From joining in one of the first demonstrations to preserve beach access at Pauwela to protesting the bombing of Kahoolawe and opposing the exhumation of Native Hawaiian burials in West Maui, Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. was at the center of many Native Hawaiian causes and protests.
The Native Hawaiian leader and kahu was remembered Friday for his activism and cultural knowledge, as well as his engaging personality and sense of humor, as many mourned his death.
The Pukalani resident died Thursday afternoon at Maui Memorial Medical Center after a long illness. He was 74.
Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. shared a meaningful moment with grandson Dane Kiyoshi Uluwehiokalani Maxwell as he was ordained a kahu on July 31. Maxwell died Thursday at Maui Memorial Medical Center at the age of 74.
The Maui News file photo
"He was instrumental in making sure what was done was going to be pono," said Clifford Nae'ole, who served with Maxwell for many years on the Maui/Lanai Islands Burial Council. "Things out of balance would ruffle his feathers. He would be the first to stand up and say, 'I can't just let this go. Something's got to be done. We can at least bring awareness to others.'
"From Kahoolawe to Honokahua to development up at the crater to development in Wailea, he was always aware of things going on and wanted to make sure people in Hawaii did not get lost in the semantics and get lost, period.
"He was immersed in everything, from hula and prayer, as well as activism and being a stalwart for Hawaiian causes. He was a man for all seasons, basically."
Mayor Alan Arakawa said that he was sad to hear of Maxwell's passing. "Maui's going to miss him," Arakawa said. "He tried to do a lot of good for Maui."
Like Maxwell, Arakawa grew up in the Upcountry area. Their families have long known each other, and the mayor knew Maxwell from his younger days, including when Maxwell was a Maui police officer and served on Molokai at one point.
"Charlie took himself to a point where he became a very active community person," Arakawa said. "He had a life that he could look back on and be very proud of, and I think his family would be very proud of what he would be able to accomplish."
Nae'ole said Maxwell taught him and other burial council members the "pride and honor" of returning iwi or bones to the earth.
"It's a bittersweet thing," said Nae'ole, cultural adviser at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. "It would be kind of joyous looking at ancestors and holding them. At the same time, it would be sad. They're supposed to be at rest."
In the 1980s, Maxwell helped lead the opposition to the exhumation of Native Hawaiian burials at the building site of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, in Honokahua.
Work was eventually stopped, the exhumed remains were returned, and the burial site preserved after the developers agreed to move the hotel farther mauka.
"He was always ready to lead the charge," said Dana Naone Hall, who was on the burial council with Maxwell for many years, starting when it was informally organized and continuing when it was formally established. "He was right there all the time.
"People who have known him for a long time, and know him well, probably remember him not only for his activism but for his tremendous sense of humor. We would be in the most serious situations and he would tell some humorous story and have everybody rolling around. These stories went back to the days when he was a police officer. He had a whole quiver of stories that he would break out at different times."
Hall recalled that Maxwell was "a fabulous karaoke singer."
"He liked to sing in Japanese, which always impressed the Japanese people and his friends," Hall said.
"What we can honor is he lived a full life. He could be brash, but on the other side, he was immensely charming. We will miss him but cherish the memories of our times with him."
In the 1970s, Maxwell was among leaders of the protests over military bombing of Kahoolawe. He proposed and spent a year planning the occupation of the island on Jan. 4, 1976, when he and dozens of others set out in boats from Maalaea Harbor.
When a Coast Guard helicopter hovered overhead and warned that those who landed on Kahoolawe would have their vessels confiscated, Maxwell and most others decided to return to Maui while nine people continued on to Kahoolawe.
The movement led to the return and partial cleanup of the island.
Even earlier, in 1971 or 1972, Maxwell joined Leslie Kuloloio's family in one of the first demonstrations for beach access on Maui in the Pauwela lighthouse area.
"He helped us to continue beach access," said Kuloloio, who continued to work with Maxwell over the years, including in the reinterment of burials at Honokahua.
"There's only one Charlie Maxwell," Kuloloio said. "He gave his best, and God bless him for all he contributed on the part of Hawaiian history."
Maxwell supported sovereignty and was widely recognized as an expert in Hawaiian culture. He and his late wife, Nina, operated the Pukalani Hula Halau.
He also served as a member of the Hawaii advisory group to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
"Uncle Charlie really knew how to integrate ancient practices with modern society," said state Sen. J. Kalani English, who worked with Maxwell for many years. "That was one of the key things for him. He was able to interpret the old into how we can make it practical today."
Maxwell made sure the Hawaiian point of view was taken into consideration, English said.
Noting the recent deaths of Maxwell, Akoni Akana, Charles Kaupu and Cliff "Pali" Ahue, English said: "We have lost a lot of cultural practitioners on Maui recently."
"We just have to realize that there's a change of era happening," English said. "We're all going to miss Uncle Charlie a lot. What a contribution he made to our society."
Maxwell was cultural consultant to the Maui Ocean Center, starting in 1986, two years before it opened in Maalaea.
"What Uncle Charlie brought to Maui Ocean Center was his knowledge and understanding of the meaning of the ocean animals to the Hawaiian culture," said Kate Zolezzi, the center's general manager. "Each one of them had a name, each one of them had a use. Many of them were regarded as ancestral spirits or aumakua. He was present for the blessing of animals that were brought in, and he was present for the release of animals. He gave Hawaiian names to many of the animals.
"And he worked tirelessly with our educational staff and our curatorial staff and our visitors to impart Hawaiian cultural knowledge."
Jim Luecke, assistant curator at the center, became friends with Maxwell after moving to Maui in 2001 from the Caribbean, where sharks were clubbed to death after being caught by local residents.
On Maui, he said he was inspired by Maxwell's passion for Hawaiian culture and its respect for sharks. "It was one of the reasons I feel I've stayed here so long," Luecke said.
He and his wife were married by Maxwell in 2003.
"He was just an amazing guy," Luecke said.
Maxwell was ordained as a kahu, or minister, more than 13 years ago. In August, with his health failing, he passed the torch to a grandson, Dane Kiyoshi Uluwehiokalani Maxwell. The ordination allows a kahu to perform Hawaiian spiritual duties.
"A kahu is like a shepherd," Charles Maxwell Sr. said at the time. "It's the one they follow."
At the Maui Ocean Center, Zolezzi said Maxwell's grandson would step in as cultural consultant.
Kula resident Dick Mayer, who worked with Maxwell as Citizens Advisory Committee members on the Upcountry Community Plan in the early 1990s, said he knew Maxwell "as a community contributor and a person really interested in the betterment of Maui in general and Upcountry in particular."
"He was a big person in personality," Mayer said. "People who met him once remembered him well. He was colorful, he was engaging."
While they strongly disagreed on some issues, "it was always on the issue, never on the personality," Mayer said.
At times, he said Maxwell would change his position on issues. "He was not dogmatic about things. As he found out more, he was able to change his mind."
Although he was in a wheelchair and had his right leg amputated, Maxwell would still show up at community meetings. He had been a voice of opposition against plans for a solar telescope atop Haleakala.
Nae'ole said that when he last saw Maxwell at a recent celebration, "You could tell diabetes had taken its toll, but he was still smiling."
"Uncle Charlie is a tremendous optimist and a warrior and a strong, strong spirit," Zolezzi said. "Even though he had been hospitalized more than once recently, his spirit was always anxious to get out and get on to the next thing that interested him."
Maxwell's family could not be reached Friday.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.