Guitarist, writer, teacher, artist, farmer, fisherman, father George Kahumoku just won’t say “won’t.”
When George Kahumoku, Jr., was five years old, he lived with a hanai (adoptive) aunt who had some curious child-rearing ideas. She bought him a toy ‘ukulele and a beautiful paper kite, then hung them out of reach on his closet door.
“When you’re good, you can play with those,” he was told.
At five, the future slack-key guitar master wasn’t certain what “good” meant, but he surely wanted to play with the new toys that tantalized him day after day from the closet door.
When begging, crying and “good” behavior failed, George took matters into his own hands. Dragging a chair to the door one day, he tearfully smashed the kite and the ‘ukulele to bits so his aunt could no longer use them against him.
Recounted in Kahumoku’s colorful memoir, A Hawaiian Life, this tale of a “stubborn child” strikes a theme that recurs throughout its author’s life and work. When life says “won’t,” you need a stubborn will.
Life first said “won’t” when George, then six months old, toppled from his father’s rowboat into the muddy waters of O‘ahu’s Ala Wai Canal. When his father finally found him on the bottom long minutes later, the baby was lifeless and blue.
Panicked, his family rushed the infant to an old Hawaiian healer who had them blow the “breath of life” back into the body. Miraculously, George Jr. survived, only to suffer a stroke and near-terminal cancer later in life.
“I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 27,” he recalls. “The doctors gave me six months to live.” But as had others, they underestimated Kahumoku’s remarkable will. Twenty-seven years later, he’s still going strong.
“I still live like I only have six months,” he confides. “I don’t wait to do New Year’s resolutions. Every six months, I ask myself: ‘What have I done to improve the world, or to add something to the world?”
Now 54, the Hawaiian renaissance man has added a lot. He has 40 music recordings, one book in print and another on the way, his own music label (Kealia Farms), and original sculptures in public and private collections worldwide. The Kïhei resident also is a father, teacher, entertainer, fisherman, farmer, ceramist, builder . . . you name it.
How can so much achievement be packed into one life?
“Up until recently, I only needed about three hours’ sleep a night,” says Kahumoku. The rest of the time, he bounces from his Lahainaluna School art classroom to recording gigs, art studios, writing projects and hula festivals.
His latest projects? “I’m building a house at Kahakuloa and writing a cookbook for foods you can grow in your own garden,” he says. Also coming up are the second and third CDs of the Hoku Award-winning Hymns of Hawai‘i project teaming Kahumoku with multi-instrumentalist Daniel Ho. And Kahumoku has a recording date with steel guitar legend Bob Brozman for George Winston’s influential Dancing Cat label.
And—yes, there’s more—Wednesday nights at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Kapalua, Kahumoku hosts the slack-key guitar showcase with other masters.
Stop by. You’ll be inspired by the music—and the man.
Copyright © 2005 — Maui No Ka Oi Magazine and Tom Stevens
For more information on George, visit his website at: www.kahumoku.com
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