HILO » For kumu hula Maelia Loebenstein Carter, a certain lehua tree at the edge of Kilauea Caldera holds symbolic meaning.
On the eve of each year’s Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition, she brings the dancers from her halau Ka Pa Hula O Kauanoe O Wa‘ahila of Oahu to this tree to give prayer and thanks to Pele.
"We always come here," she said yesterday. "It’s just a way to say hello and mahalo."
It is the same tree that Carter visited as a child with her late grandmother, respected kumu hula Mae Ulalia Loebenstein.
Now Carter brings her own halau to the tree as a kumu hula.
The tree was once abundant with red lehua blooms, Carter said, but in the past few years has become more and more bare. Still, it holds great meaning for her and her halau’s lineage.
"It’s my grandmother’s tree," she said.
So every year, the dancers gather before the tree, as they did yesterday afternoon, to offer a few chants and gifts to Pele at the crater.
The gifts — lei and bottles of gin wrapped in ti leaf — are hurled into the crater one by one. Together, the dancers also offered sprigs of ohelo.
The Merrie Monarch Festival begins today with 12 dancers competing for the Miss Aloha Hula title, followed by 28 halau competing in the hula kahiko competition tomorrow and auana competition on Saturday.
Winners will be announced and presented with awards on Saturday. Visit www.merriemonarch.com for a full schedule.