Like father, like son
‘Iliahi and Justin Paredes become the first father-son Master Keiki Hula title duo
Ever since he danced his way to the Master Keiki Hula title in 1987, ‘Iliahi Paredes had dreamed of seeing his kids win the same award. So when his 7-year-old son took the title Thursday night — making them the first father-son duo to accomplish the feat — it was an emotional moment for the longtime kumu hula.
“My wife and I, we just looked at each other and was crying and crying, because it has been a dream for us,” said Paredes on Sunday after his halau won top honors at the 43rd annual Queen Lili’uokalani Keiki Hula Competition on Oahu.
‘Iliahi and Haunani Paredes have taken Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi to the competition for the past 12 years, but this year’s event may be one of the most special. The halau won the overall keiki kane and the keiki kane kahiko, or boys ancient hula, categories for the fifth consecutive year, allowing them to bring the trophies home to Maui permanently.
“When you look at the pahu (drum) you get to take home, there’s all of these wonderful names of halau that have won this trophy going back 20, 30 years,” ‘Iliahi Paredes said. “So it is a very special, special treat for us this year.”
With 19 boys and 27 girls ranging from ages 6 to 12, the halau also won first place in the keiki kane auana, or boys modern hula, category; first place in the kaikamahine auana, or girls modern hula, category; fourth place in the kaikamahine kahiko, or girls ancient hula, category; and the Mary Kawena Pukui Perpetual Trophy for Hawaiian language. Twenty halau danced in the competition, including Maui’s own Halau O Ka Hanu Lehua, Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka and Halau Kamaluokaleihulu, whose student Keli’a Kang earned a Kawena’ula Scholarship for Hawaiian language.
Like its adult counterpart, the Merrie Monarch Festival, the annual keiki competition features three days of hula, starting with the solo competition on Thursday and moving on to kahiko and auana group performances on Friday and Saturday.
Twenty-four total soloists competed this year. Ten-year-old ‘Anela Symonds, another Paredes student, placed fourth runner-up in the Miss Keiki Hula category for her performance to “Pualeilani,” honoring Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole.
On Thursday night, 7-year-old Justin Pua’iliahi Paredes danced to “Henehene Kou ‘Aka,” the first hula that his father learned as a kid. His mother, Dorothy Paredes, “not a kumu hula but a very supportive halau mommy,” would sing it for him, and 3-year-old ‘Iliahi Paredes would eagerly emulate his oldest brother and sisters, all of whom danced hula.
“He was just full of life as well,” Haunani Paredes said of her husband. “His mom would just buss out the ukulele, and he would dance and he would perform at family parties. So that is his first experience with dancing hula.”
Haunani Paredes said her son was the youngest soloist they’d ever entered in the competition. As his kumu hula, she watched him throw “100 percent of his energy” into every practice and saw how prepared he was. But as a parent, she said it was “very scary” to watch him take the stage.
“It’s just hard when your 7-year-old is up there,” she said. “And he so wants this. He’s so energetic. He’s so ready for it. But as parents it was something that we needed to prepare ourselves (for) as well.”
‘Iliahi Paredes said Thursday’s performance was “the best I’d ever seen him dance it.”
“I told him, ‘You know boy, I’m so proud of you,’ “ he said. “All that dad wants you to do is to leave everything you have on that stage, and he did. I think ultimately my son has taught me so many things through this process. . . .
I needed to remain grounded for him, and that was a lesson I learned. I needed to make sure I breathed and relaxed and let things be.”
It’s the third title for the Paredes family. Daughter Faith “Aloha” Paredes won the Miss Keiki Hula title in 2015 at the age of 10. She and ‘Iliahi Paredes became the first father-daughter duo to win the keiki hula soloist titles, according to the competition organizer, the Kalihi-Palama Culture & Arts Society.
During the kahiko competition on Friday night, all of the keiki kane groups performed a number honoring King David Kalakaua. Halau Kekuao-kala’au’ala’iliahi chose to do it as a hula noho uliuli, a difficult style done kneeling on the ground while using the feathered gourd implement.
“There are so many different muscles we use in our body when we’re doing the hula noho, and it really takes a skilled dancer to make that type of sitting dance look natural,” ‘Iliahi Paredes said. “To teach that to 20 kolohe and energetic boys is a feat in and of itself. I have to thank our older students because they helped us out this year.”
During the auana competition on Saturday afternoon, the girls of Halau Kekuao-kala’au’ala’iliahi performed a song that honored the competition’s namesake, Queen Lili’uokalani, and transported listeners to the town of Puna on Hawaii island. ‘Iliahi Paredes said it was the halau’s way of sharing “their aloha and their respect” for the residents who’ve been displaced during the Kilauea eruption over the past few months.
For Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes, everything has come full circle. Both danced as keiki — she with the Pukalani Hula Hale under kumu hula Nina Maxwell, and he with Halau Hula Olana under kumu hula Howard and Olana Ai. The latter was honored with the Miriam Likelike Kekauluohi Keahelapalapa Kapili Achievement Award at this year’s event.
“That experience of winning Master Keiki Hula inspired me to do so many things in our culture, so many things in our community,” ‘Iliahi Paredes said. “It put me on a path that leads me to where I am today.”
The full Keiki Hula Competition will be rebroadcast on KFVE television starting at 7 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit keikihula.org.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.