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The selection of hula attire and adornments are part of the hula competition. Keolalaulani Halau ‘Olapa O Laka of Kaneohe, directed by Aloha Dalire, performed in flowing cream-colored outfits during the kahiko competition in 2005. Dalire was the first Miss Aloha Hula. The history of the Merrie Monarch Festival | 3

Kane in motion | 15


Q& A with kumu hula Robert Cazimero | 16

Miss Aloha Hula | 6 Flowers bring performances to life | 7

Behind the lens: Photographer Dennis Oda picks his favorite shots | 18-19

Wahine in motion | 8

Superfans | 21

Stadium upgrades | 10

Merrie Memories | 23

The rise of men | 13









MERRIE MONARCH 50TH is published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is owned by Oahu Publications Inc. at 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96813. Telephone: 808-529-4747. Copyright 2013. SUBSCRIPTIONS: Call Customer Service at 808-538-6397 or our website:


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A hula competition became part of the Merrie Monarch Festival in 1971 and quickly became its central event. The late Paleka Leinaala Mattos led Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela during the auana competition in 1988.


he Merrie Monarch Festival honors King David La‘amea Kalakaua, Hawaii’s last king, who reigned from 1874 to 1891. Kalakaua, nicknamed the “Merrie Monarch,” is credited with reviving Hawaiian cultural practices and arts that had been suppressed for many years by missionary teachings. During his reign, more than 300 ancient hulas were recovered, and Kalakaua supported the public performance of hula and advocated for a renewed sense of pride in everything Hawaiian — from medicine to chant and dance. Because ancient Hawaiians had no written language, Hawaiian genealogy, religion, culture and history were passed down through the generations through hula and chant. It was also a way to acknowledge every feature of the natural world, from birds, trees and flowers to mountains, rivers, wind and rain. Kalakaua himself was a talented musician, composer and creator of hula. An avid traveler, he made history as the first Hawaiian monarch to visit the United States and the first monarch of any nation to circumnavigate the globe. He loved luxury, grandeur and having a great time, earning him the nickname of the Merrie Monarch. On his 50th birthday, Kalakaua celebrated with a Silver Jubilee, a twoweek celebration of Hawaiian culture on the grounds of Iolani Palace, which he had built. Besides hula and chant, there was a parade through downtown Honolulu. One of the gifts he received for his birthday was “Na Mele Aimoku,” a collection of 48 chants in his honor. Today, those mele remain a great source of knowledge. The Merrie Monarch Festival aims to continue what Kalakaua started with its weeklong festival of music, crafts, art and hula, bringing back the spirit of the king’s Silver Jubilee. Today, the festival continues to honor the king by selecting a “mo‘i kane” (king) and “mo‘i wahine” (queen) every year to portray the royal court, which presides over the competition. A large portrait of Kalakaua hangs in the hula venue during the event, and this year, the festival committee brought back the King Kalakaua beard look-alike contest, part of the fun in the celebration’s early years. The king’s words are emblazoned on every Merrie Monarch Festival program and this year’s commemorative T-shirt: “Hula is the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”

— King David La‘amea Kalakaua

Hilo celebrates ‘Olympics of hula’ An international audience has come to know a singular Hawaiian art form through the venerable annual festival By Nina Wu


n the earliest days of the Merrie Monarch Festival, there was no hula competition. There was a coronation pageant, a King Kalakaua beard contest and a “Grogge Shop” offering drinks and entertainment in the festival’s first incarnation in 1964. Hula became part of the festival a few years later under the vision of Dorothy Thompson and George Na‘ope, who launched the hula competition in 1971. The one-day event was held at the Hilo Civic Auditorium, where nine halau danced on a gym floor. Festival President Luana Kawelu, Thompson’s daughter, recalls that back then, $1 buttons for admission to the festival were a tough sell. “My mom and Uncle George could hardly sell them,” she said. “My mom would offer a deal for groups to sell it, splitting 50 cents, and even then we had a hard time selling.” The audience grew after 1976, she recalls, when men joined the competition, and it eventually had to move to a larger venue: the Ho‘oulu Stadium, now known as the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium. Now festival tickets sell out in one day as they have for decades, and hotel accommodations in Hilo are completely booked for the duration of the competition, which runs Thursday through Saturday during the weeklong Merrie Monarch Festival. Kawelu estimates she had to turn down about 7,000 ticket requests this year. The stadium has about 4,200 seats, with half reserved for halau participants, friends and family, leaving only about 2,100 open to the public. The desperation with which fans from around the globe seek tickets for what is often described as the “Olympics of hula” is further evidence of the festival’s standing as the largest and most prestigious Hawaiian cultural event of the year. “It’s probably the most meaningful cultural event from that standpoint,” said George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau. “Hula itself is a very significant part of it.” The festival last year generated an estimated $1.4 million in direct, out-ofstate visitor spending, $2.4 million in sales and $132,000 in state tax revenue for Hawaii, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The sleepy town of Hilo comes alive with craft fairs, art shows, musical performances and other cultural events related to the festival. Restaurants are filled to capacity, and visitors trek to Big Island Candies and Sig Zane De-

Interest exploded after 1976, when men joined the competition. Many kane dances have been especially lively and startling. Halau O Ka Ua Kilihune danced in two-tone makeup in the kahiko competition in 1996. signs for omiyage and other gifts. At this year’s 50th Merrie Monarch Festival, 26 halau (hula groups) — 15 from Oahu, four from Hawaii island, two from Maui, two from Kauai and three from California — will compete. “It’s a special tribute,” said Kawelu. “It’s a tribute to all the kumu hula, past and present, who have dedicated their lives to hula, and also to the musicians who have played an integral part in hula and the festival.” She added, “I just wish my mom and Uncle George could be here to celebrate with us. It was my mom’s hard work under the guidance of Uncle that made this a reality.” Na‘ope died in October 2009, and Thompson just a few months later in March 2010. THE MERRIE Monarch Festival’s origins date to 1963, when the late Helene Hale, then chairwoman of the Hawaii County Board of Supervisors, conceived the idea as a way to boost the economy in Hilo, still struggling to re-

cover from the devastating 1960 tsunami that wiped out much of the town. Ishmael Stagner, author of “Kumu Hula Roots and Branches,” recalls the earliest days as a sort of May Day festival. “It was like Aloha Week,” Stagner said. “Hilo was trying to get back on its feet and to generate something Hilo could be proud of. The festival was a means to boost the spirits of the Hilo people, more than anything else, and Merrie Monarch has proved the resilience of Hilo and its people.” Even though there was no competition, Stagner recalls the hula performances were of high quality. The festival was on its last legs in 1968 when Thompson volunteered to take over and revamp it, making Hawaiian culture its core. With Na‘ope, they invited the best hula dancers from around the isles to

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1963 Festival was founded by Helene Hale, pictured at right, as a way to boost the economy in Hilo.

1964 Inaugural festival lasted four days and featured the King Kalakaua beard contest, barbershop quartet contest, and entertainment at the “Grogge Shoppe.”

1968 Dottie Thompson volunteered to be chairwoman of the Merrie Monarch Festival, bringing George Na‘ope in to handle the court and pageantry and Albert Nahale‘a to handle music.

1971 First hula competition took place at the Hilo Civic Auditorium, a onenight event. Jack Lord of the original “Hawaii Five-O” served as parade marshall, Hilo Hattie was honored.

1976 The kane (men's) division was added. Robert Cazimero's Halau Na Kamalei was the first kane to place at Merrie Monarch.

1979 Due to the popularity of the hula competition, the event was moved to the Tennis Stadium (then known as Ho‘olulu Tennis Stadium)

1980 Waimapuna and Na Wai Eha ‘O Puna tied for overall kane division title; Hau‘oli Hula Studio & Johnny Lum Ho Hula Studio tied for wahine division trophy.

1981 Live television coverage of Merrie Monarch began on KITV.

1988 The 25th annual Merrie Monarch Festival paid tribute to kumu hula Darrell Lupenui, founder of Waimapuna, who died in 1987.

1995 The Wednesday Night Extravaganza was renamed the Wednesday Night Hoike at Edith Kanaka‘ole Tennis Stadium.

2005 Robert Cazimero’s all-male Halau Na Kamalei swept kane and overall title.

2009 Thompson and Na‘ope, co-founders of the Merrie Monarch as it is known today, get a standing ovation at what would be their last appearance at the festival. Na‘ope died in Hilo in October 2009. He was 81.

2010 Thompson died March 19, 2010. She was 88. Kumu hula Rae Fonseca died less than 24 hours after Thompson. He was 56. TV coverage moved to KFVE.

2013 The 50th Merrie Monarch Festival pays tribute to many of the original winners from the early 1970s, who will appear at the Hoike Wednesday night.


Halau Hula Olana, under the direction of Howard and Olana Ai, danced in rich, glossy burgundy gowns during the auana portion of the hula competition in 2007.

