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Seattle Hula Expert Moodette Ka'apana Dies at 60

Moodette Ka'apana in a photograph taken at her 60th birthday celebration.
Courtesy of KaLehua Ka'apana
Moodette Ka'apana in a photograph taken at her 60th birthday celebration.

To people who knew Moodette Ka’apana, she was Aunty Moody.

“There’s a saying in the Hawaii community: ‘Huiiii, Aunty! How you?’” said Stephen Gomes, a friend.

“Everybody knew Aunty,” Gomes said, “they knew Aunty Moody.”

Ka’apana died this week of complications with pneumonia. She was 60.

Gomes met Ka’apana when he moved to Seattle in the early 1990s. They became good friends and went on to co-host a Hawaiian music show together on KXPA.

Gomes said Ka’apana taught him a lot about the songs and the language. It was all part of her training as a kumu hula, an expert in hula. (Gomes, who works at KUOW, likens the title to achieving a Ph.D. in hula.)

[asset-images[{"caption": "Moodette Ka'apana performs at the Puget Sound Skills Center graduation.", "fid": "116731", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201504/kaapana_1.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of KaLehua Ka'apana "}]]For Ka’apana, Hula was her passion. She was one of the few kumus in the area.

“She told me when she became a kumu hula, it just made her feel like she was where she always wanted to be,” Gomes said.

“She told me one of her highlights was that she was able to dance the hula of the song I Kona done by Ledward Ka’apana,” he said. “She said it was magical; she felt the magic.”

Ka’apana’s love of Hawaiian music and hula began when she was a girl. In a 2008 interview for the Washington State Historical Society, Ka’apana credits her father and grandfather with instilling pride in their culture.

“When we were children we’d go up to my grandfather’s house on Christmas eve, before we could get our presents we had to do something for him, hula, sing a song, something Hawaiian,” she said at the time. “No hula, no present!”

Ka’apana moved to Seattle in 1972 to attend college at Seattle University. She ended up staying and becoming a pillar of the local Hawaiian community. She performed in the Hawaiian showcase at the Northwest Folklife festival here in Seattle.

She taught hula and became a mentor to many, including her younger sister Jaydeen Robinson.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Moodette Ka'apana with her mother and two sisters. Ka'apana was a kumu hula, or expert in the art of hula.", "fid": "116732", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201504/kaapana_3.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of KaLehua Ka'apana "}]]Robinson, who became a kumu last year, says hula isn’t just about the dance. There’s a story in every song.

“She loved storytelling,” Robinson said. “She loved what the song meant. And when she explained it, you can see the mountains and what she would be talking about.”

After Ka’apana became a kumu, she opened a halau, or hulu school, in Burien to pass traditions on to the next generation.

In addition to her sister, Ka’apana is survived by her husband, Douglas Ka’apana, and daughter, KaLehua Ka’apana.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Moodette Ka'apana with her hula dancers. Ka'apana died this week from complications with pneumonia. She was 60.", "fid": "116734", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201504/kaapana_2_0.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of KaLehua Ka'apana "}]]

Year started with KUOW: 1994