Mama Ane Kanahele was the matriarch of the Kanahele family.
She was a master shell lei maker.
She was a living treasure.
She was a prolific writer of himeni (Hawaiian hymns), and was an award-winning composer.
But when people speak of her, what they remember most was her joy. Her smile. Her laughter. Her love.
And her faith.
“How I have been blessed that I could be their friend and I could learn from her,” said Dickie Chang, local TV personality with his TV show, “Wala‘au.”
When he visited Mama Ane at her Kekaha home, they would talk about many things, but the conversation, Chang said, “always went back to Jesus and always thanking God.”
“It was just a way of life, and I loved that about her,” he said. “Everybody was ohana. Everybody was always welcome.”
Mama Ana Kanahele, born and raised on Ni‘ihau, mother of eight, passed away this week. She was 82.
Last year, when the Kanahele family gave its first public concert at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, it was Mama Ane who explained the meaning of the Hawaiian songs. She was the driving force behind the concert that featured about 20 of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I want Jesus’ name to go around the world. That’s what I want,” she told The Garden Island.
Her youngest daughter, Ehulani Kanahele, said her mother loved people.
“She is just an angel that touched everybody’s life,” she said. “She was a light for everybody that knew her.”
Thousands of lives, Ehulani Kanahele said, were touched by her mom. As word of her passing has spread, notes of condolences have come in from around the world.
“She was really popular everywhere because of her heart,” Ehulani Kanahele said. “She just opened it to everybody.”
Ehulani Kanahele, a kumu hula, learned the art from her mom. Her mom passed down her love of dance, of music, of shell lei. She said her mom taught her to start each day with prayer.
“That was her main thing, to give God the praise and glory and to love your family,” Ehulani Kanahele said.
She told her family to care for each other, love each other and forgive each other.
“Don’t be mad at anybody,” she would say. “You have to forgive. Life is short.”
Chucky Boy Chock, director of the Kauai Museum, was introduced to Mama Ane in 1989 by Elama and Isaac Kanahele.
He will remember her for many reasons, including her aloha.
“Her persona was ‘olu‘olu, gracious and more,” he said.
He recalled a moment from the Ni‘ihau Festival hosted by the Kauai Museum two years ago.
“I saw this beautiful gleam in her eyes as her mo‘opuna (grandchildren) were singing songs that she composed,” he said.
In 2001, her ohana won a Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Religious Album of the Year, for “Na Himeni Ho‘omaikai‘i I Ke Akua.” Most of their music was written by Mama Ane.
With her death, he said, “Hawaii has lost one of the most prolific haku mele (composers) of himeni.”
Chock said she inspired him to continue composing himeni.
“Her presence on Kauai will be sorely missed, not to mention her leadership as matriarch of the Kanahele ohana,” Chock said.
Pastor Lon Malapit, a family friend, said, “the best way to describe Mama Ane is that she spends time with God, and because she spends so much time with God, you just sense God’s presence flowing right into her.”
Her Kekaka home was a gathering place. She was always working on her shell lei, cleaning shells, poking holes in shells, stringing shells. It was a craft she mastered and shared.
“To me, she’s always laughing, finding joy in all kinds of stuff,” Malapit said. “Laugh at life, ourselves, our children, especially her grandchildren. We were always laughing with her. “
Chang said it was an honor to spend time with Mama Ane. He hung on her words as she taught him much about Ni‘ihau and life there. He remembers and holds her stories close to his heart.
“This was a true passing down from Ni‘ihau,” he said.
He came to understand “unconditional love” through Mama Ane, someone he called “the epitome of aloha.”
“Once you become her friend, the whole family is your friend,” he said.
In her final years, as she slowed with age, Chang said Mama Ane was pleased with her family. They had their health. They had each other. They had music. They had faith.
“She realized she accomplished her goal,” he said.
Chang laughed as he recounted a story of looking at one shell necklace made by Mama Ane. It was special, nearly 30 strands. When laid flat, he said the craftsmanship was beyond anything he had seen.
“Do you have any idea how many shells are on this lei?” he asked.
“No, I don’t,” Mama Ane answered. “But what I can tell you is, it took my daughter and I seven and a half to eight years to finish it.”
Chang shook his head. He was impressed she knew how long it took to complete it.
“Is it on sale?” Chang asked.
“Today, it’s on sale, $100,000,” Mama Ane answered with a smile and laugh.
Chang said he laughed, too, at the time.
“It’s worth it,” he said.
Priceless, even. Like Mame Ane.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.