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After decades of silence, family speaks publicly about Joe Kahahawai's murder

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps and a story about learning your family history in the classroom. In 1931, a young Native Hawaiian man, Joseph Kahahawai, was wrongly accused of sexually assaulting the wife of a U.S. Navy officer. He was then killed by relatives of the woman. Kim Farrant is his niece. Growing up, her family never spoke about her uncle. At StoryCorps in Honolulu, she told her sister Joy how she first heard the story.

KIM FARRANT: I was in a Hawaiian history class in middle school, and one of the topics was a very tragic story of a young man who was falsely accused of raping a woman, and then the family kidnapped and murdered him, and they were never brought to justice. This man had the very same name as our dad, Joseph Kahahawai. The teacher then asked me, is this your family? So I came home, and I asked mom, and she said, yeah, that is dad's brother. He had just turned 23 years old right before he was killed. And then our dad was born just 11 months later. He inherited the very same name. So dad was the new Joe, and he became the star of our family. He was like the sun that we all revolved around. I think he knew that they wanted the name and the legacy to live on.

JOY KAHAHAWAI-WELCH: You know, dad innately carried himself a certain way to make his brother proud. And I remember wanting to hear more about what happened. But the gist of it was, it's just too hard to talk about.

FARRANT: Right. I look back and I think, oh, is there something to be ashamed of? But that first generation needed those years of silence and peace to heal and recover, and it made us all hold each other more close and more dear, like we're this unbroken chain of family.

KAHAHAWAI-WELCH: We pay our uncle our respects by going to the cemetery, you know, taking care of it.

FARRANT: It's a humble cemetery in the middle of Kalihi. And the plumeria tree above his grave has a lot of flowers, so fresh flowers are raining down on him daily right now.

KAHAHAWAI-WELCH: Ho'omana'o is on his gravestone, and that's a good reminder to never forget, always remember.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: That was Kim Farrant with her sister, Joy Kahahawai-Welch, at StoryCorps. The family continues to name younger generations in honor of their uncle. Their interview is archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jo Corona