoming for papahe`enalu. The recovery of the traditional boards — as art, but above all for cultural and practical usage — has begun to circulate around Hawai`i Island, finding a place once again beneath the accomplished feet of Hawaiian surfers. ϖ


Contact writer Hadley Catalano at



Surf History Preservation Collection, Hilo.


Kahilu Gallery exhibition at  Kahilu Theatre:
“Contemporary Hawaiian Crafts,” Oct. 18 – Nov. 28, Monday – Friday,
9 a.m. – 3 p.m.


Pilgrimage to the Sky: Mauna Kea

by Ke Ola Magazine divider image
Ke Ola Magazine -  Mauna Kea Pilgrimage - pgA

Pilgrimage to the Sky: Honoring Mauna Kea

—Kuahiwi Kūha‘o i ka Mālie: Mountain Standing Alone in the Calm

…By Marya Mann…

The Summit Pu’u Wēkiu, Sunrise, Fall Equinox, 2011 – Shimmering in the first light of morning at the top of the world, the sun paints brilliant shades of red, orange, pink and gold on the mountain, igniting the tallest pu’u in all of Oceania, Wēkiu Peak, before cascading down the slopes of Mauna Kea and merging into the ‘āina.

This color phenomenon atop Mauna Kea is the manifestation of the deity Kū, spark of life, strength and prosperity, and accounts for the Hawaiian name of the ridge where the summit rises: Kūkahau’ula, “Kū of the rosy-tinted snow.”

The breathtaking scene illuminates the sacred Hawaiian ceremony about to take place. The mixed group, a congregation of Hawaiians and others invited to participate, gathers around a stone altar, built by Hawaiian practitioners to fulfill their mission to protect and honor the ‘āina

Mountain energy has inspired ancient Hawaiian culture—its cosmology, oli, hula and all the arts for millennia. To people like Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou—a Native Hawaiian organization advocating greater protection of the land —the whole mountain is a sacred outdoor temple, the piko of the island, the umbilical cord where Sky Father (Wakea) and Earth Mother (Papahānaumoku) are connected. This altar on the summit is for making offerings to the ‘aumakua (spiritual ancestors).

This altar on the summit holds fragrant, green offerings to the Akua, nā akua, and ‘aumakua. The offerings, or ho’okupu, were prepared by friends of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, which conducts ceremonies on the mountain and elsewhere. Blessed by the Ali‘i No’eau Loa, the honored Kumu Hula Paul Neves, they are placed on the altar by Makhtar, a Senegalese disciple chosen by Ali’i to carry the offerings for the people. Every year the Ali’i and spiritual leaders give this honor to someone of good heart, thus completing the closing of the equinox ceremony at the summit.

The ascent, which has been arduous, began ten hours ago at sea level with 40 practitioners now reduced to five, ascending to breathe in the subtle air at almost 14,000 feet. Standing at the summit, each member of the group stands for something larger than herself or himself — for the sun, for the ‘āina, for each other, for the world.

The contingent spends nearly an hour on the top that morning, united by the calling to adhere to the sacred disciplines of the Royal Order and its set of protocols, chants and unifying principles.

“The worship that occurs on Mauna Kea has occurred for thousands of years and has been mostly conducted in private,” says Tom Whitney, a friend of the Order. Recent events, however, seen as encroachments on the sanctity of the mountain — including the proposal to build an 18-story-tall, Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) that would disturb cultural view planes, led to a plan, “Onipa‘a Mauna Kea a Wakea,” meaning “stand fast and resist the affront to the Sacred Temple – Mauna Kea.”

Reasserting the right to continue to worship, Kumu Paul Neves, a Chief of the Royal Order of Kamehameha’s Hilo Chapter, Moku O Mãmalahoa, writes, “The upper regions of Mauna Kea reside in Wao Akua, the realm of the Akua-Creator.”

The sacred pilgrimage that led to this stunning sunrise moment atop Mauna Kea began the night before in Hilo at the Royal Order’s outdoor meeting space near Puhi Bay, with the first step of the equinox ceremony.

Equinox Ceremonial Opening


Sea Level, September 20, 9 p.m. – The autumnal equinox, one of the semi-annual days of equal daylight and night, represents a perfect balancing of natural forces. “Before you have the birth, you have the conception,” said Kumu Paul, his alert, piercing eyes making his point, refined fingers and palms shaping an open basket. “This equinox ceremony is the conception that takes place before the winter solstice, which is the birth. The 2011 solstice will be one year before the important solstice 2012 alignment, a new birth. The fall equinox ceremonies are the conceptions.”

