Head to the mountains for Emalani Festival

Michelle Hookano – special to the garden island

The Emalani Festival at Koke‘e offers a rich journey of chant, hula and history. For weeks, the uplands have been abuzz as Hui o Laka staff and volunteers prepare for the 19th Annual Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i, a festival held in the lush beauty of Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow in Koke‘e State Park.

On four Hawaiian islands, over 300 hula dancers and their kumu hula have been practicing and preparing for their journey to Koke‘e State Park. Tomorrow is the Emalani festival, an outdoor historical commemoration of Queen Emma Naea Rooke‘s journey to these upland forests in 1871.

The Emalani Festival has become a regular touchstone for residents and visiting hula masters and their students. The day-long event has become an annual journey of the heart for an enraptured audience of over 2,500 spectators. Starting at 10 a.m., the cool mountain meadow will ring with song featuring some of Kaua‘i’s gifted musical artists.

Falsetto singer Nick Castillo, David Kaua‘i and Friends, and Emma Veary are featured.

In addition to the best parking spaces, early arrivals may also enjoy Hawaiian craft demonstrations, exhibits on Queen Emma, and getting Commemorative Festival Programs, T-shirts, and posters. The 2006 festival design was created in dramatic “scratch board” technique by Kaua‘i artist Michelle Dick.

A highlight of the festival is always the “entrance” of Queen Emma, who rides out of the forest with her guide Kaluahi and a lady in waiting, Ka‘ala Wong at noon.

As the Queen and her lady-in-waiting, led by her stalwart guide, Kaluahi (portrayed by Roddy Kanoa) first appear at the top of the meadow on horseback, she will be greeted by 13 hula halau, scholars, historians, school children, visitors and lovers of things Hawaiian from across the state.

As one kupuna or Hawaiian elder said two years ago, “It’s not a reenactment, it’s not a pageant, it’s something else and it’s something we all make together that makes it so real.”

The Queen will be represented this year by Robyn Mahealani Kneubuhl, who lives in Makawao on Maui. She was first introduced to the event in 2002 when she was lady in waiting for Manulele Clark who was portraying Queen Emma. She is joined by her mother, Emma Veary, a Hawaiian entertainer who awes audiences around the state.

The afternoon is filled with hula, music, and chant as hula groups offer hookupu (gifts) of song and dance to their queen.

This year, the following halau are honoring Queen Emma: Halau Ha‘a Hula O Kekau‘ilani Na Pua Hala O Kailua, Ka ‘Imi Na‘auao ‘O Hawai‘i Nei, Halau O Kia, Na Hula Ola i ke Ao, Halau Pua Ali‘i Ilima Papa Laua‘e o Makana, Hui O Kalama Ola, Halau Ho‘oulu I Ke Kapa, Keali‘ika‘apunihonua Ke‘ena A‘O Hula, Halau Hula O Nani, Na Hula O Ka Moani Laua‘e, Na Puakea o Ko‘olaupoko, and Kawai Pua o Waimea.

The event has been guided over the years by kumu hula and Hui o Laka Trustee Roselle Bailey who bestowed the festival’s name of “Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i” and who has always felt that the journey to Koke‘e would have been a chance for Queen Emma to enjoy a spirit of adventure and informality in the mountains. Many feel that it was there she could feel close to her deceased husband (Kamehameha IV) and young son, whom she had tragically lost. Perhaps there, in the bracing mountain air she could refresh and restore her spirit.

Queen Emma was a woman who walked her talk and took care to create tremendous value with every minute of her life. She did not journey to the region for any idle reason. She brought her court chanters and dancers of hula with her to mark the way in appreciation of the wondrous scenes of beauty encountered along the way.

Hui o Laka would like to thank the many businesses for supporting this special event.

Emma’s adventurous and determined spirit and remarkable leadership qualities are evoked at this heartful event, sponsored each year by Hui o Laka with support from the community and Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, County of Kaua‘i. A spirit of informality, respect, and natural beauty set the tone for a family day free of charge. Carpooling is recommended. As mountain days can be varied, layer clothing. Bring a lawn chair or mat and an umbrella. No pets are allowed, even on leashes. For more information, call Hui o Laka-Koke‘e Museum at 335-9975.


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