‘A hui hou, Uncle Johnny’
Thousands paid their respects Saturday to Johnny Lum Ho in a celebration of the legendary kumu hula’s life and legacy.
The Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo was filled with music, floral tributes worthy of a monarch and, of course, hula from Lum Ho’s Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua.
“If you hear a song you know, e hula mai. That’s what this is here for,” said kumu hula and recording artist Napua Greig, one of Lum Ho’s students, gesturing grandly to the mostly empty Civic floor.
“This is a celebration. Our kumu knew where he was going to spend eternity,” she added as two wahine rose to the occasion, dancing as Grieg’s mother, Aunty Hulu Lindsey, sang “I Ali‘i No ‘Oe.”
Later, hundreds of Lum Ho’s dancers took to the floor, while others ringed the perimeter of the Civic’s upper deck to dance to two of Lum Ho’s compositions, “Mohala I Hinano” and “The Promise of God’s Love.”
Greig and Lindsey were among numerous entertainers sharing their talent and aloha during the three-hour visitation prior to the service. Others include: Natalie Ai Kamauu, the Kipapa Sisters, Kalapana Band with Rhoda Kekona and Trudy Kamelamela, Na Hoa and Na Palapalai. Also performing were Lum Ho’s “Three Falsettos”: Kuana Torres Kahele, Darren Benitez and Mark Yamanaka, joined by Bert Naihe and Edward Atkins.
The Civic stage had a banner above it proclaiming “Praise the Lord” with Lum Ho’s signature. To the right of the stage was a giant black-and-white poster with an image of Lum Ho, sporting sunglasses and strumming an ‘ukulele.
The same photo adorned the back of the black T-shirts hundreds of halau members wore in honor of the kumu hula.
Lum Ho, who died April 3 at 81, was remembered for his creativity, his culinary skills, his strong Christian faith and his love of playing practical jokes on his family, friends and halau.
“When people are sharing his stories, they would say ‘he was a troublemaker,’” said Lum Ho’s niece, Aunty Pua Chamberlain, who delivered the eulogy. “That’s not to be malicious. Back in the day, they didn’t have the word ‘prankster’ yet, so he was a troublemaker.”
Chamberlain recalled being on the receiving end of one of Lum Ho’s pranks.
“He was telling me, ‘Pua, I’m sorry for how I treated you in the past,’” Chamberlain said. “I said, ‘Uncle Johnny, you know the meanest was when you would chase me down the road with a spider in your hand.’ And he was screaming laughing. I said, ‘And you still think it’s funny?’”
“And he said, ‘Oh no, what is funny is that all these years, you still don’t know that I’m more scared of spiders than you,’” Chamberlain quipped, eliciting a collective belly laugh from the audience.
“I was sharing the story with the family,” she continued. “And they was hysterical, laughing already, because they all know he was scared of spiders, except me.”
Chris Agpoon, the halau’s emcee, described Lum Ho as “a patient leader.”
“He did not want perfection; he just wanted your best,” Agpoon said. “Unfortunately, just ask the halau members and dancers of Ka Ua Kani Lehua. As he would say, ‘Go check their knees. Their bodies sore. Go check ‘em. Go ask ‘em how they feel.’
“But when you heard the legendary, one-of-a-kind strum starting from down, then up, with that point-down fingernail going over every string … there was no sore knees, but all smiles until Uncle Johnny’s final strum.”
Surveying the sizeable crowd in the Civic, Pastor Sheldon Lacsina of New Hope-Hilo said whenever Lum Ho talked about God or Jesus, which was often, “there was an underlying purpose, because he knew where he was going when this day came.”
“A hui hou, Uncle Johnny, until we meet again.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.