FESTIVAL: Competition and related events viewed as central to the continuing Hawaiian Renaissance Continued from 3 compete at Merrie Monarch, replicating an event held by King David Kalakaua. The idea was to honor the king, who reigned from 1874 to 1891 and is credited with reviving hula and Hawaiian culture. The advent of the hula competition in 1971 came just as the Hawaiian Renaissance was gaining momentum, generating a renewed interest in Hawaiian language and traditional practices. “Merrie Monarch was absolutely central to the revival and reinvigoration of hula,” said ethnomusicologist Amy Stillman, citing the years from 1979 to 1992 that each halau was required to come up with a competition chant for their kahiko number. “That requirement meant that kumu hula could not simply repeat,” she said. “They were forced to create, and that was absolutely central to reinstating hula as a living tradition and not just a heritage tradition.” Hawaiian language scholar and kumu hula Puakea Nogelmeier said Merrie Monarch has given halau a collective presence on a global stage and continues to play an important role in the renaissance of Hawaiian culture. “It gives a very tangible presence to something that’s eminently Hawaiian,” he said. “For halau that do participate, it gives them a set of motivations and tangible goals to reach for. That can be unifying.” At the same time, Nogelmeier points out there is a “bigger life” to hula than what’s seen in a competition format. He’s encouraged by kumu hula who continue to keep Hawaiian language at the foundation of hula. “All the arts are bolstered by that drive,” he said. KUMU HULA Kilohana Silve says watching Merrie Monarch on television brought her back to her roots and was part of the inspiration for starting the first halau in Paris 20 years ago. “Hula is a world-class art,” she said. “It’s loved by people all around the world.” The Merrie Monarch competition takes place over three days, beginning with the Miss Aloha Hula solo competition on Thursday, followed by hula kahiko (ancient style) Friday and hula auana (modern style) Saturday. “We have introduced our hulas to the world through Merrie Monarch,” said kumu hula Ed Collier, “hoping that people will understand what our culture is all about by watching us on TV.” Puanani Alama, 82, the last living judge from that first Merrie Monarch hula competition in 1971, recalls the excitement that year. Even though the event didn’t have the same exposure as it does today, the handful of halau competing took it seriously. “It was quite different,” said Alama, who will attend the festival this year. “You just couldn’t compare. Now it’s very colorful and well staged.” She continued, “You could feel every dancer as she got up there — this is a beautiful tree, and this is how a flower looks. It’s her feeling and no one feels alike. We’re all individuals. That’s what I saw when I judged.” It was easy to tell who the dancers’ kumu was by the style in which they danced. The focus of the competition today is more on precision, and “it’s just a little more theatrical,” she said. “But it’s still the hula.”

Kumu Hula Johnny Lum Ho’s Halau Ka Ua Kani Lehua has long been an audience favorite at the Merrie Monarch. The men took first place in the auana portion of the competition in 2003 and won the overall title as well.

50TH MERRIE MONARCH FESTIVAL Schedule of events: >> Hoolaulea with performances by local halau, 9 a.m. today, Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium; free >> King Kalakaua Beard & Look-Alike Contest, 5 p.m. Monday, Mo‘oheau Bandstand >> Barbershop quartet contest, 5 p.m. Tuesday, Mo‘oheau Bandstand >> Entertainment at Naniloa Volcanoes Resort (noon) and Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (1 p.m.), Monday through Friday; free >> Arts and Crafts Fair, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium >> Hoike, an exhibition of hula and music, 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium; sold out >> Miss Aloha Hula competition, 5:45 p.m. Thursday, Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium; sold out >> Group hula kahiko competition, 5:45 p.m. Friday; sold out >> Group hula auana competition and awards, 5:45 p.m. Saturday; sold out >> Merrie Monarch Royal Parade, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, begins and ends at Pauahi Street and winds through downtown Hilo Visit

RELATED EVENTS ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center Merrie Monarch workshops: >> 10 a.m. Wednesday, panel discussion on hula master George Na‘ope >> 1 p.m. Wednesday, discussion and rare video of hula greats of the 20th century >> 10 a.m. Thursday, talk-story session and hula performance with Hau‘oli Hula Maids, winner of first Merrie Monarch hula competition in 1971 >> 1 p.m. Thursday, panel discussion on the Men of Waimapuna and kumu hula Darrell Lupenui >> 10 a.m. Friday, presentation and hula performance with Pelehonuamea Suganuma Harman and Kekoa L. Harman of Ke Kula ‘o Nawahiokalani‘opu‘u in Keaau and Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke‘elikolani at the University of Hawaii at Hilo >> 1 p.m. Friday, talk-story session and hula performance by Aloha Dalire, first Miss Aloha Hula in 1971 Cost: $5 members, $6 nonmembers; for tickets call 969-9703 or visit guest service desk; for information visit East Hawaii Cultural Center Contemporary Hawaiian Quilt Show: Daily quilting demonstrations and free lessons. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. East Hawaii Cultural Center, second floor, 141 Kalakaua St. Basically Books: Free lectures Monday through Saturday, beginning 11:30 a.m. Monday with historian Boyd Bond, who will discuss the life and times of King David Kalakaua and his impact on the revival of hula. Ishmael Stagner will sign copies of “Kumu Hula: Roots and Branches” at 11 a.m. Thursday. Free entertainment by Na Hoku Hanohano winners Kainani Kahaunaele, Weldon Kekauoha, Cyril Pahinui and Manu Boyd during the week. Basically Books, 160 Kamehameha Ave. Call 961-0144 or visit for full schedule. Volcano Art Center: Craft demonstrations, book signings, ukulele lessons and more, Wednesday through April 7. Call 967-7565 or visit


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Kumu hula Aloha Dalire, center, sits with (clockwise from front left), her daughters Kapua Dalire-Moe, Kaui Dalire and Keola Dalire, and her granddaughter Kili Lai, front right, at their studio Keolalaulani Halau Olapa O Laka in Kaneohe. At right is the kumu hula when she won Miss Aloha Hula in 1971.

For the love of hula For a dancer who wins the title of Miss Aloha Hula, the triumph represents her deep devotion to the art By Nina Wu


here is a common bond among all dancers awarded the Miss Aloha Hula title from 1971 to 2012, and that is a sincere love for hula. First of all, to be chosen by a kumu hula for the solo competition is in itself an honor. The dancer usually has been with the halau for a number of years and has exhibited a certain mastery of skills as well as humility and character. She becomes a representative of her halau and her kumu’s style, and is set on a months-long path of hard work and diligence before walking onto the Merrie Monarch stage in Hilo. Preparation might involve intensive research about a mele (song) and rigorous hours of practicing hula and chants in the year leading up to the competition. Ask any Miss Aloha Hula whether she remembers the day she won the title, and she will likely say, “like it was yesterday.” Kumu Aloha Dalire, 62, who was the first Miss Aloha Hula (then called Miss Hula), still remembers that day vividly. It was 1971, the year the solo competition was introduced to the Merrie Monarch Festival, and the participants drew numbers to see in which order they would dance. She pulled No. 11. Unlike today, there was only one portion: auana, or modern-style, dance. “I was really nervous,” she said. “There wasn’t a huge audience and it was mostly local people and they were there because they were really interested in hula.” Her heart was beating hard as she stepped on stage in a black holomuu with aqua lace trim, and pikake flowers and a decorative crown piece made by her mother, Mary Keolalaulani McCabe Wong, in her hair. She danced to “Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha,” which tells a story about how the wind can snatch love away from you. “I was in shock,” she said of hearing her name announced as the winner. “I never did expect it because I was very nervous. My mom just kept telling me, ‘All you have to do is get out there and smile,’ and I guess I pulled it off.” She would relive that moment again as each of her three daughters, Kapua, Kaui and Keola, won the Miss Aloha Hula title in 1991, 1992 and 1999, respectively.

