Mahealani Keale looks
like an ordinary man and yet, he is somehow special. He is a
man with great musical talent, and when he played his ukulele
the whole energy of the room changed. His voice is soft, and
his music ranges from sounding calm and slow to vivid and faster-paced.
He sings with such passion and love for music that he gives people
goose-bumps and touches them emotionally.
Of his parents, only his mother is still alive. She is originally
from Ni‘ihau, a place where ancient Hawaiian culture is
still alive. As an adult, she joined the army where she met and
married Mahealani’s dad who was from Arkansas.
Mahealani’s uncle was Moe Keale, the well-known musician
and TV actor who passed away in April 2002. Here in Hawai‘i,
many people still remember him as a great and passionate Hawaiian
Mahealani was born in Hawai‘i, but his family moved to
central California where his dad’s parents lived when
he was two years old because his parents wanted him and his
to grow up with their grandparents. The community was mainly
Mexican and sometimes it was hard for family members to deal
with both fitting in and still maintaining their Hawaiian identity
and traditions. They often danced hula and played Hawaiian
When Mahealani was five years old, his right eye got hit by
a rock while he was playing with some kids from the neighborhood.
Because no adult noticed the accident, he was left lying on
street for hours. His eye could not be saved, and today he
has a plastic eye.
Mahealani went to two different colleges, one was Mennonite
Seminary in Fresno, Calif. and the other one was Multnomah
and Seminary in Portland, Ore. After eight years of theological
study, he earned two master’s degrees, one in Greek and
one in Hebrew.
Mahealani, his wife Sally, and their 5-year-old daughter Emma
moved back to Hawai‘i in 2001, when he got hired by The
Gathering Church in Kailua here on O‘ahu. He said that
usually it’s the other way around. Many Hawaiians move
away because of the high costs of living in Hawai‘i. He
hasn’t regretted his decision to come back, he said,
adding that he and his family love it here, although for him
hapa-haole (part white, part Hawaiian), it sometimes can also
be rough to fit in.
Currently, Mahealani is working as a pastor. However, for him,
doing his weekly service doesn’t mean going into a church.
He wants to connect his parishioners with real life and says
that we don’t need to go into a church, but that we are
the church. So every Sunday, people come together for three to
five hours on Kalapawai Beach (Kailua beach) behind the green
market in Kailua to sing, eat, talk, and just spend time with
each other. “It’s all about sharing the great aloha
spirit,” Mahealani said.
Since Mahealani came back to Hawai‘i, he has learned a
lot about Hawaiian culture. He had a need to know after being
gone for so long. He said that as a college student, he studied
his books. In Hawaiian culture, however, people learn through
the kupuna, the elders. Old people are seen as the primary source
of knowledge. Learning from books is almost looked down upon,
for one can only really have trust in something if a kupuna says
so. Hawaiian is still an oral culture. Also, it is considered
rude to ask too many questions of older people. It’s the
role of the less wise person to listen and to pay attention – to
develop a feeling of things and to sense what needs to be learned.
According to Mahealani, the history of one’s family—one’s
ancestors—is also a very important aspect in Hawaiian culture.
For only when one knows one’s roots can he know where
he comes from and who he really is.
About his Uncle Moe, Mahealani said that he didn’t see
him often when he grew up. Sometimes his family went to his concerts
when he was playing near their home in California. Once they
even drove up to Canada to see him. As a child, Mahealani sometimes
spent summers in Hawai‘i and that’s when he got
to see his uncle.
For Mahealani, Uncle Moe always was a hero. “He seemed
bigger than life,” Mahealani said. But most of his life,
he was simply Moe’s nephew and didn’t have many adult
conversations with him. Mahealani had only been back to Hawai’i
for six months before Moe passed away.
In Hawaiian tradition, when someone dies, one can sometimes
still feel the presence of the person. One day, shortly after
away, Mahealani was sitting on the beach when he suddenly saw
his uncle. This was a very special and life-changing experience
for him. On that day he felt that he had received Uncle Moe’s
spirit and passion for music. After that, Mahealani suddenly
knew how to play the ukulele and started singing to his music.
Mahealani said that he loves playing music and sharing it with
others. He is a very spiritual person, and when you listen
to his music, you can feel the Hawaiian spirit alive in the
His musical talent is a gift and his music flows from him right
into the listener’s soul.
His next concert is on Sunday, April 18th between noon and
3 p.m. at Ward Warehouse.