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A Moment for Aunty Kau’i

Thomas Smith

by , Editorial Content Director, Disney Parks

The spirit of aloha ran deep at Walt Disney World last week, as we received the news that, surrounded by her loving ‘ohana, Kau’ihealani Mahikoa Brandt—known to our cast and guests alike as “‘Anake Kau’i” (“Aunty Kau’i”)—had peacefully passed away.

Aunty Kau’i was a kumu hula (hula master) performing in Hawai’i when Disney talent scouts recruited her to come to California and dance the hula three times a day in Adventureland.

In 1971, she traveled to Florida as an Opening Day cast member to launch the first dinner-show luau at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. It was supposed to be a three-month assignment, but Florida agreed with her and—punctuated by occasional returns to Hawai’i to participate in hula festivals—Aunty Kau’i stayed on.

In time, she became a Cultural Ambassador at Disney’s Polynesian Village, greeting guests with her handmade leis and grass skirts and teaching guests and cast alike to dance the hula as she happily swayed in her brightly colored muʻumuʻu and strummed her ‘ukulele. A photograph with a smiling Aunty Kau’i became a coveted treasure for hundreds of thousands of guests, and children sought her out when their families returned for vacations.

The day after she passed, Walt Disney World Resort President Josh D’Amaro visited her home resort with Thomas Mazloum, senior vice president of Resorts and Transportation. Together with cast members of the Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, they gathered at sunset to remember their longtime friend in Hawaiian and English and song.

Afterward, in longstanding Hawaiian tradition, they cast their funeral leis upon the water—an illustration of the cycle of life. 

A peaceful woman who lived a life of balance and harmony, Aunty Kau’i encouraged everyone she met to embrace the joy in life.

Mahalo nui loa, ‘Anake Kau’i. Your legacy lives on.

Comments

  • so neat thank you for taking time to remember her

  • Aloha Auntie, you will be forever in our hearts!

  • Aunty Kaui was the Sweetie and most Wonderful person to know. She always had a smile for everyone. She always had a special way about her. So many of us, are proud to claim her as part of our Ohana. Our Family, from the Hawaiian Islands, were part of her early dancing History, our Kuma had taught her Kuma in the Islands. Small World ! She will always be remembered in our Hearts also !!
    May God now watch over her as she has been doing for so many many people. She will be missed so very much.
    Sending our Love and Blessing to Aunty and her Ohana also.
    With Aloha and Love

  • I have had the pleasure of meeting some legendary cast members (whether they are internet-famous or not), and there is a reason that Walt said “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” There are many cast members who consistently prove this true, but…then there are some like Auntie Kau’i who take it to the next level, who not only work to make the dream a reality, but become part of what defines the dream. I was so happy to see that cast members were able to hold their own remembrance of her on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon and, honestly, I’m glad members of senior management were there to pay their respects. It sounds like a fitting tribute to a special lady who did more than her fair share to make the Polynesian Resort, and Walt Disney World as a whole, the amazing resort that it is. We’ll miss you, Auntie.

  • In my mind, I see a tiki statue with tears streaming down. While I’m still upset about the lobby changes at Poly, having such a fixture as Aunty Kau’i no longer there is such a huge loss in comparison. Only weeks ago, I mentioned to my mother that she was still spreading her magic. In the mid 80’s when I was a young child, my family was befriended by Hideo, the manager of Poly. Years later he moved on to Disneyland, but we never lost touch until his way too early passing in 2001. I can only imagine the two of them now up in heaven, laughing and reminiscing about all the good times at Poly. These two epitomize what it means to be a Disney castmember. Aunty deserves a window on Main Street at WDW, just like Hideo has in Disneyland. Thank you both for touching people’s lives….more than you could ever know!

  • I seen the luau show on November 1, 2017 and I will always remember that beautiful show with Auntie leading the show!!! I have not been back to Disney World since then but I know when I return I will truly miss this wonderful lady!!!!😢

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