He married Emma 'Aima Ai'i Nawahi in Hilo in 1881.
Nawahi operated Ke Aloha 'Aina, a Hawaiian language newspaper. In December of 1894, a search warrant was served on his Kapalama home looking for "sundry arms and ammunition." Although nothing was found, Nawahi was arrested for treason and bail was set at 10,000 dollars. He spent nearly three months in jail until being bailed out and it is believed that this is where he caught the tuberculosis that would later take his life.
Ka Leo o ka Lahui July 3, 1894
"No kakou ka Hale e like me ka na Kamehameha i kukulu ai. Ua kipaku ia ae kakou e ka poe i aea hele mai, a komo i loko o ko kakou hale; a ke olelo mai nei ia kakou, e komo aku a e noho i loko o ka hale kaulei a lakou i mana'o ai e kukulu iho a onou aku ia kakou a pau e komo aku. O ka'u hoi e olelo aku nei ia oukou e o'u mau hoa maka'ainana, mai noho kakou a ae iki."
MR. JOSEPH KAHO'OLUHI NAWAHI
ONE morning, in the month of October, 1896, I heard of the death of Mr. Joseph Kaho'oluhi Nawahi o Kalani'opu'u; and I shared the common sorrow, for this was a great blow to the people. He had always been a man who fearlessly advocated the independence of Hawai'i Nei. He was for twenty years a legislator, and was one of the most active members of the legislative session of 1892-1893; with Mr. William White he had maintained a strict fidelity to the wishes of the people by whom he had been elected. The behavior of these two patriots during the trying scenes of this session, in such marked contrast to that of many others, won them profound respect. They could never be induced to compromise principles, nor did they for one moment falter or hesitate in advocating boldly a new constitution which should accord equal rights to the Hawaiians, as well as protect the interests of the foreigners. The true patriotism and love of country of these men had been recognized by me, and I had decorated them with the order of Knight Commander of Kalakaua.
When the vessel drew near on which were the remains of the dead patriot, the people turned out en masse to draw the carriage, on which the casket was placed, to his late home. No private individual in our land had ever received such a demonstration of love and respect as was now shown to the lamented member of the House. High honors were accorded to him. The services were read by the Rev. E. S. Timoteo, after which there was a long procession in line. The casket was accompanied by all the members of the Hui Kala'aina, and also of the Hui Aloha 'Aina, which last society was of his own establishment. Then followed the chief mourners and the ladies of the Patriotic League. The long, sorrowful escort conducted the body on board the steamer Keauhou; and after some last impressive services, the crowd watched the little steamer bearing off all that was mortal of the Hon. J. K. Nawahi towards Hilo, where on arrival another grand demonstration was made. He was laid in state at the Haili church in obedience to the expressed wish of the people.
He was a member of the legislature when I appointed him as a cabinet minister, and was voted out with the ministry on the motion of "lack of confidence." He then consulted me as to his future, and stated that if he should run for the district of Hilo he felt confident of his election. Acting upon my advice, he left at the first opportunity for Hilo, arriving just in time to appear as a candidate in opposition to the candidate of the missionary party. He was returned by a large majority.........
...... At his death the Provisional Government, whose agents control all the despatches sent to the United States, caused it there to be promulgated that the liberal party had, since the loss of Mr. Nawahi become discouraged, and were ready to vote for annexation. This was expressly to deceive the people of the United States. The cause of Hawaiian independence is larger and dearer than the life of any man connected with it. Love of country is deep-seated in the breast of every Hawaiian, whatever his station. Yet the above fact is worthy of notice as the testimony of our enemies to the sturdy patriotism of Mr. Joseph Kaho'oluhi Nawahi.
After the obsequies were over, and the remains of the deceased legislator were borne to Hilo, notice was given by the members for a new election of president to the two patriotic societies at whose head he had stood. This action was a great astonishment to the Provisional Government and all the friends of the missionary party, for it was hoped that the loss of such a leader would cause these organizations to dissolve. The Hui Aloha 'Aina and the Hui Kala'aina, with the sister organization of the Women's Patriotic League, are societies much dreaded by the oligarchy now ruling Hawaii. Sufficient time was given to reach the members in the most distant parts of the Islands, who were notified to meet in convention, which they did. Perfect harmony prevailed; and James Keauiluna Kaulia was elected president of the Hui Aloha 'Aina, while David Kalauokalani was chosen as the head of the Hui Kala'aina; and both these societies are still intent on their patriotic work.