LIHUE – Songs performed with heart honoring Queen Lili’uokalani filled the air Tuesday to a standing room only crowd at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall.
“She was a great queen and she loved all of us,” said 11th grade Kanuikapono student Kyra Kauai, who helped drape a tea and maile leaf lei with other students over a painting of the queen.
Kumu Pua Kamealoha Gomes, the musical conductor for Kanuikapono, one of the Hawaiian Immersion Schools, has been a teacher of Hawaiian culture for 25 years. While the school stresses academics, the students made time in and out of the classroom for music.
“They put their heart into it, practicing on point,” Gomes said. “They would even get together and harmonize on their own when they were on the playground.”
The practice paid off. In the K-5 competition, Gomes’ students’ on-stage performance took second place, but it wasn’t all about the results.
“We’re all winners just to get up on stage and honor the queen,” she said. “We honor her today because she fought for our people. Our culture lives on through the music.”
Kumu Ulu escorted her students from Kawaikini School to and from the stage. They were awarded first place in the K-5 division. She is dedicated to Hawaiian language literacy because of all it can accomplish in the classroom and beyond.
“We are teaching respect for one another and helping each other,” Ulu said. “Within the language is our culture, our heritage and the stories of our people. All of that lives within our language.”
It was Elijah Frank’s son’s first year singing in the event.
“He was nervous to perform,” Frank said. “For us, it’s a whole new experience. It means the revival of the Hawaiian language. The next generation is bringing the Hawaiian language back.”
The event was part of the weeklong Kauai Mokihana Festival, which has celebrated Hawaiian culture for 30 years. Queen Lili’uokalani lived from 1838 to 1917 and was the last monarch and only queen regnant of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Third place for K-5 went to Ke Kula Niihau o Kekaha. In the 6th-12th category, Kanuikapono and Ke Kula Niihau Kekaha tied for first place and Kawaikini placed second.
But the event was about more than top places.
Kapua Medeiros, whose daughter is in kindergarten, said the singing of Hawaiian music is a long-held tradition and one she is overjoyed to see continue.
“The songs she comes home from school singing are the songs I sang in school and my mom sang them, too,” Medeiros said. “We all sing them together at home now.”
Randall Ramos from Eleele showed up for the competition to support the students, he said. He doesn’t have children of his own yet, but he grew up dancing the hula and hopes to carry on island traditions in his home of the future.
“We were all brought up like that, keeping the Hawaiian culture,” Ramos said.