Dancers pay their respect
to deities at Kilauea Caldera

By Nadine Kam
Assistant Features Editor

VOLCANO - By the time Kumu Hula Mae Loebenstein's Ka Pa Hula 'O Kauanoe 'O Wa'ahila arrived at Volcanoes National Park, the rain was falling in dense, heavy drops, stopping only upon the troupe's arrival at the Halema'uma'u Overlook at Kilauea Caldera.

White clouds of sulfur billowed over the jagged landscape as the dancers gathered at the rim of the blackened crater and bowed their heads as Manu Boyd began his chant to Laka, part of the halau's preparation for the Merrie Monarch competition tonight.

"Laka, in our tradition, is a relative of Pele and is the deity that presides over all creative things, Boyd explained later. After that we do a chant to Hi'iaka, Pele's sister. It's kind of a protocol.

"It's not so much an act of worship, but of paying respect to our ancestors by singing the mele familiar to the family. It's like bringing back friends," he said.

For Loebenstein, this visit with Pele was the first destination - well, after breakfast at Ken's House of Pancakes - after the halau's early Wednesday morning arrival from Oahu.

Walking in the chilly air with a warm glow of content, Loebenstein said, "I love to come to the volcano. It's so lovely, peaceful, spiritual. We don't want to be all tense here. First thing we let go stress, anger, work, feeling tired. You come here, you feel so refreshed."

Heading back north, the halau stops again at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory where the dancers run their hands over low green brush, plucking its bright red berries and a few leafy branches. The 'ohelo they will return to Pele, along with the ho'okupu, or gifts they have brought from home.

"'Ohelo is considered sacred to Pele. It is her favorite," Boyd said. "At one time it was believed to be kapu to Pele, reserved only for her. But there was a Chiefess Kapiolani, not the queen, who because she embraced Christianity, threw the 'ohelo berry into the crater to defy Pele. We turn it around to bring honor to the family.

"We don't dance at the volcano. Some halau do, and that's OK, but our protocol is to go back to the very beginning and make basic acknowledgements."

Meanwhile a light drizzle falls as the halau takes cover in their vans.

"We chant in hope that (Pele) can hear us and welcome us to her island," Loebenstein said. "And this light rain is her blessing. She's telling us 'yes I see you, yes I hear you' and that's a beautiful thing."

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