KALAHEO — The 24 ladies representing Kauai and Niihau at the Merrie Monarch Festival, surrounded by their peers, ohana and loved ones, graced the stage on the Big Island Friday and put on a performance that left many watching with chicken skin.
“This surpassed any of my hopes and expectations,” said Kumu Hula Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin of Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala. “The response from the audience there in Hilo was electric. My girls are so well disciplined and they trained so hard. They carried themselves well.”
The sole halau from Kauai to attend the event, Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala was second runner up in the Group Hula Kahiko on Friday, as the ladies performed a mele that depicts the legendary menehune.
In the mid 1800s, a man named Akina, curious about the menehune, traveled throughout Kauai to gather information about them.
“He penned all of this down and created a manuscript of all the stories he was told: even songs about menehune or chants or mele they would share,” Pavao Jardin said. “It proved to him that the menehune were here, and they were a huge part of our history on Kauai.”
Utilizing a manuscript of Akina’s writings from the Wichman ohana, Keao NeSmith put together a mele for the halau.
“Someone composed this song and you’re bringing it to life. You’re telling this story to millions of people,” Pavao Jardin said. “Every halau is raising that awareness of the responsibility. We are the carriers of a beautiful message or story. Now we have to convey that. What a beautiful responsibility but a huge one.”
Since the halau started preparations for the event in November, the women put in countless hours and sacrifice for their passion of hula, Pavao Jardin said.
“What the public sees is these women on the stage. What they don’t realize is that the majority of them are married or they’re students,” she said. “They have full-time jobs. They have kids. I have some students that have two jobs. Sometimes, behind the scenes, we forget about their families and their husbands and parents and the ones that really support them.
”You need to work to make a living and yet they come straight from work. We stay till late hours at night, but I know in the end this will teach them — especially for the young ones — to balance their daily lives, pursue big dreams. Behind their performance is the ohana.”
This year, 23 halau participated, with 10 individuals dancing in the Miss Aloha Hula: 20 halau featured wahine (women) performers, while nine had kane (men). Some halau housed kane and wahine; others exclusively showcased one gender.
Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua of Oahu placed first in the Group Kahiko and placed second in the Wahine Overall, while Oahu’s Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e placed first in the Group ‘Auana, Wahine Overall and was the Festival Winner.
Hiwalei Aliser of Pakala represented the Kauai halau in the Miss Aloha Hula, finishing third runner up.
“I just felt very humbled and blessed. I was able to go up on that stage and kind of bring life to Kauai, and that was my goal,” she said in a previous TGI interview. “I was really shocked. It was a great feeling. To place, on top of everything, was shocking because I felt like I already did what I had to do, so it was a beautiful feeling.”
Aliser danced to “Ka Poli Laua‘e O Makana” for the hula kahiko portion and “Home Kapaka” for the hula ‘auana.
The title of Miss Aloha Hula went to Kelina Kiyoko Ke‘ano‘ilehua Tiffany Eldredge of Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua, who edged Hula Halau ‘O Kamuela’s Julyen Machiko Kaloke Kaluna.
“On her way up to her stage, she turned to me and said, ‘Kumu, I promise I’m going to make you so proud,’” Pavao Jardin said. “I told her, ‘It’s not just me, but your kupua, our people on Kauai.’ Those were the final words that we uttered. She went on the stage and did an incredible job.”
For its group ‘auana, the halau danced about the laua‘e fern.
“Ke ‘Ala Laua‘e” (The Fragrance of Laua‘e) was composed by Oahu resident Kaipo Hale.
“Years ago, he was gifted a lei from someone here on Kauai,” Pavao Jardin said. “When he looked at the lei, he saw maile and he saw liko lehua, but he could smell something sweet. When he looked closer, he realized there was laua‘e fern in there as well.”
Though the halau didn’t place in the ‘auana competition, Pavao Jardin is pleased with the level of excellence put on display by each performer.
“The kumu hula, most of us, have gone to school to learn the Hawaiian language. We immerse ourselves in the mele. We are the carriers of this story,” she said. “The hula has taken great strides in its research. The performances were exceptional. When it comes down to it it’s a competition, but, more importantly, everybody has to be pleased with what they brought to the stage.”