Saturday, July 30, 2005


Canoe builder
embodied many facets
of Hawaiian culture

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Clement "Tiger" Espere, a Renaissance man of Hawaiian culture who helped build and launch the first historic Hokule'a voyaging canoe, was a friend to anyone in need.

"He was trained to be a healer, and his healing work was for anyone in need," said his wife, Karen Espere. "He was a person who loved everybody. It didn't matter if you were rich or poor or what culture you were from. He was there for anybody and everybody.

"He just ran out of time," she said.

"Tiger" Espere of Waimea Valley died at age 58 of cancer July 21 at the Queen's Medical Center.

A talented surfer by the age of 10, he was nicknamed "Tiger" by the older Waikiki beachboys because he was so aggressive in the water, said his daughter, Kaiolohia Tolentino of the Big Island.

Karen Espere, an environmental engineer for the Navy, said her husband grew up in Waimea Valley with his grandparents, where he learned how to dive and fish. His grandfather was the last Hawaiian caretaker of the iwi, or ancestral remains, in Waimea Valley, she said. Tiger Espere was trained to take over his work before the city and the National Audubon Society assumed management of Waimea Falls Park, she added.

"An amazing man," Tiger Espere wore many other hats too, she said, including Parker Ranch paniolo from the mid-1980s to '90s; a skilled craftsman who worked on the Hokule'a canoe in 1975; one of the first lifeguards at Waimea Bay; and a freelance writer on Hawaiian culture.

As Hokule'a crew members and canoe builders under the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the couple met in 1995. They lived in Japan from 1997 to 2000 to fulfill a mission given him by "Tahiti elders," she said.

They went to verify the ancestral connection between Japan's pre-Buddhist settlers and native Hawaiians. The Esperes obtained physical evidence of similarities between the two cultures and established the Japan-Hawaiian Voyaging Society. "It was incredible," Karen Espere said.

From 1996 until he died, her husband was a freelance writer for many Japanese publications, she added.

According to his sister, Shirley Diaz of Ewa Beach, Tiger Espere was the oldest brother and assumed the spiritual leadership of his close-knit extended family when their mother died 19 years ago.

Her fondest memory of him was the time spent once a year with about 32 men and boys of the family, teaching them to camp, fish, hunt and gather so they would "know how to survive without stores." He taught them to "love the land and to respect everything," and to learn about their culture, Diaz said.

A sunrise memorial service will be held at 6 a.m. today at Waimea Bay, followed by lunch at Kaiaka Beach park at noon. His ashes will be scattered Thursday at Puukohola-Kawaihae on the Big Island. Funeral arrangements are being made by Mililani Memorial Park & Mortuary.

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