'Mama Loa' gave isles iconic memories


POSTED: Friday, April 17, 2009

As young women, Leilani Kalaeloa Mitchell and her sisters were models for artist John Melville Kelly, whose 1940s paintings captured a romantic vision of old Hawaii still seen in prints and posters of his work.

Mitchell invoked the vision of old Hawaii when, in her mature years, she testified frequently at government public hearings and community meetings. Widely known as “;Mama Loa,”; she scolded lawmakers for plans that would change the traditional landscape of Hawaii. Claiming alii lineage, she talked about native Hawaiian values and land rights in the 1960s and 1970s before sovereignty became a movement.

“;She was an activist before most people were activists,”; said son Charles Kaui Amsterdam. “;She was a pioneer in the advancement of the Hawaiian kingdom.”;

Mitchell, 86, died Saturday on Oahu.

She was a singer and dancer in post-World War II Waikiki and performed with the Ray Kinney Orchestra in New York. She strung and sold flower leis on Kalakaua Avenue for many years.

She had a chance to relive the past in 2005 when several images of her, including Kelly's famous painting “;Lei Maker,”; were displayed in a retrospective show of his art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Amsterdam said she was active in campaigns to save the Royal Hawaiian Hotel from demolition more than 30 years ago and to preserve the Waikiki Natatorium, a World War I memorial.

“;Anything traditional she wanted to save,”; said her son. “;She embodied the song of old Hawaii.”;

She was born in Hilo. The family gave her full name as Leilani Hiaa Kalaeloa Kaluhiokalani Kalakauaehu. She was the mother of 10 children.

She is survived by sons Charles Kaui Amsterdam and Kauka Nui Loa Price; daughters Leilehua Lani Kane, Kapiolani, Naomi, Esther Louise Apuakehau Garbutt and Carol Ann Mitchell; 23 grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Tabernacle, 1560 S. Beretania St. Friends may call after 9 a.m.

Contributions may be made to the Mama Loa Foundation, 1415 Pensacola St., Apartment 12, Honolulu 96822.