Kekauoha, Sam (on keeping genealogy records)
The morning drive out to the north side of Oʻahu is bright and breathtakingly beautiful. From the green pastures with lazy livestock roaming the hillsides at Kualoa, to the sparkling shoreline at Kaʻaʻawa, the trip is peaceful. With Mākaua (Crouching Lion) towering above, the meandering road takes us past the valley of Kahana and the springs of Punaluʻu. Finally, lovely Lāʻie welcomes us as we pull up to the country home of Uncle Sam Kekauoha. Looking around, you can see that the house is surrounded by fruit trees which are heavy laden with papaya and banana. In the air you can hear the sounds of the stomping feet of young keiki upstairs, and a rooster crows from somewhere beyond the house. With the majestic Koʻolau range in the background, someone’s family cemetery can be seen just beyond the boundaries of the yard. Small-framed Uncle Sam greets us with a smile from the door of his two-story home. Uncle Sam’s gentle voice is warm with aloha as his bright eyes gleam with intellect from behind a tanned face framed by reading glasses. Quietly stepping into the house, my eyes are drawn to several stacks of paper encircling a desk against the wall where a computer sits waiting for Uncle’s attention. While spending some time together and sharing a small meal, Uncle Sam moves quickly back and forth between computer desk and dining table as he tells many interesting stories of ancestors. It was exciting to see Uncle Sam skillfully clicking away at the keyboard and maneuvering the mouse in search of various correlating genealogy charts from different online databases that Uncle has access to for his work at the Mormon Temple. As an educator and noted elder in the Latter Day Saints community in Lāʻie, Uncle Sam has been given the kuleana to help people remember and reconnect with their ‘ohana through genealogy in Hawaiʻi and beyond.
HA: Aloha Uncle Sam, when did you begin keeping genealogies?
SK: I was given the spiritual kuleana to help make connections between ʻohana from Aunty Bella Kekauoha-Linkee in 1947. Since then, I have helped many families reconnect with their ʻohana. Our own ‘ohana of the Kekauoha line comes from the Kaʻeokūlani line of Kauaʻi through the elder brother of Kaumualiʻi, Kānehoalani dating approximately 1729.
HA: Uncle, what brought you to this calling?
SK: I grew up and lived in Lāʻie, graduating from Kahuku in 1954. I attended BYU, then Church College Hawaiʻi and received Bachelors in Education. I completed my mission to Hong Kong and returned to teach at Radford, Laupāhoehoe, and Hana High Schools before settling back in Lāʻie. I found myself returning to help kids again in the ’90s at the Hawaiʻi Youth Correctional Facility through Alu Like and a friendship that I had with a student of mine from Radford, Alva Andrews. Through the years, I was given this kuleana to love people, and doing genealogy has allowed me to do just that while being close to home and caring for my family.
HA: No way, what a small world! Did you know I just met with Uncle Alva Andrews for Kaʻiwakīloumoku recently as well? Too funny! Uncle, could you share any gems of knowledge that you’ve gotten along the way?
SK: While I was teaching, I learned that it takes the heart of an educator to love some people more than others. As a teacher, I saw that many kids have a hard time with reading and writing. Yet local kids are expected to do well in this area for school, but the idea is intimidating to them. I’ve learned that this can be due to nervousness, lack of confidence, or whether or not they are allowed to write about what’s familiar to them. I also learned that history is told based on the perspective of who’s telling the story. However, those who hear the story may interpret it differently based on their own experiences—so we should be careful what we say, who it is said to, and how that information is used.
Finally, I regret to say that in my own education there was very little Hawaiian culture or language. Although my parents spoke, they would not speak to us, so we had to learn words on our own when they spoke to each other. Our elders tried to hide it from us, but as kids we picked up some words along the way. In doing so, I learned that to include our own native cultures in the upbringing of a child is an avenue towards accepting all aspects of ourselves. Unlike what was thought in my younger days, I’ve realized that having this personal knowledge of our own native cultures can be used to build unique strength and not a weakness within Hawaiian kids. Likewise, these days, the color of the skin doesn’t matter, and although people may look different, it’s their heart and intentions that do matter.
HA: Uncle, how would you best encourage a young Hawaiian to start getting involved with genealogy?
SK: I’ve realized that a lot of the expectation to continue kin-building starts by parents instilling the value for genealogy as a kuleana for their children. Parents who set a high value on knowing family ties create a habit for inclusion versus the exclusivity of life being just “in a box” for their kids. Kids without this type of support will not value genealogy as much and may have weaker ties to their family roots. This might make it harder for them to understand as adults why family members may make certain choices or behave in different ways. So I highly encourage parents to talk to their children about the importance of knowing and valuing family history as early as possible. Through this kind of storytelling, parents might be able to give this value to their children before they’re gone; but it is always “better late than never”.
HA: Uncle, are there any thoughts that you’ve learned through perpetuating genealogy in our communities?
SK: I have learned in genealogy that the very idea of ʻohana is acceptance of self, good and bad. I hope that young Hawaiians in school today can accept all of themselves, the strengths and the weaknesses. This will help our people to move forward to where we can accept and include each other. This will encourage our families to share knowledge and ideas as human beings so that they don’t miss out from what others have to offer and can leave this way of thinking as a legacy for future Hawaiians.