Front page above the fold today in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald is the sad news of the departure of a dear man, 51-year-old Burt “Manu” Kauhi Kakalia, a pillar in the Kehena Beach community who was loved by many.Â
Manu Kakalia was the son of the late Leo and Clara Kakalia, according to a geneaology of the “Kakalia Ohana from Nanakuli, Hawaii” posted on the website, Ancestry.com. Â Clara Kakalia, before her death in 2004, was active in the Hawaii Democratic Party and worked toward a federally recognized Hawaiian nation, according to an obituary published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. She was a national committeewoman for the Democratic Party and served as an elector for the nominations of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, her obituary states.
Manu Kakalia, meanwhile, lived a stone’s throw from Kehena’s black sand beach, and was highly respected by his community there, even considered a kahu, or Hawaiian priest. Â He often wore a kapa and a lauhala hat and carried a walking stick. Â A trip to that beach would likely result in a chance meeting with him, since he swam there a lot, and was usually there on Sundays. Â
On Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009, high surf and a dangerous undertow at Kehena Beach claimed his life, according to John Burnett’s report in the Tribune-Herald. Five people were in the water trying to revive him when the county helicopter arrived at 1:11 p.m., according to witnesses, including Roxanne “RJ” Hampton, legislative aide to Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole who lives near the beach. Â RJ Hampton documented the recovery with video and still photographs, John Burnett’s report states. Â One of her photographs appeared with John Burnett’s story about Manu Kakalia’s death. Â
The county helicopter crew from the Keaukaha station and fire rescuers from the Pahoa station lifted Manu Kakalia’s body from the ocean in a Billy Pugh net before coming back for the would-be rescuers Yuri, a Russian immigrant, Naia Rae Fox, a beach regular, Henri, a Portugese native originally from the Azores, and two other men named Isaac and Mikey, John Burnett’s report states.
Naia Rae Fox told the Tribune-Herald that Manu Kakalia was babysitting a toddler named “Roots” when he decided to go for a swim in what appeared to her to be “crazy surf, the biggest I’ve seen it.” Â Manu Kakalia would regularly be seen caring for children at the beach.
Â Today, as I reflect on him, I remember his gentleness, his genuineness, and hisÂ radiant smile that, when he flashed it at you, was so infectious you couldn’t help but smile back. Â His is an unfortunate loss. My condolences to his family and the community that embraced him.