Friday, Dec. 01, 2023|
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Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e was the overall winner at the 54th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition Saturday night at Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo.
The wahine halau, under the direction of kumu hula Tracie and Keawe Lopes, scored 1168 points to win both the overall and wahine overall titles. Taking the first runner-up spot with 1163 points was another Oahu wahine troupe, Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua, under the direction of kumu hula Robert Ka‘upu IV and Lono Padilla. The second runner-up overall was the kane overall winner, Kawaili‘ula, under the direction of kumu hula Chinky Mahoe, with 1148 points.
“I’m so proud of the women and all of their hard work and just so grateful. I thank God for all the opportunities and feel so blessed and so full of gratitude right now,” Tracie Lopes said as her husband shed tears of joy. “This is our ninth year at Merrie Monarch and it’s just such a big part of our lives. I’m so grateful for (President) Luana Kawelu and all of her staff and the work they do for all the halau, and, of course, all the other kumu.”
It was the first time a wahine halau took the festival’s top prize since 2011, when Maui’s Halau Keʻalaokamaile captured hula’s most coveted award. Its kumu hula, Hawaiian entertainment superstar Keali‘i Reichel, was one of the festival’s judges this year.
Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e won the wahine hula ‘auana (modern hula) title with 579 points, one point better than Halau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine, an Oahu halau under the direction of Ka‘ilihiwa Vaughan-Darval. Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua was third with 573 points.
The ‘auana that clinched the Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy, which goes to the overall champions, was the final performance of the night, to the mele “Mauna Lahilahi,” composed by the late, great Hawaiian falsetto Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln about a Leeward Oahu beach cottage owned by Jack Waterhouse.
Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua won the wahine hula kahiko (ancient hula) category with 590 points, a single point better than Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e. On Thursday, Hi‘iakainamakalehua’s Kelina Kiyoko Ke‘ano‘ilehua Tiffany Eldredge was named Miss Aloha Hula, the hula world’s most prestigious award for a solo dancer.
“I’m even more speechless than (after) the Miss Aloha Hula. I cannot wrap my mind around it,” said Ka‘upu, a Hilo native. “The odds are, for anybody, you’re not going to win, when you look at how many awesome, awesome halaus there are. You hope for the best.
“I’m so proud of them. (Friday) night, they did a wonderful job; they did exactly what we asked them to. (Saturday) night, same thing. They did exactly what we wanted them to — and that doesn’t always happen.”
Mahoe entered both kane and wahine this year, with his men taking the kane hula kahiko title over Hilo’s Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani, 580 points to 566. Kawaili‘ula placed third in kane ‘auana with 568 points, behind winners Halau I Ka Wekiu, under the direction of kumu hula Karl Veto Baker and Michael Lanakila Casupang, who scored 584 points, and runners-up Halau Kekuaokala‘au‘ala‘iliahi, under the direction of kumu hula Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes, with 581 points.
“I thought the guys did a great job and worked very hard bonding together — what we call ‘pili,’ which is to stick close together. They did a lot of work to get where they are,” Mahoe said. “It was so good this year. It’s so nice to be back with my wahine, my ladies, and the Miss (Aloha) Hula. It’s been 16 years since I’ve entered a Miss Hula and it’s been, like, five or six years since I’ve entered my women. So it’s just good to be back with the whole halau again.”
Kahikilaulani’s kumu hula, Nahoku Gaspang, also entered her men and women this year for the first time in several years. The first runner-up finish in the kane kahiko makes five consecutive years the men in the Hilo halau have taken home a trophy, starting in 2013.
“It’s just wonderful. There’s not much I can say, but I’m just proud of them. I was very happy with their performance,” Gaspang said.
Two other Big Island halau competed, as well — Hilo’s Hula Halau O Kou Lima Nani E under the direction of kumu hula Iwalani Kalima and Kohala’s Halau Manaola under the direction of kumu hula Nani Lim Yap, both in the wahine division.
There were 29 performances both Friday and Saturday night from the 23 halau entered in the competition — 20 by wahine and nine by kane each evening.
For full results, see the separate list of Merrie Monarch winners on hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com
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