The Father of Hula: George Na’ope
As the world’s most treasured kumu hula (teacher of hula), George Lanakilakekiahialii Naope is notably remembered for being the co-founder of the world’s most recognized hula competition. After passing away on October 26, 2009, Naope continues to live on through his prized legacy, the Merrie Monarch Festival. In November 2009, the New York Times wrote about kumu hula George Naope: “[Naope's] mastery of the hula — the flowing, pantomimic dance of Hawaii — and its lilting chants made him a last link between an ancient ritual and modern entertainment…” Naope spent his life teaching hula – being hula – and chants to thousands of people in the Hawaiian Islands and the world. He toured Japan, South America, Europe and Australia to touch the souls of people in love with the culture of Hawaii. Back in 1964 when the Merrie Monarch Festival first started, the weekend event welcomed people who traveled from around the world to celebrate Hawaiian arts, crafts, music and dance. Today, the festival has made unparalleled contributions to Hawaii’s heritage. Every Merrie Monarch Festival was a chance for Naope to rejoice in the beautiful art of hula. Every year during the festival’s finale, Naope would take to the stage and dance with those around him. Even at his last festival, when Naope’s health and age kept him in a wheelchair most of the time, he still stood up to dance hula. In 2006, the National Endowment of the Arts presented Naope with a lifetime achievement award, the National Heritage Fellowship Award. Numerous hula festivals outside of the Big Island have been named in honor of the hula master, including the George Naope Northwest Hula Invitational in Seattle, and the George Naope Kane Hula Festival in Modesto, California. His goal was to revive traditional Hawaiian art forms. He achieved that goal with the Merrie Monarch Festival, and in turn inspired generations of hula dancers lovers of Hawaii’s unique cultural traditions. Every year in April, people from across the globe catch and airline flight and travel to the Big Island to see the world’s best hula competition. The Big Island is Hawaii’s youngest populated island and visitors can tour the world’s most active volcanoes. Here’s to the Father of Hula, George Na’ope.