and other online coverage, Miss Aloha Hula has become a global ambassador of hula. Reigning Miss Aloha Hula Rebecca Lilinoekekapahauomaunakea Sterling, 25, of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, is amazed at how far and wide her recognition has spread. For Sterling, the year has been a whirlwind. She traveled to Japan several times, including to the Na Hiwahiwa Festival in Japan, which features Merrie Monarch winners. She accompanied her kumu hula, Mapuana de Silva, to the Solomon Islands for the Festival of Pacific Arts and has done commercials and television interviews. “I can’t believe it’s been a year already,” she said. Sterling continues to dance and will be competing at the festival again this year with her halau. She teaches elementary school part time, and also teaches keiki hula at the halau. CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM Winning the title, she said, is but the beginning of a journey. Kumu hula and Miss Aloha Hula 1994 Tracie Ka‘onohilani Farias Lopes and her husband, kumu “It doesn’t just end with the title hula Keawe Lopes, performed together during a recent retreat in Makakilo with their halau, Ka La of Miss Aloha Hula,” she said. ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e. “That desire to continue to better yourself and strive for more conwhich was a hula noho, or sitting It’s not a beauty pageant, tinues. … It was an opportunity to hula — a daring move at the time. though Miss Aloha Hula candigrow in this long journey of learnBoth Aunty Mapuana Yasue and dates must be between the ages of ing.” 18 and 25, never married and with Aunty Florence Koanui, originally She said she is humbled to be from the top-placing Hau‘oli Hula no children. included in the history of past Maids, helped choreograph her When Dalire won the title, she Miss Aloha Hulas, many of whom auana dance, “Moku o Keawe.” received a trophy and $150 in she watched with admiration By then the competition had cash. Today’s Miss Aloha Hula is while growing up. evolved to include both kahiko awarded a custom-designed For Sterling, as well as Lopes bracelet from Royal Hawaiian Her- and auana performances, with a and Dalire, hula will always be a strong emphasis on Hawaiian lanitage jewelry, an ipu heke and way of life. guage. It was also televised, meanabout $800. The state Office of Dalire, today the award-winning ing audiences at home would be Hawaiian Affairs offers a separate kumu hula of Keolalaulani Halau watching and critiquing along with Hawaiian Language Award with a ‘Olapa O Laka and a grandmother those in the stadium. gift of $1,000. of 16, continues to compete at The performance Lopes gave But at the core of it all is the Merrie Monarch every year. This that night remains a blur for her. hula and the beauty of its poetic year marks her 40th. expression from within and on the She said she had butterflies in her “Hula is in my blood,” she said. outside, as conveyed to the judges stomach until the moment she “It’s what keeps me alive and stepped on stage and began to and audience. keeps me going.” dance. Lopes is a Hawaiian language “I decided instead of being FOR KUMU hula Tracie Ka‘onoteacher at Hawaii Pacific Univerhilani Farias Lopes, her Miss Aloha caught up with placement (in the sity. She is also the kumu hula, results), I was going to go because Hula title in 1994 was completely along with her husband, Keawe everyone around me wants me to unexpected. go,” she said. “I just needed to go Late kumu hula Thaddius WilDENNIS ODA / Lopes, of Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O and try my best and trust my trainson and O’Brian Eselu of Na Wai DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM Ha‘eha‘e, which is competing at ing.” Eha ‘O Puna asked her to vie for Merrie Monarch for the fifth time Miss Aloha Hula 2012 Rebecca Lopes, 41, said she is grateful to the title a second time. In 1992, she in a row this year. Lilinoekekapahauomaunakea have had so many mentors in hula. was first runner-up and “happy, The former Miss Aloha Hulas of Sterling of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima happy, happy” with her accomthe Merrie Monarch Festival reperforms in the auana portion TODAY, the bar is set even plishment, she said. cently got together at Moanalua of the competition. But Wilson and Eselu felt in their higher, according to Lopes, who Gardens to practice Uncle George hearts she was meant to be a Miss has a student competing this year. Na‘ope’s favorite song, “Ka Nani The candidate must now be strong greater importance has been Aloha Hula. A‘o Ka‘u,” which they will perform not only in Hawaiian language and placed on attire and makeup. An overwhelming number of at Wednesday’s Hoike. In her day, Farias remembers mentors stepped forward to help, oli (chant), but stand out in overall “The day we all got together, I doing her own makeup. choreography and performance she remembers. Renowned kumu could not only feel the energy but With the Merrie Monarch comwith attention paid to every detail. hula Pat Namaka Bacon assisted the love that each had in their petition accessible to fans around hearts for hula,” Dalire said. “All of With the unforgiving clarity of her with her kahiko (ancient-style) the world through live streaming high-definition television, even performance of “Pu‘uonioni,” us love and value hula.”


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The sweet smells of competition Flowers and plants also provide a colorful sight By Lynn Cook Special to the Star-Advertiser


efore you see the parking lot full of cars or the 4,000 fans standing in line, clutching the most precious piece of paper in the islands — a ticket to enter the hula heaven that is the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo — a fragrance like no other floats past. Maile, ti, palapalai, plumeria and pikake blend, creating a hypnotic elixir for the senses. It’s like the Maunakea Street lei stands on steroids. Paula Akana, a longtime Merrie Monarch commentator with KITV, describes the moment before the dancers have even stepped onto the stage. “The fragrance of their maile lei or fresh, green ti leaf skirts wafts in on the breeze. It’s overwhelming. You can almost see it as the smell sweeps in across the audience,� she said. Often that audience is adorned with even more flowery plumage than a flock of tropical birds. “It makes you wonder how they attach that many bird of paradise and anthurium to the side of their hair.� (Akana says a stylist anchors flowers to her hair “with a ton of bobby pins.�) On location or watching the TV coverage of the hula performances from your couch, the kaleidoscope of colors is overwhelming and begs the questions: Is there a floral theme or flower of the year, a color? Who makes the lei? How do they keep them fresh? And the biggest question of all: Where do all those flowers come from? FOR Mapuana de Silva and the dancers of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, the palapalai ferns come from many years of sweat equity. “We malama the forest,� she explained. “Each year we put in three days of hard work in the Waianae Mountains taking care of the forest so we can gather our fern on our

fourth workday of the year. It is important to us that we have greens from our own island.� The workdays begin with an early morning hike up the mountain. The goal is to eradicate invasive species, replant endangered species and nurture the palapalai ferns needed for competition lei — kupe‘e for wrist and ankle, lei po‘o for the head, neck lei, and braided garlands for the pahu hula, the large drum. De Silva says her kumu, the late Aunty Maiki Aiu Lake, encouraged her to train the dancers to make their own lei. With 20 or even 40 dancers, making lei and the ti leaf skirts keeps the cost down. The dancers dress one another and ensure the ties are strong and the elements of the costume will not go flying across the stage, costing precious judging points for a costume malfunction. ANOTHER rule of lei in the halau is that everything goes with them when they leave Hilo after the competition. Every leaf and flower of the lei and the la‘i, ti leaf skirts, go back in the containers and home to Oahu, even the leftover scraps and stems. “We bring it all home, even the lei gifted by family and friends after we dance. We dry everything and burn or bury it. Once it is used for dancing, that’s all it is used for,� de Silva said. All flowers must be fresh. The lei may be made by the dancers, the kokua (those adding their helping hands to the halau) or by lei makers who have long-standing connections to a halau. If flowers and greens are to be collected from a forest, halau must follow the rules. Some areas require permits. All areas require entering with respect and following the rules; no trampling on ferns or breaking branches, no overpicking or uprooting plants. If plumeria is the flower in favor, everyone calls their friends and neighbors, and soon the trees on that island can easily be almost bare of blossoms. As for transport-


The dancers of Mapuana de Silva’s Halau Mohala ‘Ilima gather ferns from the Waianae Mountains to use in their performances. Dancers from the halau make their own lei and wore palapalai fern during this kahiko performance in the 2002 Merrie Monarch Festival. ing, coolers filled with flowers, marked with the halau name, are stacked high at every airline counter. Watching the dancers at Merrie Monarch leads to watching the audience trying to figure out just what flowers are actually in the lei on stage. Those in the know can identify native, indigenous, Polynesian introductions, post-contact introductions and naturalized flora. For those in the stadium, the easiest flowers to name are the fragrant ones. TV cameras that zoom in make the “name that flower� game much easier for the home viewer: white and yellow ginger, ilima blossoms from Oahu, lokelani roses from Maui, ohia, ohai alii and ohia lehua, and plumeria from every island. The flower that looks like strings of lavender pearls is pua kalaunu, crown flower, a favorite of Queen Liliuokalani. The sweetly fragrant pua kenikeni, called the “10-cent flower,� can turn from creamy white when it is strung to deep gold by the time the dancer gets on stage. Male dancers might wear pua kika, called the cigar flower. Strung in a round rope, this lei moves nicely on the dancers’ shoulders. Though each island has an official flower — or in the case of Kauai, a green berry, Lanai, a yellow-orange air plant and Niihau, the white pupu shell — halau do not always wear the lei of their respective islands. Nei-

ther do they always wear the flower mentioned in the hula they are presenting. Traditionally trained kumu adorn the dancers with lei that are loyal to their training and tradition. And then, sometimes, halau wear lei that are totally new creations, not following any tradition. Twenty years ago, the master lei and kapa maker and author of “Ka Lei,� Marie McDonald, traveled from her home and gardens in Waimea on Hawaii island to give a talk on lei making at Bishop Museum. What she said on that occasion has been repeated by lei makers and students in print, on the Internet and in circles where lei needles are flying to meet a deadline. She cautioned that true artists need to start with the traditional and then add to it, not being bound to old rules. She said she likes to think of people in the year 3000 studying the past and saying, “Well, look at the difference. This is what they were doing with leis in the 1850s. Then, look at what they did in the 1950s and in 2050.� Then she asked whether everyone was listening, adding, “Evolve and grow better is my message.� ——— Lynn Cook is a freelance arts and culture writer who has danced hula for 25 years. Read her live blog from this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo at starting today.

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The styles for auana can be formal or casual depending on the mele


Dressing for kahiko, or ancient-style hula, is done in a set order from head to toe, as a dancer prepares to enter the spiritual realm of hula.

Lei po‘o (head lei) This lei is made of palapalai ferns and red and yellow lehua. The lei po‘o should be worn level, parallel to the floor.

Lei ‘a‘i (neck lei)

Kupe‘e ilima (wrist lei) These are often made from laua‘e or palapalai ferns.

