Old Maku’u – a little history
Before there were Hawaiian Paradise
Park and Hawaiian Beaches there was Maku’u. Now Maku’u is
considered the area directly south of our house and begins at the
south end of Ala Heaiu road. If you had a 4 wheel drive vehicle or a
bicycle and depending on how wet it has been you could take
Government Beach Road (also called Beach Road) all the way to
Hawaiian Beaches ( about 4 miles) and in the process pass Maku'u
point. Good luck
finding it on any map. Back when a train still ran down railroad
avenue there was a Maku'u train station.
Maku’u is Hawaiian for the prow of a
canoe or more specifically "the place you fasten a rope to drag your
canoe out to sea". Later the word also came to mean the horn of a
saddle. What follows are some recollections from
someone who was the first to live in HPP. That ‘s followed by four
blog entries I found on the Internet. These are wonderful stories –
From an email exchange with
a long time resident
It was such fun to read about the old Kamahele homestead. I played
there often as a young girl. Tutu Kamahele loved my dad and sold him
the five acres Pahoa side of the house, so we went there regularly.
I am unsure as to which tutu this would have been. I never knew her
first name. She was just Tutu Kamahele to me. I believe she was
Uncle Sonny’s mom.
My dad and I were the first residents of HPP in 1960. When we went
to Maku’u Tutu would often seem to rise out of the pasture with her
long white hair flowing. I would picnic there at midnight during
full moons and stand barefoot on the old sea stones along the Mamalahoa trail, imagining all of the feet in the past that had
walked there. Often Daddy would drop me off on the cliffs and I
would play along the sea ending at Maku’u for lunch with Tutu.
Once I found
a skull on the cliffs near the end of what is now Maku’u Drive. Tutu
gave me a molar from the skull as a keepsake and had me send my
molar when I lost it to replace the tooth so that I would not have
bad luck. She is actually how I received my Hawaiian name,
Kekahikuleana. That is what she called me. It was not until about 10
years ago that I found out why. I was researching place names in HPP
and discovered through an old boundary commission statement of a
legend of the area. The legend included a maiden of Puna who also
played along those cliffs and her name was Kekahikuleana. Imagine my
surprise to find my name there. She was the mother of Umi-Liloa, a
famous chieftain of Waipio, son of Liloa who traveled to Puna to
fall in love with Kekahikuleana. His name remains to recall the
story at an area on the cliffs (Ka’ahuokaliloa).
vacation rentals and actually did have guests stay a while ago from
the Kamahele family.
Thank you so
very much for the connection. I will look forward to more memories
from Richard Ha about Uncle Sonny and the old farm at Maku’u. He was
so correct about the green house with the red roof. I remember it
well and to this day love that color theme on a house. It says old
Hawaii to me.
I am sorry
for the rambling response. It has just taken me back to some warm
A hui hou,
Below are blog entries written by
Richard Ha who gives his recollections of Uncle Sonny and tutu lady
Meleana, who occupied 20 acres a few miles south of our home many,
many years ago.
Part 1: My Kamahele Family in Maku‘u
– by Richard Ha
Today I was thinking about 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
My extended Kamahele family came from
Maku‘u. When we were small kids, Pop would take us in his ‘51 Chevy
to visit. He would turn 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
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
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.
And the person happiest to see us small
kids was tutu lady Meleana. She was 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 it was used 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
the kitchen water pipe had a Bull Durham bag on the spout as a water
Years later when I showed interest in
playing slack key, I was given Tutu’s old Martin guitar. She had
played it so often that the bottom frets had indentations in it
where her fingers went.
Part 2: Cousin Frank Kamahele
by Richard Ha
It was because he stayed at Maku‘u when
he was a small kid that my Pop’s cousin Frank Kamahele became a jet
pilot and also the manager of the Hilo and Kona airports.
About a mile down the coast from Tutu’s
house in Maku‘u, toward Hawaiian Beaches, was an island called Moku
‘Opihi. During World War II, Hell Fire and other planes flew from
Hilo and used that island for target practice. The pilots knew there
was a small kid at the house who jumped up and down waving at the
planes. Some would fly low and turn sideways, then smile and wave at
the small kid. Others would wiggle their wings and buzz the house.
The small kid knew that he would become a pilot one day. He did not
know how; just that he would.
