My beloved ku‘uipo Kekula Peiler Bray Crawford passed peacefully into the embrace of na kupuna on Monday evening, October 21, 2013, around 7:30, surrounded by loved ones, music and blessings. She was present to the end, brave and beautiful as always.
Mahalo to all our family and dear friends who made her life rich and full and wonderful in so many ways.
Kekula in front of the Nation of Hawaii flag (thanks to our friend and photo chronologer John Kirkley for this photo and the next two below)
As all our old friends and many who have followed this blog know, Kekula was very active in the Hawaiian movement in the early and mid-90s, and this was a big part of the early years of our marriage. In fact, the night we met at a dance on Maui in ’93, she was selling t-shirts at a sovereignty table, and I was selling t-shirts at a Green Party table. Auntie Pua Mahoe introduced us, and after the dance was over, I was walking out of the door to the hall and passed her walking in; I turned around to look back at her, and found she had also turned to look back at me, and gave me a smile that melted my heart right then and there. Auntie Pua then arranged for me to give her a ride home, and the rest is love. Not long after that I had quit the Green Party realizing that it was part of the illegal occupation! And joined into the Hawaiian movement full-time. (Ironically looking back now from this moment, at the time we met she was working for Uncle Lloyd Gilliom’s sandblasting business designing headstones and helping Hawaiian families through their grieving process by the cultural elements she placed in the designs).
Soon thereafter we started working with Bumpy and the ‘Ohana Council, opening an office in Kahului, and started to assemble the Kupuna Councils, across the islands, educating the kupuna about the history and law and guiding them in making decisions about the process of restoring the country’s sovereignty.
Kekula facilitating an ‘Aha Kupuna
After we had been living together for a little while in Waiehu, as Bumpy invited us to go over to work with him full-time in Waimanalo during the Makapu‘u occupation, the kupuna intervened and insisted that we get married first. Thus on May 15, 1994, we were married in Iao Valley by Rev. Nani Saffrey, with many kupuna and friends in attendance, including Tita Kahilihiwa Kipapa as her flower girl, Auntie Helen Ho‘opai as her maid-of-honor, Tutu Murray English gave her away, and Gramma Violet English, Uncle Bill Kalani, Auntie Kealoha Camacho, Uncle Edward Uwekoolani, Auntie Daisy Lind, Auntie Patty Nishiyama, Auntie Bernice Hookano, Auntie Ellen Cooper, Auntie Helen Walrath were all there, and I’m sure I’ve missed some others (e kala mai). A few days later as we talked about it, we realized it had been about a year since we met, so we checked with Whitecloud who had organized the dance, and indeed it was held on May 15, 1993, and we had married exactly a year to the day after we met, without even planning or realizing it. (Many years later, when we needed a copy of our marriage certificate and couldn’t find ours, we checked the vital records and discovered that apparently Rev. Saffrey had never filed it, so according to the state we were never married, but of course according to the Kingdom, the Kupuna and God we were! But on our 17th anniversary in 2011 we asked our dear friend and co-conspirator in the movement, then Rev. Kedar St. John to renew our vows at the Temple of Peace in Ha‘iku so we could make it official and have the certificate as far as the state was concerned.)
The day after our marriage, we moved to Waimanalo and dived in head first. During the Makapu‘u occupation we lived nearby, with Kekula coordinating the media outreach. As the county would turn the water off and we would turn it back on, and engage in various forms of creative civil resistance, she was sending out press releases and organizing press conferences, getting on the evening news and the front page of the papers almost every day for a few weeks, and markedly raising the profile of the independence movement and knowledge of the true history in the process.
When the occupation ended we moved from the beach up mauka in Waimanalo, to the newly formed village of Pu‘uhonua O Waimanalo. (I was one of three haoles living in the village of about 70 Hawaiians, and always felt totally welcomed as part of the family.) We continued to organize kupuna gatherings across the islands, eventually leading to a series of all-island kupuna meetings where the constitution was hashed out and finally agreed upon, and then signed at the Palace on January 16, 1995.