Lei ‘a‘i (neck lei) Many halau make their lei the day before a performance out of forest plants, and some even gather the materials themselves. Pa‘u skirt Skirts are made traditionally of kapa (pounded bark), sometimes ti leaf (at least 100) or more commonly several yards of a natural fabric, fastened at the side with a braided cord, and often decorated with symbolic geometric patterns.

Auana attire

Kupe‘e waewae (ankle lei)

‘Ulili The spinning gourd rattle is often made of three laamia gourds mounted on a stick, with a cord attached to the middle one. When pulled, the two end gourds, typically filled with alii poe (canna) seeds, spin and create swoosh and whirring sounds.

Source: Star-Advertiser research

Kala‘au Wooden rhythm sticks can be fashioned into two of equal length, or a longer one paired with a shorter stick. Made from a hardwood, such as koa or kauila, kala‘au can be tapered on the ends.

Ipu heke Made of two gourds joined together at their necks, with the smaller one on top. They are used by kumu hula to provide rhythmic accompaniment for the chant and dancer. Typically held by one hand that plays the ipu upon the ground creating a downbeat, with the “free” hand playing the upbeat and flourishes.

The styles for auana can range from muumuu and holoku, formal or casual full-length dresses, to ti-leaf skirts, depending on the mele. Hair is usually swept up, and adorned with flowers.

Puniu This small drum made from the shell of a coconut is fastened to the dancer’s thigh during a hula noho (sitting hula). Can also be used by kumu in conjunction with a pahu (drum). Fibrous material, such as ki (ti leaf) or coconut sennit, is braided to create a “ka” to strike the drum.

Papa hehi with kala‘au The treadleboard is a plattershaped foot board with a cross-piece through which the dancer creates two basic beats – heel and toe. It is made of a hardwood, like the kala‘au, and the two implements together create interesting patterns and counter-rhythms.


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H O N O L U L U S TA R - A D V E R T I S E R


Stage constructed for contest Every year the Merrie Monarch stage is built from the ground up at the stadium. The surface for many years has been the same: plywood and tape. The stage measures about 56 feet wide by 46 feet long (made up of 4-by-8-foot plywood pieces) and is raised three feet high with a ramp at each corner.


Halau Royal Court Judges

Bleachers Floor seating VIP seating

Improvements at Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium, like this expanded lobby, were completed just in time for this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival.

Stadium spiffed up for hula

56 feet


46 feet

Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium, the setting for the hula competition, recently underwent $3.4 million in renovations just in time for the 50th Merrie Monarch Festival. Besides a new, 4,200-square-foot multipurpose building with six dressing rooms, there is now an expanded lobby and larger concession area with new lighting and roof coverings. The stadium — still often referred to as the Edith Kanaka‘ole New dressing rooms are more accommoTennis Stadium — also had restrooms dating to dancers who in the past had to and its electrical system improved. Outlook for places to change. side, visitors will find a new color scheme, landscaping and covered side entrances. The new dressing rooms, built on two unused tennis courts, are expected to make the stadium much more accommodating for dancers. With limited dressing rooms at the stadium, many halau had to change in Aunty Sally’s Luau Hale nearby, at their hotels or in a curtained-off nook below the bleachers. The stadium, originally called Ho‘olulu Stadium, was later renamed in honor of kumu hula Edith Kanaka‘ole, who died in 1979.

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A change in attitude about men and dance adds an exotic level of excitement to hula By Wanda A. Adams Special to the Star-Advertiser


he Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition is an almost overwhelming barrage of sights and sounds and scents and people. But one thing you can count on: When the kane dance, the crowd becomes hysterical. Whether it’s kahiko (ancient style) or auana (modern), people scream and whistle and stand and clap and photograph and are just beside themselves. While participation by male halau has been growing, they are more sparsely represented — 12 of this year’s 30 entries are male. Men and women compete in different divisions, but the halau with the most points, male or female, wins the overall prize. Merrie Monarch President Luana Kawelu recalls that about 45 years ago her mother, Dottie Thompson, a co-founder of the festival as it is known today, had trouble attracting halau to the new event, particularly male halau, which were scarce then. Men were first included in 1976 when there were sufficient numbers to guarantee a fair competition. Karl Veto Baker, who, with Michael Casupang, is kumu of award-winning Halau I Ka Wekiu, acknowledged that in the early years of the 20th century, it was considered effeminate for men to dance hula, and there were few teachers who took male students.

THIS BEGAN to change with the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s and beyond. Baker began to dance in 1974 at Kamehameha Schools and said he didn’t care what people thought. He distinctly remembers practicing his moves one day while negotiating his way through the Punahou Carnival. His friends remonstrated, but, he said, “It was my culture and I was so jazzed, I wanted to hula everywhere.” After he graduated from Robert Cazimero’s halau in 1995, and after a stern talking-to from his kumu to persuade him that teaching was his calling, Baker and Casupang founded Wekiu in 1998. Their kane swept the titles at the 2007 Merrie Monarch and won the overall crown again in 2012. Their performances, and those of all the men, are eagerly awaited. What is the attraction? Many of the men are cut like bodybuilders and handsome enough to turn anyone’s heart. But others have more normal body types, yet they too exhibit skill that — especially to anyone who has taken hula — is heart-stopping.

It is not the feet, the motions; it is how you put these things together that makes its difference. Sometimes subject will make it better for a male or female to dance.” Sonny Ching Award-winning Merrie Monarch participant with his Halau Na Mamo o Pu‘uanahulu and competition judge

IS IT THE POWER of the stomping feet and closed fists, the abrupt movements and arms shooting out? Perhaps it’s the suggestive uehe (a movement in which the knees are opened outward) and ami (hip rotation) and the occasional moments of contrast when the motions are rhythmical and soft. Or is it just that we don’t see men this way very often? No, it is more. Cazimero, best known as a singer and composer but at his heart a dancer, denies, as most kumu hula do, that there is a difference between male and female hula. The hands may be folded, not open; the arms may be straight, not flowing, but the story is the same. Cazimero, whose Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua won the first Merrie Monarch kane prize, was taught by the great Aunty Maiki Aiu Lake. Hers is a very graceful style, almost feminine — even for the men, with feet not flat, but in certain movements lifting slightly into sensual arcs. “We have the same hands, the same feet. We tell the same story,” Cazimero insisted. “There is no difference between men and women. The difference is in who taught you, the style they gave you. “Hula is a story. You are telling that story in the style you have been taught.” Please see KANE,14



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H O N O L U L U S TA R - A D V E R T I S E R


KANE: Story at the heart of hula no matter who dances, kumu say Continued from 13 Cazimero differentiates between kanikapila (party) hula and performance hula. In party hula a male may perform any song, even one in which a woman is the central character. In performance this is not done. Sonny Ching, who has been an award-winning Merrie Monarch participant with his Halau Na Mamo o Pu‘uanahulu and also served as a judge, agrees with Cazimero that there is no difference between men’s and women’s hula. “It is not the feet, the motions; it is how you put these things together that makes its difference. Sometimes subject will make it better for a male or female to dance,” Ching said. Baker, whose halau has about 25 male students, sees it just a bit differently. “Male hula is vigorous, often kolohe (mischievous). It’s just … kane-looking,” he said. “In our halau the male hula is a little different; it’s not all stomping and slapping. It’s hard to explain but it’s both graceful and strong.” WE HAVE been told repeatedly that hula was the province of men in pre-contact times. Yet we are told, too, that hula was given as a gift to the goddess Hi‘iaka, the sister of Pele, by her dear friend Hopoe. It is said the two performed the first hula for Pele at Nanahuki on Hawaii island. How can both be true? And they are not the only stories: Others exist of the origin of hula, and they vary greatly. One thing is known: Hula was performed — for ceremonial reasons, for joy and celebration, for royalty, for naming a child, for praising the sexual prowess of the nobility. Ching understands it this way. “The hula that was the province of men was not the hula that we refer to today, but the ai ha‘a. If we look

at the original word for the dance, we find ‘ha‘a’; the word came along later with the evolution of and various uses of hula. … Only men were allowed to and did the temple ha‘a rituals. … This is where our temple ha‘a rituals evolved. Dances in the temple did not include the ipu (gourd) or any kind of instruments. … Men and women danced (but not in the temple); the ha‘a or temple rituals were the province and kuleana of the men.” Said Baker, “Maybe (the popularity of male hula and its style) is our kupuna telling us, ‘This is where it started.’” Kumu hula Vicki Holt Takamine of Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima believes that based on the literature, the women’s style was also ai ha‘a, a powerful, thrusting style. The dances were just performed in different contexts and places. Takamine, a hula instructor at the University of Hawaii and in her own halau, says the move from hula as a dance for both sexes to a dance of women came with Western influences. “In America, men are not encouraged to dance (solo or in a group) as part of their culture; it was discouraged,” she said. Baker agrees. “That men should not dance, that is very Western thinking. It was already ingrained” when hula was revived. So in the 19th and 20th centuries, hula became a woman’s art, largely, a nahenahe (gentle, sweet) celebration of people and places. This was the hula tourists knew. To see men perform was rare outside of family circles. But certain kumu kept their knowledge, and when the Merrie Monarch Festival gained momentum in the 1970s, they were ready. THE WEEKLONG celebration started in 1964 as a way to bring visitors to the city known mostly for its constant rain. There would


