HILO » After flying in to Hilo Airport on Wednesday morning, kumu hula Keola Dalire took her halau straight to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Her older sister, Kapua Dalire-Moe, also planned the same journey Thursday morning.
In the stillness looking out over the beauty of Halemaumau Crater, the sisters are carrying on a tradition taught to them by their mother, the late Aloha Dalire, who maintained that as a visiting halau from Oahu, it was appropriate to first pay respects and offer gifts, or hookupu, to Madame Pele.
Aloha Dalire, crowned the first Miss Hula (later known as Miss Aloha Hula) in 1971 and a competitor at the Merrie Monarch Festival almost every year since, died Aug. 6 at her home in Kaneohe. She was 64.
“My mom used to tell me, when you come to someone’s house, the first thing you do is greet them, you say hello, give them a gift,” said Dalire, 34, who has taken the reins of her mother’s halau, Keolalaulani Halau ‘Olapa O Laka.
For Dalire-Moe, 42, the presentation of hookupu at the crater is a ritual to pass on to her own seven children.
“When I was a little girl, I remember going and my children now have memories and experiences of doing the same thing,” said Dalire-Moe, who cherishes a family portrait taken near the volcano last year. “She (mom) would never forgive me if we stopped doing that. It’s a responsibility, not a choice any more.”
It’s with a great deal of emotion that both sisters step up to the stage at the 52nd Merrie Monarch Festival this year — Dalire, as the new kumu hula for her mother’s halau, and Dalire-Moe, as kumu hula for Halau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniakea — without their matriarch.
“It’s not mother-daughter now,” said Dalire-Moe, referring to past years when her halau would be in the competition lineup along with her mother’s. “It’s sister-sister. It’ll be another milestone in our family history.”
Both sisters considered sitting out the competition this year, but they intuitively came to the conclusion that their mother would have urged them to go to the festival she loved so much.
FOR FIVE YEARS, according to Dalire, her mother had tried to hand over her halau, which was founded by her grandmother, Mary Keolalaulani McCabe Wong, in 1963. But being stubborn, she refused as long as her mother was still around.
She had, behind the scenes, worked on the choreography and trained the dancers for the competition, oftentimes while her mother was traveling abroad. Aloha Dalire had prepared her in every way. And yet, this year will be different because mom had always been just a phone call away.
This year, Keola Dalire opted to bring a small, tightknit group of 11 dancers to the competition as well as a Miss Aloha Hula soloist, Tiana Kehaulani Arrocena Soares, 19, of Kaneohe, whom mom had worked with since the age of 3.
The group kahiko (ancient-style) number, “Maikai‘i Maunawili,” honors Queen Liliuokalani, whose name was adopted by the annual keiki competition Dalire won at the age of 9. The auana (modern, flowing-style) meanwhile, celebrates Ha‘ena, the woman who taught Hopoe, Hi‘iaka’s companion, to dance hula.
The mele are all within the Keolalaulani tradition, and a tribute to Mom, according to Dalire.
Kumu Aloha Dalire competed at the Merrie Monarch Festival every year but two since 1971. Her three daughters would each go on to compete and win Miss Aloha Hula — Kapua in 1991, Kau‘i in 1992 and Keola in 1999.
Aloha Dalire’s eldest granddaughter, Kili Lai, Kapua’s daughter, also competed for Miss Aloha Hula last year, and was first runner-up. Dalire is survived by 16 grandchildren. All dance hula.
For all three sisters, what resonates most with them today is their mother’s favorite saying: “Hula is the expression of one’s innermost feelings.”
When they teach, it’s what they remember to instill in their students.
“To this very day that’s what I carry on, that it’s an expression of my innermost feelings,” said Keola Dalire. “Without hula I would not have survived her passing.”
Dalire-Moe, who has competed with her own halau at the festival since 2007, is bringing 29 dancers this year for the group competitions.
The songs they perform will be a special tribute to her mother, including “Aia I Nu‘uanu Ko Lei Nani,” a composition that takes Dalire-Moe back to her childhood days playing at Queen Emma Summer Palace. Dalire-Moe says her mother would often take her to the palace with her hanai grandmother, Aunty Emma De Fries. The mele honors Queen Kapiolani.
For the group auana, dancers will be dressed in elegant, long-sleeved dresses — a style that her mom loved — and adorned with pikake lei, her favorite, to perform “Ke Aloha.”
It’s the mele the family used to always dance together. Both the hula kai (entrance) and hoi (exit) will celebrate the song, “Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha,” that Dalire won the Miss Hula title with.
All mele were chosen as a celebration of her mom’s life and accomplishments.
The competition this year is not so much about competing with other halau, but getting on to the stage and continuing a legacy, said Dalire-Moe.
“It’s more about making sure we uphold that standard in our presentation to bring honor to her,” she said, with tears. “If both of us go up there, representing her tradition and people who know and have been touched by my mother can recognize that that’s her on that stage, then I think as her daughters we are making sure her legacy continues on.”