Larraine Woods grew up on Kauai, but Saturday was her first time attending the annual Emalani Festival.
It was everything she hoped.
As she watched Queen Emma portrayed by Lianne Yoshino riding a horse through the meadow, she felt she was witnessing something very special.
“I got goosebumps, actually,” she said.
Woods, who lives in Colorado eight months of the year, enjoyed the arrival of the queen, the hula, the music, everything that was part of the event that honors Queen Emma’s trek, along with about 100 friends, into the mountains reach to Kokee and Alakai Swamp in 1871.
She also happens to be friends with Yoshino and wanted to be there to see her play the part of royalty.
“She’s so pretty. Very pretty,” Woods said.
About 1,000 people attended the 29th annual Eo e Emalani i Amalai festival at Kokee State Park. It included song, hula and pageantry, and is one of Kauai’s most treasured events.
Under cloudy, cool skies, everyone anxiously waited for the queen, joined by her Lady-in-Waiting, played by Amber Lopes, and Kalauhi, “the Queen’s Guide,” played by Norman Hookano.
As the trio slowly rode into Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow, halaus greeted them at different points with dances and chants, while many snapped pictures and shot videos.
The crowd was being a little too respectfully quiet, so Roselle Bailey, mistress of ceremonies, reminded folks it was OK to show their appreciation.
“I don’t hear applause or cheers,” she said.
The people roared to life, which brought a big smile and wave from Yoshino.
She was delighted to help people experience the return of “our beloved Queen Emma.”
“It is also a great responsibility to represent such a remarkable, resilient and accomplished person, ” Yoshino wrote in her queen’s message in the event program. “I humble myself in awe of her. The love she had for her people is a legacy we all benefit today.”
One example was Queen Emma’s vision to create a hospital to care for Hawaiians.
“Today, the Queen’s Medical Center has become the largest private hospital in Hawaii,” Yoshino wrote.
It was 146 years ago that Queen Emma spent two days with a band of about 100, including dancers and poets, friends and admirers, venturing up the mountain.
Her goal was to see the viewpoint overlooking Wainiha Valley and Hanalei beyond. It took a bit longer than expected with plenty of challenges in uplands and a cold night, but they made it.
Queen Emma became known as “Kaleleonalani, traveler of the mountains.”
Bailey called the Emalani Festival a day for joy and celebration.
“It wasn’t every day the queen came up into the mountain,” she said.
Bailey said the queen, while being regal, enjoyed being among her people and her relatives.
“She can be friendly and envelop her people with love and smiles and caresses,” Bailey said.
Bailey ventured briefly into politics during her emcee duties.
“People forget that Hawaii once was a nation, participant in international world nations, and I will say it, until we were taken by the United States of America because of the Spanish-American War.”
The festival is hosted by Hui o Laka and Kokee Natural History Museum. Each year, someone is chosen to represent Queen Emma, her guide Kaluahi and attendants.
Saturday, locals were among those who performed hula and song in tribute to Queen Emma.
Emmalaine Wong and Janet Scobell, both with Alu Like Kupuna, Kauai, wanted to be there because it’s part of their culture.
“We love this,” Scobell said.
“It’s to honor our queen,” Wong added.
Scobell said it was also a chance to “honor our kupuna before us, all of our ancestors.”
Both were delighted to see so many people turn out for the festival and to learn about Queen Emma’s famous journey.
“Awesome,” Wong said.