Halau I Ka Wekiu danced during the kahiko portion of the Merrie Monarch Festival last year. They took first place for the performance and swept the awards, taking first in kane auana, kane overall and the overall winner title. be a parade, pageantry and hula for entertainment. People would discover the charm of Hilo, the hula and the king who revived it, David Kalakaua. A few years later when the festival began to falter, the late civic activist Aunty Dottie Thompson and the late kumu hula Uncle George Na‘ope took over, and in 1971 the hula competition was launched. In 1976 men’s hula would be introduced. Perhaps without meaning to, the Merrie Monarch organization created what has been called the “Hula Olympics.” To win at Merrie Monarch is to win the gold medal. But do men get a little more leeway than women, especially in their auana (modern) numbers? Ching says no. “Both must adhere to the guidelines of the Merrie Monarch Festival and the Hawaiian culture,” he said. “With that said, I think just the choices that the kumu hula make” are choices that fit within the rules,

are in keeping with their halau style but are also calculated to get the crowd involved. Festival President Kawelu, who inherited the job from her mother, said she can’t explain the increased level of excitement. “The kane halau dances just seem to have more oomph,” she said. “There seems to be more excitement in the audience when the men perform.” Although the rules are the same for both genders, Takamine says the men do get a little more leeway. So long as they keep the moves, particularly the feet, within the hula range, “they can be a little more playful,” she said. “They’re riding their cows. They’re throwing their footballs. You’re still performing the movements of the hula, but you get a lot of breadth of movement.” Manu Boyd, kumu hula of Halau o ke ‘A‘ali‘i Ku Makani and a television commentator for Merrie Monarch, says kumu, students and audiences are more knowledgeable

now. “We’re in a different place today,” he said. “I’d rather see a hula that wasn’t precise, that wasn’t so drill team, but you can look in the dancers’ eyes and you can feel the energy. The dancer is doing what he or she does to emote the spirit, the character. They are creating the chanter’s words. And the audience can tell. And that’s what makes them respond.” Will we see more men in hula in the future? Baker thinks not just yet. “There are lots of kumu but most teach only women. We have to grow the kumu part before the number of men can increase,” he said. Merrie Monarch audiences, no doubt, will be ready and waiting. ——— Wanda A. Adams is a freelance writer who covered the Merrie Monarch Festival for many years and studied hula at Magic Hula Studio.

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Lei ‘a‘i (neck lei)

Lei po‘o (head lei) ‘Uli‘uli (feathered rattle)

Palule (shirt)

Lei ‘a‘i (neck lei)

Lole wawae (pants)

Kupe‘e lima (wrist lei)


Traditionally, pa‘u and malo were made from kapa (bark cloth). Pellon is the material often used in men's pa‘u today, while malo (loincloth) are usually made of cotton. There are many variations for draping and binding the pa‘u.

Men’s auana attire varies depending on the mele, but usually includes an aloha shirt or long-sleeved shirt over slacks (or shorts), sometimes with a ti leaf skirt layered over the slacks. Can be formal or casual.

Pa‘u (made out of crisp fabric)

Malo (loincloth made of cotton) Kupe‘e wawae (ankle lei)

‘Uli‘uli The gourd rattle is typically filled with alii poe (canna) seeds that create a distinctive sound when used by the dancer. ‘Uli‘uli are often, but not always, crafted with a feathered top of varying colors.

Source: Star-Advertiser research

Pu‘ili Split bamboo sticks measuring about two feet long make a rustling sound when struck against the body or each other. Can be used one at a time or in pairs while in seated or standing positions, depending on the tradition.

‘Ili‘ili Water-worn pebbles, traditionally gathered where a river meets the sea. Two are held in each hand and clicked together. Hawaii’s porous volcanic rock makes for ideal ‘ili‘ili.

Pahu A traditional drum with a powerful sounds used for hula kahiko. Carved from the hollowed-out trunk of a coconut tree and covered in shark skin, each reflects a unique design from the heart and hands of its crafter.

Ipu heke ole A single hollowed gourd cut off at the neck that provides rhythm and sound with the movement. Typically used by a dancer in a hula, rather than by a kumu to accompany a dance.



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H O N O L U L U S TA R - A D V E R T I S E R




Kumu hula Robert Cazimero’s distinction is his halau’s style


Robert Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua performed in the kahiko portion of the Merrie Monarch Festival in 2005, when they won the overall title.

By Nina Wu


obert Cazimero, 64, is best known as a singer and musician, and one-half of the Brothers Cazimero. But he is also one of the most respected kumu hula in Hawaii, having learned to dance at a young age from the late hula master Maiki Aiu Lake, who enlisted him to become a teacher for male dancers. In 1975, Cazimero founded his all-male Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua at a time when most men didn’t dance hula due to the fear of being perceived as effeminate. Starting with six students from Kamehameha Schools, his halau went on to compete at the Merrie Monarch Festival in 1976, the first year kane (men) were allowed to participate, and won the overall men’s award. The halau also swept the kane divisions and the overall title in 2005, the last time it competed at the festival. The halau continues to live by Aunty Maiki’s motto: “Hula is the art of Hawaiian dance expressing all that we see, hear, feel, taste, touch and smell; hula is life.” Cazimero has taught about 200 students across two generations, with several who went on to start their own halau. Among them are Manu Boyd of Ke ‘A‘ali‘i Ku Makani, Patrick Makuakane of Na Lei Hulu i ka Wekiu from San Francisco, Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang of Halau i ka Wekiu, and Moses Crabbe of Halauolaokalani. This year Cazimero is bringing 50 students — past and present — to perform at the festival’s Hoike hula exhibition Wednesday. He continues to teach students ranging in age from 13 to 63, sharing his knowledge and using his distinguished leo, or voice, to keep hula alive. He recently sat down with the Star-Advertiser to talk about hula.

QUESTION: Is it still difficult today to find men willing to dance hula? ANSWER: I think there will always be a stigma that if you’re going to dance hula, you’ve gotta be gay. I think it still keeps people away. … However, the young people today, they’re really pretty cool because most of them don’t care. If they want to do something, they’re going to do it. It reminds me of the spirit from the ’70s and that (Hawaiian) renaissance period, when, really, everybody was much more gungho. It has aspects of what was before, and this new way of thinking today which is, ‘If I like it, I’m going to do it.’ … We are a seasoned halau. Most of our guys are older. So I would say back in 2004, when one of the youngest boys came at the time

who was 16 years old, I had to ask him, “Is this going to be OK with you, dancing with these older guys?” He was like, “Oh yeah, no problem.” I love the fact that now, at the age that I am, and for as long as I’ve been doing it, I’m considered a master, which kind of makes me smile a bit because I don’t think of myself as a master. But it is fun having young blood in the halau and knowing it just may carry on a few more years than I thought it was going to. Q: How has Merrie Monarch played a role in your life as a kumu hula? Do you remember what it was like when you first went in 1976? A: I think Merrie Monarch from the very beginning, it was a proving ground. I’m sure if I would look at that performance of 1976 today, I’d be mortified. It was a different time. In all honesty, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And so, I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I’m happy it ended up the way it did and that it’s continued so far. … Merrie Monarch can be one of the best places to learn your craft, to learn your lessons, to learn how to present, to learn how to speak, to learn how to be humble. There’s nothing like winning, but the most important lesson taught to us at Merrie Monarch was losing. At the time, as painful as it was, in retrospect today, how wonderful to have that lesson given to you. Q: Merrie Monarch 1976 compared to 2005: Was it completely different?

A: You had to learn to play by the new rules. As much as I wanted to fight against it, I had to play the game first before we could finally do what we wanted to do, which was just to dance — because it seemed like people were more concerned about position and technique and wow ’em and get off the stage instead of why are you there and, more importantly, where is the spirit? Where is the love? Q: Do you think with more focus on technique, you lose something along the way? A: If you want to enter in someone’s game, you’ve gotta play by their rules, but then, if you’re lucky, there will be an opportunity to use those rules so you can still do what it is you want to do, and we were able to do that. I don’t know which was more nervewracking, 1976 or 2005. Really hard to say. It still makes me very, very nervous to think of it. Not even butterflies in the stomach, maybe dragons.

As I was leaving the stage, I heard somebody say, “You may as well just stay there.” … What I do remember is looking back and looking at my guys and being more happy for them than I could ever be happy for me. It was amazing. It was really amazing. Q: You went, in part, for your dancers, to celebrate your 30th anniversary. Usually you go every 10 years. A: I did it for everybody. I did it for my dancers. I did it for me. I did it to honor my teacher. I did it to honor our style. I did it for our graduates. When you put yourself in front of seven people who are going to tell you whether you’re good or not, you can’t do that with a year and a half of experience behind you. The more history you have, perhaps it’s easier to accept what seven people are going to say. It’s overwhelming and exhausting.

