LIHU‘E — The Merrie Monarch Festival (MMF) in Hilo is normally held in April of every year, however, due to COVID-19 the traditional hula competition has been pushed back to June 24 to 26, 2021.
Last year, one halau in Kalaheo was ready to go to the MMF, but when the pandemic started all plans came to a halt and the festival was canceled.
And though this year Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala’s Kumu Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin will finally be able to introduce her kane to the MMF, there are new restrictions and challenges to overcome in order to stay in the competition.
“We have decided to travel with a smaller group of 10 women and nine men,” Pavao Jardin said. “The rules are very strict due to COVID. If one person in our group tests positive, the entire group will be disqualified from the competition. By taking a smaller group. We lessen the chances of that happening. We are blessed to be taking nine amazing Kaua‘i gentlemen. Each of them brings to the group such awesome values and qualities,” Pavao Jardin said.
One kane hula dancer Kawika Lovell Kuali‘i is excited to finally go to the MMF, especially since he was planning to go last year.
“It is such an honor to be a part of the first group of Kane to represent Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina’ala at the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival,” Lovell Kuali‘i said. “I’m very blessed to be able to go through this journey with some of the most amazing kane on Kaua’i. We have learned so much throughout our journey. Not only about our mele, but who we are as people and our kuleana as Hawaiian practitioners.”
Pavao Jardin’s goal is to keep everyone safe in her hula community which led her to an appreciation for the MMF’s director “Aunty Luana,” and her committee who have been working diligently to ensure the MMF will be a safe and successful celebration.
“We have been notified of various changes such as no stage rehearsals and keeping a very tight bubble while in Hilo,” Pavao Jardin said. “Our intention is to venture to Hilo and remain isolated until our performance and our return to Kaua‘i. Our halau members will undergo multiple COVID tests in accordance with MMF guidelines.”
There are three dance category competitions which include the “Miss Aloha Hula 2021,” the “kahiko”, and the “‘auana” category.
“Both our wahine and kane will be sharing one ‘kahiko’ and one ‘‘auana,’ Pavao Jardin said. “We are proud to be honoring the sacred legacy of Kumu Hula George Na‘ope and Rae Fonseca through mele that they composed or was very dear to them. We have no “Miss Aloha Hula” entry this year.”
Pavao Jardin and her halau still have their costumes from the postponed 2020 competition and will not be having a fundraiser for their trip this year.
“We basically were ready to go when Merrie Monarch 2020 was canceled,” Pavao Jardin said. “We did make some minor changes, but still able to utilize much of what we prepared.”
Since 2020 came with uncertainty, Pavao Jardin reflects and talks about what she wants her halau to learn from last year.
“We have all learned so much in 2020,” Pavao Jardin said. “We have learned that tomorrow is never promised. We have learned to cherish all that is in our lives. Hula is a huge part of our life and it is our kuleana to push through these challenging times and venture to Hilo to continue the perpetuation of not only the hula but also the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival. Aunty Luana and her staff have already taught us a great lesson. If there is a will there is a way. We must work together to support her and do our part to continue such a special legacy.”
This year marks 25 years of Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala and Pavao Jardin talks about the future of her halau.
“Our journey has been one of amazing blessings and experiences,” Pavao Jardin said. “2021 shall serve as a year of continued growth and kukulu or building. We are deepening and anchoring ourselves in all that is Hawai‘i while at the same time we are in the process of constructing our very own halau or place to practice in Kalaheo.”
Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala is a nonprofit and the halau welcomes anyone who would like to donate to their project. Please contact Kumu Leina’ala for further information at 808-639-9033.