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Emma Farden Sharpe: A legend celebrated


December 16, 2010

Voices of Maui by Norm Bezane

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Delving into the history of Lahaina’s fabulous Farden family and beloved Emma Farden Sharpe (“Voices of Maui,” July 29) is a bit of a challenge, since there is so much untold. 

For new generations, Sharpe may be just a name. But lively, redheaded Emma Sharpe may have been among the most influential and important figures in Lahaina’s post-monarchy history.

The topic is well worth pursuing further. From the 1920s through the late 1980s, this fabulous Farden, as she was known, dominated entertainment in the Hawaiian style. She brought authentic hula to uncounted thousands of visitors.

According to nephew Hailama Farden, now a vice principal of Kamehameha Schools, hula was just one of her talents. A recording artist with numerous credits (ten singles in 1957 with four of her eight sisters), Auntie Emma also was a composer. Her first song was recorded in about 1940 and later sung on two LPs (long playing records).

Her most famous 1960 album called “Lahaina’s Fabulous Emma Sharpe” featured entertainers in her troupe, including her daughter, Kaloulukea Imamura (Charlotte-Maude Kaloulukea Sharpe Imamura), who passed shortly before 87-year-old Emma in 1991.

Emma had three children with husband David Taylor Sharpe, a part-Hawaiian native speaker who was a skilled fisherman. Pricilla died at age 52 and Koloulukea at age three; Kenneth Nohealani Sharpe is 76 and remarkable in his own way, Hailama reported.

A Lahaina dedicated bike police officer, he once ticketed his own wife for speeding. 

Auntie Emma learned the traditional hula she passed on to thousands from three teachers. Her first, as a young girl, was Kauhai Likua, dancer for Kamehameha IV’s royal court. 

Another was hula master Joseph Ilala’ole, from

whom some 90 percent of hula taught today can be linked. 

Likua was her true mentor, whose style she passed on to her own dedicated students. Sharpe’s third kumu was Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui.

Though Emma taught primary grades at King Kamehameha III Elementary School starting in 1923, the most significant lessons she gave were in hula.

She taught and helped preserve the dances of antiquity to dancers who themselves would become leading kumu (teachers).

These include the legendary Nina Maxwell and grand niece Kathy Holo‘aumoku Ralar. All brought or bring these traditions to an even newer generation of dancers.

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.”

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