Uncle Kui was the proudest Hawaiian I knew. He gave all our family our Hawaiian names. He was the first of our family to move back to Hawai'i, after we had all spent years living in California. He had little more than his dog Na'a and some cherished possessions, living in his small apartment in Honolulu. However, it did not matter because he was in the place he loved the most. In Christmas of 2014, my mother and I flew to O'ahu to see Uncle after a decade of not being able to see him. As soon as we approached his door, Na'a approached us, curiously sniffing our clothes. To her, we were strangers, but to him, we were family long separated. It was like no time had passed. For hours we talked stories and reminisced on the past and caught up on what was new. I could tell how much he missed us, I could tell there was so much he wanted to tell us. I only wish we could have made the effort to come home sooner.
During the summer of 2015, I made plans to visit him again with my cousin Pua. In the weeks leading up to the trip, he'd call me nearly every day asking everything that I wanted to do, what I wanted to see, what my favorite meal was. He was so excited to have a visitor again. It meant a lot to us that he wanted to do so much for family with what little he had. But nothing could replace the knowledge of his culture that he offered to us. I will never forget our trip to the Bishop Museum. As we walked through the museum, he knew everything there was to know about each exhibit. He explained everything to us, and showed us which parts related to our family in particular. He even impressed the historians who worked there. There is so much more I want to ask him. Even as my mom and I read through the stack of his unsent letters after his passing, there is so much left unknown.
I now attend the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, just a 5 minute bus ride from my Uncle's old apartment. The first thing I did when I got to the campus was take the bus to his apartment. I sat outside his door and thought that if he had made it just a few weeks longer, I wouldn't be sitting outside of an empty home. I'd knock on his door, and Na'a would run out to greet me, and we'd sit and talk for hours because it is impossible not to get sucked into his long stories, and he'd get mad at me for not taking enough Hawaiian Studies classes. Then, I'd take the bus back home with a big smile and a belly full with a home-cooked meal.
Aloha 'oe, Uncle Kui. You've made us all proud. We hope to do the same for you.
Sultan Kai White