I was one of them. … When I look at it now, I just have to smile. It was very avant-garde, very out of the box. It was very new. What’s happened since then up to now, with all the young people that have come along at Merrie Monarch, or just in Hawaii in general, or even more so on the mainland … I feel so validated today because of all the stuff many other people have done. What they thought was really out of the box for me — today, suddenly I’ve gone from being a rebel to a somewhat traditionalist. Q: In Benton Sen’s book, “Men of Hula,” you say you consider yourself a contemporary kumu. Explain. A: Well I have to also say that’s how I felt before. What I thought of myself then was, I was going to use everything that was here, right now, to make my hula live. So I wanted to write songs about these cranes in the sky, building new buildings. I wanted to do stuff like that. But when Aunty Maiki died, it changed my whole perspective immediately, and the traditional became more important because now she wasn’t there physically. It meant that I needed to haul myself in and realize that it wasn’t about me anymore. It really was about her and what she’s taught us. I remember the first day of hula after she died, I was like, “OK, here we go.”

Q: Do you still feel that Auntie Maiki guides you in everything that you do today? Q: Do you still remember what it A: Yeah, I do. I talk to her all the felt like to be the overall winner? time. But more importantly, because I can’t always hear what A: I didn’t believe it. We didn’t she’s saying, I think I rely a lot on go to win, startting off. I felt that I the trust that she had in choosing was supporting my other graduus. … She definitely saw someates and the style that we do. About two months before compe- thing I didn’t see, and one of my favorite phrases to this day is, “I tition, suddenly we were going to win this thing. But to actually have would never want to do anything to embarrass my kumu.” that prize given to you was a shock to me. I remember putting my head down and putting my Q: At the time you started, you cap lower because I thought, what were cutting-edge. Q: Do you feel like you’ve acis going on here? At first it was the complished what you set out to A: I was more than cutting-edge. kahiko, and then we won the I was terrible. They did this article do when you founded the halau? auana and then the overall men’s. one time on the rebels of hula, and Do you feel like you proved that men can dance hula? A: It’s still a work in progress. I don’t know whether “proved” is the right word. I would say I think it’s a lot more accepted that men are in hula and that men want to dance. And if I’ve succeeded a little bit, then I’m really happy about that.


Robert Cazimero looked at dancers of his Halau Na Kamalei and cheered after they swept the kane awards and the overall title at the 42nd Annual Merrie Monarch Festival in 2005. The halau competed at the Merrie Monarch Festival in 1976, the first year men were allowed to participate, and won the overall men’s award.

Q: This year’s Merrie Monarch Hoike is a celebration of that. Can we get a hint of what we’ll see? A: I’m hoping we will dazzle people with a style that is notably Na Kamalei. … In this time where, looking at some schools, you can’t really tell who they are or where they’re from, there’s still certain ones who hold on to being who they are and how they started. Their style stays somewhat true, and we would be one of those; and I think more than what we’re doing, as much as I’m excited about the dances about the shark and the pohuehue (beach morning glory), I am excited that we are going out there and doing the style that we have done for 37 years. That’s damn exciting!

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1. TI PARTY | 1989 Johnny Lum Ho’s halau, O Ka Ua Kani Lehua, threw bundles of ti leaves across the stage as part of its kahiko performance. The crowd gave the dancers a standing ovation, but the judges did not even place them. Ho did not return to Merrie Monarch for years.



2. RARE MOMENT | 2010 Mahealani Mika Hirao-Solem from Hula Halau O Kamuela hugged her two kumu — Kau‘i Kamana‘o, left, and Kunewa Mook — when she won the Miss Aloha Hula title. Hirao-Solem was among my top three picks, and as the runners-up were called, it became obvious to me that she was going to win. But I couldn’t see her anywhere. Her father, Glenn, suggested the halau’s dressing room. I made it there seconds before the announcement, as all that emotion reflecting years of dedication to her art poured out. It’s that emotion that I try to portray in my pictures. 3. SMALL WORLD | 2005 Kaleo Trinidad hugged his 2-month-old daughter, Elizabeth, after his halau, Ka Leo o Laka i Ka Hikina o Ka La, performed a mele at Kilauea Caldera. I could feel the love Trinidad had for his child, a feeling that seems to slow time so you can savor the moment. 4. THE WINNER | 2001 When I first saw Natasha Oda (no relation) practice her routine several weeks before the Miss Aloha Hula competition, I turned to our reporter and boldly stated, “That’s the winner!” Her routine was electric. Her kumu, Johnny Lum Ho, had not only crafted a great routine, but also had found the perfect dancer to bring it to life. Her moves were beautiful, perfect in rhythm and pace. She had that special ability to connect with the audience. On the night of the competition, Oda won by a single point. 5. A WALK TO REMEMBER | 1996 The legendary Aunty Mae Loebenstein moved fearlessly over jagged lava rocks in a walk along Kilauea Crater with granddaughter Maelia Loebenstein Carter. I remember their devotion to each other, the younger woman at her grandmother’s side to be sure she didn’t fall. Aunty Mae died in 1997, but Maelia keeps her rich legacy alive as kumu of Ka Pa Hula O Kauanoe O Wa‘ahila. 6. EMOTIONAL WIN | 1985 Before the winners are announced, a hush falls over the crowd. Dancers who have devoted their lives to hula hold all their emotion inside. When a name is called, all that bottled-up energy is released. It happens so suddenly it can be hard to capture, but when I do, the moment is magical, as when the Ladies of Ke ‘Ala ‘O Ka Lauwa‘e won the overall wahine title.


7. KOLOHE OKOLE | 1994 The kane of Kawaili‘ula created a huge uproar when they took the stage with a chant for Kamehameha II. Their meager costumes left little to the imagination, especially when a gust of wind blew through. Catcalls from women in the audience continued as they moved around the stage. And when they left, the thunderous applause was mixed with screams. It was quite a scene. 8. THREE-PEAT | 2005 Another emotional moment: Maile Emily Kau‘ilanionapuaehi‘ipoiokeanuenueokeola Francisco took the Miss Aloha Hula title in the third straight win for kumu Sonny Ching. Francisco, third from left, shared the joy with Jennifer Oyama (2003 winner), left, Ching and Natasha Akau (2004 winner). 9. FRIENDLY RIVAL | 1986 The late Frank Palani Kahala lifted another kumu hula after the competition.



10. MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE | 1990 This photo was taken during one of Halau O Na Maoli Pua’s practices. The seven dancers made all of their implements and wove their own mats. I remember how tricky it was to unfurl them, which was part of their dance. On the night of the performance, they were perfect, unfurling their mats as one, in rhythm as one, dancing as one. I’ve been to almost 30 Merrie Monarch Festivals and this performance is still one of my favorites. 11. LIGHTS OUT | 1997 A blackout caused by the substandard electrical system left the stage in the dark, but for the glow of a few portable lamps. There was thunder and lightning that night as well, with rain and wind blowing through the stadium. It was a very eerie and strange feeling, causing one halau to pull out of the competition. 12. OVERCOME WITH EXCITEMENT | 2009 The girls from Hula Halau O Kamuela jumped in excitement as it was announced that they had won the wahine auana division.

Star-Advertiser photographer Dennis Oda has covered the Merrie Monarch Festival for nearly three decades


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What to watch for during the competition KAI The entrance dance that precedes the hula is the first impression made by the halau. In hula kahiko this is often a chant honoring a deity of the hula. INTERPRETATION Encompasses everything, including presentation, hands, feet, costumes, adornments. EXPRESSION How the dancers express the hula, chant or song through their faces, body movements or inner self. POSTURE Carriage of the dancers’ body throughout their entire performance. PRECISION The precise execution of the dancers’ hands, feet and body throughout their performance. HAND GESTURES Description and interpretation of the words of the chant or mele through hands. FOOT MOVEMENT/BODY MOVEMENT Execution and refinement of foot movements. In a hula noho (sitting hula), the expression of the body movement is judged. HOI The exit dance, which includes the manner in which the dancers exit the stage. AUTHENTICITY OF COSTUME Should reflect the period or time of the chant or mele. Solid black in both the kahiko or auana is prohibited unless trimmed with contrasting colors. Cellophane skirts and artificial flowers are also prohibited. ADORNMENTS Should be made of the foliage that represent the kinolau (body form) of the hula deities. GROOMING Overall neat appearance in both costume and adornments. OVERALL PERFORMANCE Meeting all of the above criteria and the judge’s overall feeling about the halau’s performance. Source: Kumu hula Ed Collier

This year’s judges: >> Cy M. Bridges >> Nalani Kanaka‘ole >> Mae Kamamalu Klein >> Noenoelani Zuttermeister Lewis >> Joan S. Lindsey >> Keali‘i Reichel >> Kalena Silva

TIPS FROM FESTIVAL FANS >> Book your hotel and rental car at least six months in advance. >> Make flight arrangements at least three months in advance. >> Ticket purchases are handled by mail. Check the festival’s website ( for the instructions on requesting tickets. There are more requests than tickets, so submitting a request doesn’t guarantee it will be fulfilled. >> If you don’t get tickets, ask around or go to the events before the competition with a sign that says “Seeking tickets” or something similar. Tickets might be available from people who bought them but aren’t able to attend. You can also go to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium at least an hour before the performances start to see whether anyone is selling tickets at the entrance. >> Volunteer to help a halau in exchange for a seat in their reserved section. You might be asked to do everything from cooking and ironing to running errands. >> Hiloans throw Merrie Monarch TV-viewing parties all around town. Befriend a few of them and you might be able to snag an invitation to the festivities at their home. >> There’s much more to the weeklong festival than the competition, so even if you don’t have tickets, go anyway. Events include a craft fair, parade and free midday entertainment at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, the Hawaii Naniloa Volcanoes Resort and the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. A complete schedule is posted on the festival website.


