Charles Montague Cooke Jr., always called Monte, was born in Honolulu in 1874 in the old frame house at what was once part of the Honolulu Mission Station and is now the Mission Houses Museum. Events surrounding his birth may suggest one of the reasons for his attachment to the Hawaiian culture and why he focused his scientific career in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. When he was born, he weighed only two and one-half pounds. According to family lore, he was so tiny that his first cradle was a shoebox. All medical efforts to improve his birth weight were not working, and he was not expected to survive. In what appears to be a final attempt to save his life, the Cooke family sent for a Hawaiian woman from the island of Hawaiʻi. This woman, Kaʻahaʻaina-o-ka-haku Naihe, was known for her knowledge and practice of traditional Hawaiian healing arts. Through Kaʻahaʻaina’s skills, Charles Montague Cooke Jr. began to gain weight and miraculously survived. He maintained a close relationship with Kaʻahaʻaina throughout his life, and provided her with financial support.
Kaʻahaʻaina never had any children of her own and referred to Monte as her “adopted haole son.” Ka‘aha‘aina lived well over one hundred years. While she was still living, in 1938, a Honolulu newspaper ran an article that calculated her age as 110 with speculations that she could be as old as 118.