Cazimero triumphant at Merrie Monarch

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It was the performance of a decade for kumu hula Robert Cazimero and Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua.

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It was the performance of a decade for kumu hula Robert Cazimero and Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua.

The crowd at Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium erupted into tumultuous applause early Sunday morning as Cazimero and his men’s halau from Honolulu were announced as the overall group and kane winners at the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition.

Na Kamalei won the group and kane overall titles the previous time it entered, in 2005, and hula lovers were delighted by Cazimero’s triumphant return this year.

Cazimero broke into his own impromptu dance onstage and said afterwards the victory and the outpouring of aloha from the Hilo crowd “feels comfortable.”

“We are comfortable in this universe that Hawaii, its people and its culture, has a place in it, of worthiness and continuation,” he said, and added he “couldn’t be prouder” of his haumana, or students.

The top-three finishers in the overall group competition were all kane. Na Kamalei’s 1210 total was nine points higher than Hilo’s Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani under the direction of kumu hula Nahokuokalani Gaspang, and 2014’s overall winner, Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La, a Honolulu halau directed by kumu hula Kaleo Trinidad.

Na Kamalei won the kane ‘auana (modern hula) Saturday night with 610 points, dancing to the 1930s mele “Le‘ahi” by Johnny Noble and Mary Robins, a song about Kaimana Hila, or Diamond Head. Gaspang’s kane came in second with 602, dancing to another 1930s mele, “Kauoha Mai,” aka the “Keyhole Hula,” by Lena Machado. In third place at 601 were Trinidad’s kane, dancing to Johnny Almeida’s “Ho‘oheno Keia No Beauty, aka the “Beauty Hula.”

Gaspang, who brought both kane and wahine, said she’s very proud of her halau.

“I know for a fact they’re a winner, in my heart,” she said, adding she is “overjoyed for my kane group.”

In the kane kahiko (ancient hula), Trinidad’s and Cazimero’s men tied for first-place with 600 points, but Trinidad’s men won a tie-breaker by a single point. Tied for third place with 599 points were Gaspang’s kane and Kawaili‘ula, kumu hula Chinky Mahoe’s Kailua, Oahu, halau, the 50th anniversary Merrie Monarch overall title winners in 2013.

Flanked by wife Jenni and daughter Kalehua, Trinidad noted it’s his halau’s first time atop the kahiko standings in the 10 years they’ve competed at Merrie Monarch.

“To me, that was the one thing that I always hoped for, because it means so much. It means tradition and it means that the hula lineage is being honored,” he said. “I was so happy to honor one of my kumus, Randie Kamuela Fong.”

Gaspang, whose kane finished second in ‘auana last year, as well, said it was a goal for her men to place in kahiko this year, and she’s “very, very pleased about it.”

The wahine overall title was claimed by Hula Halau ‘O Kamuela, an Oahu halau under the direction of kumu hula Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and Kunewa Mook, which won the wahine kahiko division and came in fourth in wahine ‘auana. Mook said his women “did a beautiful job.”

“I love everything they did on that stage; they did everything that we asked them to,” said Mook, whose 23-year-old niece and student, Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap, won Miss Aloha Hula, hula’s most prized solo title, Thursday night.

Maui’s Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, directed by kumu hula Napua Greig, came in second in wahine kahiko, ‘auana and overall. Third overall was Halau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine of Manoa, Oahu, under the direction of kumu hula Ka‘ilihiwa Vaughan-Darval, the wahine ‘auana winners.

Halau Na Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu, the Kapahulu, Oahu, powerhouse directed by kumu hula Sonny Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera, finished third in wahine ‘auana and fourth in kahiko.

Several halau made huaka‘i, or pilgrimages of discovery, to Mauna Kea, where construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope has been postponed until April 20 by Gov. David Ige, who attended the competition. The mountain is considered sacred by Native Hawaiians, and 31 protesters who oppose the observatory project were arrested April 2.

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There were no organized demonstrations during the hula festival, but one kumu hula, Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu of Academy of Hawaiian Arts in Oakland, Calif., dedicated his kane ‘auana performance Saturday “in protest of the descrecation of Mauna Kea ….”

Full results and Merrie Monarch photo galleries are available online and in today’s print edition of the Tribune-Herald.

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