Tetsushi and Mihoko Uno from Kobe, Japan, have attended the Merrie Monarch Festival every year since 2005. The couple lived in Honolulu from 2004 to 2008 and grew to love Hawaiian culture.

For superfans, festival is a yearly pilgrimage Getting tickets and a place to stay takes advance planning By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi Special to the Star-Advertiser


hey’re young and old, from all walks of life, from all around the world. Each year, they clear their calendar the week after Easter so they can experience firsthand the excitement and pageantry of hula’s most prestigious event. They save the programs, buy the logo totes and T-shirts, and cheer their favorite halau with the enthusiasm of football spectators rooting for their team at the Super Bowl. They are Merrie Monarch superfans. It’s not easy being a superfan of the annual Hilo festival. Although ticket prices for the three-day hula competition — from $15 to $30 — have not gone up dramatically through the years, getting one is another story. To score a ticket, you must mail in a request form postmarked the day after Christmas. With only about 2,100 seats open to the public, festival organizers said they had to turn down about 7,000 ticket requests this year. Getting airline and hotel reservations is another test. Hotel accommodations in Hilo are completely booked, having been reserved, in many cases, the day after the previous year’s festival. Here are four superfans who refuse to be denied. ADRIENNE Kaeppler has been making the annual pilgrimage to Hilo every year since she attended her first festival in 1980. Every year, before she checks out of the Dolphin Bay Hotel near the waterfront, she books the same room for the next year. The Wisconsin native, curator of oceanic ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in anthropology at the University of Hawaii. When she joined Bishop Museum’s staff in 1965, her colleague Pat Namaka Bacon encouraged her to study hula. Among Kaeppler’s esteemed kumu were Bacon; Bacon’s hanai mother, noted Hawaiian cultural authority Mary Kawena Pukui; and Kaui Zuttermeister, who judged Merrie Monarch competitions in the 1970s and 1980s. It was Zuttermeister who urged Kaeppler to attend Merrie Monarch, as the experience would be valuable for her hula research. “I became interested in hula pahu,” Kaeppler said. “My book, ‘Hula Pahu: Hawaiian Drum Dances,’ was published by Bishop Museum in 1982. When I went to the Smithsonian in 1980, I hadn’t finished the research for the book, so to maintain the relationships I’d developed with my sources in Hawaii, I decided to go to Merrie Monarch for at least a couple of years.” She hasn’t missed a festival in the three decades since. “As an anthropologist, I like seeing the changes the halau make in their costumes, adornments and movements,” Kaeppler said. “The older kumu think if you learned a dance from your teacher, you should perform it exactly that way. But the younger kumu want to

do different things. I call their interpretations ‘contemporary traditional’ — a contemporary twist on traditional steps and gestures.” Going to Merrie Monarch keeps Kaeppler connected with friends who share her interest in hula. “Because of Merrie Monarch,” she said, “I consider Hilo my second home.” HONOLULU was home to Mihoko Uno and her husband, Tetsushi, from 2004 through 2008. During that time, Tetsushi served as president of Kintetsu International Express Hawaii, a subsidiary of Kinki Nippon Tourist, one of Japan’s largest travel companies. The couple embraced the local lifestyle, grateful for every opportunity they had to learn and clear up their own misconceptions about the ancient art of hula and other traditional customs and practices. For example, before she lived in the islands, Uno thought hula was performed primarily as entertainment, not as the medium to

edge of Hawaiian culture. In Kobe, Tetsushi is learning to play the ukulele at a community center near their home, and Uno belongs to a halau with 300 members ranging from 6-year-old keiki to elders in their 80s. They also host a study group in their home — on the third Tuesday of the month, the topic is Hawaiian music; and on the fourth Thursday, Hawaiian history and culture. “The festival has shown us how people share Hawaii’s traditions,” Uno said. “It is done with aloha — hands to hands and hearts to hearts.”

LAURIE Rohrer and her husband, Jake, have been recording and producing the songs of Maui and Hawaii island entertainers under their Ululoa Productions label for 13 years. At the Merrie Monarch Festival, outside of work, Rohrer can relax and be simply a fan of the music she loves. This is the 12th year the Haiku, Maui, resident will be attending the weeklong festival; she has been to the last nine in a row. “I’m in Hilo from the start to the finish,” Rohrer said. “It’s exciting to be immersed in so many aspects of the Hawaiian culture, to run into musicians I know, to see what new lei and costumes are being worn. It’s a huge party and everyone is celebrating!” Although Rohrer appreciates all the performances, she follows five halau in particular: Keali‘i Reichel’s Halau Ke‘alaokamaile, Halau Kekuaokala‘au‘ala‘iliahi, under kumu hula ‘Iliahi and Haunani Paredes, and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka, under kumu hula Napua Makua and Kahulu Maluo-Huber, all from Maui; Johnny It’s a huge party and Ho’s Halau o ka Ua Kani Lehua everyone is celebrating!” Lum from Hilo; and the Academy of Hawaiian Arts from Oakland, Calif., under kumu Laurie Rohrer hula Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu. She has faHaiku, Maui, resident vorite dancers, too, and through the years has noticed how they’ve evolved. Rohrer herself has danced for 15 years as a way to learn about Hawaii’s preserve and perpetuate the stories history, culture and language. and traditions of Hawaii. “I don’t have Hawaiian blood, but I Even though Tetsushi retired and the gain so much from the events and activcouple moved to Kobe, Japan, they ities,” she said. “I always stay at Uncle have kept strong Hawaii ties and look forward to their annual vacations in the Billy’s Hilo Bay hotel on Banyan Drive. It’s within walking distance of the major islands, which they plan around the venues, and a few halau usually stay Merrie Monarch Festival. there, so you’ll see dancers practicing They have attended the festival their oli (chants) and running down the every year since 2005. halls with their hair in curlers.” “We like staying in bed-and-breakKing David Kalakaua, the “Merrie fasts, which my husband books on the Monarch” credited with reviving hula, Internet from Japan,” Uno said. “We don’t have one favorite; we’ve stayed in once said, “Hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of Pahoa, Keaau and Mountain View, all the Hawaiian people.” Rohrer feels that within a half-hour of Hilo. We don’t sums up the significance of the festival mind the drive and we enjoy discoverthat honors him. ing new places.” “If you’re passionate about the Uno always reserves time for at least Hawaiian culture, Merrie Monarch is one presentation at the ‘Imiloa Astronwhere you can drink deeply from the omy Center. source.” “In 2011, I participated in a hula ——— kahiko (traditional hula) workshop led Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is an awardby well-known kumu hula Nani Lim winning freelance writer whose Yap,” she said. “We learned kahiko “Hawaii’s Backyard” feature appears steps and one mele (song). It was fanSundays in the Star-Advertiser travel tastic!” Merrie Monarch renews the Unos’ de- section. Star-Advertiser staff writer Nina Wu contributed to this story. sire to continue their pursuit of knowl-


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GEORGE NA‘OPE George Lanakilakeikiahialii Na‘ope, better known as “Uncle George,” was a hula loea, or hula master, who taught hundreds of students, including many of today’s prominent kumu hula. He traveled far and wide and was known for his colorful personality and outfits as well as his love of good parties. Na‘ope was instrumental in bringing together the best practicing kumu hula to participate in the Merrie Monarch Festival’s first hula competition in 1971, following the inspiration of King David Kalakaua. As a kumu hula, Na‘ope believed in hewing to tradition when it came to hula kahiko but also acknowledged there are many schools with their own traditions. He would often say, “Think not that all wisdom lies in one school.” Named one of Hawaii’s “Living Treasures” and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship Award, he loved to share his knowledge of hula with students throughout the world. “He was small in stature, but you always knew he was in charge,” said kumu hula Lani-Girl Kaleiki-AhLo of ‘Ilima Hula Studio. “You knew people revered him and admired him.” The Merrie Monarch Festival was Na‘ope’s “baby,” said kumu hula Puanani Alama, who was close to him. “He did it. Who wouldn’t be happy with seeing how it grew?” Na‘ope died Oct. 26, 2009, in Hilo. He was 81. Na‘ope and the Merrie Monarch’s late Chairwoman Dorothy Thompson both attended the festival for the last time in 2009. Both were in wheelchairs, and received a standing ovation that evening.

