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Merrie Monarch Festival concludes with group hula ‘auana competition

The 61st annual Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition wrapped up Saturday evening at Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo with group hula ‘auana (modern hula) performances.

The judges’ scores for Friday’s group hula kahiko (ancient hula) and Saturday night’s hula ‘auana were tabulated, and awards were presented in both categories for both kane (men) and wahine (women) groups, as well as prizes for the kane overall and wahine overall winners.

The halau winning the competition’s overall title claimed the Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy until the 2025 competition.

There were 29 performances by 23 halau — 19 performances by wahine groups and 10 by kane.

The only halau representing Hawai‘i Island, Halau Ka Lehua Pua Kamaehu of Hilo, under the direction of na kumu hula Kasie Puahala Kaleohano and Brandi Nohelani Barrett, competed in the wahine division. In their second year of Merrie Monarch competition, Kaleohano and Barrett are dedicated to preserving the legacy of the late Hilo kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho and both danced for and taught in Lum Ho’s Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua.

Their group ‘auana performance was to “Lanikai.” The best known version of the song was recorded in 1998 by Darren Benitez — one of the famed falsetto vocalists in Lum Ho’s halau band. Benitez and band mate Bert Naihe both passed in 2023. They used another song recorded by Benitez, “Aloha O‘ahu” as their ka‘i (entrance). The body of both sons were written by Nancy Gustaffson, with Lum Ho adding his own verses.

The band was be familiar with fans of Lum Ho’s. Two of his falsetto vocalists, Kuana Torres Kahele and Mark Yamanaka accompanied the halau, as did longtime Lum Ho bassist Eddy Atkins. They were joined by Kaulike Pescaia and Heua‘ola Sai-Dudoit, young musicians who sing in the trademark Lum Ho leo ki‘eki‘e (male falsetto) style.

The penultimate performance was by the defending overall champions, the wahine of Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e, under the direction of na kumu hula Tracie and Keawe Lopes. They took home the cherished Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy last year by placing first in group wahine kahiko and wahine group overall. They also finished fourth in wahine group hula ‘auana.

On Thursday, Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e won its fourth consecutive Miss Aloha Hula title, with Ka‘onohikaumakaakeawe Kananiokeakua Holokai Lopes claiming hula’s most coveted title for a solo dancer. She’s the second daughter of the Lopeses to follow in the footsteps of their mother, who won the title in 1994. The eldest daughter, Pi‘ikea Kekiihenelehuawewehiikekau‘onohi Lopes, took the tiara in 2022.

And the last dance Saturday was by the kane of Maui’s Halau Kekuaokala‘au‘ala‘iliahi, which in 2023 won the kane group hula kahiko and kane overall titles last year, under the direction of na kumu hula Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes. Mirroring the overall winners, Halau Kekuaokala‘au‘ala‘iliahi also finished fourth in kane group hula ‘auana.

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Reporter John Burnett can be reached at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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