(Star-Advertiser) This year’s Merrie Monarch Festival dominated by themes of continuity, rebirth

This year’s Merrie Monarch Festival dominated by themes of continuity, rebirth

(Source: Star-Advertiser)

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Above, Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela, of Kalihi and Waimanalo, under the direction of kumu Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and kumu Kunewa Mook, won first place overall. The women also took the top spot in the wahine overall and kahiko divisions.

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HILO >> Continuity, regeneration and rebirth.

These were the post-Kilauea eruption themes running through many of the mele chosen for the 56th Merrie Monarch Festival. The competition concluded Saturday night, with Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela, under the direction of kumu hula Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and Kunewa Mook, named as the overall winner early Sunday morning.

The Oahu halau, representing Kalihi and Waimanalo, had the highest combined score of 1,190 points, earning it the Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy. The wahine halau has placed among the top rankings numerous times, but made its comeback as overall winner after more than a decade. The halau was also overall winner in 2008 and 2003.

“I’m totally happy,” Kamana‘o said after the win. “I’m happy for my women, all 26, 27 with my Miss Aloha Hula (contestant), and, of course, all my (halau) parents. I couldn’t do this without them.”

Everything came together when it counted, he said, and the dancers persevered despite several challenges, including knee injuries and illnesses.

Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela won wahine overall with 1,190 points, while Ka Leo o Laka i ka Hikina o ka La, under the direction of kumu Kaleo Trinidad, won kane overall with 1,163 points.

Fresh start

The bar was raised high during this year’s competition, which took place nearly a year after the start of Kilauea Volcano’s historic eruption in Lower Puna, which began May 3.

While a few halau were inspired by those events, volcano goddess Pele has always been a foundational figure in hula, along with her sister, Hi‘iaka, known for her power to heal, transform and regenerate. The beloved ohia lehua, among the first plants to grow out of new lava, was also part of the poetry performed.

Kumu Shelsea Ai Apana of Halau Hula Olana, whose choices of mele were inspired by the eruption this year, said the themes of destruction and rebirth, as symbolized through lehua blooms, parallel similar struggles in contemporary lives.

“The lehua in Puna was destroyed,” she said. “However, now it’s kind of flourishing. … My feeling of it was in ancient Hawaii if something wasn’t growing, they would burn the field to stop whatever was harming it and then give it an opportunity to start fresh again.”

Through all of the lava flows, the trees continue to flourish, in full bloom, she said, right on the side of the road at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “How is that possible, through adversity, this flower is so strong and continues to bloom?”

Winning debut

On Thursday 13 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani of Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua.

On Friday and Saturday 29 groups — 10 kane and 19 wahine — competed in the kahiko (ancient-style) and ‘auana (modern-style) portions of the festival.

Kamuela wowed the crowd on kahiko night with a mesmerizing performance of “‘O Lono ‘Oe,” a mele celebrating the god representing rain, fertility and restoration in the natural world. The hula noho included back bends in successions, along with ‘ili‘ili, or water-worn stones, to click out rhythms. For ‘auana night the halau performed an energetic and crowd-pleasing mele, “He Lei Aloha — No Hilo.”

The mele, composed by Devin Kamealoha Forrest and Grammy Award-winning musician Kalani Pe‘a, was dedicated to a beloved friend, Naupaka Gouveia, who now resides in Hilo.

Pe‘a, a native of Hilo who now lives on Maui, was elated because this was his Merrie Monarch debut.

The halau’s performance was phenomenal, he said, and it was exciting to collaborate with the kumu and dancers, and to witness his composition come to life as hula on stage.

“It’s a debut album on a debut performance at the Merrie Monarch,” he said. “Oh my gosh, and I cried so much, in Hilo, my hometown.”

He said the song is a “lei of love for Hilo” and its natural beauty, including its kanilehua (mistlike) rain and its particular clouds. The song is on his first, Grammy Award-winning album, “E Walea.”

Crowd-pleasers

While none of the kane placed in the top three overall, the male dancers displayed a new level of athleticism and creativity in choreography. They were, as always, crowd favorites, eliciting screams of delight.

The men of Trinidad’s Ka Leo o Laka i ka Hikina o ka La performed a vigorous hula ma‘i, or procreation chant, telling of the steep cliffs of Hamakua, life-giving rains and endless cycle of life in homage to Kamehameha’s chiefly lineage. They used a rarely seen hula implement — the stringed ukeke — skillfully and flirtatiously.

On ‘auana night, various halau paid tributes to beloved kumu who have passed on their knowledge to new generations of teachers who continue to perpetuate the art of hula.

The panel of judges this year included Maelia Loebenstein Carter, Vicky Holt Takamine, Nalani Kanaka‘ole Zane, Noenoelani Zuttermeister Lewis, Nani Lim Yap, Etua Lopes and Keali‘i Reichel.

56TH ANNUAL MERRIE MONARCH FESTIVAL WINNERS

Overall winner

>> Hula Halau ‘o Ka­muela: Kumu Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and Kunewa Mook: 1,190

>> Halau Na Mamo o Pu‘uanahulu: Kumu William Haunu‘u “Sonny” Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera: 1,174

>> Halau Kekuaokala­‘au‘ala‘iliahi: Kumu Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes: 1,172

Wahine kahiko

>> Hula Halau ‘o Ka­muela: Kumu Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and Kunewa Mook: 602

>> Halau Na Mamo o Pu‘uanahulu: Kumu William Haunu‘u “Sonny” Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera: 597

>> Halau Mohala ‘Ilima: Kumu Mapuana de Silva: 594

>> Halau Kekuaokala­‘au‘ala‘iliahi: Kumu Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes: 583

>> Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha‘eha‘e: Kumu Tracie and Keawe Lopes: 574

Wahine ‘auana

>> Halau Kekuaokala­‘au‘ala‘iliahi: Kumu Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes: 589

>> Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela: Kumu Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and Kunewa Mook: 588

>> Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua: Kumu Robert Ke‘ano Ka‘upu IV and Lono Padilla: 587

>> Halau I ka Wekiu: Kumu Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang: 583

>> Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala: Kumu Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin: 581

Wahine overall

>> Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela: Kumu Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and Kunewa Mook: 1,190

>> Halau Na Mamo o Pu‘uanahulu: Kumu William Haunu‘u “Sonny” Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera: 1,174

>> Halau Kekuaokala­‘au‘ala‘iliahi: Kumu Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes: 1,172

Kane kahiko

>> Ka Leo o Laka i ka Hikina o ka La: Kumu Kaleo Trinidad: 594

>> Kawaili‘ula: Kumu Chinky Mahoe: 590

>> Halau Na Mamo o Pu‘uanahulu: Kumu William Haunu‘u “Sonny” Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera: 573

>> Kawai‘ulaokala: Kumu Keli‘iho‘omalu Puchalski: 570

Kane ‘Auana

>> Halau Hula ‘o Kahikilaulani: Kumu Nahokuokalani Gaspang: 598

>> Halau Na Mamo o Pu‘uanahulu: Kumu William Haunu‘u “Sonny” Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera: 574

>> Kawai‘ulaokala: Kumu Keli‘iho‘omalu Puchalski: 571

>> Kawaili‘ula: Kumu Chinky Mahoe: 570

Kane overall

>> Ka Leo o Laka i ka Hikina o ka La: Kumu Kaleo Trinidad: 1,163

>> Kawaili‘ula: Kumu Chinky Mahoe: 1,160

>> Halau Hula ‘o Kahikilaulani: Kumu Nahokuokalani Gaspang: 1,157

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