Early Beginnings of
Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa
Kalaupapa artist Ed Kato with his greeting for visitors and drawing of St. Philomena Church helped organize the workshop in 1996 that planted the seeds for Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa. Photo: Valerie Monson
Kenso Seki in his home surrounded by pennants he collected during world travels. Kenso died in 1998.
Photo: ©Wayne Levin
The idea for Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa was born in 1996 during a three-day workshop at Kalaupapa steered by Kalaupapa residents who welcomed visiting participants to some of their favorite places and into their homes, sharing the community’s history and their personal stories with family members and friends.
At the forefront of the event was longtime Kalaupapa leader Bernard Punikai`a who was worried that as residents got older and their numbers got smaller, the voices of Kalaupapa might no longer be heard. It was Bernard’s vision to bring together family members, descendants and longtime friends to join residents in a never-ending network of support.
Residents immediately embraced Bernard’s idea and agreed to lead sessions of the workshop. Longtime Kalaupapa Lion Ed Kato hosted visitors at the Kalaupapa Lion’s Den while artisans Sarah Benjamin and Cathrine Puahala greeted the group at the Kalaupapa Craft Shop. Kenso Seki and Olivia Breitha invited the guests into their homes – Kenso even bought beer (and soda pop) that he served to everyone gathered in his living room; Olivia had made a huge pot of her onolicious Portuguese bean soup that she doled out for each hungry person. Bernard gave a presentation about the many musicians and composers who had been at Kalaupapa. Even without an official name, an ‘ohana was taking shape, hopefully giving the Kalaupapa community a sense of pride that their history would be remembered and their lifestyle preserved.
In 2003, Bernard felt it was time to take the next step. He called for another gathering, this one attracting 70 residents, family members and longtime friends to a workshop in Kalaupapa. Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa was officially organized with Bernard as Chairman of the Board and Kalaupapa residents Kuulei Bell as President, Winnie Harada as Vice President, Gloria Marks as Treasurer along with Makia Malo and Boogie Kahilhiwa serving as Directors of the Board.
Since the start, a Kalaupapa resident has served as President of the ‘Ohana. Boogie succeeded Kuulei after her death in 2009 and served until his death in 2021.
Pauline Ahulau Chow was later elected as Vic President, a position she still holds. Gloria remains on the Board. Kalaupapa residents continue to guide the ‘Ohana activities. Family members and friends make up the rest of the Board.
Charmaine Woodward, the great-granddaughter of Kalaupapa business leaders David Kamahana and Alana Ah Lo, was elected to follow Boogie as President, showing how descendants will carry on the mission of their kupuna.
As part of our outreach over the years, the ‘Ohana has helped more than 900 family members reconnect to their Kalaupapa ancestors and/or visit Kalaupapa. Many of these descendants -- like Char -- are becoming leaders of the ‘Ohana and making sure that Bernard’s vision lives on.
Olivia Breitha in her comfortable home.
Olivia died in 2006.
Photo: ©Valerie Monson