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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 15, 2006

Kumu Nina Maxwell perpetuated hula

 •  Obituaries

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Nina Maxwell

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PUKALANI, Maui Kumu hula Nina Maxwell, who shared her love of Hawaiian culture and dance with generations of Maui keiki and others, died yesterday at home in Pukalani following a long struggle with heart ailments. She was 68.

"Aunty Nina" was the leading elder of Maui's hula community. She headed the Pukalani Hula Hale for more than 40 years, teaching newcomers and elite hula dancers alike. The halau was a frequent participant in the annual Merrie Monarch Festival and other competitions.

"She stuck to the ancient way of hula and was very stringent in her rules about hula dancing. She tried to perpetuate the ancient culture and did not go in for the flair of modern hula," said her husband, Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., a noted Native Hawaiian activist and cultural specialist.

The Maxwells' daughter Hi'ilei Maxwell-Juan, 44, ran the Pukalani Hula Hale with her mother for the past 15 years.

"She believed that true hula is the language of the Hawaiian people, and that the more people who can learn the hula, the more the Hawaiian culture can live," said Maxwell-Juan, who began hula training at age 4. "She would just take in anybody who had the desire to learn. Her joy was to teach the little ones, especially."

Maxwell was born Feb. 10, 1938, in Pa'ia, Maui. She grew up in Waiehu, speaking Hawaiian until she entered Wailuku's St. Anthony School, where she often would get a ruler across the hand for not using English, her daughter said.

Radio personality Jacqueline "Skylark" Rossetti of Hilo, who hosted the Merrie Monarch Festival for many years, recalled Maxwell's "energetic smile and genuine aloha." She had extraordinary patience, Rossetti said, and felt compelled to share her love of Hawaiian music and dance to help children reach "a better understanding of their sense of place and who they are."

"She accepted everyone, whether you just moved to the Islands or making sure each of her daughters and granddaughters and mo'opuna also learned," Rossetti said.

Before her health declined, Maxwell traveled with her husband to Australia, Alaska and other places to meet with native peoples and share her knowledge of hula.

Services are pending. Maxwell also is survived by a son, Charles Jr.; another daughter, Sheri; and eight grandchildren.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.