LAHAINA - Kumu Charles Kaui Ka'upu Jr. wasn't just a star performer of chant, or oli, and a respected cultural adviser statewide.
He blessed businesses and babies, performed music, traveled and officiated weddings - and he had his own halau on Kauai. He also was a disc jockey and a mentor, peacemaker, political advocate and poet - all with an infectious sense of humor, his friends remembered during his funeral service Saturday.
The noted Hawaiian cultural practitioner died at his home on Maui on July 13. He was 53.
CHARLES KAUI KA‘UPU Jr.
Died at Maui home on July 13
At his funeral, some of his friends even wore head lei of untrimmed ti leaves in the "bushman"?style that gave Ka'upu his nickname.
Still, everyone approached with reverence the traditional altar, called a lele, to give ho'okupu. The offerings traditionally are for the goddess of hula, Hi'iaka.
The handmade gifts, often woven or threaded out of native plants and flowers, were delivered at his second home, the Old Lahaina Luau. There were 200 people or more there for the intricate and delicate services. A police officer was needed to handle traffic on Front Street.
"It's so important for us to show others what he taught us," said his friend since their teen years, Donna Lanakila Willard, who organized much of the day. "It was important that it was done perfectly. It was a testament, a measure of him.
"The thing about Charles is, there was no one he treated differently," she said of a friend so close she jokingly called him "my other husband."
"Everyone was special to Charles, and Charles was special to everyone," she said. "I have no idea how I'm going to fill that space."
Much of Ka'upu's life revolved around Old Lahaina Luau, where he'd been a fixture for 22 years and was the cultural adviser, said the luau's part-owner Robert "Lopaku" Aguiar, another close friend. Staff members were among those who delivered offerings, their cheeks streaked with tears.
Aguiar said he would miss his friend, who he would wait for to get done with his shift so they could grab dinner.
Ka'upu always remained a very active man, his friends said. He had passionate Native Hawaiian views, but he also had deep interests in his spiritual and observational musings on Facebook, where he had a large following, friends said.
His own halau, or hula school and performance group, is called Kauai Na Kane O Ke Oneloa, Willard said. Saturday's finely tuned ceremony featured members of his halau draped in black, with shaven heads, as well as several others and clans from across Hawaii, and even one from Japan, she said.
One group of keiki dancers wore white kihei, or robes, and green-leaf haku, or headdresses, and appeared almost angelic.
Ka'upu was born on Oahu and graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1975, lived on Molokai and then settled in Maui, Willard said.
Ka'upu was well-regarded as a kumu, or teacher, friends said, including a few who huddled together and spoke about how he'd changed their lives for the better, forever.
"I was a sophomore in high school when I met Charles and Robert (Aquiar)," said Shane Basques, 37, of Lahaina. "I was a punk. If it wasn't for them, I'd probably be dead or in jail.
"But Charles and Robert molded me and my future," said Basques, who still performs hula and fire dancing. "(Ka'upu) taught me to practice humility every day, to look people in the eyes and understand them. He really opened me up spiritually. They taught me to really see people and then how to treat others."
The scattering of Ka'upu's ashes in Kaopala Bay was to follow the remembrance service. Later in the evening, his family and friends planned to close the day with a celebration of his life at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
Family members asked that no photographs or recordings of the day's events be made.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.