Halau Na Kamalei (kane, kumu hula Robert Cazimero) of Honolulu performed at the kahiko competition at the Merrie Monarch Festival last night. It was the first performance in a decade for the 30-year-old halau.

Hula kahiko competition
warmly welcomes both
old and new

HILO » The hula kahiko portion of the 42nd Annual Merrie Monarch Festival took place with anticipation for the return, after a decade's absence, of Robert Cazimero's kane hula halau.


TV Tonight

Hula auana begins at 6:30 p.m. on KITV.


Complete coverage and results of the competition.

Today's Events

» 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Moku O Keawe Culture Fair at Mooheau Park Center
» 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Hawaiian arts and crafts show at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, and beginning at 9 a.m. at Hawaii Naniloa Hotel, Prince Kuhio Plaza, Wal-Mart, Hilo Shopping Center and Hilo Hawaiian Hotel.
» 10:30 a.m.: Royal Parade through downtown Hilo.
» 6 p.m.: Merrie Monarch festival hula auana competition begins at the Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium with entrance of the Royal Court.

Halau Na Kamalei began the second portion of last night's competition with "Kahikilani," about a surfer from Kauai who, when he arrives on Oahu to surf the waves of Paumalu on the north shore, falls in love with the goddess Kaiulani.

Celebrating their 30th anniversary, Cazimero's men told their story with purpose and measured vigor in their white hau skirts.

They transfixed the audience, epitomizing why they and their venerated kumu hula are at the top of their game.

Cazimero was seen earlier backstage giving out hugs and kisses to former students Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang, who performed "Ku'u Wahine o Na Lehua" with their own Halau I Ka Wekiu.

The first portion of last evening's competition was highlighted by the warm reception the audience gave for Honolulu's Snowbird Bento, who brought her kane and wahine of Ka Pa Hula O Ka Lei Lehua to the festival for the first time.

Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka of Kula, Maui, danced and chanted the first portion of their "Kahiko Ka Nani i Lihau" while sitting along the front of the stage before the judges and on the two flanking ramps, a rare sight at the festival. The mele inoa was written for Princess Ka'iulani by her mother, Likelike, while on Maui.

Early highlights included the shimmering skirts worn by the wahine of Halau Hula O Hokulani, all moving smoothly in unison in close quarters.

Fine work was done by kumu hula Kapu Kinimaka-Alquiza's Na Hula 'O Kaohikukapulani of Hanapepe, Kauai.

The 16 wahine chanted with assertion and executed some complicated synchronized movement throughout "Nani Wale no 'O Pele I ka Lua."

From Los Angeles, the wahine of Keali'i Ceballos' Halau Keali'i O Nalani offered sparkling smiles while dancing in tapa skirts, a good presentation done with verve and cleanly executed.


Miss Aloha Hula overcame
a broken heart to win crown

The criteria for entering the Miss Aloha Hula competition in the annual Merrie Monarch Festival are the following: Must be between 18 and 25, unmarried and have no children.

Implicit in those simple rules is that the young woman must focus all her energies on her hula kahiko and hula ëauana presentations before the panel of judges during that eveningís event, without any distractions.

Last nightís winner, Maile Emily Kauëilanionapuaehiëipolokeanuenueokola Francisco, overcame a broken heart and dug into the truest meaning of ohana to win.

Jeri-Lynn Kealolahilahi Koko of Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La in Honolulu came in second while Kaiwipunikauikawekiu Punihei Anthony of Halau O Ke ëAëaliëi Ku Makani in Kaneohe finished third.

Francisco is the third consecutive dancer from William Sonny Chingís Halau Na Mamo O Puëuanahulu, from Honolulu, to win the coveted title.

Natasha Mahealani Akau won the title last year and Jennifer Kehaulani Oyama won in 2003. The three-peat for Chingís halau is topped only by the four consecutive Miss Aloha Hula titles won by Johnny Lum Hoís halau in the 1980s.

So the late-night victory bus ride back to their remote headquarters at the Kilauea Military Camp in Volcanoes National Park was an especially sweet one for Francisco, Ching and his ala kaëi (assistant) Lopaka Igarta De Vera.

Francisco said, "youíd think I was feeling a lot of pressure, but it was more to inspire me."

She emphatically added, "I hope people didnít expect me to win just because my two previous hula sisters did."

The 25-year-old has been dancing for 11 years in Chingís halau, starting at 4 years of age with her first kumu hula, Leimomi Ho, whom she stayed with until she turned a teenager.

Francisco, Oyama and Akau joined Chingís halau at the same time. Unbeknownst to Francisco, Ching had plans to groom the trio to vie for the Miss Aloha Hula title when they came of age.

"In fact, when Jennifer won in 2003, kumu told me ëget ready,í Francisco said.

"It was all part of a three-year cycle plan," added Ching.

As the two hugged each other, Ching admits that, "for her, the pressure to follow up was tremendous, but I told her, donít worry, focus your thoughts. But it was a challenge to meet the expectations placed on her and me."

"She surprised us," De Vera added. "But we knew she had it, that kumu had something special. The excitement of her win tonight has rubbed off on the rest of the halau," anticipating the group competition tonight and tomorrow.

Francisco said that before preparing for the Miss Aloha Hula competition, she was "on a hula crossroads."

"I had been through some real emotional times recently, but I had to push it to the side in preparation of Merrie Monarch. What had to happen was my kuleana, my problem, and part of the preparation was to make ourselves pono.

"My kahiko (ëAia I Kohala Kaëu Alohaí) told what had sort of happened to me in a similar experience. My boyfriend was fooling around behind my back, and I could relate to my danceís story of a womanís love for a man who is having an affair with someone else."

All this happened while Francisco was preparing for the hula festival, but in January, the two broke up.

"In doing the dance, I felt I was taking control of my feelings, being stronger to be able to share my feelings, not losing myself and having a breakdown. I know itís an experience like everyone has.

"And with my ëauana (a medley of songs about her hometown of Kohala), it reminds me that my family there will always be there to back me up," she said.

Merrie Monarch Festival

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