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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Elizabeth Kauahipaula, kupuna, dead at 88

By Allison Schaefers
Advertiser Staff Writer

Elizabeth Kalili Kauahipaula, the longest serving pioneer kupuna in the Department of Education's Hawaiian programs, died Sunday after a brief illness. But for those who knew her, the aloha lives on.

Elizabeth Kalili Kauahipaula worked until this year in the Waiau Hawaiian Language Immersion Program. As a DOE kupuna, she rekindled an interest in native culture.

Advertiser library photo • Oct. 18, 1996

Kauahipaula, who worked until this year in the Waiau Hawaiian Language Immersion Program, was 88.

She was the oldest continuously employed kupuna in the Leeward district and possibly the state, said Kalani Akana, a colleague. Kauahipaula often rose at 4 a.m. to catch the bus to school.

"In her capacity as kupuna, she has influenced and taught countless numbers of children and teachers," Akana said.

"What was once her humiliation became her honor."

Kauahipaula was once banned from speaking her native language in the classroom. When she was a child, her knuckles were struck with a ruler till they bled, then she was placed in a corner of the classroom or made to wear a dunce cap for speaking Hawaiian, Akana said.

Kauahipaula, like many others of her generation, received only an eighth-grade education, but those who knew her said she was a born teacher.

"Teaching was her life's work," said Akana. "Seeing the children blossoming and proud to speak their language was what she lived for."

She never dreamed that her skill in the native language, once the object of scorn, "was something that she would later want to be proud of," he said.

Kauahipaula was a Hawaiian-language specialist at Kamehameha Schools and also volunteered to teach Hawaiian and the Hawaiian culture at the Anuenue Hawaiian Language Immersion and Samuel Kamakau schools. Kauahipaula also taught at the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center in Wai'anae and Central O'ahu, at several hula halau and at her home.

"It's a great loss to our Hawaiian youth," said Hailama Farden, a Hawaiian language teacher who first met Kauahipaula when he was a fourth-grade pupil some 25 years ago.

Although Kauahipaula was born on O'ahu, she spent most of her childhood on the Big Island with her parents, David Kapu Brown and Lizzie Kalili Kaeha. Many of those school days were in Waiakea, where her father built the family house on homestead land. It was a rural existence where the only place to find running water was a nearby stream.

"She wanted to share the culture because that's how she grew up," Akana said.

"People like myself had to go to school to learn what she actually lived."

Kauahipaula was a very simple person, yet very deep in her thoughts and ideas, said Melelani Pang, the president of 'Ahahui 'Olelo Hawai'i.

She was always telling students, "Mai hilahila," which means don't be ashamed, Pang said.

"It was such a general statement but when she said it, different people could have different perceptions," Pang said. "To her, that statement held not only for language, but also for culture, lifestyle and who you are as an individual."

Kauahipaula and others like her are hard to replace because of their extensive influence on the lives they touched, he said.

"Kupuna was like my hanai grandmother," Farden said. "She encouraged me to become a teacher and to share the language."

One of Kauahipaula's greatest desires was to see the Hawaiian language become the first language for Hawaiians, he said. She also wanted Hawaiians to know their culture and their history.

Kauahipaula accomplished some of these goals by teaching and also by serving as host of the longest-running Hawaiian language TV talk show, "Manaleo," which airs on Channel 53 at 7 p.m. Saturdays. The program's mission is to perpetuate the Hawaiian voice for generations.

Kauahipaula was also a board member of 'Ahahui 'Olelo Hawai'i, the state's only Hawaiian language association, as well as a consultant to Ka Haka'ula a Ke'elikolani Hawaiian Language College in Hilo.

She is survived by her son, Herman Nunuha; sister, Margaret Spencer; and 18 grandchildren, 49 great-grandchildren and 19 great-great-grandchildren.