The spirit of Queen Emma returns

It’s that time of year again for the Queen Emma festival – a fun-filled free event celebrating Hawaii’s beloved Queen and her journey to the Kokee upland and Kilohana vista in 1871. 

For the 26th straight year, live music will fill the Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday to kick off the culturally authentic and popular event.

“There’s not many festivals in the state for Queen Emma,” said coordinator Michelle Hookano. 

At noon, as Nick Castillo and Friends sing “Wahine Ui” composed for the festival occasion, Helen Lahapa Santiago, the woman cast to play Queen Emma, will ride into the Meadow accompanied by guide Kaluahi, Hawaiian hunter and cowboy who guided the royal horseback party over rough slippery terrain. 

Santiago, general manager at Kalapaki Joe’s in Waimea, recalled when she was selected for the role. 

“It’s a great honor. I had just been thinking about and wondering how people get selected. A couple weeks later the Queen Emma committee came into the restaurant and a waitress said the people at the table wanted to see me,” Santiago said. “One of them told me she had two dreams about me and knew I was the one who should be this year’s Queen Emma.”

Santiago called it a big surprise.

“I got teary-eyed. I’ve been going to the festival since 1995 and I love it,” she said. 

Santiago’s daughter, Niryanne Kanaehoikealaokapuakehauikauilani Kauanui-Santiago, will act as her Lady in Waiting in the enactment of the return of Queen Emma to the mountains. 

The monarch in the late 1800s made the journey up from her Lawai beach house with over 100 companions. Along the way, she called for her court chanter to offer oli— great poems of appreciation for the magnificence of the region’s landscape and its precious birds, trees and plants. 

Scheduled entertainment at the festival will include David Kauai and friends with Ukulele Na Haumana O Namolokama, and Nick Castillo and friends. 

Halau from across Hawaii and one from Japan will share gifts of chant and dance until 4 p.m. There will also be exhibits and craft tables at the site. 

The festival is co-sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the County of Kauai, and other community partners and businesses. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Kokee State Park. It is a smoke-, alcohol-, and pet-free event. Parking is limited so carpooling is recommended. 

Info: 335-9975 or


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.