Later, when that kid Frank Kamahele was
at Pahoa High School, a new teacher came from Texas and became the
basketball coach. Frank loved basketball, and the new coach helped
him to go to the University of Hawai‘i on a scholarship to play
basketball. It so happened that the University of Hawai‘i had an Air
Force ROTC program, which Frank joined. Upon graduating, Frank
applied to go to flight school. He was told to go home and wait for
an opening, and one came a few months later. Next thing he knew, he
was in Arizona at flight school.
Frank told me recently that he feels
like the luckiest person in the world. He came from a very poor
family, and no one in the family had gone to college. If it hadn’t
been for the planes flying overhead and a kind, dedicated teacher
from Texas, he might have had a career as a “cut cane man.” He was
pretty good at that and earned $200 a month for contract cane
cutting. At that time, it was a lot of money.
Frank was a cool-headed person. He told
me about the worse thing that happened to him during his flying
career. It happened at Honolulu International Airport once when he
was taking off: when he was around 150 feet in the air, an engine
fell off. He was piloting a KC135 refueling tanker –- a flying bomb
the size of a Boeing 707. He said the Control Tower called and
asked: “Do you realize you lost engine number four?"
“Roger,” Frank replied.
“I repeat – do you realize that you lost
engine number four?”
“Roger.” That was the extent of his
conversation with the Tower. In the meantime, Frank shut off the
engine, the fuel, etc. He did not want a fire to start. It happened
that he was on his routine annual check ride, so an Air Force
inspector was along for the ride and sitting in the jump seat.
Except for the engine falling off, everything was going well. The
plane flew on three engines, no problem. Once they were stabilized
at altitude, Frank requested permission to land and get another
plane to finish his mission. He knew things were going smoothly and
that he needed to get his crew back up in the air again to keep up
their confidence. When they landed uneventfully, he asked the flight
inspector if he wanted to go back up with them.
The inspector told him: “I’m sure you
all will do just fine.” He could not wait to get off that plane and
on the ground.
After his career in the Air Force, Frank
returned to the Big Island and flew a 6-passenger tourist tour
plane. He told me he could not keep on doing that because it was too
boring and uneventful.
So he went to O‘ahu to work at the
airport as an administrator, and the Hilo/Kona airports manager job
came up. He flew back to Hilo and applied for the job, which he
kept for 17 years.
This is an example of how you just never
know what has an influence on a young kid and might change his or
her entire life for the better. It’s why I am convinced that the $1
million annual TMT contribution toward the Big Island’s K-12
education will be so valuable to our children.
Part 3: Uncle Sonny
– by Richard Ha
My Uncle Sonny farmed at Maku‘u after
some years in the Merchant Marines. His real name was Ulrich
Kamahele (I have no idea where that name came from). He had a big
One day, when I was walking with a
couple of my buddies on Waianuenue Avenue near where Cronies is now,
I heard someone call me. It was Uncle Sonny, and he was almost all
the way up the block toward Kaikodo. It’s hard to be rugged -- even
when you are in the 9th grade and smoking cigarettes -- when your
Uncle Sonny yells “Eh, Dicky Boy.” I cringed and looked around to
see if any girls had heard him. He must have been in his 30s then.
I caught up with him again after I
graduated from the University of Hawai‘i and returned home to run
Pop’s chicken farm. When we decided to start growing bananas, we got
lots of our banana keiki from Uncle Sonny. The Paradise Park
subdivision had been built and so one could drive all the way down
to Maku‘u. So we saw him quite frequently. Uncle Sonny did not have
electricity, running water or a telephone, but he had a transistor
radio and a 1-foot stack of U.S. News and World Reports. He always
got the current copy from the Pahoa post office. Though he lived a
very simple life, he’d traveled all over the world with the Merchant
Marines and he knew a lot more than one would think. He could talk
about a myriad of subjects. I found his stories fascinating.
