Revered kumu hula inspired thousands
George Holokai / 1930-2006
George Ainsley Kananiokeakua Holokai, a revered chanter, dancer, musician and kumu hula who had taught hula to thousands of students including Kealii Reichel, Leialoha Amina and Sonny Ching, died Nov. 1 at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center.* He was 76.
His sister said he had been battling cancer.
"He was very quiet, very simple, a very giving person but very strict about his hula," said his sister, Emress Ann Matsumoto.
He died at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center.
A Roosevelt High School graduate, Holokai began learning hula from Tom Hiona in his Beretania Street studio in the 1940s.
Hiona later passed his studio on to Holokai, who was still in his early 20s, making him one of the youngest kumu hula at the time. In 1955, Lillian Makaena chose to impart her hula knowledge to Holokai before she died. Holokai also studied hula informally with Mary Kawena Pukui, Pat Bacon, Pele Suganuma and Daddy Bray.
Holokai moved his studio to King Street near Keeaumoku Street in the late '50s. During that time, he served for several years as court chanter for Aloha Week and performed as an entertainer in Waikiki at the Royal Hawaiian, Queen's Surf, and with Alfred Apaka at the Kaiser Hawaiian Village's Tapa Showroom.
In 1966, Holokai started teaching hula and ukulele in the parks for the city and county Department of Parks and Recreation. During the '60s, Hawaiian Airlines hired him as an ambassador to perform dance and music across the country.
After retiring from the Department of Parks and Recreation in 1985, Holokai judged about 12 hula competitions a year and conducted workshops in Hawaii, on the mainland and in Japan.
Holokai was also an accomplished musician with the ukulele, bass and guitar, playing with Kawai Cockett and the Lei Kukui Serenaders.
The Hula Preservation Society, which documents and preserves the lives of hula elders, documented three recent tributes to Holokai: in 2003 at the Ritz-Carlton Celebration of the Arts in Kapalua, in 2005 during the King Kamehameha Hula Competition, and a surprise 75th-birthday party at the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki Hotel in 2005 which drew more than 500 people.
Maile Loo, a founder of the society, said Holokai was a fixture at hula competitions and helped to guide the younger generation in hula.
"He specifically said his life was hula. He was to be married to hula. That was his chosen life and what he was to do with it," she said.
After the age of 70, Holokai began teaching hula to kumu hula in a weekly class at Kamehameha Schools with his group, E Hula Mai Oe. In the group, about 30 kumu hula and hula students, including Reichel, Amina and Ching, studied with Holokai.
Puakea Nogelmeier, Hawaiian professor at the University of Hawaii and a student of Holokai, said he was intent on passing his repertoire on to another generation and was largely successful.
"Because of his connection to Lillian Makaena and Tom Hione, he touches a century. That kind of hula, there's very few of them left."
The night of his death, Holokai called family, friends and students to his bedside. The students performed hula and music while he watched with a favorite Kukunaokala lei at his bedside.
Holokai, born July 2, 1930, is survived by a sister and several nieces and nephews.
Visitation is Nov. 25 at Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary from 5 to 9 p.m. with a service at 6:30 p.m. Another visitation will be on Nov. 26 from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. with a service at 9:30 p.m. and burial at 11 p.m.
Aloha attire is requested.
Friday, November 10, 2006
» George Ainsley Kananiokeakua Holokai died Nov. 1 at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center. An obituary on Page C9 yesterday incorrectly said he died Wednesday.