Kekula at the Palace, January 16, 1995
During this time, Kekula also was serving as the Minister of State, entering into the realm of international affairs for the kingdom. Somehow, despite having not even finished high school and having no experience or training whatsoever in law or diplomacy, she had a natural knack for these things and just figured it out as she want along. It was in her genes. She attended conferences and committee sessions at the United Nations in Geneva and New York and other places, where she was not only a representative for Hawaii but also an advocate for indigenous nations and colonized nations. She was always clear to distinguish, however, that Hawaii was not an indigenous issue or a decolonization issue, but a matter of occupation of an independent state. She presented herself as a diplomat of a state, carrying Hawaii’s treaties with her, some of which were ratified by her great-great-grandfather, something she didn’t speak about openly but always carried with her. As such she was received and treated de facto as a representative of a state, rather than an indigenous nation. She planted some seeds that will yet bear fruit when the time is ready.
But she had great sympathy for the many indigenous nations who did not have the history of Hawaii as being a fully recognized independent state. At one conference in Geneva in 1996, during the nascent stages of the Internet, we were able to communicate via email, so while I was at home in the Waimanalo office, she would send notes and updates from each session to me, I would send them out to a network of nations she had compiled as the NetWarriors, then they would send messages back to me, which I forwarded on to her. She would then print them out and post them on a big board they had erected right outside the door to the session, for all the delegates to see and read every day. It was really a pioneering use of the Internet technology to facilitate the various native home populations being able to directly interact with and affect a UN session like this, instead of just hearing about the results afterwards when their delegates returned home.
One time on her way back from Geneva, she stopped in New York where our dear friend Kalani (now Senator) English was working at the United Nations as a representative for the Federated States of Micronesia. This being pre-9/11 with security not quite what it is now, Kalani took her to the UN accreditation office and told them she was “Princess Kekula from Micronesia” who had arrived unexpectedly, but the ambassador was not there to sign her accreditation papers, so he was able to convince them to issue her a badge which indicated her royal status in its color. Thus she was given deference as royalty as she walked around the UN halls. She is ali‘i, just not from Micronesia, but I’m sure given the circumstances this suited her just fine and she had fun with it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
She also attend the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. There she found herself in a situation where the a cappella musical group Sweet Honey in the Rock had been locked out of their own concert and were fruitlessly trying to convince the guards to let them in. Kekula was able to intervene and basically sweet talk the guard into letting these powerful women into their own concert! (I recognized one of them visiting Hana a few years later and she remembered the incident.)
There are many other stories and memories I could recount, but those are some of the highlights of Kekula in relation to the subject of this blog, and things many of those involved over the years will remember.
Kekula got sick with liver disease from hepatitis C which was diagnosed in 1999, and received a liver transplant in September 2001. (The first day she awoke and had a mind clear of hepatic encephalopathy was 9/11.) Thanks to a woman name Marilyn Santana from San Diego who had made the decision to be an organ donor and her family who supported her wishes, when she had an aneurism when visiting Honolulu, Kekula and several other recipients were able to receive the gift of life. I was able to have my love by my side for another 12+ years because of Marilyn, and surgeon Dr. Linda Wong and the transplant staff, then at St. Francis and now at Queens. Our endless gratitude and honor in every day of her life.
After her transplant, she decided she’d had enough of politics and organizing and international travel, and chose to focus on a quiet life of a cultural practitioner and artist. She became a master feather worker and made lovely lei hulu among other arts.
About a year ago, Kekula was diagnosed with recurring damage from the hepatitis C, coming back and attacking her new liver. Over the last few months, she has gone through many traumatic challenges as her condition worsened, but survived several life threatening situations and showed the same fighting spirit that she has always had. But at long last, the struggle was too much, and she had to finally let go, and rise into the golden light, rise into the arms of her ancestors waiting to welcome her home, rise into God’s love.
I want to also mention now our dear friend David Po. He was the one who, as Bumpy’s right-hand man, brought us into that circle and supported our efforts in the nation, by hook or by crook. He always made sure we were provided for, and could focus our efforts on the work at hand. Then when Kekula got sick, he was the one person who continually and regularly came to visit us, look in on her, and make sure we had what we needed, a true friend in need. All that time, we not knowing that he had the same disease as her, that he never told us, until several years later when he finally got sick and succumbed to liver failure himself. I have a feeling that when her time finally came, Po was the first one waiting to welcome her home.
Po with Keira at Kekula’s 47th birthday in 2003 at Kapahu Living Farm in Kipahulu
Mahalo Brother David. Mahalo. Mahalo.
Aloha ‘Oe, my beloved Kekula. Aloha ‘Oe… Farewell to you, farewell to you… Until we meet again….