Maui's only hula halau to compete in the 49th Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo this year was still on "cloud nine" a day after the competition ended.
Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi of Wailuku had its young men's group place fourth overall in both the kahiko (ancient) and auana (modern) hula categories.
Only four top places are given out for the young men's division, said Haunani Paredes, a kumu (teacher) from the halau.
Ka‘ala Foster (from left), Kamalei Kawa‘a and Keanu Cockett of Halau Kekuaokala‘au‘ala‘iliahi of Wailuku dance in the ‘auana, or modern, hula competition portion of the Merrie Monarch Festival on the Big Island on Saturday night. The halau placed fourth in the ‘auana and also fourth in the kahiko, or ancient, competition held Friday.
RANDY JAY BRAUN photo
What made it more special was that this was the first time that the halau led by Paredes and husband 'Iliahi Paredes competed in the three-day festival held on the Big Island.
"It's so wonderful. It's just so wonderful," Haunani Paredes said via cellphone Sunday morning after the competition ended late Saturday. "Our boys have worked so hard for this."
She said that the dancers' parents as well as community members all pitched in by donating their time and money and supported the group through fundraisers such as laulau sales.
"We are on just could nine. We are absolutely blessed," she said.
On Thursday, the halau's Tiana-Lynn Nalani Manuel placed fifth in a field of a dozen competitors for the Miss Aloha Hula title.
In the Miss Aloha Hula category, only the top five are given awards, Paredes said.
"This is the Olympics of hula; you are going up against the best of the best. This has been an amazing accomplishment for our halau," she said of all the awards.
Her young men's group consisted of nine members ages 13 to 17.
She said that the teens have worked hard not only for the competition but in life, as they also have to juggle school, sports and their studies.
There were apparently no expectations to where the halau would or could place in its first showing at the festival.
"We always come into any competition doing the best we can do. That's the only thing we can ask from our students. Anything that comes after, that is wonderful," Paredes said.
She added that the halau is invited again to participate in next year's 50th annual competition. So far, the halau has spots to perform in the young men's division and to have an entrant in the Miss Aloha Hula competition.
The halau also has women dancers, and it hopes to eventually have them compete in the festival as well.
Paredes is thankful of everyone who helped with the "insane amount of money to travel" to the Big Island as well as the other help they received.
"We just hope we did Maui proud."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.