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Kahiko night pays homage to the past at Merrie Monarch Festival

    The women of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka perform on kahiko night at the Merrie Monarch Festival on Friday.

HILO >> Hula kahiko reached into the past while demonstrating creative variations of tradition at the 51st Merrie Monarch Festival Friday night.

A total of 28 groups — 11 kane (men) and 17 wahine (women) — competed before judges in the kahiko (ancient-style) portion of the competition Friday night, displaying athleticism, precision and a mastery of the oli, or chant.

Pele the fiery volcano goddess, was popular on this night, with stories telling of how she covered the Puna district on Hawaii island with ash, as was the ohia lehua, with its leaf and red flower buds featured as a metaphor for the physical, emotional and spiritual growth shared by dancers and kumu hula during their hula journey.

It was an evening to pay homage to alii, including King Kalakaua, Queen Lili’uokalani and Prince Lot as well as Princess Likelike.

Some halau brought out lesser-seen implements this year — from ‘ili’ili (pebbles clicked together) to kala’au (sticks of various lengths) and ka’e’eke, or bamboo pipes.

Kumu hula Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu’s Academy of Hawaiian Arts from Oakland, Calif., was, as usual, a crowd-pleaser, eliciting wild screams from the audience for his departure from tradition. His women’s halau danced fiercely, hefting paddles in the air in a song about Kamohoali’i, the shark god. His men’s halau marched out with barbed spears, creating a dramatic stir.

Last year’s overall winner, Kawai’iliula under the direction of kumu hula Chinky Mahoe, performed last, as part of Merrie Monarch tradition, but did not disappoint with a rhythmic, chest-slapping choreography telling of a Hawaiian chief’s bravery sailing over challenging currents in a piece called “Kalaunui’ohua.”

On Thursday night, 13 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Ke’alohilani Tara Eliga Serrao of Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha’eha’e. Following Friday night’s group kahiko, the festival continues with the group auana (modern-style) hula portion of the competition Saturday night, followed by the announcement of winners and awards.

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