BERTRAM LEE AKIONA
Bertram Lele Akiona, beloved husband (widower, whose wife Gloria J. Amaral, predeceased him in death in 2007), was a hardworking and devoted family man who loved his family, like our mother – her children’s welfare came first, unpretentious, lover of music and people, loving the aina and all things Hawaiian and sacred, a nobleman of few words, kolohe but never an unkind word for and to anyone, 42 year resident of Kaneohe; born in Lahaina on April 18, 1928, home to the sacred ali’i of Kanawai Akua (prophets of the laws of Akua) who dwelled among the Hua and Pi’ilani dynasties, passed away sweetly and peacefully on April 30, 2014 at Castle Medical Center. Dad was raised in the lo’i kalo and loko i’a where streams of rainfall would flow from Pu’u Kukui, the highest peak of Mauna Kahalawai (the range of mountains that form West Maui) that spread its fingers towards the ocean surrounding the wahipana and miles of canefields. Born into a working class family of nine children, whose father was a supervisor for Maui Pine, and superintendent for Pioneer Sugar Mill, dad descended from an early Chinese immigrant farmer, carpenter, and merchant, Lum Chung Akiona, who was married to the red-haired and hospitable, Victoria Pualoke Kahimakaualele who kept na pu’eo as favorite pets. Dad’s father, Francis-Joseph, would always instruct his nine children in the fields "what you put of yourself into that crop or in anything you plant or do – you will harvest; so make sure good." Although dad (Lahaina) and mom (Napili) were raised on large acreages of land ownership, dad often reflected that plantation life among the camps of different races and cultures were respected and interesting because we were “one ohana” celebrating each other’s traditions along with all of nature and a greater power beyond us. Daily doings were an everyday classroom and so was the environment that was cared for and fed us. Dad’s days in the sun as a child was innocent, curious, free, simple and open from the mountains to the sea despite little and big kuleana and busy uncles and aunties and kupuna to teach and help you; scold you to ensure you learned a task right, encouraging you to get it right the first time. Being lazy or idle was not tolerated and frowned upon by makua. Although wages were low and jobs backbreaking for the makua (parents) the kamali’i (children) were free to explore, roam forests, hunt and fish, and hike up mountains or climb about and jump off palm trees curved near the wharf to the sea to swim.
Always doing something, discovering or working on something, or helping someone was a “pono” thing. No one was bored or without kuleana. While each child or adult had their own kuleana, dad said, we all shared the same spirit of laulima. Everybody had aloha in their hearts and everybody was kind, accepted, respected, appreciated for their time, schedules and contributions (large or small, every job is important and every individual is valued), their families, their private spaces, – although doors to homes in those days were always open and unlocked to welcome and feed you, everyone was willing to kokua no matter for whom or what, when, or where. Everybody looked out for one another and for each other’s safety and welfare from the littlest keiki to the oldest kupuna. Dad, like mom, believed that learning about God’s love (Aloha ke Akua) early played an important role in the ohana because understanding, love, truth, reality, and security was healthier to your na’au and each other’s wellbeing.
Having grown up in the days where you learned by observing, listening and hearing, paying close attention to whomever is speaking to you or showing you, enabled you to follow well, including looking for hailona (signs). Dad, never read music although the Lahaina home was filled with industry, aloha and music and those who visited. At the age of five, dad was taught slack key (kiho’alo) by his mother, Mabel-Akeo, who was often playing music on the front porch to her children. The morning activity resonated with dad’s inner spirit and falsetto voice, so he learned to play a number of instruments with a keen, supernatural, refined ear. Gatherings at the home with a steady stream of friends and family became a favorite musical pastime even at the close of day after a long day of work. Everybody in the house played an instrument. While stationed in the army in Germany dad entertained troops and civilians with Hawaiian music and contemporary music of that era in Italy, Wiesbaden, Munich, Berlin, Rome, Naples, Milan, and Switzerland although post-war poverty saddened him. Returning to the U.S., gigs at Camp Kilmer and other military installations across MWR’s was joined by musically talented comrades – local boys from Hawaii who were part of the Armed Forces Basketball victory team for which dad was an active team player.
In the early 50’s when back home on military leave, one could hear dad and his brothers on guitar, piano, bass, and drums at “Banyan Inn” on Front Street, when dad would be on saxophone to the tune of "It’s Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom Time "To You Sweetheart Aloha" on guitar for Gloria (later his wife who bore him five children and whom he cared for in illness until her passing in 2007; a wise and refined woman with a big heart who appreciated beauty, intellect, literature, culture and arts, and who adorned her proud, dapper husband’s papale with beautiful lei hulu; a sacred craft learned from her mother).
A gig in Tijuana led to more bookings including a performance at The Dodgers Stadium. Dad, possessing a warm handshake and perennial smile was employed by Maui Gray Line, and when not traveling extensively with “Paschoal’s Gray Line Maui Troubadours” (recorded album in 1956), dad was a tour driver by day, sharing Maui’s rich history, landscape, and myths of his beloved home; and at dusk, he was an intriguing musician, captivating his audience of dreamy-eyed tourists at the Maui Palms Hotel poolside alternating nights with the likes of Alfred Apaka, Aunty Alice Johnson, Aunty Emma Sharpe and halau (dad’s sister Esther was a hula dancer), and Billy Lincoln.
Dad, was employed as a heavy equipment operator for construction magnates Moses Akiona and McGee & Nordic on Oahu and distinguished himself among the industry of contractors and developers by removing himself quietly to pule (pray) or speak directly with immovable boulders (pohaku); usually asking its permission before relocating it safely (in one piece) elsewhere with his tractor. In so doing, he saved the company thousands of dollars in employee injuries, accidental deaths and liability claims from this act of mutual respect. Sensitive to his environment, dad was a steady and experienced construction worker, who was often consulted under those challenges. Later, he was employed for many years by Sears Roebuck as a delivery driver and warehouse supervisor and when he retired (although not retired from life) was employed as a chief security officer for a hotel and condo in Waikiki and as a parts supplier for Napa Auto.
Educated under the rainbows that veiled the upper slopes of the West Maui Mountains from tide pools to vistas, from kalo lo’i to i’a and opae beds, and streams kneeling at the banks of la’au in the uplands; and where the valleys, sloped to white sandy beaches where outside the harbor abundant opelu were netted under the hot Maui sun, dad the budding renaissance man who understood physics and natural laws, respecting his ancestral ties among wooden buildings, mills, canneries, steeples, merchants, plantation laborers, and factories that lined the dusty roads of a bygone whaling commerce, an avid waterman – fished with his father, uncles, brothers and cousins, spending hours net surrounding and net-making providing sustenance for the community; dad was educated at Kamehameha III and post graduated from Lahainaluna High School, having followed two older brothers (Albert and Johnny) into military service. Dad, a DOE honored native Hawaiian whose education was postponed due to active duty enlistment served in the Korean War and World War II. He was decorated and honorably discharged from both the U. S. Army and USAF.
While dad missed mom, he found new inspiration in worship services at Kawaiaha’o (where he thought mom had the most beautiful singing choir voice in the world when they first met), and Kaumakapili churches. Participating joyously with his ukulele and guitar at church, kanikapila with the lively Koolaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, and robustly singing from trolley windows of parades, dad participated in off island conventions, including leading the Hokule’a’s welcoming committee at He’eia Pier in music and song. Joining the Elks Lodge #616 kupuna on mo’olelo evenings, and entertaining the dining room lunch crowd on Wednesday afternoons, kept dad active, while he enjoyed spending reflective quiet hours at home which he kept organized and immaculate, creating beautiful floral haku and wiliwili seed leis, talking story, singing, and playing music with Bernie to wee hours of the morning. Dad accompanied Bernie to Kawaiahao and Waiola churches when she presented Hawaiian values from the pulpit celebrating the “Year of the Ohana” with dad playing ‘O ‘oe ‘io on autoharp to the sweetly benevolent congregations, and a surprise reunion in 2013 hosted by the Akiona-Hew-Tratchel ohana. Weddings and Celebrations of Life with dad on his steel guitar added a sacred touch, and joining Bernie on hospice visits and ceremonies with soothing psalms and soft guitar strings filled the alone, dark, and empty spaces with hope and love. We visited the residents of Hale Mohalu; dad packing his natural big personality, exchanging stories, and playing music felt great dad said.
Dad, our strong, handsome, humble, always thankful, dignified, unselfish, intelligent, and generous with his time, talents, and aloha, who never complained; a spiritual man who lived the values taught by his ancestors, whose motto was Aloha ke Akua (God is love) and who loved his family deeply, lived life fully, enjoyably and sweetly; passed away with dignity in the peaceful early morning hours of April 30th, 2014, surrounded by family and friends; seen and unseen. Squeezing my hand five times (a squeeze for each child) he whispered “ho’oholopau” (go finish). My scripture readings and his favorite hymn and songs, like we both did for mom seven years prior ended with our time together breathlessly slipping away.
Bertram L. Akiona is survived by: Bernadette, Carmela, Garret, Arnett, and Debra, beautiful grandchildren and great grandchildren; beautiful cousins and countless wonderful nieces and nephews; descendants of the Akiona – Amaral, and McHenry ohana wherever you are, and to our many friends in fellowship with heaven, “mahalo and aloha”.
Special mahalo to Garret whose immediate and generous support eased the angst of the sudden loss of our father; Arnett for his added support and abiding strength, Debbie (accompanied by her daughter Megan) whose sacrifices proved immeasurable; Carmela and Bob, Moana, Bubba, and Mr. Chang, whose presence tamed the long grip of grief and my daughter, Sharon-Rose I. (Park) Lau, whose prayers softened a very painful time.
Mom and dad, on this Memorial Day, thank you for your love and support and the sacrifices you made throughout our lives. We love and miss you so much. A hui hou….(see you again).