Lineage and spirit of Waimapuna helps propel halau

By Nina Wu / nwu@staradvertiser.com on April 8, 2013

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HILO » For kumu hula Chinky Mahoe, taking the overall title at the 50th Merrie Monarch Festival on Saturday night was symbolic.

It’s the third time his Windward Oahu halau, Kawaili‘ula, has won, but this year was special because the men of Waimapuna, founded by Mahoe’s late kumu hula Darrell Lupenui, had danced on the same stage at Edith Kanaka­‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium at Wednesday night’s Ho‘ike exhibition.

Three generations of former Waimapuna dancers performed at the Ho‘ike, reviving many of the numbers they did back in 1978, when they first competed and swept the kane division.

Overall winner

» Kawaili’ula, kumu Chinky Mahoe, Kailua, Oahu (1,155 points)

Wahine kahiko

» Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, kumu Mapuana de Silva, Kailua, Oahu (570)

» Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela, kumu Kau’ionalani Kamana’o and Kunewa Mook, Kalihi and Waimanalo (568)

» Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina’ala, kumu Leina’ala Pavao Jardin, Kalaheo, Kauai (568)

» Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’eha’e, kumu Tracie and Keawe Lopes, Kalihi (565)

» Halau Hula Olana, kumu Olana and Howard Ai, Pearl City (554)

Wahine auana

» Keolalaulani Halau ‘Olapa o Laka, kumu Aloha Dalire, Kaneohe (585)

» Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela (583)

» Halau Mohala ‘Ilima (582)

» Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’eha’e (577)

» Halau Hula ‘o Kahikilaulani, kumu Nahokuokalani Gaspang, Hilo (572)

Wahine overall

» Halau Mohala ‘Ilima (1,152)

» Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela (1,151)

» Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’eha’e (1,142)

Kane kahiko

» Kawaili’ula (566)

» Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, kumu ‘Iliahi and Haunani Paredes, Wailuku (565)

» Ke Kai o Kahiki, kumu La’akea Perry, Waianae (565)

» Halau Hula ‘o Kahikilaulani (562)

Kane auana

» Kawaili’ula (589)

» Halau i ka Wekiu, kumu Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang, Pauoa (586)

» Halau Hula ‘o Kahikilaulani (579)

» Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi (570)

Kane overall

» Kawaili’ula (1,155)

» Halau i ka Wekiu (1,145)

» Halau Hula ‘o Kahikilaulani (1,141)

Lupenui, who died in 1987, is credited with changing the look of men’s hula with his masculine and powerful dance style. Former students include other hula greats such as O’Brian Eselu, Thaddius Wilson, John Ka‘imikaua and Mark Ho‘omalu Jr.

Waimapuna would go on to win three consecutive Merrie Monarch kane overall titles with its dynamic, bombastic style.

Who knew that 35 years later a new generation from the Waimapuna lineage would sweep the kane and overall festival titles?

“The spirit of Darrell Lupenui was with us the whole time,” Mahoe said. “It’s a blessing our men were able to practice while I was getting the Ho‘ike together and feel the energy of those past generations of dancers of Waimapuna. They’re the next generation.”

For two months they practiced together, with the older dancers mentoring younger ones.

When it was their turn to step onto the stage, the men of Kawaili‘ula delivered.

For Friday’s hula kahiko (ancient-style dance), they drew roars of approval from the audience as they performed “‘O Kilauea Noho Lulu,” using puniu (coconut-shell knee drums) to tell the tale of how Pele finds Lohiau, her lover-to-be. They demonstrated athleticism, skill and masculine grace as they performed the hula noho (sitting hula), which requires toughened knees.

For Saturday’s hula auana (modern style), the halau performed a lively and expressive combination of two popular love songs, “Green Rose Hula” and “Pilialoha,” which were creatively interwoven to describe a courtship.

The bar was set high as 29 groups — 18 wahine and 11 kane — performed over the two-night group competition. The points were
close, with tie-breaker scoring needed to determine second place in wahine and kane kahiko.

Mapuana de Silva’s Halau Mohala ‘Ilima of Kailua, Oahu, missed the overall title by just three points after winning wahine kahiko and wahine overall.

Keolalaulani Halau ‘Olapa o Laka of Kaneohe, led by kumu Aloha Dalire (the festival’s first Miss Hula in 1971), took the top place in women’s auana by two points.

This year was special for Dalire as her three daughters (all past Miss Aloha Hula winners) shared the stage with her, along with her granddaughter, representing three generations. For auana their halau danced “Ilima Beauty” in honor of Dalire’s mother, Mary Keolalaulani McCabe Wong, who cherished the delicate blossoms.

Mauians have much to be proud of, given that one of their own — Manalani Mili Hokoana English of Kula’s Halau Na Lei Kaumaka
o Uka — won the Miss Aloha Hula title Thursday. Another Maui group, Halau Kekuaokalaʻauʻala­ʻiliahi of Wailuku, under the direction of ʻIliahi and Haunani Paredes, took second place in kane kahiko, just one point short of winning.

The 50th Merrie Monarch Festival was a large reunion not only for dancers from early years who reunited to grace the stage once again, but for hula fans from far and near who made an extra effort to come this year and for musicians who have been part of it all since the beginning.

It was a time to reminisce as well as pay homage to “Merrie Monarch” King David Kalakaua; festival co-founders Dorothy Thompson and George Na‘ope; and the many kumu hula whose legacies were present throughout the weeklong celebration.

The men of Halau i ka Wekiu of Pauoa, under the direction of Karl Veto Baker and Micheal Casupang, ended the competition on a sweet note, with a mele thanking the people of Hilo. It was a tribute to Thompson, Na‘ope and festival president Luana Kawelu, Thompson’s daughter, and it was a hit with the audience.

At the close of the competition, Princess Abigail Kawananakoa made a surprise donation of $2,000 to each participating kumu and $25,000 to the Merrie Monarch Festival in honor of Thompson and Na‘ope.

Puanani Alama, 82, the last living judge from 1971, when the festival added the hula competition, said this year’s event was memorable. The last time she came to Merrie Monarch was for the 25th anniversary.

“It makes me very happy that I came,” she said. “I thought everyone was beautiful.”