I shared my vexation one day with Bill Tavares, that fine and knowledgeable gentleman, about the dearth of information on Maui's most prominent Chinese citizen of the 19th century, Tong Akana. Also known as Akanali'ili'i, he began Huelo and Pi'iholo plantations here in 1878.
I found very little about him in Gail Bartholomew Ainsworth's meticulous three-volume "Index to The Maui News," and wondered if this had to do with how the paper covered "Orientals" in those days.
What Bill said surprised me, as usual. "Tong Kan, yes. Little man with a goatee. He was my grandfather. He's buried in Po'okela Cemetery."
I had no idea Bill had a Chinese grandfather, nor that there was a graveyard at Po'okela Church in Olinda, constructed around 1850 by the missionary Jonathan S. Green. I drove up there one day, secured permission, and wandered down to, sure enough, the little private cemetery at the base of the property maintained by the Tavares family.
It's a charming spot, my picture of the ideal place to be buried, where one can come on a bright day, sit under a fine tree in peace, and contemplate love, mortality, and the universal mysteries. A black fence tipped in gold fleur-de-lis surrounds the plot, and a stone bench and jacaranda complete it.
The grave of Tong Akana - 1833-1926 - holds a central spot, fitting since, as a Christian convert, he created the cemetery to give rest to the soul of his mother who died at sea as the two journeyed from China to Gold Rush California.
Akana, heartsick, left the ship in Honolulu, then in the throes of the smallpox epidemic of 1853. Immune after a childhood bout with the disease, he pitched in to help the suffering Hawaiians who were dying in droves, bodies carted daily through the streets. There he met and befriended a physician's daughter, Emma Rooke, soon to become the wife of Kamehameha IV.
Tong Akana moved to Maui where, due to the heroic vaccination efforts of the Rev. Dwight Baldwin, the epidemic took a small toll. He peddled wares to the Kula Chinese and in 1869 opened a butcher shop and general merchandise store in Wailuku.
When his first wife died in 1874, Akana went to his friend Queen Emma for help in finding another. He had become a citizen of the kingdom that year and was eligible to marry a Hawaiian woman with land. She persuaded her ward Hannah Hubbell to become his bride and as dowry gave an 'ahupua'a reaching from the seashore at Huelo to the wooded lands above Makawao, watered by a spring at Pi'iholo.
They settled at Pukalani, where Akana raised cattle, horses and pigs, ran a small dairy and grew vegetables. On the rare occasions that the queen came to Maui, the Akanas entertained her lavishly.
Then along came Antone F. Tavares, Bill's father, who fell in love with Akana's daughter, Julia, a member of the first graduating class of Kamehameha Schools. Akana was not impressed with the young, uneducated Tavares, spurring him to study law in Honolulu to win her hand.
Julia Akana married Tavares and bore him 10 children. She died of tuberculosis in 1918, and Tavares fell in love with Anna Silva, the popular Paia Plantation nurse who rode on horseback to visit his ailing wife. She also succumbed to TB, whereupon Tavares married her sister Matilda, who gave him two more children, including Bill, in 1920. In his later years, Tong Akana lived with the Tavares family at their big house in Kuau.
I found three of Tavares' daughters in the cemetery, Edna Taufaasous, Emma Rose Murphy and the infant Josephine. Lying in peace there as well are his sons, named for great figures in history: C. Nils Tavares, former attorney general and judge (named after Cyrus the Great, ruler of Asia Minor in the sixth century B.C.); the musicians Fred (Frederick the Great, who made Prussia an 18th-century powerhouse); and Ernest Arriaga (after first elected president of Portugal, Manuel Jose de Arriaga Brum da Silveira e Peyrelongue). Also the travel agent Carl (Charlemagne, founder of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 A.D.).
I always wondered how the late Mayor Hannibal Tavares got his odd name (for the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with a train of elephants in 218 B.C. and invaded the Roman Empire.) Turns out, Antone Tavares and Hannibal's father were brothers.
"My father convinced him to do it," Bill (William the Conqueror) said.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.