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Emma Farden Sharpe: A legend celebrated, Part II

By Staff | Dec 23, 2010

Dancers (left to right) Kalei Jaramillo, Nohealani Ralar and Martha Medeiros perform at “Generations — The Farden Family in Hula and Music” on Nov. 27 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Special insights into the Farden legacy were presented Thanksgiving weekend at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, where the Farden-related Puamana group performed.

The Farden grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren sang joyously at the MACC. A highlight was the singing of “Puamana,” written for the the family’s ancestral home that was a few doors from 505 Front Street.

The classic Hawaiian melody “Puamana” was written by Irmgard’s father, Charles, with Auntie Irmgard Farden Aluli composing the music in 1937.

A revealing line says a lot about what the illustrious family was all about. It talks of the Puamana homestead as “a place of happiness, where there was a lot of family love.”

The song also describes Puamana’s swaying coconut trees. With each birth, Emma Farden Sharp’s father had each child plant a coconut tree to symbolize each child’s growth.

Each tree rose tall except one, which grew horizontally and at first produced poor fruit. The baby that tree was planted for, Emma’s sister, Aurora, never made it into adulthood.

Family members’ appreciation for each other is shown in a YouTube video, with Emma dancing and Irmgard playing guitar and singing.

“This is my sister, Emma,” Irmgard said with a great deal of pride. A video of Auntie Emma can be seen by going to the online video site and searching for Emma Sharpe. Nearly 4,000 people have watched it.

Nearly 100,000 people have viewed a video of the song “Puamana” performed by halau throughout the world. The popularity of hula overseas can be ascribed in part to Emma, who not only traveled to Oahu to teach but places like Spain and Japan.

Kaanapali, however, was one of the places Emma really soared. The 18 dancers of the Puamana troupe led by Emma danced nightly for years from the 1960s to the ’80s at the new Sheraton, the former Maui Surf (where The Westin Maui is now) and other places.

Kaanapali Beach Hotel Concierge Malihini Heath, a good friend who performed with Emma and was with her when she passed away, remembers frantically running up the hill below the old Discovery Room to make the show on evenings when the group danced at more than one hotel.

Kanoelani Aquino, another student who danced more than 15 years in Kaanapali and Kapalua, took lessons for five years when Emma lived in Kahana. Emma gave her the Hawaiian name “Kanoelani,” which means heavenly mist, because of the joy the future Mrs. Rudy Aquino exhibited when it was about to rain.

Kanoelani — who was in charge of watering Emma’s lawn — would jump for joy, since a good rain meant she would not have to water the property.

Every two years or so, Emma would hold an often spectacular ‘uniki, a traditional hula class graduation ceremony often attended by hundreds.

Dancers who learned from Aunty could be immediately identified as Emma’s students by the distinctive way they performed.

For the Lahaina News’ Louise Rockett recently, grand niece and Kumu Hula Kathy Holo’aumoku Ralar described the style as “flowery,” noting “the fingers flow (and) are together. They flow very, very gracefully, not so regimental and straight.”

Graceful, smooth and joyous, Emma Sharpe demonstrated her passion for hula at every performance. She was also a person “nicer than nice,” her nephew said.

The Maui News writers were fans, too. “She was the leader of Maui’s cultural scene for more than half the century,” one wrote. Another reported, “She left behind memories of a lively redhead who encouraged others from little girls to macho young men to old grandmothers to enjoy the dance.”

Columnists notebook: Edna Pualani Farden Bekeart, one of Emma’s seven sisters, financed a kahili royal standard unveiled last month at Holy Innocent’s Church.

A previous column noted that all 13 Farden children had passed away. Seven of the Farden children lived into their 90s, and Edna, 92, lives on Hawaii Island. Type in “Sweet Voices of Lahaina Revisited” on YouTube and see a photo collage on the MACC performance.

The columnist is indebted to Hailama Farden, the family historian, for providing little-known details that have rarely reached print.