Whatever Happened to Bumpy Kanahele?

The once-combative sovereignty activist practices a less controversial way to help his people.

Photo by Mark Arbeit

Bumpy Kanahele still looks for ways to make his Waimanalo Village more self-sufficient.

It’s a run-of-the-mill question between a medicine man and his patient: “You look more strong, you staying away from the kava?” Only this isn’t any ordinary healer, it’s Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, leader of the Nation of Hawaii and a perpetual thorn in the state’s side.

Today, Kanahele practices alternative medicine, coordinating his busy schedule on a shiny iPhone and flying between Maui and Oahu to treat patients who’ve grown skeptical of Western medicine with the I-Health System—a bio-energy device based on ancient Chinese therapy, he explains. “We balance and harmonize the organs,” Kanahele says. “If the organs are in balance they can heal themselves, can heal the body.”

It’s an interesting career choice for the longtime Hawaiian independence activist. In 1993, he organized a 300-person-strong occupation of Makapuu Beach Park, leaving only when the state granted his movement 45 acres of land in Waimanalo. Since then, he’s vehemently opposed the Akaka Bill and tried to set up a bank for Hawaiians.

But at this moment, he’s content treating his long line of patients and watching his village continue its evolution from an overgrown “mosquito trap” into a thriving society of more than 80 people. Regulated by a small elected council of women, Pu‘uhonua o Waimanalo now has about 20 cottages with running water and electricity where there were once only wooden foundations and tarps. The original village children, who are all fluent in Hawaiian, are grown and attending college. There are talks about self-sustainability—generating their own power, using a natural water source a half-mile away and growing sweet potatoes and tapioca alongside existing ti plants.

With years of controversy behind him, Kanahele wants to leave the “grumbling and fighting” to younger activists. He’s focused on more quantifiable gains, like his 2006 campaign for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, in which he received more than 53,000 votes. Or working with the Kau Inoa Native Hawaiian Registration Program, which has signed up 70,000 Hawaiians.

Make no mistake, Kanahele still wants the “United States to get the hell out of Hawaii,” but his new career has given him patience. “I know [sovereignty] is going to come. When? I don’t know and that’s going to be upon our people to decide. In the meantime, we’ve done all the protesting, all that stuff.”


Closing Time

Sadly, many of the local institutions we’ve grown to love over the years have recently closed their doors for good. Say goodbye to the following 18 Island favorites:

Arts Hawai‘i, Ala Moana • Flamingo Restaurant, Kaneohe • Garden House, Ala Moana •H. Hamada Store, Kakaako •Kam Bowl, Kalihi • Kilgo’s, Sand Island •Kwong On, Kaimuki •Kyo-ya, Waikiki- •Columbia Inn, Kaimuki- • Leeward Drive In, Waipahu •Magoo’s, University •Masa’s Plate Lunch, Liliha •McCully Chop Suey •OnJin’s Cafe, Kakaako •Shung Chong Yuein Ltd., Chinatown •Stuart Anderson’s, Ward Warehouse •Varsity Theater, University •Villa Roma, Ward Warehouse