Established by royal proclamation of King Kamehameha V on April 11, 1865, the Royal Order protocols are time-tested. Solemn guards wearing golden shoulder capes emblazoned with crescents escorted the congregants to places in a large circle. A vibrant opening ritual ensued, led by Kumu Paul Neves’ prayers and chants. Four of his kane (male) dancers performed Ha‘a Koa, the Dance of the Warrior.

Ho’okupu were accepted by Kaliko Kanaele, ‘Alihikaua, or captain, of the Royal Order in Hilo, the Māmalahoa chapter of the statewide group. Kaliko blessed and placed offerings of ti and taro leaf, maile lei, flowers and coconut water on a pyramidal lele (wooden shrine). One focus guided the ceremony, a primary concept permeating Hawaiian culture:  “Aloha ‘āina,” love of the land.

The late Hawaiian activist George Helm expressed his thoughts about aloha ‘āina this way: “The truth is, there is man and the environment. One does not supercede the other. The breath of man is the breath of Papa (the earth). Man in merely the caretaker of the land that maintains his life and nourishes his soul. Therefore, ‘āina is sacred.”

The offerings honoring the mountain at this auspicious equinox time were carried in a pilgrimage from sea level to the top of the sacred mountain. The caravan departs to the next ceremonial location.

Shark Stone


September 20, 11 p.m. – The next stop was the Shark Stone at Keaukaha Park near Puhi Bay in Hilo. Kaliko, who has led equinox and solstice ceremonies for the past 15 years on Mauna Kea, raised his broad-shouldered arms to greet the crowd encircling the sacred stone under a drizzle of rain: “Aloha, ‘ohana!”

The group responded, “Aloha!” and Kaliko lifted each ho‘okupu to the sky and around the four directions, chanting.

Surrounded by ‘ohana, Kaliko broke open a green coconut, splashed its placental water over sweet potato and maile offerings, symbolizing the start of a new ritual, and said, humbly, “I need enlightenment as much as anybody. Let’s ask Akua to help us grow stronger, with bigger hearts.”

Naha Stone


September 21, midnight – The second stop for the caravan was at the Naha Stone, a nearly-5,000-pound holy relic of the Royal Order, a testament to leadership, enshrined in front of the Hilo Public Library on Waianuenue Avenue. The Pohaku Naha, legend tells us, is a sacred rock that was moved by the future King Kamehameha when he was 14. He lifted its staggering weight, end-over-end. In so doing, he fulfilled an ancient prophecy that the stone would be raised by the greatest leader Hawai‘i would ever know. He later united the Hawaiian Islands under his rule in 1810.

Pu’u Huluhulu Kupuna Shrine


September 21, 1:30 a.m. – After midnight, enshrouded by mists and waves of rain, the motorcade moved up Saddle Road to Pu’u Huluhulu, a large hill across from the road to the summit. By this time, 20 or so people had gone their separate ways, leaving a smaller group of pilgrims.

Thirteen years ago, a Hawaiian lele (wooden altar) was built at Pu’u Huluhulu for winter solstice, 1998, the day deemed by cultural leaders as an auspicious time to hold the first public ceremony to protect Mauna Kea.

The same day, Kaliko, along with members of Aloha ‘Āina and Mauna Kea An‘āina Hou, came together to erect a lele on the summit of Mauna Kea, and, at sunrise on winter solstice, 1998, ho’okupu were carried to the top of Pu‘u Kukahau‘ula—the ancient name for the summit cone—laying footprints for others, in future years, to retrace.

Onizuka Visitor Information Station


September 21, 3 a.m. – Rising above the cloud cover into incredibly clear heavens, the next stop was the Onizuka Visitor Station at 9,300 feet. Under the creamy river of the Milky Way, the procession approached the lele built toward the east in a protected fold of silversword. The stars are bright enough to light this wooden lele, erected at summer solstice, 1999, by the Chiefs of the Royal Order, Māmalahoa, for anyone unable to travel all the way to the summit.

Enveloped in a womb of a billion stars whispering in the pre-dawn chill, the group encircles the lele, and Kaliko performs his final ceremony of the night, placing each ho’okupu on the altar. Shining down upon this scene are the Pleiades (Makali’i in Hawaiian) as well as Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper and other constellations that glittered and spread their amiable light in mists of white across the sapphire sky.

Afterwards, most celebrants drove back down the mountain, leaving just six to rest a little before the last leg of the journey, sunrise on Mauna Kea’s summit.

Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve


September 21, 5 a.m. – An hour before dawn, the landscape of the sacred can be most lucidly viewed through the eyes of those who are defining it. Sacred landscape is created, but it is also discovered. It emanates from life itself.

The ancient Hawaiian story of Kūkahau’ula and Poli’ahu, the snow goddess of Mauna Kea, suggests a sacred understanding of the history of glaciation on the mountain. A 400-foot-thick ice cap covered 26 square miles on the summit area, carving steep inclines and leaving huge piles of rocky debris. Mauna Kea is one of the few places in the tropics to have experienced repeated glaciation, especially on an island that lies only 20 degrees north of the equator.

In the story, Kūkahau’ula —Kū, a deity representing the male force in the form of the rising sun—pursues Poli‘ahu, the goddess of the mountain, but is constantly thwarted by the God (Kane) together with frost, snow and freezing rain, as he does not wish to let Poli’ahu and Kūkahau’ula be together. This period of time could perhaps represent the ice ages.

But when the Goddess Mo’oinanea, guardian of Lake Waiau and caregiver of all the divine children, speaks to Kane, asking for his compassion, he finally gives in and lets the two be together at the rising and setting sun times of the day. When Kūkahau‘ula finally embraces Poli‘ahu, her heart melts, the ice age is over, and the resulting snow melt forms the springs and streams that water the land below, providing life to the people and all life forms below.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of Hawaiian cultural practitioners, their version of the deity is being destroyed. According to
Kealoha Piciotta, Poli’ahu’s image and bodily form is being destroyed. “They are altering the images of our deities because the pu’u’s are being leveled and the telescopes are being built on top of her,” she says.

“The cinder cones are sacred in and of themselves because they are burial places and make up some of the kinolau, or the divine bodily manifestations of the gods. For example, you can look up and see the image of Poli’ahu lying down. The real landscape is like a kind of sleeping giant.  You can look up and actually see an image of a woman lying on a bed of clouds. She’s the woman of the mountain. That’s her place, and you can see her very clearly.”

Near the observatories, the practitioners faced east, with the actual summit just to the right. Stars were disappearing and the light of day dawning. Chanting to the sun as it arose over the vast miracle of life below, they welcomed the first clear, beautiful days of early autumn.  It was time to carry the ho’okupu to the actual summit, Pu’u Wēkiu.

Pu’u Wēkiu ~ The Summit


September 21, 6 a.m., Sunrise – The summit ahu, the highest Hawaiian ceremonial altar in the entire known universe, is the sacred piko of Mauna Kea. First light of morning illuminates the peak, Kūkahau’ula, again and again, year after year. The actual summit ceremony is private and conducted in silence, except for the leader, alaka’i, who maintains harmony and focus on aloha.

At equinoxes and solstices, marking natural and cyclical time, the wet crescents of coconut lay among ho’okupu to nourish new growth and regeneration of life on the sacred summit. The dance of earth and sun, in a miracle duet, ageless and enduring.

“Hawaiian people are not alone in these ceremonies for keeping track of the motions of celestial bodies and their relationship to observers on earth,” says Kealoha Pisciotta. Hawaiian ceremony keeps time with vast movements and ancient astronomical cycles.

Light on Mauna Kea


“Mauna Kea is not only the center of Hawaiian spirituality. It is not only the center of 1.8 million acres of ‘ceded lands.’  These are crown lands of the Hawaiian monarchy, transferred illegally to the U.S. on January 17, 1893, and transferred back to the state, in trust for Hawaiians, at annexation in 1959,” says Kealoha Pisciotta.

Can larger telescopes and more development on Mauna Kea exist in balance with the Hawaiian cultural traditions?

“Well, probably the answer is no,” she says. “The no comes not because we’re against science or the university. It comes because we’ve experienced 40 years of broken promises. Their argument right now is that the summit is already destroyed. And so their destroying it further is not significant, and therein lies the problem. The TMT is too big; the footprint is too big.
Enough is enough.”

Contact writer Marya Mann at


For a visual history of some of Māmalahoa’s activities on Mauna Kea, please visit

For information on the current status of projects and plans that
impact Mauna Kea, please visit KAHEA,

For a report on Mauna Kea’s cultural, religious, and environmental significance prepared by Māmalahoa and Mauna Kea An‘āina Hou, visit:


bottom round image

footer blue big nice

footertop right
© 2008-2014 Ke Ola Magazine - Celebrating the Arts, Culture, and Sustainability of Hawai‘i Island | Sitemap