‘Like coming to church’

KOKEE — It has been nearly 142 years since Queen Emma and some of her entourage traversed Waimea Canyon to the upland forests of Kokee, where according to local legend, she told stories and had friends dance upon a large, flat rock.

Although that rock is no longer there, the view that Queen Emma and her entourage must have had now exists as Pohaku Hula, which translates to “hula stone” in Hawaiian.

And the legacy that started continues to blossom as the Eo e Emalani Alakai (Emalani) Festival.

The ongoing tradition, which began 24 years ago as a joint effort between now Hui O Laka Executive Director Marsha Erickson and Kumu Roselle Keliihonipua Bailey, continued this weekend as members and instructors of 22 hula halaus from across the state, Japan and Europe converged on Kokee State Park for this year’s festival.

“She was such a woman of service,” said Erickson, who pointed out that Queen Emma founded Queen’s Medical Center and St. Andrew’s Priory, an all-girls school on Oahu. “She just seemed like a really inspiring example for our time. In these times, I think it’s important to remember the great parts of our history and that’s why we’re inspired to do it — to celebrate greatness so everybody can feel it, stand up and be more responsible and compassionate.”

Changes to the festival, which is held annually on the second Saturday in October, included the addition of a pau unit from Oahu, consisting of eight horses and riders, who escorted this year’s Emalani Festival Queen, Celeste Kanoelani Naleimaile, and her entourage at the beginning of the celebration.

The festival also commemorated the first time that two Honolulu-based nonprofits associated with or created by Queen Emma, The Daughters of Hawaii and Iolani Guild, attended the festival.

The goal, Erickson said, is to neither create a large event — because of safety concerns — nor focus the event solely on hula, but commemorate Queen Emma’s contributions to the state.

“It’s not a hula festival,” Erickson said. “It’s a historical commemoration of that time when she journeyed up here.”

Anahola resident Michaela Boudreaux said she had the opportunity to dance in the Emalani Festival several years ago and has made a pilgrimage to Kokee every year for the event since then.

“I think Queen Emma’s journey and the festival itself is important to the Hawaiian culture,” Boudreaux said. “Coming here is like coming to church for me. It makes me more aware and makes me want to know more every single time I come here.”

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