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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 – enjoy.



From an email exchange with a long time resident


Mahalo nui. 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).


We have 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 memories.


A hui hou,





Blog entries - from http://hahaha.hamakuasprings.com/2009/07/my-kamahele-family-in-makuu.html


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‘uby 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 about Maku‘u.


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 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.


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 filter.


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 Sonnyby 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 personality.


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 the visit.


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 Puhiby 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 Hamakua Springs.


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 puhi.


Great story, Danny. Thanks again.


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