“Mischievous, marvelous, magical Maui/hero of this land/the one, the only, the ultimate Hawaiian Supaman.”
– Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo‘ole
It was, in many ways, a typical Maui evening. The sun had slipped behind the West Maui Mountains and the first stars had begun to poke their twinkling faces through the sky’s deep purple veneer, competing for attention with the moon’s pale yellow glow. Though a slight chill said summer was still in hiding, a soft, balmy wind provided comfort for the crowd assembled on the lawn of Maui Community College.
But there was more in the air than heavenly bodies and a tropical breeze. There was a feeling, a presence. Five months after his passing, Henry “Uncle Boy” Kana‘e—the larger-than-life pastor and KPOA radio personality affectionately known as “da Maui Hawaiian Supaman”—is still very much alive.
The event was ostensibly a drive-in movie put on by MauiFEST Hawaii, the five-year-old organization Kana‘e founded with friend and business partner Ken Martinez Burgmaier. And there were all the trappings of a regular MauiFEST show: cars loaded with blankets and keiki; Alexander’s Fish & Chips, brownies and shave ice for sale; a small stage where local favorites like George Kahumoku dispensed pleasing island sounds. But there was another element, easy to miss, that set the gathering apart: a small, detailed wood carving featuring the visage of Uncle Boy, fitted on a post beneath the giant movie screen.
Before the films began, a collection of Kana‘e’s friends and family congregated around the memorial placard to offer a blessing.
“Keep the love, that’s one thing Boy always told me,” said Martinez Burgmaier, trying in vain to hold back tears. “We talked every day—laughing, joking. We hit obstacles, but I would always hear those words, ‘If it’s not going right, take it to the left.’ Take it to your heart. That’s something we should all learn from Boy—it always works.”
Boy’s mother, Yvonne, stood beside Martinez Burgmaier, leaning on her kin for support. Moments before the blessing, seated in a minivan surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Yvonne reflected on her son. “I do miss him very much,” she said, her eyes misty but her voice steady. “I miss hearing him on the radio. He used to call me up and sing that song, ‘Funny Face.’ I miss that, but it’s OK.”
Injecting a bit of levity was Kana‘e’s brother, Clayton, who joked that his mother had “one boy, me, and the rest were daughters,” a gentle jab Boy no doubt would have appreciated considering one of his favorite aphorisms: “Smile—not going broke your face.”
Musician Benny Uyetake praised Boy as a steadfast supporter of local talent. “One of greatest things that ever happened to me was when I had my first record out, and Boy was the first one to play it,” he said. “He called me in [to his radio show] every weekend, to interview me and to make sure I had success.”
Uyetake said Boy’s absence left him with “an empty feeling,” but added that “at the same time it’s a wonderful thing, because we know he’s around us, that he’s there continuing to shine a light on us in a bigger and broader scale.”
Continued Uyetake: “He wasn’t just a great Hawaiian, he was a great lover of God and a great lover of people. I’m proud to say I know him.”
After the ceremony, the screen was filled with a slide show set to the Iz song from which Kana‘e drew his nickname. The images were poignant: Boy strumming an ukulele, administering a wedding, flashing his trademark shaka and grin and, finally, getting married himself as a slender, clean-cut young man in uniform. During his time in the Army Kana‘e traveled extensively and learned to speak multiple languages, an example of the layered personality that allowed him to be, as Martinez Burgmaier put it, “an ambassador of aloha.”
As the light disappeared and darkness enveloped the slopes of Haleakala, people huddled under blankets to enjoy the rest of the evening’s entertainment. But the presence of Boy and the diverse ohana he touched remained, flickering like a flame that grows stronger as it burns. MTW