Molokai Celebrates Inaugural George Helm Jr. Day
By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter
“George Helm, Jr. is known as one of Hawaii’s greatest Aloha ‘Aina heroes, setting in motion a movement of consciousness for generations,” reads a recent Maui County proclamation that declared March 23, 2023 to be George Helm, Jr. Day throughout Maui County.
Helm is best known for his activism, leadership and music. Part of the “Kaho’olawe Nine” along with prominent figures like Walter Ritte and Dr. Emmett Aluli, Helm helped spearhead the movement protesting the U.S. Navy’s bombing of Kaho’olawe. On March 7, 1977, amid a rescue effort on Kaho’olawe, Helm and Maui’s Kimu Mitchell disappeared at sea. Helm was 26 years old.
He was born on March 23, 1950 and Mayor Richard Bissen’s proclamation marks Helm’s birthday.
Scarlett Ritte, a founding member of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana, which included Helm, was instrumental in establishing the new commemorative day.
“We need to give our younger generation a hero, a leader,” said Ritte. “Happy birthday, George.”
Born and raised in Kalamaula on his family’s homestead farm, Helm, in his own words, “went to Honolulu to get an education, and instead lost my innocence.”
Helm made a name for himself through his music. Capable of an expansive vocal range, Helm specialized in the Hawaiian style and used music to bring attention to activist causes.
Molokai honored the historic day with a celebration last Friday at the Molokai Veterans Center. The night included a poetry reading from resident and veteran Jayson Mizula, as well as hula and birthday celebrations at the end of Kaunakakai Wharf.
Scarlett Ritte, who had petitioned Bissen to establish George Helm, Jr. Day, explained that the night was about informing the younger generations.
“It’s for the consciousness in the younger generations to connect with their Native Hawaiian leaders and heroes,” said Ritte. “He changed the world.”
Attendees at the event felt strongly that this night was special, perhaps in extraordinary ways.
Nine-year-old Halei Ritte-Camara-Tangonan noted the forces of nature at work.
“It’s a phenomenon,” he said. “The bugs, the bio-luminesce, the lightning, the wind changing…these are all the powers of [Helm]. He’s making this happen.”
After the poetry and hula, attendees walked to the end of the wharf with candles, flowers and airborne lanterns. They sang happy birthday to Helm, setting the flowers in the water. The lantern was lit and took flight, a North wind pushing it into the night until the flames were extinguished.
“It had everything. I laughed, I cried,” said one Molokai resident.
Scarlett Ritte assured that this memorial day was just the beginning.
“It’s going to happen every year,” said Ritte.
Beyond just Molokai and Maui County, Leimana Ritte-Camara explained that representatives on every island lit a candle at 7:30 p.m. in Helm’s memory.
In addition to the celebration, Ritte-Camara added that “every year on George Helm Day we will donate to the recipient of the ‘Aloha ‘Aina’ scholarship award by Molokai High School.”
This year’s recipient is Makani Pua’a.