HILO » Another chapter of the Merrie Monarch Festival has closed, with some repeat winners and with new winners carrying on the legacy of their late kumu hula.
Twenty-eight halau competed in the group kahiko and auana competitions from Thursday through Saturday at Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium.
Their oli sounded throughout the stadium and far across the dirt parking lot outside, with months of practice and preparations culminating in their best efforts onstage at the 48th annual competition.
The judges watched every number, assigned scores and made their decision.
Kumu hula Keali‘i Reichel was the overall winner, with his halau taking the top ranking for wahine kahiko, wahine overall and the Miss Aloha Hula title.
In his third year at the festival, Reichel is making his mark. He swept all of the women’s categories last year, and his Miss Aloha Hula candidate took that title the year before.
Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela, under the direction of Kunewa Mook and the newly engaged Kau‘ioanalani Kamana‘o, took first place in women’s hula auana by a wide margin. Last year the halau’s Mahealani Mika Hirao-Solem took the Miss Aloha Hula title (and yes, she’s the one who said yes to Kamana‘o’s proposal onstage Thursday night).
THIS YEAR the ladies, adorned in yellow plumeria lei and carrying yellow-feathered uli uli, danced their way into the hearts of the audience with a highly charged “Oahu Medley.”
The halau changed formations, moving from a circle to a V-line, and exited stage front, drawing hearty applause.
In Hilo the late kumu hula Rae Fonseca’s legacy beats on in Halau Hula ‘o Kahikilaulani, now under the direction of Nahokuokalani Gaspang, which placed third in men’s kahiko, men’s auana and kane overall.
“Our halau kept pushing through everything, and it paid off this year,” said No‘eau Kalima. “He (Fonseca) knew that we would be in good hands, and it all worked out for the best.”
While Ke Kai o Kahiki once again took the top place for men’s kahiko as well as the overall men’s division, Ka Leo o Laka i ka Hikina o ka La, under the direction of kumu hula Kaleo Trinidad, took the top spot in men’s auana this year, with a fun-filled tribute to surf legend Duke Kahanamoku.
Trinidad’s halau also came in second in kahiko and second overall for kane.
For kahiko his halau used the ulili, a triple gourd rattle and classic hula implement seldom seen in competition. Trinidad said afterward it was one of the greatest challenges he’s ever undertaken.
Learning to play the ulili is no simple feat — you must get it to spin and retract while at the same time doing a complex hula. The spinning resulted in many broken ulili, so the halau not only learned how to play the implements, but also how to make them.
Onstage the ulili together made a unique whirring sound which, when combined with the beat of hula steps, was awe-inspiring.
“I think it was worth it because culturally these dances are so rare,” Trinidad said. “We’ll be dancing with it (ulili) now as part of our performances.”
During the festival a collection basket was passed around, accepting donations for tsunami-stricken Japan. An estimated $10,000 was raised, according to Luana Kawelu, festival president.