In researching Pat’s at Punaluu last month, I came across a reference to a David of Punaluu, sometimes referred to as the Prince of Punaluu. I decided to look into him and found he was an inspiring and remarkable man. And I knew his son and granddaughter.
His real name was David Kaapu-awa-o-Kamehameha, meaning the “awa-cup bearer of Kamehameha the Great.”
A survey of tourists in 1939 showed the things they remembered most about their visit to Hawaii was the “boat day” reception at the dock, the Pali lookout, the volcano, surfing, the people, flowers and trees of Hawaii … and David of Punaluu.
Edward Davis of New York said, “No trip around the island would be complete without pausing at David’s grass hut in Punaluu.”
“David Kaapu,” he continued, was “endeavoring to preserve a remnant of the primitive Hawaiian life and traditions and give practical demonstrations in the preparation of food, method of grass hut construction, the uses of old stone and wood implements, the method of netting and spearing fish, and making fire.
“His explanation to passing tourists, like myself, of the uses of the ancient artifacts of his ancestors; his gracious manner and his evident pleasure in demonstrating uses of the various utensils; his desire to impart information, and his engaging smile, make him a very tangible asset to this island.”
It sounds like David was a one-man Hawaii Visitors Bureau and precursor to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Davis said that, on parting, David of Punaluu, “sings in a rich baritone voice and unaffected voice, ‘Aloha Oe,’ leaving one with the most pleasurable emotions of the whole trip.”
He went on to say that David does this without selling hot dogs, candy, ice cream or chewing gum, or any financial assistance from the tourist bureau, which appeared to be totally unaware of him.
David’s story began in 1928, when he decided to buy 2-1/2 acres on the windward side and live a simple, Hawaiian life. He called his home “Nature’s Kingdom.” He probably didn’t anticipate visits from hundreds of tourists, let alone presidents and dignitaries.
He built a 1-acre pond and lived in a thatched house. He built taro loi and made his own poi. He built a canoe, wove nets from twisted coconut fibers and went fishing in the ocean. He cultivated breadfruit and coconut. He raised chickens and pigs.
David’s natural gregariousness attracted passersby who were longing to see something of old Hawaii. They found him wearing only a bright red malo and straw hat.
“I am here,” he told syndicated reporter Bob Davis, “to prove that life, as lived by my people before civilization came to our islands, is the right life, and that man needs no more.
“All I need is there,” he said, pointing to his homestead, “and here,” he said, touching his chest.
Bob Davis described David’s abode, made of woven grass laid on native wood: “Two windows, the sills of which might serve as settees, admitted a soft light.
“The floor was covered with rugs fashioned from plaited leaves. Spears and nets hung on the walls. Wooden bowls and gourds were in evidence. Cooking was done in the open. Blankets were made from beaten bark until soft and pliable to the touch.
“My friends,” David said, “this is my home. It is an exact reproduction of the houses used by Hawaiians before the white people came.”
His land had a grass sleeping house, a net house, canoe house, temple, lady’s house and dining-recreation house.
“There is nothing but the necessities: Furniture, mats and utensils required in our daily use.”
Hawaiians asked for only those things supplied by nature and knew nothing of luxuries. Hunger was unknown, he said. Money was unknown. Factories, mills, railroads and offices were unknown.
“We traded in the fruits of the earth and the fish of the sea. No man’s word was broken. We were a contented people, and it is this life that I would bring back to the world. I thank you for calling on me.”
Then he lifted his voice in a native song. “David was still singing as we rolled away,” Bob Davis concludes.
David and his wife, Waialua school teacher Myrtle King, raised three children, all born in the grass houses: two sons, David and Kekoa, and a daughter, Kapua.
Shirley Temple and Babe Ruth visited David Kaapu in the 1930s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on an Oahu tour in 1935, stopped in Punaluu to see David and his Hawaiian compound.
The Prince of Punaluu served the president kalua pig and other Hawaiian food.
He took down part of his fence so the guest, who used a wheelchair, could enter. After that visit, he named the entrance to his property the “Roosevelt Aloha Way,” to be used by those who are infirm or unable to walk on the grounds.
The president was intrigued by his long last name. Four years later, at a press conference, he joked about the problems statehood for Hawaii might bring.
What if David Kaapu-awa-o-Kamehameha was elected a U.S. senator. Would the person reading the roll call be able to pronounce a long Hawaiian name?
Reporters were intrigued and one, William Norwood, was sent to interview the “senator.” He wrote a humorous article that ran with a photo of David’s son, Kekoa, crawling out of a taro patch.
The article became part of the family folklore, and Kekoa said, inspired him to pursue a career in politics.
“Of all the gifts my parents gave me while I was running around naked in the taro patches, there was one above others. The greatest gift was the feeling that I was worthwhile as a human being and capable of succeeding in whatever I undertook to do, provided I was willing to work for it.”
“We lived very simply,” Kekoa said, “without electricity, bathing in a pool fed by a cold mountain stream, cooking over a wood fire, and eating from a stone table.
On weekends, Kekoa sold coconut hats he had made to tourists who stopped to eat at Coco Joe’s restaurant in Punaluu. A middle-aged, well-to-do woman asked him about what he planned to do after graduating from high school.
The Kamehameha student said he hoped to go to Harvard, Yale or Princeton, in that order, because he thought they were the best.
“Oh, but those are rich boys’ schools,” the startled woman exclaimed.
“No thought had crossed my mind as to the cost or even the difficulty in gaining entrance,” Kekoa said.
When Harvard awarded him a full scholarship, his father framed the notice and hung it on the wall of his grass house, next to a color photo of him and President Roosevelt shaking hands.
Upon graduating, Kekoa was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He later served in the Hawaii governor’s office, and was elected to the City Council.
He certainly lived up to his motto: “Ku‘u one hanau e” — all things are possible which are destined to be.
President Lyndon Johnson spoke at the East-West Center in 1966. David of Punaluu and his son, Kekoa, attended. David was clad in only a red malo, sandals and coconut hat. The Honolulu Advertiser said he was the most “colorful spectator.”
Prince David died in 1971. His son Kekoa said his father was “a self-taught man who considered himself to be mainly a philosopher. Not the kind who teaches, but one who lives life to show others what it is really like.” Kekoa died in 2003 at age 66.
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