Na Lei O Kaholoku wahine under the direction of kumu hula Nani Lim Yap, left, and Leialoha Amina from Kohala, Hawaii, hugged last night after just winning the Merrie Monarch Festival.

A new reign

Na Lei O Kaholoku takes
the overall honors, breaking
another halau's 5-year dynasty

HILO >> History descended on the 41st Merrie Monarch Festival last night on and off stage as a perennial champion was toppled and a Hawaii governor attended the event for the first time.

Hula Halau O Kamuela of Oahu which has won five consecutive overall honors in the wahine division was topped by the Big Island's Halau Na Lei O Kaholoku which won the wahine kahiko (ancient dance) and took second in the auana, or modern dance, giving it top wahine honors and the overall title. Na Lei O Kaholoku, based in Kohala, is led by kumu Nani Lim Yap and Leialoha Amina.

Hula Halau O Kamuela took top honors in the wahine auana division with Kaholoku in second by seven points. The Kamuela halau took second in the overall wahine competition.

William "Sonny" Ching and his top rated Halau Na Mamo O Puuanahulu, also of Oahu, took second places in the kane kahiko and auana divisions, but won the overall kane title. Halau Na Mamo O Puuanahulu lost to Ke Kai O Kahiki, of Aiea, Oahu under kumu O'Brian Eselu by 1.5 points in the kahiko competition. Ching's kane auana lost to the creative surf theme mele and dance performed by the nine members of Halau I Ka Wekiu by 3.5 points in the evening's most boisterous performance.

Halau Na Mamo O Puuanahulu has performed Merrie Monarch for two consecutive years and now plans to take time off to focus on the group's hectic performance schedule.

The nine kane of Oahu's Halau Ke Kia A O Hula kicked off the final night of competition with the rousing mele Hanohano Hanalei-Hilo March, two songs which pay tribute to the two locations, honoring the beauty of the land and special characteristics of the rain there.

Halau Keali'i O Nalani wahine, under the direction of kumu hula Keali'i Ceballos, from Los Angeles, Calif., performed during the auana portion.

Always a crowd favorite, Ed Collier's Halau Na Pua Kukui of Honolulu performed a mele last night to what may be the first dedication to an accommodation. Ka Hale Niu O Ka Pali is dedicated to the popular Palm's Cliff House north of Hilo and particularly to the hospitality and aloha spirit of owners John and Michelle Gamble. Particularly unusual was that the Gamble family, including two sons, stood on stage while the halau's 23 dancers performed.

The audience watched men and women from 26 halaus, including nine kane, compete in the auana (modern dance) division, the most popular competitions of the three night competitions. This informal hula is without ceremony or offering, contrasting with hula kahiko, the ancient tradition of the dance.

In Friday night's kahiko competition, Halau 'O Kamuela -- winningest in Merrie Monarch history -- put on one of the most elegant, precise and wonderfully defiant dance of the three-day competition.

The beautiful mele about close friendship and fierce jealousy -- Ke Ha'a La Puna -- tells the story of Hi'iaka who learned the chant and dance from Hopoe, her best friend.

Kamuela dancers began stoic with strict expressions that fit the demeanor of the chant .

The 22 dancers -- down from last year's 35 -- wore narrowly stripped ti-leaf skirts, royal blue blouses, palapalai fern lei and haku, and kupe'e -- ankle and wrist lei -- performing a'ili'ili hula, or pebble dance, using small smooth stones, two in each hand, to create a hypnotic clatter in unison to their hip and foot movements.

The water smoothed pebbles of close grained lava are clicked between the fingers with a staccato rhythm like castanets.


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