Josefa Moe

Josefa Moe

John "Josefa" Moe (May 1, 1933November 3, 2006) was an entertainer and artist.

Moe was born "on the road" in Jubbulpore, India to Samoan father Pulu and Filipino/Hawaiian mother Louisa, then musical stars touring with Felix Mendelssohn’s Hawaiian Serenaders. The Moes were a major force in introducing Hawaiian entertainment to Europe and Asia in the early 1900's. Josefa was also nephew to Pulu’s brothers Tauivi, Fuifui, as well as Tau of the renowned Tau Moe family.

Josefa was raised in an English boarding school while his mother and father performed the world over. In his teen years, Josefa traveled with his folks experiencing great adventures and soaking up all the magic of European vaudeville from backstage as well as meeting greats like Laurel and Hardy and Terry-Thomas who was a close friend of Pulu Mo'e. Later, in college, Josefa was educated in the fine art of calligraphy. Josefa was also a middleweight Golden Gloves boxing champion. When he was out of school, Josefa was roommate with Bond actor Roger Moore. Daily, the two would press their good suits and make the rounds for auditions. After a comedic vaudeville stint in England with brilliant comedian/impressionist Maurice Sellar and popeyed movie actor Marty Feldman, young Josefa relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii (1955) with his father Pulu. There Josefa served as a "beach-boy", entertaining elite tourists of the day with song, dance, tours and surfing instruction.

During this time, Josefa carved authentic Polynesian tiki and began his career as a Samoan knife dancer perfecting the art of the Nifo Oti (Samoan sword) and spectacular Fire Knife dance. It was in this era (1957) that Josefa served in the U.S. Army at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. During the 50's through early 70's, Josefa performed in Waikiki at Duke Kahanamoku's and was a featured knife dancer in the International Market Place's Polynesian Revue as well as the Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton Hotel's luaus. He performed with Hawaii’s biggest entertainers of the era like Don Ho, Kui Lee, Martin Denny and Ed Kenney. Josefa was featured in the first authentic Polynesian show with Kimo Lee in New York's Lexington Hotel. Aside from being a knife dancer, Josefa was a musician singing and playing a variety instruments, specializing in guitar and Tahitian bass drum and to'ere (slotted wooden drum). Josefa was recorded performing with the International Market Place troupe on the popular 1962 album POLYNESIAN POT-POURRI. Josefa performs the Samoan "slap dance" on track 11 - S'au S'au Wale.

For a time, Josefa was considered the most photographed Samoan in the world appearing in Esquire magazine, National Geographic and many other periodicals. Josefa toured internationally, bringing his unique style of culture and music to audiences everywhere. As a sometime actor, he was often approached to play local Hawaiian thugs in shows like Hawaii Five-0 but was relegated to non-speaking roles once his elegant British accent emerged. Josefa was cast in the film of James Michener's Hawaii (film), but lost the part when director Fred Zinneman left production causing the film to be delayed and ultimately recast.

Josefa Moe is credited as a "dancer" in the 1959 American film Forbidden Island starring Jon Hall. In addition to entertaining, Josefa owned and operated Academy Art Associates; a commercial art studio and sign shop in Honolulu, Hawaii. Josefa also invented KEPA HAWAIIAN HERITAGE BRACELETTES; Koa wood bracelettes hand-lettered with traditional Hawaiian names. Some also believe that Josefa designed Punchy, the Hawaiian Punch mascot.

Generations of tourists will remember Josefa as an originator of free hand T-shirt airbrushing. Josefa loved nothing more than to set up easel and airbrush on a busy sidewalk in Waikiki to “talk story” while custom painting cartoons and caricatures on T-shirts "while-u-watched." His custom T-shirts were featured in Time magazine. He was an accomplished muralist and installed his works in Hawaii and all over the country. In the 80’s Josefa teamed up to design restaurants and clubs in the east coast where his brother Lani Moe entertained. Josefa was a fixture at the Kamehameha and Aloha swap meets for decades. After his retirement to Las Vegas, Josefa’s younger sons and daughter continued the successful Hawaiian airbrush tattoo business that Josefa had created in Hawaii.

Josefa Moe was a warm, colorful character with a sophisticated sense of humor, dazzling smile and a "give you the shirt off his back" personality. A big, handsome, multi-talented man who could appear tribal one moment and wax poetic the very next.

Josefa Moe died of natural causes November 3rd, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. His memorial was held on April 29th, 2007 in Waikiki, Hawaii at Queen's Surf beach. His ashes were scattered in the ocean where he taught his children as well as many friends and tourists to swim, surf and appreciate the beauty of Hawaii. Coincidentally, the ashes of friend and fellow entertainer Don Ho were scattered at Queen's Surf beach a week after Josefa's memorial (May 5th, 2007).

Josefa Moe is survived by his 11 children: Brian, Joseph, Daniel, Robin, Jaymie, Christopher, Kalani, Taui, Tammy, Kaipo and Cheyne Mo'e.


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