Merrie Monarch

When Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leinaala leaves for the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, they will be cleansed and connected.

“When we take the stage in Hilo, it will be the fourth year the halau will have performed,” said Leinaala Pavao-Jardin, the halau’s kumu hula. “Each year, it’s different — it’s a journey.”

Jayna Shaffer will be representing the halau as the Miss Aloha Hula candidate, performing on Thursday in the No. 7 of 12 spots.

“The Hokulea, now on its Malama Honua voyage, is going to be Jayna’s number, a mele mai she wrote herself with the help of Keau NeSmith,” Leinaala said. “Jayna and I became immersed in voyaging while researching the piece, and now I realize how similar hula and voyaging are.”

The tribute to Hokulea and fundraising for its Malama Honua voyage was part of the research Shaffer undertook as a step to the Merrie Monarch stage.

“I couldn’t have done it without the help of my kumu,” Shaffer said. “This is the most I have ever been immersed in deep kaona, or hidden meaning. I was in the workshop the week leading up to the fundraising event and realized that when I present my mele, I will represent not just my halau, family, or Hawaii, but the entire waa family. I want to make sure to connect and deliver as best as I can.”

Shaffer said her mele mai speaks of the kii, or the two structures at the canoe’s stern.

“The mele mai talks about relationships between the kane and wahine kii, which is called Kina,” Shaffer said. “The (human love) relationship is similar to a voyage, which has its ups and downs.”

Leinaala said the halau will present another mele mai for its kahiko presentation, this one written by William Kualu, the great-grandfather of Jennie Ipac, a dancer with the group.

While researching the more than 200 mele Kualu wrote, Leinaala said they found one about Kauai, and more specifically, Kokee and the mountainous areas Kualu frequented.

“This is very special for me,” said Ipac, who describes herself as “the most elder of the halau.” “I recently lost my grandmother and to be able to dance to a mele composed by my family is an honor. I wish my family was here to see this. I know they will be watching.”

Hiwalei Aliser is participating in Merrie Monarch for the first time.

“I just started with the halau,” Aliser said. “It’s exciting to share the stage with all of my hula sisters. It’s even more special because we’ll be dancing to a number written by one of our hula sister’s family.”

Leinaala said the halau’s auana performance brings back to the stage the number she performed during her bid for the Miss Aloha Hula crown in 1993.

“This is another Kauai mele, ‘Aliipoe,’” Leinaala said. “Since I last danced at the Merrie Monarch, I’ve done a lot more research and it’s time the halau brings it back to the stage.”

Leinaala said the halau owes a debt of gratitude to NeSmith, who helped Shaffer with her Miss Aloha Hula mele, the awa ceremony at the Hokulea tribute, and gifted the halau with many mele.

The halau is in the final stages of preparation for the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, leaving for the Big Island on Wednesday. 

It will be No. 21 of 28 halau during its kahiko performance Friday night and its auana performance Saturday night at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium in Hilo.

The primary goal of the festival is the perpetuation, preservation, and promotion of the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture through education.

“The ocean has always been cleansing,” Leinaala said. “We’ve completed our hula skirts, and we do our final cleansing here at Salt Pond before we leave. The ladies are on kapu, where they are sacrificing some of the things they like to do, or eat, until the kapu is lifted following our performance Saturday night.”

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