There’s something captivating about Elizabeth Kapeka Azeka.
Perhaps it’s the love she has for her kumu hula, Leina’ala Pavao Jardin, and her hula sisters in the halau she has been with for 19 years.
Perhaps it’s the sheer joy that shines from her face whenever she dances, especially her favorite hula, “Pua Mana,” a beautiful Hawaiian standard about a home in Lahaina, Maui.
Or perhaps it’s because she is 87 years old and an absolute delight.
“Auntie Kapeka,” as she is affectionately called by her hula family, was born in Hana, Maui in 1928 and first took hula there briefly from, among others, John Piilani Watkins, a renowned performer and kumu hula.
“I didn’t take it very long,” she remembers, acknowledging softly that recalling things is not as easy as it used to be.
Despite her connection with the Valley Isle, Elizabeth says “Pua Mana” isn’t her favorite because it is about Maui. “I just love the dance and the hand motions in this dance.”
In 1940, she moved to Kauai with her new husband, Henry Azeka, who died last year. She still lives in Hanapepe where they raised their family.
Elizabeth says the halau’s Kalaheo location was what made her decide to join all those years ago.
“It was close to where we lived in Hanapepe.”
Being a part of the halau is important to Elizabeth; as are Kumu Leina’ala and her hula sisters.
“Kumu Leina’ala is just a beautiful kumu hula; one of the best I’ve ever known. She is so loving,” she said emotionally.
“She always took care of me and showed her love for me. She never scolded me, no matter what I did wrong.”
For Auntie Kapeka, hula is all about the companionship and the friendship she and her hula family share.
Several years ago, when her husband got sick, she started talking about quitting hula.
“This is my last ho’ike,” she would say at the end of each one, but every year she was back.
“I couldn’t quit, I love it so much,” she says.
Last weekend, “Pua Mana” was one of two dances she performed at Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina’ala’ ho’ike this year.
Elizabeth says her hula sisters “are always there to help me; always take care of me.” When she has difficulty doing things, “they carry my bags, hold my hand, walk slowly or help me to the stage. They are so wonderful, that’s why I love them so much.”
Her kumu and her hula sisters obviously love her, too.
Ever since she won the prestigious Mokihana Kupuna Hula competition in 2005, they have called her the “queen” of their halau.
She is still tickled at winning that year. She performed a hapa-haole number, dressed in a tutu muumuu.
“As soon as I came out on the stage, before I even started dancing, they were yelling,” she says with a smile in her voice.
She got a standing ovation from the audience when it was done and walked away with top honors for that competition.
But as important as hula is to her, her life has been about so much more.
Elizabeth has spent much of her life on Kauai doing her best to help others, preserve the Hawaiian culture and support its organizations.
She says she was a charter member of the Hale O Na Alii o Kamehameha, along with Jean Holmes, longtime editor of The Garden Island and served as president for many years.
In 2008, she was one of several kupuna nominated for the Outstanding Older American award. Her nomination listed her extensive community service for the Hawaiian community and senior citizens.
Kauai has been blessed to have had her all these years. And I feel privileged to have the honor of touching her life and writing about a part of her wonderful life. Aloha, Kapeka.
Rita De Silva is the former editor of The Garden Island and a Kapaa resident.