Maui's flower, the lokelani pink rose, and modern-day issues impacting sacred resources and places will be at the forefront of two Maui hula halaus' performances beginning tonight at the Merrie Monarch Festival on the Big Island.
Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi of Wailuku, under the direction of kumu hula Haunani and 'Iliahi Paredes, and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka of Kula, under the direction of kumu hula Napua Greig, will again represent the Valley Isle at the world-famous hula competition in Hilo. The event runs through Saturday. The Paredeses will have their kane, or men's group, at the competition while Greig will have her wahine, or women's group, at the contest.
Merrie Monarch will be led tonight with the Miss Aloha Hula soloist competition, where one woman from each halau is invited to compete and dance for the coveted title. The group competitions will be Friday and Saturday.
As in all of the competitions in Merrie Monarch, the soloists will perform a hula kahiko (traditional) and a hula 'auana (modern).
Last year, it was a one-two finish for dancers from the same Maui halau in this year's competition. Manalani Mili Hokoana English of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka claimed the title, and Sloane Makana West of Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi finished second.
'Iliahi Paredes said his Miss Aloha Hula contestant this year, Kamalani Kaleimomi Kahalepoli Kawa'a, will try to "embody all of the beautiful characteristics of the lokelani rose (pink rose of Maui)."
He and wife, Haunani, gave Kawa'a the task of emulating the characteristics of "being soft and sweet and beautiful and delicate and gracious."
Kawa'a will emulate the rose as she dances to "Aia I Waiehu Pua Lokelani," which means "there at Waiehu is a heavenly rose," in the kahiko portion. For the 'auana, Kawa'a will dance to "Lovely Sunrise Haleakala" that weaves together the mele, or song, of roselani blossoms and the lovely Haleakala sunrise.
"Hopefully, what you see on that stage is the rose blossoming onstage," Paredes said Tuesday, after he and Haunani had a hectic day of running halau errands and dropping off the halau's cargo at the airport.
Greig's soloist, Hulali Ka'imi'aina Ciera DeLima, along with her halau sisters in the group competition, will dance to songs about Mauna Kea, where some Native Hawaiians have long opposed telescopes being built.
DeLima is from Pukalani and is the daughter of Kamehameha Schools Maui Headmaster Lee Ann DeLima.
Overall, Greig said that her halau's program involves "doing dance that bring focus to sacred places that are being threatened by development."
For one of her halau's performances, the 28 dancers, ages 14 to 32, will dance to "I Waikapu Ke Aloha," which talks about the rejoining of the four waters of the Iao, Waikapu and Waiehu streams and the Waihee River or "Na Wai Eha."
Last week, a contested case settlement was approved by the state Commission on Water Resource Management that will allow for a steady flow of water from mauka to makai in all four bodies of water. Some of the water has been diverted over the years to supply sugar cane production and for domestic use; Native Hawaiian and environmental groups have argued for the return of the water to revive the flora and fauna and for healthy taro cultivation.
"We are really excited about that this week," Greig said about the recent decision in a short interview via cellphone before she got on the plane to Hilo on Wednesday.
Greig is a former member of the state Land Use Commission, the panel that makes decisions on future development. When reading reports on issues such as Na Wai Eha, she was surprised at how little the land use process considers the sacredness of areas or native practices.
She wants to bring focus to sacred areas that are being impacted by modern-day uses.
While Kawa'a and DeLima are following the successes of their past hula sisters, their kumu both said that there is no pressure on this year's Maui Miss Aloha Hula contestants.
"I don't think she's (DeLima) worried . . . who she is following," Greig said, referring to the Miss Aloha Hula title captured by her dancer last year. "The challenge is all about yourself and doing your best."
The same goes for Kawa'a.
"Every year, it's a new competition," Paredes said with soloists and halau members practicing hard.
"All we ask for is they have fun and they do the best they can on that stage. After that, it's not up to us," he said.
His soloist brings a compelling life history to her dance.
Kamalani Kawa'a, daughter of kumu hula Luana Kawa'a, was a "miracle baby," Paredes said. She carries a bullet in her head from an incident as an infant. She was less than a year old and being carried by her father in the Pihana Heiau in Paukukalo when she was hit in the head by a stray bullet.
Miraculously, she survived, though the bullet remains lodged in her head. Kawa'a has no limitations, but Paredes remembers that loud noises used to bother her when she was younger.
"She has overcome so much," he said.
Kawa'a graduated from King Kekaulike High Schools' Kula Kaiapuni O Kekaulike, or Hawaiian language immersion program, in 2013. The Waiehu resident is attending the University of Hawaii-Maui College Institute of Hawaiian Music, Paredes said.
Kawa'a's three brothers, Kamaehu, Kamahiwa and Kamalei, all dance with the Paredes halau and will be competing at Merrie Monarch this year.
Last year, the Paredes halau came within one point of capturing the kahiko title for the kane division.
This year, there will be 16 dancers, ages 13 to 36, on stage for the halau. Their kahiko will be "E Ho'i Ka Nani I Moku'ula," which means "that beckons for beauty and glory to return to Moku'ula," a sacred island in Lahaina that once served as the political and spiritual center of the Hawaiian Kingdom from the 16th to 19th centuries.
Their 'auana "Kuahiwi Nani/Haleakala Hula Medley" is energetic and was composed in praise of Haleakala, he said.
Paredes said he learned the song from his late kumu hula on Oahu, O'Brian Eselu.
"I always loved it," he said.
Now it is Paredes' turn to teach. He said being proud of Haleakala is something to which his Maui dancers can relate.
"OK, you got to be proud of this mountain," he told his halau.
"When I look at these boys and I look at their faces, I know they understand what it is to be proud of Maui and their mountain," he said.
The hula competition is being televised live on KFVE Channel 5. For airing schedules, see www.k5thehometeam.com.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.