Uncle Charlie Remembered: Strong, Bold & Extremely Passionate
By Wendy Osher
“Strong, bold and extremely passionate,” were the words Kimi Tamanaha used to describe her uncle in a celebration of life held today for Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr.–a native Hawaiian leader, cultural practitioner and kahu.
Maxwell was ordained as a kahu more than 13 years ago under the tutelage of Papa Kealakea. In recent years he passed the torch to his grandson, Dane Kiyoshi Uluwehiokalani Maxwell who led the Sunday services at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
“He always liked to put me on the spot, and today is no different,” said Dane, who recalled being dragged to countless protests, where his papa would immerse him in the Hawaiian culture. “We’re all filled with a bag of overwhelming emotions,” said Dane who led his family in a traditional oli and recitation of their mo’okū’auhau.
Maxwell’s namesake and son, Charles Maxwell Jr., offered the eulogy and some words he thought his father would want us to know. “Tomorrow,” he said, “go out and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture; stand up for what is right; and use your mana’o to make things better.”
The younger Maxwell recalled his father’s humor, saying, “It was papa’s idea to put his license plate on his casket, in case he wanted to go holoholo.” The plate, bearing the word, “hemū,” was hung on the side of the casket, defined by the Hawaiian dictionary as an interjection, meaning to shoo, drive off, or scare away. It also means to defend as in the chant “Hemu oia.”
Others also reflected on Maxwell’s humor. Jim Luecke, Assistant Curator at the Maui Ocean Center, where Maxwell served as a cultural consultant, recalled a hospital visit in which one of the visitors sat on the bed, only to hear Uncle Charlie say, “ouch, my foot, my foot” as if the person has sat on it–when in fact his leg had been amputated many months prior during a separate hospitalization.
Maxwell passed away on March 15, 2012 at the age of 74 after a long illness. “It was the saddest day of my life,” said daughter, Sheri who moved back to the family home in Pukalani five years ago to care for her ailing father.
In Maxwell’s passing, grandson Adrian Kamali’i recalled his papa’s life and extensive list of cultural advocacy. “When an island was broken in half, he gave it a voice,” said Kamali’i in reference to Maxwell’s efforts to stop the bombing at Kaho’olawe.
In the Fall of 1973, Maxwell was credited with developing and heading the group, ALOHA, Aboriginal Lands of Hawaiian Ancestry, which played an active role in the fight against the Navy’s use of Kaho’olawe as a bombing range.
He is also credited with playing a key role in planning the occupation of the island on January 4, 1976, when he and dozens of others set out in boats to Kaho’olawe from Ma’alaea Harbor. According to a proclamation issued on Maxwell’s behalf, the movement led to the return of Kaho’olawe from the federal government to the state, and partial cleanup of the island.
“When sharks were being killed,” Kamali’i said, his grandpa spoke on behalf of the ancestral spirits or ʻaumakua to stop the eradication of tiger sharks; and “when our kupuna lost their voice, but not their mana,” at Honokahua, he said, his papa was there to preserve their dignity.
“Uncle Charlie opened many paths for many of us,” said William Aila Jr., who offered a chant and a proclamation that was hand-delivered on behalf of Governor Neil Abercrombie. The proclamation highlighted key accomplishments in Maxwell’s life, and expressed condolences on the passing of a true “Son of Hawai’i.”
One of his most notable accomplishments was when Maxwell led the opposition to the exhumation of native Hawaiian burials at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua building site at Honokahua during the 1980s. As a result, the exhumed remains were returned, and the developers agreed to move the hotel site further mauka, keeping the burial site preserved.
Uncle Charlie wrote two songs dedicated to the place and the burials of Honokahua including: “Honokahua Nani E” and “Ka Ho’ailona,” both recorded by the Pandanus Club.
Maxwell later served as a member of the Hawai’i advisory group for the US Civil Rights Commission; and was chair of the Maui/Lana’i Islands Burial Council since its establishment in 1990, where he continued efforts to improve public awareness and respect for ancient graves. He also served on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Maui Upcountry Community Plan in 1990.
Friend and musician Sheldon Brown recalled the fight to save Pu‘u O Poli‘ala, a hill in the Waiehu dunes that was being excavated for the installation of a wireless cell site in 2006. The makai portion of the sand dune was known to contain native Hawaiian burials, as well as pre-contact site remnants. Brown had called on Maxwell to help contractors from excavating the site, leading to community protests in the area.
“He was the most controversial person I know,” said Brown of his long-time friend, who would often accompany Maxwell in site visits of properties slated for construction, to assure native sites remained undisturbed.
One of Maxwell’s earlier efforts was to preserve beach access to the Pauwela Lighthouse area of Maui in the early 1970s, when he joined fellow Hawaiian rights advocate, Leslie Kululoio in one of the first demonstrations for the cause.
Maxwell and his late wife, Nina Boyd Maxwell together operated the Pukalani Hula Halau, which she founded in the early 1960s.
Maxwell was born on May 14, 1937, in Napili and was the youngest of six kids. As a young adult, he worked as a tour driver and field worker at HC&S. In his early 20s, Maxwell was employed as a Maui police officer, spending some time on Molokai, and later in his career as a vice officer. After 15 years with the department, family members say he retired after sustaining an injury in the line of duty.
Despite his active role in the native Hawaiian community, Maxwell “still had time for (family) traditions,” said his son.
Maxwell is survived by son Charles K. Maxwell, Jr.; daughters, Sheri Ann H. Maxwell and Kathy Marie H. Maxwell-Juan; sister, Elizabeth K. Han; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
“You cannot disagree with his lasting impact,” said Kamali’i. “His living was not in vain.”