Rescuers brave waves for peacemaker


POSTED: Friday, January 09, 2009

HILO » Bobbing in the waves of Kehena Bay south of Hilo, Naia Rae Fox watched a county helicopter lift the body of Burt “;Manu”; Kauhi from the water and carry him to shore.

The helicopter returned repeatedly to save the would-be rescuers who spent half an hour struggling to keep Kauhi's body from sinking out of sight.

The last to be carried out, Fox, 50, was finally alone in the water, the sole woman among the rescuers but also the strongest swimmer.

Fox lay back in the water, overcome with emotion, and screamed.

Manu Kauhi, 51, died Sunday at Kehena, notorious for dangerous swimming conditions.

Police have not determined the cause of death.

Kauhi was enormously loved, Fox said. A memorial gathering will be held from 2 to 10 p.m. tomorrow at Seaview Performing Arts Center for Education near Kehena.

Kauhi was the hanai, or adopted, son of Clara Kakalia, who died in 2004 after long being active in the Democratic Party and working for Hawaiian sovereignty.

Kauhi also worked for sovereignty while doing practical things to benefit people.

In an area remote from police, where lifestyles can include drug tensions, “;Manu was all about peace,”; Fox said.

One time he faced down men with guns, she said. Another time he stopped a confrontation between gangs armed with baseball bats simply by saying, “;Time to go home now,”; Fox said.

He set up a protective area on the beach for a monk seal that came ashore. Kauhi felt the seal signaled the rebirth of the Hawaiian nation, Fox said.

Some people wanted to pour water on the seal. Some wanted to have their picture taken with it. Kauhi would not let them go close.

He performed weddings and mediated boyfriend-girlfriend problems.

And with Fox he rescued swimmers.

On Sunday the water at Kehena was “;huge, gnarly, breaking halfway out in the bay,”; Fox said.

Suddenly she saw Kauhi going into the treacherous water.

“;Why is Manu going in?”; she wondered, but said that question was never answered.

Fox said Kauhi had been on the beach with a man and his young son.

A short while after Kauhi had gone into the water, the boy screamed, according to Fox, and a friend, Yuri, shouted, “;Manu needs help!”;

More friends, Henri and Joey, went into the water, Fox said.

Fox said she saw them being carried out to sea, so she went to help, too. When she got to them, Henri told her, “;Manu's dead.”;

The current was against them, and they struggled to keep him afloat with body boards.

Fox said she sang, “;Oh Manu oh, oh Manu oh.”;

“;I was rubbing Manu's hand. I was thanking him for being a brother and an uncle. I told him he's going home now.”;

Fox described the rescuers' situations in the water: Henri was suffering from hypothermia. Yuri said he was going numb. Joey said his back was in a spasm. Then a new helper arrived, Adam Dominguez.

Dominguez did not say a word, Fox said. “;The boy was solid. He was a silent angel.”;

“;We weren't moving at all,”; Dominguez said. “;Finally the helicopter came and picked us up.”;