Meet The Other Keli`i Mawae “Hawaiian Renaissance Man”

A Biography by

Joanna and Donald Sunshine

I was sure I knew Keli’i, until I was given this book to review. I picked up the book and looked at its cover. Keli’i Mawae’s penetrating eyes stare back at me. It is a strong Hawaiian face, burnished, brown, kindly, contemplative. The gray hair and beard attest to his age. There are deep creases across his forehead.

This is Keli’i’s personal story, his story of Molokai, as told to the authors and written by them as oral history. They said Keli’i had asked them to write it “before grass would be growing on top of him”.

Most residents of the island know that Keli’i is an expert fisherman, a farmer, a hunter and a musician, a multi-talented man who is also the honorary mayor of Molokai. But if some may yet see him as none other than a guitar playing, genial Hawaiian with a twinkle in his eyes and a hearty handshake, then this book will change that image. You will meet the other Keli’i; the off-stage one. It will help you to understand what he feels about Molokai as a Hawaiian.

Keli’i is proud of his heritage. A full-blooded Hawaiian, born and raised on a Molokai homestead by his grandmother, he is deeply concerned that the Hawaiian culture, and traditions which identify Hawaiians and on which he was nurtured are eroding and being replaced by the encroachment of another culture. He fears for the loss of the Hawaiian way of living. Passionate about preserving the past, and disturbed by some of the changes that have taken place on Molokai, he says, “The loss of our Hawaiian way makes me sad.” “…We need to know our past…. it is our heritage….our identity…we must teach our children our history.”

Keli’i covers a wide range of topics in this book. He describes Molokai’s various landscapes, talks about his aumakua, the mano(shark), the stones, and the sacred places. He explains the respect Hawaiian’s have for all of God’s creation—land, sea, animals, and of fishing and hunting in the honorable Hawaiian way. He also expresses his deep love for his family.

In the introduction to this book U. S. senator, Daniel Inouye, states, “Keli’i Mawae embodies the Hawaiian Renaissance – he lives it with quiet dignity and a passionate conviction of his cultural teachings.”

This is “book-club” material. It is certain to stir strong opinions and a lively discussion. I would agree with the author that “…this is a powerful book because it comes from one of the people.” It is unlike any other book about Molokai, and deserves a space on the bookshelf of anyone interested in oral history, in Molokai, in Hawaiians, or in simply knowing Keli’i.

It is available at the Molokai Fine Arts Gallery.


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