Tributes flow in at Ka'ai's funeral
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
KĀNE'OHE — Hundreds of people paid their respects yesterday, some in traditional Pacific island style fit for ali'i, at a service for a Waimānalo teen who died after being thrown from the back of a pickup truck.
Grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles, cousins and friends filled a large hall at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Kāne'ohe Stake Center to celebrate the life of Ka'aikalauamoku Kamakea-Nalua'i.
Kamakea-Nalua'i, 13, a King Intermediate School student, was thrown from the bed of a pickup truck near the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Center on Kalaniana'ole Highway in Kailua when it collided with another vehicle, police said. Police arrested the truck's driver, Verna-Lee Kaleiwohi, for investigation of negligent homicide.
Entertainer Melveen Leed, Kamakea-Nalua'i's step-grandmother, said she wants to start a campaign to ban all children from riding in truck beds. The law now bans youths 12 years and younger from riding in truck beds, but Leed said after the service that the ban should apply to all children.
"I'm going to title it 'Too young to die.' Let's fight for Ka'ai," Leed said.
He was known to his family as Ka'ai, and his cousins spoke at the service of his playful manner, their close relationships and the void now left in their lives.
"We would act crazy and make monkey face to one another," said La'a Ka'ai, who was overcome with emotion, requiring an aunt to read from her notes to the gathering.
On each side of the room the walls were lined with Ka'ai's artwork, photographic memories, letters of condolences from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Mayor Mufi Hannemann and his wife, and a special recognition from the state Senate.
His open casket, surrounded by floral arrangements, was flanked by the family who raised him, including his grandfather Dr. Solomon Nalua'i, who adopted him in the Hawaiian hānai style at 2 years old, and his maternal grandmother, Lurline Kanoa, who later shared with Nalua'i the responsibility of raising him. Ka'ai would spend alternating weeks in Waimānalo with Kanoa and in Kāne'ohe with Nalua'i.
"We spoiled him and I have no regrets because he never asked for more than we could give," Kanoa said.
A dozen groups and individuals also honored the youth with gifts, ho'okupu, from traditions across the Pacific, including Hawaiian, Maori, Sāmoan and Tahitian.
The Royal Order of Kamehameha presented a lei, ti-wrapped gifts were brought by the Ko'olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club and Kako'o 'Oiwi/Ko'olau Foundation, and his school gave a card in school colors, red and gold, containing notes from fellow students.
His family received a woven lauhala mat reserved for chiefs from Sāmoan Chief Pulumaleuleu Frances King, a song written for him by Tahitian aunties and a skateboard from friends.
Several people performed, including Kanoe Cazimero, who chanted, martial arts grand master Al Dacascos, who did a kata, an aunt and cousins who danced a hula, and Leed, who sang several times.
To mark the years he spent working alongside his grandfather Nalua'i and cousins in a taro field, he was given a taro plant.
Nalua'i said his grandson was a descendant of Hawaiian ali'i, the two houses of I or Nalua'i, making him a prince or ali'i. He said the boy worked with him in the taro field, learned about medicinal plants and was able to survive with only a knife and bag.
"I raised Ka'ai to know and live his Hawaiian cultural heritage and to be proud to be Hawaiian," Nalua'i said. "Kalauamoku — guardian of this island — was indeed a proud Hawaiian."