Pastor, author, artist: Unity in titles

KOLOA — Rev. Dr. Alan Akana of Koloa was the author and artist in residence recently at the historic Moana Surfrider in Waikiki.

During the three-day period, Akana’s art was on display in the hotel lobby. He spoke to guests about his book, “The Volcano Is Our Home: Nine Generations of a Hawaiian Family on Kilauea Volcano,” as well as his watercolors of Hawaiian florals.

“It was an honor to have my own show at the historic Moana Surfrider,” he said.

Akana shared with guests about his Hawaiian father, Henry Akana of Hilo, and his Caucasian mother, Betty Gagner Akana, who moved from Montana to Hilo after World War II.

The family moved to the San Francisco Peninsula, where Akana was born and raised. He told guests of his assumption that his cousins on Hawaii Island knew all about their family history. However, he eventually learned that many of his older living relatives had not passed down many of the family stories to their children and grandchildren.

So Akana began writing them down and doing further research. After 15 years, he organized his notes, put them into book form, and had the book published in 2014 by Balboa Press.

The book presents life as it was lived by the maka‘ainana (the common people who farmed and fished) of Kalapana on the slopes of Kilauea Volcano where Akana’s Hawaiian family originated.

The book begins with his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Kahekili, who was born on the slopes of Kilauea Volcano in 1756. It walks the reader through each generation and explains what life was like and how it changed through the years. It ends with today’s generation in Kalapana, which is now mostly covered over by lava, but is still home to a handful of people, including some of Akana’s distant relatives.

Akana also told guests in Waikiki about his love of Hawaiian flowers and how he began painting them. When he moved to Montana in 1994 after living in Honolulu for four years, he spent many hours during the winters painting watercolors of tropical florals.

Painting helped to keep him connected to Hawaii for the next 20 years, while living in Montana, Utah, Texas and California, where he served churches.

After nearly 20 years of watercoloring the flowers of Hawaii, a friend who owned art galleries in California asked him why he didn’t sell his art. When he responded that he didn’t paint enough and hoped to get better, the gallery owner hosted a reception for him. Nearly 100 people attended and most of them bought his art. The gallery owner told him that he had a future as an artist and would do well if he sold his paintings in Hawaii.

Akana took his friend’s advice and moved to Koloa to become pastor of Koloa Union Church. He paints at home every morning before heading over to the church office. In his free time, he gives presentations on Hawaiian culture and storytelling, attends book signings, and hosts book and art receptions.

“Writing and watercoloring have helped me to be a better pastor and preacher,” Akana said. “As a writer, I have had to learn to tell stories that hold people’s attention and help them to see connections. As an artist, I am constantly recognizing beauty and meaning in nature all around me. I have learned that both of these qualities make me better at what I do at church.”

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