By KEKOA CATHERINE ENOMOTO, Staff Writer
PUKALANI – Aunty Nina Maxwell, the Upcountry kumu hula who taught legions of keiki through a Maui County youth program and who brought Valley Isle dancers to the Merrie Monarch stage for two dozen years, died early Wednesday at her Pukalani home of heart-related problems, family members said. She was 68.
"She was very traditional . . . all her steps were authentic, that was her signature," Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. said of his wife, who was kumu hula of Pukalani Hula Hale for four decades.
Their daughter, kumu hula Debbie Kamali'i, died last year, and Charles Maxwell said plans were afoot for Hokule'a navigator and Bishop Estate Trustee Nainoa Thompson to sail to Kahoolawe island to scatter Kamali'i's cremains and carry a photo of Nina.
"He's trying to do that for Nina," he said.
Charlotte Ann "Nina" Maxwell was born Feb. 10, 1938, in Puunene. She was a lead dancer for Lahaina kumu hula Emma Sharp in revues at the former Maui Palms Hotel. Nina's teachers also included eminent scholar and author Mary Kawena Puku'i.
Reportedly the Valley Island's senior kumu hula, Nina Maxwell started teaching in her Pukalani garage in 1966, her husband recalled.
"We were famous for having a show every two years at Eddie Tam Gym," he said.
She went on to teach county-affiliated East Maui hula classes at Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center on Saturdays. Her daughter – Hi'ilei Maxwell-Juan, 44, who has served as co-kumu hula of Pukalani Hula Hale for 15 years – instructs South Maui students at Kihei Community Center on Thursday evenings.
"She loved to teach the hula, especially to the little ones," said Hi'ilei, who added that three-fourths of the halau's 150 to 200 students are children.
"To see them perform what she taught them culturally and spiritually was just a joy for her. She just loved sharing with everyone. It wasn't for money, just for love of hula."
Halau performances at Hilo's Merrie Monarch Festival, the so-called Olympics of hula, were marked by finely groomed dancers with colorful costumes, long shiny tresses and soft smiles.
"We had certain standards," Hi'ilei said. "We wanted to be perfect in detail."
Among Nina's former students are two who went on to become kumu hula: Luana Kawa'a of Halau Na Mamo 'O 'Ihikapalaumaewa, and Haunani Joy Pascua Paredes of Halau Kekuao-kala'au'ala'iliahi; and two who were named master keiki hula at the Queen Lili'uokalani Keiki Hula Competition.
Her grandson, Dane Uluwehiokalani Maxwell, was crowned master keiki hula in 1993, followed by student Kaikane Beam in 1995.
Jan Itagaki, executive director of the Kalihi Palama Culture and Arts Society, which sponsors the keiki hula contest, said Pukalani Hula Hale competed at the Honolulu event for 22 years.
"We loved having Nina and the Maui children. She had them so well behaved. They had their own individual style of hula – with a lot of expression and you could tell the children enjoyed dancing."
Kawa'a, who danced from age 6 to 16 with Nina, saluted her lasting instruction: "Although she will be missed immensely, I firmly believe her hula will live on in each of us who called her kumu. We have a part of her legacy. I think she will live on with that."
Paredes said Nina took pride in Maui songs, musicians and hula style: "It was definitely her own style . . . that always pleasant face, always dancing from her heart, always instilling in her dancers to be the best dancer you can be.
"She was a very nurturing kumu hula and that was also her persona in real life . . . she was just one of a kind."
Memorial services will be held June 25 at Ballard Family Mortuary, with visitation beginning at 9 a.m. and a service at 11 a.m. A noon luncheon reception at the mortuary will be followed by burial at 2:30 p.m. at Valley Isle Memorial Park.
Besides her husband and daughter Hi'ilei, Nina is survived by a son, Charles Kauluwehi (Reynette) Maxwell Jr.; another daughter, SheriAnn Hinano Maxwell; and eight grandchildren.
"The hula community feels this loss, but Maui feels this loss as well," Paredes said. "All of her students – those with her now to those have been with her in the past – everybody remembers Aunty Nina."
Kekoa Catherine Enomoto can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.
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