PERPETUATING THE HOST CULTURE

PO’IPU — The sound of the pu by Emmsley-James Drake marked the start of the Aloha Festivals’ opening ceremony, last week at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa.

The haunting sound of the conch, the welcoming chant by Wallis Punua, the Kaua’i Aloha Festivals coordinator, and the entrance of the Royal Court entourage at the Seaview Terrace, was greeted by a number of visitors who snapped photos or whirred their video cameras into action, all while standing in respect to the royal party.

Ho’okupu (gifts) were presented by a pair of dancers to the Kaua’i Royal Court members, headed up by King Kawika Cutcher and Queen Lyah Drake.

Only then did the pair perform their dance presentation, led by kumu hula Punua, their presentation consisting of both kahiko (ancient) and ‘auana (modern) numbers, setting the stage for the opening celebration Drums of Paradise Lu’au that followed at the resort’s Ilima Gardens.

Punua said that this is the 59th year for the Aloha Festivals, which started out with a founders’ mission to perpetuate Hawaiian culture, and to celebrate the state’s diverse customs and traditions.

Punua, the Festivals’ Kaua’i coordinator, explained that organizers on each island have their own activities with their own Royal Court, noting that one of the new facets of this year’s Kaua’i celebration is a parade that took place at Kukui Grove Center yesterday.

“This is the first time we’re coming to the Kaua’i celebration,” a Baton Rouge, La., couple told Punua following the protocol ceremony.

“We’ve been coming to Hawai’i each year based on when the Aloha Festivals take place, and this year, we’re on Kaua’i,” they said, noting that they escaped the wrath of Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed, but their sister hasn’t been able to get back to her house, which she believes is still intact.

The couple noted that, over the years, they’ve amassed a collection of Aloha Festivals memorabilia, and intend to do the same with the Kaua’i event, starting with the Kaua’i ribbon, touting the island’s color (purple) with the singular state theme, “Na Honu Hawai’i.”

The Kaua’i Aloha Festivals phase will wrap up on Sunday, Sept. 18, with the Aloha Festivals Royal Lu’au at the Radisson Kauai Beach Resort off Kuhio Highway near Hanama’ulu, starting at 5:30 p.m.

The Aloha Festivals celebration takes place throughout the state, starting in August and wrapping up in October. In 59 years, the Aloha Festivals is the nation’s only statewide cultural celebration, with parades and ho’olaule’a being at the heart of almost every island’s celebrations.

A keepsake Aloha Festivals ribbon is available for a $5 contribution, and comes with a colorful souvenir booklet outlining the events for each of the islands throughout Hawai’i, as well as entitling the wearer to special Aloha Festivals event discounts.

Punua, who has been coordinating the Aloha Festivals’ Kaua’i events for the past five years, will draw on the experience he gained by being a part of last year’s successful Ku Kilakila Kauai All-Kaua’i Marching Band, whose members performed in the 2005 Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, Calif.

Additionally, his experience in the entertainment field helps to make each event full of pageantry and the performing arts.

Some of the entries into yesterday’s parade included the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital long-term-care clients, with the parents of some of his Rohotu performers at the helm.

Additionally, Veronica Pablo, Miss Kauai Filipina 2005, will be coming home from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa to be a part of the celebration, Pablo being a longtime dancer for Rohotu as well.

“I grew up in a family where everyone participated in some way with Aloha Festivals,” said Punua, a second-generation island manager.

“It’s the real deal, the actual, hands-on tradition of the past.”

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