Henrik Bothe (aka Neonman)

By the time I realised the whirlpool had taken control of my kayak I was flapping in the frigid ice cold water. I quickly bobbed to the surface like a seal gasping for air. A vice grip hand reached out, grabbed me and helped me crawl back aboard. My hero was Henrik and there’s no-one I would trust more with my life than this brother from another mother.

One of my very best mates, he’s a renegade performer, activist and family man. He’s been a member of our Bellyacres community almost since the beginning and we’ve shared wild adventures on land and sea. After hiking regularly to the summit of Kilauea Volcano we became early pioneers in kayaking out to the active lava flow using a sea entry aptly called hell’s gate. We chose full moon nights to scale the jagged cliffs and our dramatic photo’s later earned us two brand new kayaks from the manufacturers who used them for promo.

In the mid ’80’s, with a group of jugglers, we sailed and partied at his seafront home in Svenborg, Denmark. I met his family, became lifelong friends with them all and also a big fan of rye bread, dark tahini, walking streets and the Danish appreciation for community. Henrik’s mum was a, one of a kind, lover of life who raised her four kids to do the same. I was fortunate to experience the vitality and humour she bred into Henrik during some hilarious visits we shared in Hawaii and in Denmark. Inge was always having a good time.

Back in Hawaii, for many years, Henrik shared overall responsibility with me for keeping everything moving forward at Bellyacres and we made an excellent team. Our sustainable community experiment was bustling with life and vitality—with occupancy rising to as many as forty, including work exchange folks, renters and a few transient members. This was the prime time at the Belly— we enjoyed a strong communal feeling with projects, parties and local shows that were plentiful, fun, and famous – while Henrik built his career.

He entertained on cruise ships, got married, built a big beautiful house and had a couple of kids. I was privileged to officiate for his wedding ceremony and he and Jody are still together 23 years later which is a record for the seven marriages that I conducted. Some readers may be shocked and ask how was an irreverent, illegal alien like me able to legally officiate marriages. Well, it has always surprised me too, and my mum still believes I was lying about it. The process is very different in the U.S.A. I was ordained by the secular Universal Life Church and received my license to perform marriages from the Hawaii Dept of Health. In fact, my license is good for life so if anyone wants to fly me back to Hawaii, I’d be happy to give them a great marriage deal.

Henrik at Pohoiki Bay

I’ve been very flexible with my ceremonies. I once had to swim out in the surf at Pohoiki Bay on a 12ft longboard to marry John and Lindsey. They had plenty of time to change their minds before I got past the surf break but still got hitched and rode the same waves for quite a few years. I also officiated for two couples on the lava platform at Bellyacres and at Spencers beach park during our Hawaiian Jugglers Festival but marital bliss for these lovers ended before the ink was barely dry. Henrik got motivated to officiate too and now he’s available to conduct wedding ceremonies when he’s not clowning around, and he’s also willing to do it out in the surf.

Back in the summer of 1996 I flew over to Seattle to kayak with Henrik and Michiel around the northern tip of Vancouver Island in search of orca whales. Our expedition didn’t quite go according to our plan when I got turned around by Canada Immigration. Undeterred we rescheduled our kayaking trip to the islands in the Puget Sound and during the following ten days we had some amazing wildlife interactions with the playful and prolific orcas, seals and flocks of birds. We caught weird fish from our kayaks and ate like kings.

A year later after an exhausting period of HICCUP circus activity I took another well deserved summer break. I flew again to Seattle and finally joined Henrik on the kayaking trip to Canada we had been forced to abandon the previous year. We got to celebrate with my friends from the glorious years I had lived in Canada and then we drove over 300 miles to Port Hardy. It was the gateway to the Johnston Straights inland waterway, located between the northeastern end of Vancouver Island and the coastal British Columbia mainland. It is internationally renowned as the finest place in the world to view Orca whales in the wild. The Orcas gather to socialize, interact, visit the rubbing beaches and feast on the salmon that pass through on their way to spawning grounds to the south. The snow capped mountain peaks and stands of old growth forest provide a gorgeous setting in which the pods of Orcas play.

We spent a great week kayaking far into the wilds and got to see an abundance of wild creatures including the magnificent bald eagle, deer, black bear, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and even the occasional humpback or minke whale. Camping at a remote rocky outcrop called Pig Island we were blessed by amazing sunsets and inquisitive Orcas.

Every Christmas Henrik and I would organise an annual campout at exclusive and pristine Makalawaena, the very best beach on the Big Island. Getting the keys from Kamehameha Schools to bring our renegade escapades group right onto their beautiful private beach was an annual coup that amazed all our friends. Our party became legendary but we had too many friends wanting to come and we simply couldn’t say no, so eventually overdid it !

Back at Bellyacres, Henrik and I worked hard together pooling our energies to create our dream homes, farm, develop other community facilities and manage our jungle oasis. Our fun and frivolity continued trouble-free especially celebrating birthdays – in true vaudeville style. Life was sweet and cool – even on the downslope of the worlds most active volcano!

Kaya and Noah having a whale of a time at Bellyacres

Henrik and Jody’s two kids were born at home in Bellyacres and represented the child centred community that I’d always envisioned. I believed kids were an essential part of any communal living situation and when I founded Bellyacres in 1987 I naturally assumed everyone would have this same core belief. Unfortunately we never discussed this major topic until after we’d bought the land and started our settlement. I had seriously overlooked the fact that my new partners were mostly bohemians, not communitarians. They were in a phase of their lives when they believed kids would severely threaten their freedom – to busk on the streets of capital cities worldwide, hang out anywhere and party to the max with dilettantish, eclectic friends.

My naiveté on this subject became obvious one evening over dinner in 1988. My friend, Jim—from P.S.C. workers collective in Canada—was visiting us with his girlfriend. Her newborn baby was a bit restless at night with sweet shrill cries that cut through the jungle air. Our late-night party people who expected to get a deep and undisturbed sleep when they eventually crashed developed some serious kid issues. We had a meeting and they told me that kids didn’t belong at Bellyacres- it wasn’t what they had signed up for and should end.

Homeschool group based at Bellyacres 2010

I chuckled under my breath when it came to Henrik’s turn to speak since he’d just told me, that morning, that his Danish girlfriend was pregnant and he’d be a dad soon. With a fair bit of mumbling and embarrassment, he became my strongest ally in supporting children being welcomed in our Bellyacres community. During our tenure we became very child centred housing many single parent families with kids. We had annual HICCUP summer camps and I even ran homeschool programs at Bellyacres.

Noa and me sharing a moment in 2003

I had always assumed that most of my partners would eventually have their own kids and attitudes would change. As it happened, I was only partly right. I never expected that it would be the childless members who’d eventually end up living at Bellyacres. All those who had children chose the better education and work opportunities of other Hawai’ian islands, the U.S. mainland, or Europe. When Henrik’s kids were five and three he and Jody moved to Portland and set up a new life. For Kaya and Noa Bellyacres existed only as a distant memory until in 2020 Kaya chose to do her online university studies in her family home at Bellyacres with a few friends. I’ve been delighted with her new generation reconnection to Bellyacres and in May this year Henrik and Jody fly out to celebrate her graduation with her in paradise.

Isla and her Bellyacres bird friends

Long-lasting relationships between different generations at Bellyacres have been few because our general membership has never embraced it. My own daughter lived at Bellyacres from birth but experienced nothing like the connection that occurs in blood families with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins sending birthday cards and Christmas presents and checking regularly about school grades, favourite hobbies, and bad colds. The day Isla moved away after living there all thirteen years of her life, I asked about her farewell to members. Her reply hurt my heart intensely, “I don’t have any real relationships with anyone there Dad, so I just left without saying any goodbyes.” Hopefully someday, she will return, as Henrik’s Kaya has done, to live in her childhood home once again!

Henrik has initiated numerous renegade protests against injustice and support for healthy community. In Hawaii he led a group of jugglers chanting “Free the dolphins” to the Hyatt Hotel, he printed “Haole for Sovereignty” bumperstickers and his activism has continued in Portland where visitors flying in have seen his protest signs painted on rooftops of buildings. Before I left Hawaii, together we led the campaign for Bellyacres to preserve many of the values and traditions that had made it one of the most sustainable community experiments in the USA. Henrik now sits on the board that oversees S.P.A.C.E. and the HICCUP circus and helps guide the future of my most cherished creations with the vision that we both share. Although I’m exiled from the U.S.A. our friendship remains strong and we now meet annually in Denmark for a pilgrimage to his family’s beach house. I love my renegade viking brother and look forward to sailing with him again in September !

Henrik, Fritz, Inge and Graham 2019 in Denmark

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Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

One thought on “Henrik Bothe (aka Neonman)

  1. Henrik is a brother with a big heart. Also like with Graham, the Big Island is not the same with them gone. The two of them incubated much of the energy that produced 19 or 20 most amazing International Juggling Festivals that impacted 100’s of people from everywhere.

    Liked by 2 people

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