I visited him often and learned a lot
about farming from him. A visit to Maku‘u would take hours, with
most of that time spent listening to Uncle Sonny. I learned to be a
good listener. He always talked in a loud voice and he waved his
arms a lot. My wife June and my sister Lei told me that they would
stay arms’ length from Uncle Sonny, walking backwards or in a big
circle around the yard. They were careful to stay out of range of
his swinging arms, or else they would be all bruised at the end of
Uncle Sonny was known for growing the
sweetest watermelons. People would come from miles around to get his
watermelons. He did not have to go out to sell them; they would all
sell by word-of-mouth. We spent a lot of time talking about farming
watermelons. He used a backpack poison pump. Once he showed me how
he knew that the amount of sticker/spreader in the mixture was
effective. Although the rate was supposed to be something like
˝-teaspoon per gallon, he always double-checked the mixture by
sticking a piece of California Grass into it. Due to the fine hair
on the grass, water normally runs off California grass, taking the
herbicide with it. If the water spread on the leaf instead of
running off it, the mixture was right. The message I learned was:
Use the book for the first approximation, and then confirm things on
the ground. The word “grounded” does come to mind.
He told me that melon flies, an enemy of
watermelon, rest under a leaf at the height of the midday sun. That
was why he planted a few corn plants on the outside border of his
watermelon patch. Sure enough, they were there. He was in tune with
the behavior of the fruit fly. He would pull out his can of Raid and
give them a short burst. The standard solution would have been to
spray the whole field. Uncle Sonny’s way was much more effective and
very much cheaper.
Here’s how Uncle Sonny knew his
watermelons were ready: When they were the size of golf balls, he
would put a wooden stake with the date on it. Then he harvested the
melons after a certain number of days went by. It was so simple and
so effective. It’s what led us to place a different colored ribbon
on every banana bunch we bagged in a particular week. We harvested
the bananas based on elapsed time—pretty much like Uncle Sonny did.
I learned from Uncle Sonny to use the “book” for general
instructions. But not to rely on it exclusively.
Uncle Sonny broke things down to their
essential components. He made his life simple, and yet he was very
effective. I admired him very much.
Part 4: Tutu Meleana & The Puhi
– by Richard Ha
I just received a really interesting
email. It was from my cousin Danny Labasan, and I’m copying it here
with his permission:
I am the last son of Elizabeth Kamahele.
I am not sure if we met but we could have. I was so young way back
then, I can't remember who all of my cousins are. I do remember once
we went over to the chicken farm. I don't know if Kimana or Kuuna
was your dad. They were in Makuu all the time. But how this writing
came about is that I am doing some Kamahele family tree background.
And while doing some Internet checks I ran across your articles via
I just want to say that the stories you
write, especially about Tutu, Uncle Sonny, the Maku‘u land, are so
so so soo great. It’s like I am still there. I wrote back that I
know of him, though I don't remember if we met either. His mom was
Aunty Elizabeth, and I told Danny I have fond memories of her. I
told him my dad was Kimana, which was a Hawaiianization of Kee Mun
Ha, the name my dad’s Korean dad gave him.
Danny told me this great story about
Tutu Meleana, who lived there at Maku‘u. Though Danny and I are near
in age, Tutu was Danny’s grandmother and my great-grandmother. The
pond that you spoke of (Waikulani) where Tutu took you, and us as
well, to fish as little kids – I have a story to tell about it. I
will never forget it because it’s why I hate puhi (eel).
On one particular day, Tutu and my mom
Elizabeth went to this pond. We swam and fished. Aunty Elizabeth
caught lots of ‘opihi and Tutu caught some haukeuke. Then Tutu
showed us how to clean the fish, the ‘opihi and haukeuke. We were on
the rocks just feet from the ocean water. I was probably 6 years
old. This will be hard to believe but a puhi came flying out of the
water and grabbed hold of Tutu's bicep. I will never forget seeing
this snake-like creature attached to Tutu's arm. I screamed until I
hyperventilated. But Tutu was so calm. She grabbed hold of the
puhi's head, pushed it against her arm and the mouth of the puhi
opened up, and Tutu was able to remove the puhi from her arm. She
cut the head off. Patched up her arm and we walked back to the
house. An experience I will never forget. I still hate puhi.
My brother Allen, he was called Eloy
during those days, would take us fishing in Kukuihaele where we
lived and he would show us how Uncle Sonny and cousin Kalapo would
catch puhi. Unreal. What a story. Waikulani pond is not exactly a
pond. It was a place where the large waves outside would break on a
protective ring of pahoehoe, and small swells would roll gently
across what looks like a pond. One would have to jump from rock to
rock to get to Waikulani. The bigger kids could do this, no problem.
The small kids would all go poke around in this tiny, protected
cove, looking at ocean animals, and would sometimes see the dreaded
Great story, Danny. Thanks again.