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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 2, 2005


Hawaiian doctor tied to Twain

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

Dr. Ben Young has spent 25 years tracking down the first Hawaiian to practice Western medicine. He was Matthew Makalua, one of three young Hawaiians that King Kalakaua sent for study to England. Now Young is trying to solve another mystery: Was Matthew Makalua the son of Mark Twain?

"For many years I wondered who was the first Hawaiian to study medicine," said Young, executive director of the John A. Burns School of Medicine's Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence. Young is himself the first Hawaiian to go into psychiatry.

He said he finally learned about Makalua from an article in the Hawaiian Journal of History. The article explained that Makalua studied medicine. Was he the first Hawaiian to do so? What happened to him? Young got a few answers from an obituary of Makalua sent him by a librarian in England, Ralph Bristow. Makalua died in December 1928.

The next piece of the puzzle came from Gordon Pi'ianaia, grandson of Abraham Pi'ianaia, one of the Hawaiian students sent to England with Makalua. Gordon assured Young that Makalua was the first Hawaiian to study and practice Western medicine.

He also said a grandson of Matthew Makalua, David Dewar, came to Hawai'i from England to look up his Makalua ancestors but could find no Makaluas. He knew the name Pi'ianaia as a student friend of his grandfather and so he contacted Gordon. They corresponded and then David Dewar died.

Young and Gordon Pi'ianaia compared notes in 2002 after Dewar's death. Young wrote to Dewar's widow, Barbara, who shared some letters from King Kalakaua. But a question bothered Young: Why were there no Makaluas in Hawai'i? Gordon Pi'ianaia told him it was not a family name but a commemorative name.

So what did it commemorate? "Maka" is a word for "mark." "Lua" in Hawaiian means "two." "Makalua" would mean "Mark Two."

"In 1962 it hit me," said Young. "Could Makalua be a "kauna" (secret meaning) name? It could be Hawaiian for "Mark Twain."

Samuel Clemens arrived in Hawai'i on March 18, 1866, as a young reporter who called himself Mark Twain. Young had to find out when Makalua was born. He asked for leave at the medical school to make a trip to England. At Sanderstead he met the Dewar family. The name had been changed from Makalua so that the grandson could inherit a title.

Young went to Hastings where Makalua had practiced medicine. At the town hall, a clerk found the name in a register. She said he was probably buried in Hastings Cemetery. Young found the half-buried gravestone after a three-hour search. The birth date was April 11, 1867. The date of conception had to be about July 4, 1866. Mark Twain left Hawai'i on July 19, 1866.

There is only one other bit of evidence. A middle name of one of Makalua's children in England was Clementina.