Categorized | Featured, Obits

Uncle George Naope dies at age 81

Uncle George Naope smiles and poses last year with Darlene Ahuna. (Hawaii247 photo special by Tim Wright)

Uncle George Naope smiles and poses last year with Darlene Ahuna. (Hawaii247 photo special by Tim Wright)

Karin Stanton/Hawaii247.com Contributing Editor

George Lanakilakekiahiailli Naope, co-founder of the Merrie Monarch hula festival, died Monday, Oct. 26 in his Waiakea Uka home after a long illness.

He was 81 and last year had lung surgery.

Tributes already are pouring in from across the state and around the world, hailing the pint-sized man with the giant heart and unwavering passion for Hawaii’s performing arts.

‘Uncle George’ was internationally famed and renowned as a hula master, chanter and performer, as well as co-founder of the world’s premier hula festival and ambassador for Hawaiian culture.

Naope, with Dottie Thompson and Agnes “Aunty Agney” Kalanihookaha Cope, founded the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo in 1963 after a trip to a Whaling Festival on Maui.

Naope, in a wheelchair, and Thompson were in attendance at the 2009 Merrie Monarch Festival.

He was born Feb 25, 1928, in Hilo and was already beginning his hula career at age 3.

He began teaching hula by the time he was 13. Over his lifetime, the kumu hula taught the kahiko hula, or ancient hula, in Europe, Japan, Australia the mainland and South America.

Naope also recorded several albums, but mostly was know for his deep love of the pageantry, protocol and pomp of hula.

His passion shined in the presence of at least two U.S. presidents as he greeted Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy on their island arrivals. Naope also was called to share the aloha at the wedding of (then crown prince) Emporer Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan.

He was honored with the “Living Golden Treasure” designation by the governor and state Legislature of Hawaii in 1960, and named in the Smithsonian Institute as a “Treasure of Hawaii” by President George Bush, Sr.

In addition to thousands of students and fans, Naope is survived by three sisters, Eileen, Bernie and Emma, a brother, Frank, numerous nieces and nephews, and a hanai grandson, Hoapili Bower.

Services are tentatively set with a Nov. 6 viewing, and a Nov. 7 celebration and memorial, at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.

photos and video from the service

Lyman Medeiros invites everyone to call KonaFM between 5:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 to share memories of Uncle George Naope. Call 296-5422.

Uncle George Naope 1928-2009 (Hawaii247 photo special by Tim Wright)

Uncle George Naope 1928-2009 (Hawaii247 photo special by Tim Wright)

5 Responses to “Uncle George Naope dies at age 81”

  1. Patsy PerryBartels says:

    Mahalo Uncle George for all you have done and shared with all. We were honored at the Merrie Monarch when you made 30yrs and of course you were there with your bright colorful outfit with leis on. Rest in Peace -you will never be forgotten.

  2. Nani Watanabe says:

    Mahalo Uncle George for making your trip to Lana`i it was a pleasure and honor to meet you and your Ohana. Your family was so sweet and nice. I also found out you like drinking Coke.

    May God’s Blessings be with your Ohana at this time. Mahalo Ke Akua for a great person that I had the pleasure to meet on Lana`i. During the Hula Ho`okupu recently.

  3. Annette Dobert says:

    Love and light will be with you on your journey home and your spirit of Hula will live on. Mahalo nui loa ,for all what you gave to the world .

    Annette Germany

  4. Wailani O'Herlihy says:

    Mahalo plenty for your vision to see that the Hula needed to be a culture and tradition that needed nurturing and not forgotten. Its because of you that Hula in all its aspects of language, history, music, form, and culture are now spread around the world. I am thankful to have known you in my life and through your dear friends, my family of Hawaii Daughters Guild of California. I know that Heaven is singing praises with your gracious entry and I know my parents are right there to greet you. God bless you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  5. Nancy Griffin says:

    “Kulu ka waimaka ; uwe ka `opua.”
    Aloha `oe Uncle George; we will hula malama to remember you.
    Mahalo.
    Hula with the kupuna among the stars!

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