Making Merrie

With competition beginning today, Maui halau well-represented in Hilo at annual Merrie Monarch hula festival

Miss Aloha Hula contestant Leila Noelani Ku‘uleimomi Rodrigues dances with her kumu, Kamaka Kukona of Halau O Ka Hanu Lehua.

Maui will be well-represented at this year’s Merrie Monarch hula competition, which begins today on Hawaii Island.

Dancers from four Maui halau will grace the stage during the competition, the most prestigious in hula, and at least one halau will focus its songs and chants on Maui.

Kumu, or teachers, of the hula groups were excited this week as they busily made preparations for the Merrie Monarch. Preparations included gathering plants and flowers for dancers’ adornments, along with last-minute practices. The weeklong festival includes a Hawaiian arts fair, hula shows and a grand parade through Hilo town. The event honors the legacy of King David Kalakaua, who inspired the perpetuation of Hawaiian traditions, native language and arts.

The four Maui halau that will join 19 others at the competition in Hilo are: Pukalani Hula Hale with kumu Hi’ilei Maxwell-Juan; Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka with kumu Napua Greig-Nakasone; Halau Kekuao-kala’au’ala’iliahi with na kumu Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes; and Halau O Ka Hanu Lehua with kumu Kamaka Kukona.

The competition gets underway tonight with the Miss Aloha Hula competition. The group competition begins Friday with the kahiko, or ancient style of hula, and ‘auana, or modern style, on Saturday. The live broadcast begins at 6 p.m. each day on KFVE (channels 5, 85 and 1005) and on the internet at

Miriam Anuhea Kamakanaokealoha Hokoana Arakawa

There will be three Maui women competing in the soloist competition. They all are students at the University of Hawaii Maui College. They are:

• Miriam Anuhea Kamakanao-kealoha Hokoana Arakawa, 21, of Haliimaile, from Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka.

• Leimakamae Maura Kea, 20, of Kahului, from Halau Kekuao-kala’au’ala’iliahi.

• Leila Noelani Ku’uleimomi Rodrigues, 24, of Waiehu, from Halau O Ka Hanu Lehua.

Each will perform a kahiko and ‘auana dance.

Leimakamae Maura Kea

Pukalani Hula Hale will not have a Miss Aloha Hula contestant. But the halau is trying something new this year in the group competition. Maxwell-Juan said she is doing “something different” by only taking the minimum five female dancers to the competition.

“Those that I’m taking never danced at the Merrie Monarch before,” she said. “It’s going to be all brand new.”

While there may be fewer students to worry about, the few dancers for the halau must work on their expressions and be creative when they dance because there will be more eyes on the individual dancers, Maxwell-Juan said.

The halau will dance to “Ala Pikake,” which compares the pikake flower to a lover. This will be the song for the modern hula.

The song “Nou E Ka Lani,” honoring Queen Lili’uokalani, will be song for the kahiko hula.

Skylee Kauha‘aha‘a, Caprice Sambrano, Jolene Villanueva, Dawn Ka‘alakea and Jaime Felipe will dance for Pukalani Hula Hale.

Maxwell-Juan said the women made their own ‘uli’uli, or feathered gourd rattle, for the traditional hula number, which included picking the seeds to go into the rattle. They also dyed the kapa, or fabric, for the rattle.

Greig-Nakasone of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka is looking forward to another competition.

“It feels good,” she said earlier this week. “This year, we are doing all Maui mele (song).”

Maui’s pink rose, or the lokelani, will be one of the focuses along with Iao Valley and the four great waters of Maui — the Wailuku, Waihee, Waiehu and Waikapu rivers and streams.

“We really want to honor our island and honor the people that love Maui like we do,” she said.

Greig-Nakasone will be taking 23 women to the competition.

For their traditional competition, the women will dance to “I Waikapu Ke Aloha,” which is about the four great waters of Maui. For the modern competition, the women will dance to “Maui Nani.”

Arakawa’s chant for Miss Aloha Hula will focus on Iao Valley.

One of the larger contingents in the competition is Maui’s Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, led by wife and husband Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes.

They will be taking 28 women and 20 men to the competition. Each group competes separately. The halau is the only one from Maui entering men in the competition.

“We are so honored and blessed to be invited back to participate in this year’s Merrie Monarch hula competition. Each year it’s a different journey for us and for our haumana (students),” the halau said in an email.

It said it always hopes to do Maui proud.

For the traditional hula, the men and women will compete separately but dance to the same song, “Huaka’i Hele,” which describes a journey over the distant cliffs of Koa’ekea on Hawaii Island. Travelers send a plea to the owl god to send the mists down to the lowland and clear the upland for their travels, according to the Merrie Monarch program listing sent from the halau.

For the modern hula, the men will dance to “Honomuni,” which recounts a visit to Molokai with a Jeep ride around the island.

The women will dance to “Ke ‘Ala ‘Iliahi,” which lost its original melody. But a new melody was created by Hawaiian entertainer and musical scholar Zachary Lum as a gift of friendship to Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes. It is a love song comparing the fragrance of sandalwood blossoms to a close love interest.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at