Jean Ileialoha Keale Beniamina was a true Hawaiian, according to longtime friend Charles K. Kaupu.
She took care of her community and ensured educational opportunities were available to fellow Niihauans. "She was a leader, a great leader at that," Kaupu said.
Beniamina, a Hawaiian language advocate, educator and award-winning composer, died Saturday at her Lihue home. She was 54.
An outreach counselor and assistant professor at Kauai Community College, Beniamina served as a mentor to many interested in Hawaiian language and culture.
"You would get the richness of not only her life but countless generations before. She was taught in the old style and educated in the modern," Kaupu said.
Beniamina was born in Puuwai, Niihau, and graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1974. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in Hawaiian language and literature at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, according to a profile in the book, "The Legacy Lives On," by Ednette Chandler, Muriel Gehrman and Andrew Poepoe. Kamehameha Schools posted the profile on its website.
A strong advocate of perpetuating the Hawaiian language, Beniamina helped establish a preschool in Hilo, ‘Aha Punana Leo, where children are taught exclusively in the Hawaiian language, according to the profile.
Other schools, including K-12 Hawaiian language immersion schools, followed, as did outreach programs. She and her late mother, Jeane Ku’uleialoha Kelley Keale, also established a preschool on Niihau called Ke Kula Ni’ihau O Kekaha.
Beniamina served as a trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 2000.
Beniamina also composed the Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning song, "Ho’ola Lahui O Hawaii" which means "Give Life to the Hawaii People." It was performed by the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. She also won the Na Hoku Hanohano Haku Mele award for composing "Pua ‘Ala Aumoe," which means "The Night Blooming Jasmine."
Beniamina’s cousin, Moon Kauakahi, leader of the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, said, "To me, she was a kupuna in a young person’s body. She had so much knowledge not only of the Hawaiian language, but also things that were ancient, the ancient practices of Hawaii."
Beniamina is survived by daughters Kahealani Niau, Jeane Beniamina and Lynnette Akeo; sisters Luana Kaohelaulii and Marylou Kanahele; and 12 grand- children.
Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Garden Island Mortuary. The service will begin at noon.
Burial will follow at Kekaha Hawaiian Cemetery.