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Founder of Hawaii's Merrie Monarch Festival Dies at 81

November 5, 2009 By: Jena Tesse Fox

George Na'ope, one of the last great masters of the traditional Hawaiian hula, died on October 26 at his home in Hilo, Hawaii. He was 81.

Popularly known as "Uncle George," Na'ope is perhaps most famous for founding the Merrie Monarch Festival, an annual week-long festival of traditional Hawaiian arts, crafts, and performances featuring a three-day hula competition. The festival became both a popular success and an important part of the Hawaiian Renaissance. In 2006, he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, in recognition of his work.

“I felt the hula was becoming too modern and that we have to preserve it,” Na'ope said when he received the Fellowship. “I decided to honor Kalakaua and have a festival with just hula. I didn’t realize that it was going to turn out to be one of the biggest things in our state.”

Na’ope is survived by a brother, Francis; three sisters, Eileen Crum, Bernie Konanni and Emma Werley; and an unofficially adopted son, Beyers Hoatili Na’ope.

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