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Kahu Minnie Kaawaloa dies at 91


The Rev. Minnie Halekulani Nahakuelua Elderts Kaawaloa, an ordained minister, master lauhala weaver and community matriarch, died Thursday at her Nanawale Estates home. She was 91.

Kaawaloa was born Nov. 7, 1922, in Kaiakea, near Laupahoehoe, and was raised in Koae, Puna. She was kahu, or pastor, at Ka Mauloa oka Malamalama Church in Kurtistown and was retired from Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks as a cultural demonstrator/interpreter.

She had worked as intern and cultural specialist for the Smithsonian Institution, spending three months in Washington, D.C., helping to catalogue the Hawaiian collection. She co-founded the Lauhala Weaving Club of Puna and belonged to Aha Puhala O Puna, Kalapana Community Organization, Puna Hui Ohana, Leiana O Puna, Kalapana Gardens Association and Alu Like Kupuna Program.

“We are so in awe of the outpouring of aloha for this amazing little 5-foot-1 woman,” said her daughter, Piilani Kaawaloa. “She had an ability to connect with people. When she prayed for someone, they would be healed or their lives would be changed for the better.”

Kaawaloa’s church was part of Hoomana Naauao o Hawaii, the oldest independent Hawaiian Christian denomination.

“She was a great woman,” said Kanoe Cheek, secretary for the statewide church organization. “She was originally the kahu at Ke Elele oka Malamalama in the Kapoho area, but her church was burned down by the lava. She then went to Ke Kilohana oka Malamalama on Manono Street (in Hilo) before she took over the Kurtistown congregation.

“Her passing is a loss for our church and for the community.”

Kaawaloa, a fluent Hawaiian speaker and cultural practitioner, also lost homes to lava in Kapoho and Kalapana, Piilani Kaawaloa said.

“She said that the lava was gonna come, and nobody believed her. And then the lava came,” Piilani Kaawaloa said, and added her mother told people that if a resort planned for Kaimu was built, it would be consumed by lava “and we are all going to suffer.”

The resort was never built, but lava overran Kaimu and its renowned black sand beach in 1990.

“She was a very strong Christian, and she was able to weave her Christianity and who she was as a Hawaiian together,” Piilani Kaawaloa said.

Kaawaloa, known as “Kahu Minnie” and “Aunty Minnie,” was a fixture at the Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair.

“She was taught by her grandmother and her aunt how to weave lauhala,” Piilani Kaawaloa said. “And they instilled in her that when you weave, you weave good, not sloppy. And you don’t weave for the money. You weave because you have respect for the lauhala. And the lauhala will provide you what you need. She believed that weaving was about binding, not only about the material but about binding the relationship of the people who you weave with.”

Friends may call from 4 to 6 p.m. May 1 at Dodo Mortuary chapel for a 6 p.m. wake service. Friends may also call at 8 a.m. May 2 at the mortuary for a 9 a.m. service. Burial follows at Homelani Memorial Park. Family requests casual attire be worn.

She is survived by sons, William Kaawaloa, Lionel (Deborah) Kaawaloa and Stanley (Cheryl) Kaawaloa, all of Pahoa, Jesse Kaawaloa of Kikala, Jerry Kaawaloa of Kupahua, Herbert (Phyllis) Elderts of Fort Worth, Texas; daughters: Leilani Ring and Gladys (Michael) Miller, both of Honolulu, Mary Jane Kamoku of Hilo, Piilani Kaawaloa and Jerilyn Kaawaloa, both of Pahoa; brother, Matthew Elderts of Mountain View; sister, Eleanor Evangelista of Hawaiian Paradise Park; 28 grandchildren; 52 great-grandchildren; 31 great-great-grandchildren; numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.