Kau Wela brings life to history

WAILUA — The sound of pu pierced through the hot, humid air over the Wailua River over the weekend.

The unique wail of the conch shell piqued the interest of spectators lining the Wailua River landing at the Kamokila Hawaiian Village, nestled at the base of the ridge leading to Mauna Nonou, one of the traditional markers of Wailua now commonly known as Sleeping Giant.

“Something is happening,” one of the visitors said. “We need to get ready.”

The double-hulled canoe bearing Ilima Rivera, coordinator of Kau Wela summer festival, Punohu the Warrior and the accompanying ensemble of traditional Hawaiian dignitaries gently made its way to the landing amidst the clicks of cameras and tablets.

Rivera cradled a sprouting niu, or coconut, which was presented as hookupu at Lananuu Mamao, or the Oracle Tower.

“The Oracle Tower was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki,” Rivera said. “It has never been rebuilt until, with the help of Ben Fernandez, my daughters and the guidance of Chief Heifara, the tower now rises from the ground again. We were working on completing the tower where people could offer hookupu to the gods through Friday night to be able to get it done for Kau Wela.”

Rivera said the festival was dedicated to Uncle Ernie Menehune, her uncle, who passed away on Kuhio Day, March 26, and was sorely missed for his annual visit from Arizona to entertain the Kau Wela guests with his old-time stories. Menehune usually joined Larry Rivera, Ilima’s dad, onstage for the song and lively banter which can only come from family groups.

“I’m having a short memorial for him,” said Larry Rivera, a well-known songwriter and entertainer from the former Coco Palms Resort. “It’s not going to be long and drawn-out, but for the people who knew him, we need to do this.”

In the absence of Menehune (his Arizona driver’s license verified his surname), net-maker Charlie Perreira became the target of Rivera’s onstage antics; the pair noted they had to leave due to their weekly appearances at the Kauai Museum Saturday afternoons from 1 p.m.

Ilima Rivera drew from her family history to pull the summer celebration festival together, dedicating Wailuanuiahoano, or the Reflection Room, which contained artifacts provided by the Robinson family, known for their ownership of Niihau, where her grandfather worked.

“While touring Kamokila, this was an unused hale where all kinds of things were being stored,” she said. “When I saw it, something told me, ‘We can use this to tell stories of this place.’”

A cousin, Lihue Kinimaka of The Green Pig food truck in Kealia, provided the Hawaiian plate lunches, while a friend, Wailana, joined Chief Heifara in offering entertainment. They were joined by Randy and Primrose Naukana Rego, Haunani Kaui and sister Lurline Fernandez.

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