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Memorial Set for the Beloved and Graceful Kumu Hula Ellen Castillo

Ellen Castillo

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - A public memorial for Ellen Kuuleialohapoinaole Pukaikapuaokalani Castillo, a well-known Kumu Hula from Waimanalo, Oahu, has been set for Saturday, November 3, beginning at 9:30 a.m. at St. George’s Church in Waimanalo.

Castillo, who headed Pukaikapuaokalani Hula Halau for 50 years, taught thousands of girls and women a graceful hula style that she was known for.

An elegant, graceful and expressive dancer, Castillo studied under some of Hawaii’s most respected Na Kumu Hula including Aunty Bella Richards and Aunty Lani Kalama.

While her studio was in Kailua, Castillo also taught in schools in Waimanalo and Kailua.

Castillo’s hula halau competed annually in the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival and the Miss Aloha Hula Contest in Hilo and the Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition on Oahu.

Over the decades, she taught hula, Tahitian and other Polynesian dances to five generations of girls and women on Oahu’s windward side.

Many of her students returned years later with their daughters and granddaughters.

Carol Lehua Carvalho started dancing with Castillo at the age of 5 and has danced ever since. In 1986, Castillo gave Carvalho her blessing to start her own halau, Halau Hula Ka Ulu Pua 'A'ala O Ka Lani.

“Even, after I started my halau, I would return to Ellen to continue dancing as she made me a better Kumu by constantly inspiring me with her graceful choreography that touched my heart, her passion for the art of hula that motivated me to learn more of the culture and her love for her haumana that taught me dedication to my students in and out of the classroom,” Carvalho said. “Due to the countless years of training and support of Aunty Ellen, I now touch over 375 students through Halau Hula 'Iolani at 'Iolani School and Halau Hula Ka Ulu Pua 'A'ala O Ka Lani out of my home and at St. Anthony's Parish in Kailua.”

Carvalho said Castillo was truly a gift and the women from the halau will continue to ensure the beauty and style she taught is well preserved.

Kumu Hula Ellen Castillo

Malia Cavaco Peters said Castillo taught so many valuable lessons including discipline.

“We were expected to come to hula ready to learn and ready to dance. Our feet needed to be clean, no chewing gum (and if we got caught she made us stick it on our nose for the entire practice)...you never did that again.

“She pushed us beyond what we thought we could do. Just when you thought you couldn't bend your knees any lower, she would stand on our legs and make us do rolls on the ground to stretch us out.”

“She was so talented, teaching us auwana, kahiko, Tahitian, Maori and other dances.

“We did so many shows at various parties, luaus and other events so we had experience and were comfortable performing on stage.

“Aunty Ellen always taught us that even if we were a group of 25-30 girls, we should be dancing as one.

“Most importantly, she wanted us to express, express, express!

“That was so important to her and she could get the shyest of girls to get out of their comfort zone to express them self so beautifully. She was a second mother to us all."

Verna Mokulehua, another of Castillo’s dancers, said Castillo was one of the most beautiful, graceful women she has ever met.

“Although I met her when I was young, and she was a strict hula teacher, I have always loved her because of her beauty, grace, stature, and the way that she carried herself. She was able to teach the sweet, graceful style of her Kumu, Aunty Bella Richards to many of us. I loved watching her dance through the mirrors in halau and till today can still hear her voice when I am dancing,” Mokulehua said.

“If I could've told Ellen something, before she left us to be with the Lord, I would say: ‘Thank you, Aunty Ellen for sharing your hula, your love, your gifts with us. You have left a legacy of dancers that will carry on your true love, the hula. …. May you be blessed from heaven knowing that your legacy lives.’”

Castillo’s halau was named for her grandmother, whose name “Pukaikapuaokalani” translates to "seashell flower of heaven."

Castillo leaves behind her husband Henry, her sons Nolan, Derek and Keola, her daughter-in-laws Janice Shimizu and Raydean Hopu, as well as 11 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

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