Aloha oe to Hawaii's kumu hula scholar


POSTED: Tuesday, October 27, 2009

George Lanakilakekiahiali'i Naope, co-founder of the Merrie Monarch hula festival, died yesterday in Hilo after a lengthy illness.

He was 81.

Naope was a perennial at each spring festival—a slight, frail man with outsize taste in clothing and jewelry who often held court in peacock-fan wicker chairs, receiving the good wishes of hula fans. Occasionally he could summon the strength to perform a hula during the festival finale, although at the last festival he was wheelchair-bound.

An acclaimed scholar of ancient hula, Naope taught in Japan, Guam, Australia, Germany, England, the mainland and South America in addition to the Hawaiian Islands.

“;Words cannot express the sorrow that Hawaii is feeling at this moment,”; noted Kuana Torres Kahele of the group Na Palapalai. “;He was one of a kind! The last of the loea (experts), he was our only living connection to a past of hula and mele we can never let be lost.

“;Na Palapalai will never forget all that he has done for us, especially during those Kona days at Keauhou Beach. He is likened to a lei—blossoms beautifully strung creating a perfect lei; though the lei will not last forever, its fragrance will. His memory and legacy will live forever.”;

;[Preview]  Merrie Monarch's “;Uncle George”; Remembered

One of the founders of the Merrie Monarch Festival, George Naope, passed away on the Big Island at the age of 81.

Watch ]


Born on Oahu and raised on the Big Island, Naope began his study of hula at the age of 3 under his great-grandmother Mary Malia-Pukaokalani Naope and then with kumu hulas 'Iolani Luahine and “;Mama”; Fuji, mother of Auntie Edith Kanakaole.

After graduating from high school during World War II, Naope moved to Oahu and opened his own hula school. Naope was described by former students as a charming man yet a perfectionist in preserving the fundamentals of ancient hula.

In the early '60s, Naope dreamed up the Merrie Monarch Festival as a tourist draw for Hilo.

A few years later, working with “;Auntie Dottie”; Thompson, the festival evolved into a showcase for hula, in the process helping promote the art form around the world.

In 2006 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded its highest honor for the folk arts to Naope, among 11 recipients of the National Heritage Fellowship award, which included a $20,000 prize.

Recognized by the state as a “;living golden treasure,”; Naope in decades past welcomed Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to Hawaii and in 1959 represented Hawaii at the wedding of Japan's Crown Prince Akihito.

He was also a founder of Humu Mo'olelo, a quarterly journal devoted to hula.

Services are pending.

Hula Grill, meanwhile, will honor Naope with its third annual “;I Ola Mau ka Hula”; Award, to be presented at a private ceremony at the restaurant Nov. 14. The award recognizes individuals who have perpetuated hula throughout their lifetime. Recipients include John Keola Lake in 2007 and Kent Ghirard in 2008.

“;George Naope has had a great impact on the Hawaiian culture by sharing his passion for hula with the world,”; said Hula Grill Waikiki General Manager Dianne Vicheinrut.