HILO >> The start of the group kahiko competition at the 55th Merrie Monarch Festival on Friday evening coincided with a return of tradewinds as halau brought their best to the stage at Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium.
A total of 29 hula troupes — nine kane (men’s) and 20 wahine (women’s) — competed before judges, displaying athleticism, creativity in choreography and mastery of the oli, or chant, as well as various hula implements in ancient-style hula.
Many of the stories told on Friday evening featured Hi‘iaka, Pele’s younger sister, as a central figure, as well as her journey from Hawaii island to Kauai and back to fetch the handsome chief, Lohiau, for the volcano goddess. Other mele paid tribute to King David Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch, as well as Queen Ka‘ahumanu, Queen Emma and others.
Particularly notable was the use of the papa hehi (treadleboard) along with kala‘au (rhythm sticks), a traditional hula implement not commonly seen in performances nowadays, by three halau on Friday.
The ladies of Hula Halau O Kou Lima Nani E of Hilo, Hawaii, under the direction of kumu hula Iwalani Kalima, performed “Ko Hilo Ua Kiakahi,” describing the rains of Hilo rejuvenating the area’s lehua groves, with the blossoms as metaphors for the dancers. The papa hehi created rhythms mimicking the patterns of the rain — and later that night, real rain began to fall on the rooftop of the stadium.
In a tribute to Pele, the ladies of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka of Maui, under the direction of kumu Napua Greig, offered a powerful dance integrating the papa hehi into their story about the fire god, Lonomakua, who ignites the fires at Kilauea during a dalliance with pig god Kamapua‘a. They duck walked down the rampway, making a dramatic exit.
The kane of Kawaili‘ula of Oahu under the direction of kumu Chinky Mahoe demonstrated mastery of the complex rhythms and coordination required to dance with the papa hehi and kala‘au in a dynamic, standing performance about a battle between King Kamehameha and Chief Kalanikupule of Maui.
As usual, men’s hula was a crowd favorite, eliciting screams and cheers from the audience.
On Thursday night, 12 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Shalia Kapuauʻionalani Kikuyo Kamakaokalani of Hali‘imaile, Maui. The group auana competition takes places tonight, followed by the announcement of winners and awards early Sunday morning.
One halau will be named the overall winner, taking home the prestigious Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy.