HANAPEPE — Tyler Valencia, 8, was the sole keiki kane Sunday, shielded by Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin and surrounded by kaikamahine in a pocket against the sea of people at the Burns Field end of Salt Pond Beach Park.
“We have no kane (group), this year,” said Pavao Jardin, kumu hula of Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala. “Tyler will be participating in the master kane phase of the Queen Lili‘uokalani Keiki Hula Competition, which opens Thursday for the 42nd time at the Neal Blaisdell Arena on Oahu.”
Pavao Jardin and Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala leave Wednesday with 22 kaikamahine, or young women, and Valencia, to participate in the annual keiki hula competition. It is a format similar to the familiar Merrie Monarch Hula Festival — but for keiki.
Presented by the Kalihi-Palama Culture and Arts Society, the keiki hula competition honors Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Lili‘uokalani. Wendell Silva and George Naope, leaders of the first festival held in 1976, had a vision of competition where keiki from 6 to 12 could share their achievements in hula while learning about Queen Lili‘uokalani.
“Malina Wai‘ale‘ale Battad, 12, is the great-great-grandniece of Aunty Lena Machado,” Pavao Jardin said. “She will be our representative for the Miss Keiki Hula. The halau will also perform during the kahiko, or ancient hula, and the auana, or contemporary hula, phases.”
Pavao Jardin told her excited dancers that their trip is to deliver the message, not compete.
“If the trophy comes, it comes,” Pavao Jardin said. “This (competition) is a different experience. Our purpose is to work, to deliver the message, to tell the story. Our halau is made of many interesting people, and we go to tell the stories.”
Valencia will be performing “Kela Mea Whiffa,” a song of the odor associated with the sugar plantations — which many found less than pleasant. The title of the song, composed by Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawaii, translates to “that stinky stuff.” It is a happy song.
“Tyler is the voice of Eddie Kamae,” Pavao Jardin said. “He will be performing to the music of Waipuna whose David Kamakahi is connected to Dennis Kamakahi of the Sons of Hawaii.”
Waialeale Battad will be performing a number paying tribute to the Wai‘ale‘ale ohana.
“Jade, Malina’s mother, lost her mother last year,” Pavao Jardin said. “Malina will be surrounded by her family, and her musicians. Na Hoku Hanohano award winner Keauhou, is made up of three young men who graduated from Kamehameha Schools and are very familiar with Aunty Lena Machado’s works. This will be a very special number that brings the Wai‘ale‘ale ohana together.”
The kumu hula said she spoke with the members of the traveling group during hiuwai protocol, the final cleansing before leaving.
“I like this traditional cleansing protocol that is unique to Salt Pond,” Pavao Jardin said. “We do several different protocols ahead of competition, but I like this one because it is Salt Pond.”
During the hushed gathering in the waters of the tidal ponds, Pavao Jardin told the group how special they are, and how each of them are unique and contributed to making the mokihana lei.
“This is a very special group,” Pavao Jardin said. “This has been an interesting journey. This year, we were tied up with trips to Japan and Tahiti. Our alakai (leaders) were all in Japan, and we had to rely on our parents to step up and train the dancers. Our trip to Tahiti came right after Japan and, again, our leaders were tied up with that visit.”