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Hawaii News | Incidental Lives

A grandfather’s grand story resurfaces in a boy’s book

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The kid is a klutz.

Leave Kekauleleanae’ole Kawai’ae’a standing with a plate of food and it’s only a matter of time before it ends up on his Nikes.

Watch him navigate the living room long enough and you’re almost sure to hear the clunk of knee on coffee table.


But stick him on a line of scrimmage and — pow! — he’s a miniature Julius Peppers.

Better yet, sit him behind a keyboard and suddenly he’s the literary offspring of Mary Kawena Pukui and O.A. Bushnell.

"To be honest, it’s kind of a relief that he’s a klutz," says dad Aaron. "He can’t be too perfect."

That’s not just false humility running interference for paternal pride. Even those closest to Kekaulele find themselves at a loss to explain the rising Kamehameha fifth-grader with the four-star athleticism and the NPR vocabulary.

Kekaulele himself insists he’s "just a regular kid." But while that may be true on some fronts — he likes video games almost as much as books — even Kekaulele has to admit that not every 10-year-old can drop in "book tour" on their elementary school CV.

Kekaulele is the author of "Kohala Kuamo’o: Nae’ole’s Race to Save a King." The book, illustrated by Aaron, tells the true story of Nae’ole, attendant to Kamehameha I and an ancestor of the Kawai’ae’a clan, who saved the infant Kamehameha from those who feared the prophecy of his coming greatness.

It was a story Kekaulele — whose full first name translates to "Flight of Nae’ole" — had heard even before he could understand the words.

Grandfather Walter Kawai’ae’a, an accomplished entertainer, had learned of the story during a family research project while he was a student at the University of Hawaii in the early ’70s.

When Aaron wanted to name his firstborn son after his famous ancestor, Grandfather Walter took on the responsibility for telling Nae’ole’s story to the infant Kekauleleanae’ole, repeating the names and locations over and over throughout Kekaulele’s early childhood.

"(My grandfather) had always told me the story, but it wasn’t until I was 8 or 9 that I really understood it," says Kekaulele. "When I could comprehend it, it was very clear. I could literally see it."

This past year, Kekaulele took part in Kamehameha’s innovative Golden Pencils program, in which students write and produce their own books for sale to classmates and family. When the time came for Kekaulele to write a story, it was simply a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.

A teacher referred the piece to Kamehameha Press, which promptly moved it to the front of its lengthy publication waiting list, just in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Kamehameha’s unification of the islands.

At a recent appearance, Kekaulele’s mother, Tish Hanakahi — whom Aaron credits for Kekaulele’s intellectual abilities –put Kekaulele on the spot by having him answer a question about to whom the book was dedicated.

"I gave her ‘the look,’ but she wouldn’t let me off the hook," Kekaulele said. "So I said the book was written for all the children of Hawaii and that I hoped it would inspire them to write their own stories. I said I wanted them to look up their own genealogies and learn their own family histories."

Father and son are already at work on a second book, an original adventure tale straight from Kekaulele’s imagination. After that, who knows?

Maybe puberty?


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