A royal Hawaiian society will honor two Maui matriarchs to celebrate the 250th birthday of Hāna-born Queen Kaʻahumanu.
The ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu Chapter IV Wailuku will bestow its inaugural Kaʻahumanu Awards upon Aunty Bessie DeMello of Kahului and Lady Grace Spenser of Wailuku on March 16 at Queen Kaʻahumanu Center. The 5:30 p.m. annual ceremonies will present chant, song, hula and lei draping of Queen Kaʻahumanu’s statue, and will feature the awards presentation.
The ladies of the ʻAhahui will wear the society’s traditional regalia of black attire with gold feather lei.
The chiefess, Kaʻahumanu was born March 17, 1768, at Puʻu Kaʻuiki by Hāna Bay in East Maui. Recognized as the favorite wife of Kamehameha the Great, she was a fervent Christian after converting, and was known for spreading education by starting schools and distributing books throughout the archipelago.
The Kaʻahumanu Awards salute community service with aloha. Both awardees are members of the 95-year- old Wailuku Chapter IV of ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu.
Reflective of Kaʻahumanu’s religious ardor, Aunty Bessie DeMello presides in her sun-warmed Central Maui garage at a table with Bible at the center and ʻukulele to her right. Upon request, she will repeat softly her favorite 23rd Psalm in its entirety, “The Lord is my shepherd… ”
The Hoʻolehua, Molokaʻi, native has served as a kupuna, or elder, mentor in Hawaiʻi Department of Education schools, and performed with the Maui Police Department glee club and MPD’s Maui Boy Builders band that toured schools. She is a former member of the Ahumanu musical trio, whose inaugural “Ahumanu: The Gathering” CD was nominated for a 2007 Nā Hōkū Hanohano
The 91-year- old former officer and longtime songleader with ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu still attends monthly meetings.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua resort honored Aunty Bessie with its Kupuna Award, manifested by an eight-strand lei of Niʻihau shells.
She self-published a childhood memoir, “Molokaʻi Kuʻu Home,” illustrated in color by daughter Joni DeMello.
Educational, musical and community service, notwithstanding, she said she is proudest of her three children: Colette DeMello, Sherman DeMello and Joni DeMello.
Co-awardee Lady Grace Lindsey Spenser is a capable, strong-minded 90-year- old. She often invokes the term “paukū naʻau,” which translates “section of one’s gut” — but whose kaona, or poetic meaning, might be: purity of heart.
She says she prepares for activities by centering herself quietly, ostensibly to proceed with clarity, humility and integrity.
“Before I go (to ʻAhahui meetings), I go to my room and pono myself,” she said, adding, “My name is Grace.”
Nevertheless, Spenser reflects the famous warriors of her Kohala birthplace on Hawaiʻi island, by bringing parliamentary precision to her community affiliations. The latter range from Hale O Nā Aliʻi for 41 years and ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu for 26 years, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Nā Wahine Hui O Kamehameha Kahekili Chapter IV, both for 36 years.
She is two-time state president of the latter organization, the women’s component of the Royal Order of Kamehameha. She is an ʻAhahui former president and current launa aloha, or fellowship chairwoman, whose signature message is: “Ladies, remember to go to the doctor and take your aspirin daily.”
The former Army wife lived some 15 years in North Carolina, where she gave birth to five of her seven children. She relocated in 1964 to Maui, where she bought the family’s present Sand Hills home and raised the youngsters while husband Al Spenser served in Korea.
Kaʻahumanu Award recipients will get plaques, each adorned with two kahili, or feather standards, that ʻAhahui member Claudia Wallwork made and donated.
March 24 the members of ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu Chapter IV Wailuku will mark the 250th royal birthday at a 5:30 p.m. Hoʻolauleʻa in Paukūkalo Community Hall. A limited number of $30 tickets are available by calling Rowena Kamai at (808) 281-0931. The event will feature entertainment, holokū/holomū contest, door prizes and a Poi By The Pound-catered menu fit for a queen.