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The Hukilau: A legacy of Laie

Roland Maiola Logan Kalili finds a long stick to steady his gait as he walks barefoot across the sand toward the beach. The 72-year-old goes by the nickname Ahi, which means "fire" in Hawaiian.

Today the fire is also in his knee. "Old football injury," says the former college and semi-pro player, still moving slowly but steadily toward the beach. "It started bothering me a week or so ago."

Football players are a common export here. But before Ahi became part of a legacy of Polynesian athletes, he was part of another legacy born near Oahu's north shore: the Hukilau.

The Hukilau was an expansive luau organized by members of the Laie Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a way of raising money to rebuild their chapel, which burned to the ground in 1940.

The word "Hukilau" literally describes the process of pulling (huki) the ropes from fishing nets, woven with leaves (lau) along the outside, in from the sea.

Laie is a good hour's drive from Honolulu today, and was even more remote in the 1940s, so it didn't see that many visitors then. But some of those who did come -- many of them servicemen -- would stop and watch men fish at a beach just off the highway, offering to pay if they could help pull the large nets from the ocean.

Laie's children, Ahi among them, earned money from the tourists by selling coconuts or diving for lobsters. One boy dove for nickels the tourists would toss into the water. Now much older, like Ahi, he is known as "Uncle Five Cent."

The beach where Ahi stands is now boldly named Hukilau Beach and was the scene for those spontaneous tourist-attracting events and the stage for what was organized into the Hukilau.

The story of the chapel fire is one that Laie native Kekela (Kela) Miller's generation knows well: The chapel had been built in 1881 and was later moved to give the new Mormon temple prominence on a slight hillside not far from the ocean. An oil lamp may have started the blaze that destroyed the chapel in 1940.

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