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Concert benefit for Aloha March

Garden Island News
January 11, 1998

Butch Kekahu
Butch Kekahu stands besides a portrait of Queen Lili'uokalani.
George Lurie photo.


LIHU`E -- In less than eight months, Butch Kekahu will be rolling proudly past the White House in Washington, D.C.

More than once during that ride, and throughout all of the day's historic events, memories of his Uncle Charlie are sure to be flashing through Kekahu's thoughts.

Kekahu's brainchild, the Aloha March, will take place Aug. 8 in Washington, D.C. -- the 100th anniversary of the annexation of the Hawaiian islands. Its purpose, says Kekahu, ``is to provide an open forum for Hawaiian people and to educate non-Hawaiians around the country about Hawaiian issues.''

The ultimate goal of the march, says Kekahu, is to pull ``our people together.''

Kekahu has invested $6,000 and ``half of my waking hours for the last 16 years'' planning the march, which had its genesis in a conversation he had in 1981 in Los Angeles with his late uncle, Charlie Koani.

``Uncle Charlie was a very educated man and well-rounded in Hawaiian issues,'' says Kekahu. ``We were talking about our future and he told me there was a lot the Hawaiian people could accomplish, but that what we needed most was to become educated and organized.

``That was my main focus in organizing the Aloha March,'' says Kekahu.

``It will be a rallying cry to the Hawaiian people -- especially those who live on the Mainland, which is at least one-third of all Hawaiians. We will come together in Washington to see where we are at collectively, as a movement and as a people. And to decide where we will go from here.

The march is a first, Kekahu says, and he can't possibly predict its outcome.

``It's the first time something like this, on this scale, and on the Mainland, has ever happened. A great responsibility is in our hands as we undertake this work.''

The march will begin on the U.S. Capitol grounds with a 24-hour prayer vigil and conclude in Lafayette Park across from the White House with protocols and an open forum that will feature speakers, music and hula.

U.S. Congresswoman Patsy Mink has confirmed that she will attend the prayer vigil and Kekahu hopes President Bill Clinton also will participate in the rally. ``Because of all that he's already done for us, I'd sure like to see the president there,'' he says.

In 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, Clinton signed United States Public Law 103-150, an apology bill addressed to Native Hawaiians to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

``The apology bill has really opened the door for us to get organized, to get our act together,'' Kekahu says. ``The Hawaiian rights movement is gaining so much momentum. That's why it's important for all sovereignty leaders to sit down at the same table.''

While Kekahu is hoping the march will spark consensus -- rather than controversy -- he says one possible result could be a decision ``to try to form our own Hawaiian government.''

Native Hawaiian activists have been increasing their profile in the community in recent days -- at North Shore boating hearings, before the County Council, at Kamehameha Schools, on newspaper editorial pages.

Butch Kekahu's Aloha March, which is sure to receive national, and perhaps international attention, is yet another example of the groundswell in organization and strength of the Native Hawaiian movement as activists find more appropriate and powerful forums to articulate their message.

Kekahu may be soft-spoken but there is fire in his eyes and he is clearly determined.

Born 54 years ago in Hanapepe, he spent a part of his life in the Los Angeles area working as a musician and entertainer -- he still sings and plays the guitar and ukelele. Now ``semi-retired,'' Kekahu, whose name means ``caretaker or one who looks after the flock,'' has been battling diabetes for six years and must have regular dialysis treatment.

``I feel like I'm on borrowed time,'' he says, ``and am trying to do as much as I can.''

Kekahu needs a cane to walk and will use a wheelchair during the march. He says the diabetes -- which afflicts an alarmingly large number of Native Hawaiians -- ``effects my writing, my walking, my seeing. It's slowly knocking all of the faculties out of my body.''

The march, says Kekahu, will be one of the highlights of his life. ``It will be a humbling experience to have so much attention focused on us,'' says Kekahu.

``And it will be very humbling for me personally. Not being a high school graduate, I've had to get my education from the people I've come in contact with, people from all walks of life. Talking to them, listening to them, that's the way I've received my education.''

An Aloha March benefit will be held at the Kaua`i War Memorial Convention Hall on Jan. 17 -- the 105th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy -- and will be headlined by Hawaiian rap group Sudden Rush.

Actress Leo Anderson Akana will portray Queen Lili`uokalani in a reenactment of the queen's return to Hawai`i from Washington, D.C. after annexation. Raymond Kane, Owana Salazar, Kahelelani and a host of others also will perform at the show, which is titled ``Tribute to a Queen -- An honoring of Queen Lili`uokalani in music, theater and dance.''

Performances will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Sudden Rush also will appear at the Aloha March. The first Hawaiian rap group, all in their early 20s, are part of a new generation of Hawaiian youth enthusiastically embracing the Hawaiian rights movement. The band's new CD -- Ku`e (Resist) -- features a cover photo of both Queen Lili`uokalani, and the three band members raising a flag Iwo Jima-style -- except this flag is Hawaiian and it's flying upside down, symbolizing, according to the CD's liner notes, ``a nation in distress.''

Kekahu plans to do some island hopping during the next two months to let more people know about the march.

``If my Uncle Charlie were around today, I think he'd be real happy,'' says Kekahu. ``He really felt I could be a good organizer and accomplish this.''

This summer when Butch Kekahu brings the spirit of Aloha to Washington, D.C., his Uncle Charlie -- where ever he might be watching from -- and all of Mainland America will see just how much this determined man has accomplished.

For more information about the march, call Kekahu at 808-822-7643, or email

Visit the Aloha March website at:

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