DOTTIE THOMPSON When the Merrie Monarch Festival was on its last legs just a few years after its start in 1964, Dorothy Soares Thompson stepped up to the plate and volunteered to be its chairwoman in 1968. Thompson, better known as “Auntie Dottie,” was considered the driving force behind what is now a thriving, world-renowned hula festival. Thompson, who worked for the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, said she took the helm because she simply did not want to see the festival disappear. So she enlisted kumu hula George Na‘ope to handle the pageantry and Albert Nahale‘a to handle the music for the festival. With the help of Na‘ope, she invited the best halau from all the islands to compete in a hula competition honoring King David Kalakaua, to be held annually on the Wednesday after Easter. The competition has since expanded to three days — Thursday through Saturday — attracting dozens of halau from Hawaii and the mainland. Thompson, known for donning a signature straw hat adorned with fresh flowers, was reputed to be decisive, tough and fiercely loyal to Hilo. Over the decades, she insisted the festival stay in Hilo despite its phenomenal growth, and that admission prices remain low. She also mandated that the focus remain on hula. Thompson died March 19, 2010, in Hilo. She was 88.



O’Brian Eselu’s halau Ke Kai O Kahiki performed “A Ka‘uku,” which depicted a battle between Pele and half-man, half-pig demigod Kamapua‘a at the 2010 Merrie Monarch Festival. The kane of Ke Kai O Kahiki swept the awards at the competition, winning the kahiko, auana and overall kane title, and were the group overall winner.

Merrie memories The names of the hula competition winners over the 50 years of Merrie Monarch Festivals can easily be found in the record books, but all who watch, participate or cover the prestigious event have their own standout memories 1986: STORM AND BLACKOUT Many audience members still talk about the Merrie Monarch Festival in 1986, the year that a thunderstorm caused a power outage in the Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium just as kumu hula Mapuana de Silva’s Halau Mohala ‘Ilima was about to enter the stage to perform its hula kahiko number. Wahine halau that year were required to select one of several chants related to Hina, including “Pu‘inokuolu‘a Hina,” or the “Three Wind Storms of Hina.” The halau decided not to go forward with its performance that evening. De Silva says she felt it was the right decision. “From the time I made that choice, I’ve never doubted, questioned or had second thoughts about it,” she said. The next evening, the halau performed its auana number, “Hanohano Wailea,” which de Silva says was an “amazing experience” and their best performance in a decade. For festival President Luana Kawelu, that power failure was a good reason to get a backup generator for the stadium. Still, she remembers how audience members sang as they waited patiently for the lights to come back on. When that happened several hours later, the rest of the evening’s competition continued without a hitch. — Nina Wu, StarAdvertiser staff writer 1986: MEMORABLE MEN OF WAIMAPUNA The one Merrie Monarch performance that stands out for kumu hula Stanette Nu‘uhiwa is when kumu hula Darrell Lupenui’s Men of Waimapuna performed their kahiko number "Pa‘ani Makahiki Kahiko Ia Moloka‘i," about the warriors of Molokai. They were dressed in malo (with no back or front flaps) and sparred with kala‘au (sticks) as part of the choreography. The group swept the kane division. “It was just one of those numbers that was electrifying,” said Nu‘uhiwa, a former student of Lupenui’s. “From the moment they stepped on stage till they exited, it was just captivating.” She also admired the dancers of kumu hula Frank Palani Kahala, who she considered Lupenui’s rival. “He was really creative,” she said. “He wrote his own chants, and whenever they brought something to the stage, it was their own.” Nu‘uhiwa herself was named Miss Aloha Hula that year, representing Lupenui’s “Ladies of Ke‘ala ‘o ka Laua‘e,” a memorable year all around. — Nina Wu, Star-Advertiser staff writer 1993: TOPLESS MISS ALOHA HULA It was 1993, and the tradition of Merrie Monarch surprises had been long established. But nobody was expecting a topless dancer. In truth, the Miss Aloha Hula soloist from Na Opio ‘o Ko‘olau wasn’t all that exposed. Her hair and the lei cascade she wore for her hula kahiko selection covered her up pretty well, but a sharp-eyed newspaper photographer, the late Carl Viti, spotted the costume innovation almost immediately and snapped away. The kumu hula, brothers James and Michael Dela Cruz, had determined this attire would have been appropriate for the chant’s period and location in Waipio Valley. Naturally, it caused an enormous uproar. (However, Viti, a veteran of the Peace Corps throughout the Pacific islands, observed that this was true to the culture, and thought the decision was the coolest thing ever.) A few years later, kumu Mae Loebenstein, in one of her many memorable touches before she died, got around the objection by outfitting her dancer in a top constructed entirely of ti leaves. Period materials, but modest. She was clever, to the last. — Vicki Viotti, StarAdvertiser staff writer 1994, 1996: KUMU CHINKY’S NUMBERS I scream along with everyone else any time Chinky Mahoe’s Halau Kawaili‘ula comes on stage; he always has something interesting to offer. It’s tough to choose among their performances, but for lighthearted but beautifully executed male hula, I’d say it's a tie between the 1996 “Toad Song,” with the men croaking and adopting a toad-

like crouch, and the 1994 kane performance in which the dancers, in grass skirts over slacks, portrayed the movements of favorite sports — football, baseball, soccer, paddling — while keeping in perfect hula form. “Chinky’s at it again,” I remember writing then. — Wanda A. Adams, freelance writer 1995: TROPHY SWAP Some Merrie Monarch moments happen after the whole festival has ended. The organizers were chagrined by at least one like that. In 1995, a week and a half after Halau Na Mamo ‘o Pu‘uanahulu won the men’s overall honor, a scorekeeping error was discovered, which meant that award should have gone to Halau Hula ‘o Kawaili‘ula. Fixing that required a get-together for a trophy swap between the top prize winner, Chinky Mahoe, and the new No. 2, Sonny Ching. Ouch. But apparently the correction was made with “no hard feelings,” Mahoe said at the time. For his part, Ching expressed relief that his students reacted with grace. “They took it better than I thought they would,” he added. Life does go on. — Vicki Viotti, Star-Advertiser staff writer 2000: MISS ALOHA HULA LEGACY For kumu hula Aloha Dalire, the festival’s first reigning Miss Aloha Hula of 1971 (or Miss Hula, as it was then called), there was no prouder moment than when she took the stage with all three of her daughters — all Miss Aloha Hulas as well — in 2000. Her youngest daughter, Keola, was performing her farewell dance as the reigning Miss Aloha Hula of 1999. Together they also performed a family song, “E Ku‘u Sweet Lei Poina ‘Ole.” It was a historic moment, as no other mother and three daughters have taken the solo title at the festival. Eldest daughter Kapua won in 1991, and Kaui in 1992. — Nina Wu, Star-Advertiser staff writer 2010: A NEW STEP An unforgettable performance at hula kahiko for me was in 2010, the first year I covered the Merrie Monarch Festival as a reporter. The late kumu hula O’Brian Eselu’s halau Ke Kai o Kahiki performed “A Ka‘uku,” which depicted a battle between Pele and half-man, half-pig demigod Kamapua‘a in a vigorous, stage-stomping number that showcased a new step, ke nakulu, that involves a jump and quick armcross movement mimicking the resounding thunder of Akaka Falls. It was a high point for Eselu. His halau swept the kane division and won the overall crown. Eselu later told me he learned the step from his own kumu decades ago and that his halau was the only one to perform it. He was nervous about including it, so he wrote up a fact sheet explaining the step, and the judges accepted it. I love it that kumu O’Brian took that risk and went with his own intuition that year, as he often did. — Nina Wu, Star-Advertiser staff writer 2011: KAPA TAKES CENTER STAGE Hoolaulea emcee Penny Keli‘i-Vredenberg says she’ll never forget the once-in-a-lifetime performance by Halau o Kekuhi, when dancers were dressed in exquisite, handmade kapa, or bark cloth, at the 2011 Wednesday night Hoike performance. Maui resident and Merrie Monarch fan Laurie Rohrer remembers it, too, saying, “I literally shed tears at the beauty of the spectacle.” Dalani Tanahy of Kapa Hawaii worked with Marie McDonald from Hawaii island and others to revive the Native Hawaiian clothing material in what she calls an intertwining of kapa and hula arts. Each piece worn by the dancers that evening was pounded and printed by hand, and specially selected for each dancer. “It was a great honor and thrill for the 25 kapa makers to sit on the front row and watch their Hawaiian fabric come to life through the skills and dedication of the hula dancers,” she said. “It was really exciting.” — Nina Wu, Star-Advertiser staff writer


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OVER THE YEARS >> 1971: Aloha Wong, Keolalaulani Hula Studio >> 1972: Aulani Newalu, Halau ‘o Kahealani >> 1973: Kalani Kalawa, Louise Kaleiki Hula Studio >> 1974: Dee Dee Aipolani, Piilani Watkins Hula Studio >> 1975: Leimomi Maria, ’Ilima Hula Studio >> 1976: Ululani Duenas, ’Ilima Hula Studio (pictured) and Sheryl Nalani Guernesy, Kaleo ‘o Nani Loa Studio (tie) >> 1977: Pualani Chang, Pukaikapua‘okalani Studio >> 1978: Regina Makaikai Igarashi, Keolalaulani Hula Studio >> 1979: Jody Imehana Mitchell, Pa‘u O Hi‘iaka >> 1980: Kaula Kamahele, Johnny Lum Ho Hula Studio


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