Lonely Hawaiians far from home in the South Seas

  • Gerrit Wilder

While traveling in the South Seas during 1925, Honolulu-born naturalist, agriculturist and traveler Gerrit P. Wilder (1863-1935) met two lonely Hawaiians who had not seen or heard from their Hawaiian relatives for many years.

At Rarotonga, Wilder encountered the first of these, William Kanoa, originally of Honolulu, who had lived in Rarotonga since 1890.

And, on an island in Haapai, Tonga, he came across Joseph Kaui, who was born in Nuuanu Valley, Oahu, and had settled in Tonga in 1885.

One day, while Wilder was hiking on Rarotonga, he met a fisherman, and when Wilder mentioned that he was from Hawaii, the fisherman exclaimed, “Oh my, we got one Hawaii man down here. He workin’ on the wharf. I tell him to go see you.”

The Hawaiian was William Kanoa, and on the following day, Kanoa came to see Wilder and told him that he had left Hawaii long ago for the South Seas, and had first landed at Penrhyn Island, where he’d married a Penrhyn Island woman and had later gone with her to Rarotonga and had a daughter named Hipuu.

Wilder then promised Kanoa — who said he was lonely since he had not heard from his relatives in Hawaii for many years — that he would find them upon his return to Hawaii, if they were still alive.

Joseph Kaui also expressed his loneliness to Wilder, for he had not seen his Hawaiian relatives for 40 years, and Wilder later recalled that “I still retain a vivid mental picture of Kaui — a lonely old man — standing there at the end of a little wharf calling ‘aloha’ to me.”

When Wilder — who in 1911 had gone to Kauai to look for rare botanical specimens — returned to Honolulu, he advertised for both Kanoa and Kaui.

Soon after, two of Kanoa’s relatives appeared at Wilder’s home, and they sent letters and photographs to their lonely relative and his family in the South Seas.

Yet, no relatives of Kaui came forward to claim their kinship.
Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at hssgms@gmail.com

  1. paulo t January 19, 2020 8:03 am Reply

    Very nice story from the past but sad for Kaui.

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