Halau Na Mamo 'O Pu'uanahulu (kane) performed yesterday during the hula kahiko portion of the 40th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival. The halau is under the direction of Kumu Hula William "Sonny" Kahakuleilehua Haunu'u Ching.

Ancient dance
takes center stage at
Merrie Monarch

A capacity crowd enjoys the hula
kahiko on the contest's second day

Miss Aloha Hula says knee pain disappeared

HILO >> Caroline Medeiros sat in the second-to-last row in the far reaches of Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium holding an enormous pair of binoculars trained on the kane, or male dancers, of Halau Ke Kia'i A 'O Hula of Honolulu.

"I've seen the girls do hula but never the men, and I heard about that traditional costume, and I can tell you they don't wear those anywhere, any time in Minneapolis," said Medeiros, 59. "Mama, hurry up and give me some water."

The halau, dressed in the Hawaiian malo, a sort of bundled waist covering, were the opening performers of 29 groups from Hawaii and one from California in the hula kahiko -- ancient dance -- on the second day of competition of the 40th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

Medeiros and her 81-year-old mother are visiting Kona and decided to make the drive to Hilo after seeing a tape of last year's festival.

"She kept saying, 'kane, kane, kane,' all the way here," mom joked.

The male and female -- wahine -- halau, whose members numbered as few as five and as many as 39, did not disappoint the capacity crowd of 5,000. With subdued athleticism and chanting, the women never strayed from the strict conditions of performing the revered kahiko.

Halau Hula 'O Kawaili'ula (with Kumu Hula Chinky Mahoe of Kailua) performed last night during the hula kahiko portion of the 40th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

The Kano'eau Dance Academy of Honolulu danced and chanted to "Na Manu O Kanaloa," or "Birds of Kahoolawe."

Wearing pau skirts of dark earth tones and contrasting amber blouses, the 13 performers began on the stage in 5-3-5 formation moving forward in synchronized sharp steps, which brought the first cheers from the crowd.

The only out-of-state halau, the Carson, Calif.-based kane of Na Pua Me Kealoha, performed to "Aia I Moloka'i Ku'u Iwa," or "Molokai Is My Iwa." Two members first took the stage moments before another 18 also in malo charged up to join them. Two lines of 10 kane faced each other in birdlike crouches, sliding side to side before joining a partner in a dance of ohana, jumping and spinning, finishing in squatting poses, arms raised skyward or at a possible enemy.

Hilo kumu hula Ray Fonseca may have pushed the boundary of tradition with his Halau Hula 'O Kahikilaulani doing "Lanakilakeka 'Aahiali'i," a story of Liliuokalani as a princess visiting Oahu and taking a rambunctious, fun ride aboard the royal train.

Fonseca's invitation to the audience to take a ride with his "ladies of Kahikilaulani" did not disappoint. Merrie Monarch audiences love risk-takers in the competition, and cheered the affable kumu hula throughout the nine-minute performance, in which he chanted and played the ipu.

Wearing ti leaf skirts with individual leaves cut narrow, and navy blue blouses with red bandanna collars and red sleeve trim, the women mimicked a train ride, their bodies joining to become the subject of the chant, the skirts swaying like a rocking train.

In a dramatic finish, the 20-plus women formed a spiraling line using their arms like pistons moving the train, squatting up and down as they moved off the stage, making for one of the most audience-accessible dances of the evening. Someone in the audience even yelled "Choo-choo," while a few gave a standing ovation.

The competition concludes tomorrow night with the 29 halau performing 'auana, or modern dance, followed by the awards ceremony.


Miss Aloha Hula says
her knee pain disappeared

The inflammation almost
sidelined Jennifer Oyama

HILO >> The recently crowned Miss Aloha Hula tries to avoid the question just like she did the pain in her left knee, which nearly sidelined her from competing in the premier solo women's hula event at the 40th annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

Jennifer Kehaulani Oyama, 21, a 5-foot, 4-inch brown-eyed Kalani High School graduate who works for a swimming pool company, says with a straight face that the nagging soreness from the inflamed knee tissues just happened to disappear as Merrie Monarch approached. It was gone prior to her kahiko and 'auana performances Thursday night against 15 other contestants.

The knee was sore again yesterday morning.

"But it's cold where we're staying," Oyama says of Kumu Hula William "Sonny" Kahakuleilehua Haunu'u Ching's accommodations at the Kilauea Military Camp in Volcano.

Oyama, who is half Japanese as well as Portuguese, Polish, Irish, Spanish and Hawaiian, also was in a three-way tie for first place in the Hawaiian language as well.

"I was kind of surprised at the Hawaiian language win," says Oyama, who recited three chants. "But I knew I was the only Jennifer in the competition, so when they said 'Jennifer,' I knew it had to be me, but it was still like, 'Oh my God.'"

Oyama can understand Hawaiian but not speak it.

"One of my hula sisters speaks Hawaiian, so she kind of helped me a couple times on the oli (chant) to make sure I had the emphasis correct," she says.

Oyama began dancing hula at age 5, then joined the legendary Ching's halau nine years ago, becoming his first Miss Aloha Hula winner.

"Because Jennifer went through so many physical difficulties and six weeks of therapy, she serves as a good example to the other students of what kind of sacrifice it takes to accomplish something so special," Ching says.

The knee inflammation first occurred in February and required cortisone shots, anti-inflammatory medication, X-rays and an MRI.

Oyama was ordered two months ago by her doctor to rest and let her knee heal from 16 years of bending while doing hula.

"It did become really painful," she says. "Of course, even after I found out what was wrong, I still practiced, and it got worse and I had to stop."

Oyama says her victory is something she shares with "my hula sisters and brothers."

"I don't represent myself, but my halau, my family and my friends," she says.

A few hours before last night's halau competitions, Oyama conceded that her knee hurts "a bit now, but it'll go away by tonight."

"I love hula," she says, eyes misting. "Wherever I'm dancing, it's the happiest place on Earth for me."

Merrie Monarch Festival


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