1. Two halau performed for the first time at the Merrie Monarch Festival, and both placed at awards night.
The kahiko (ancient-style) and auana (modern-style) portions of the contest got a electrifying jolt of energy with the debut of two halau (groups), the wahine (women) of Halau Hula O Kauhionamauna (Waipahu, Oahu) and kane (men) of Kawaiulaokala (Kalaepohaku, Oahu), in their first Merrie Monarch Festival appearances.
Not only was it their first time taking to the Edith Kanakaole Stadium stage, but they each returned to the platform as winners on awards night: Halau Hula O Kauhionamauna received fifth place in the Wahine Auana division, and Kawaiulaokala recieved fourth in Kane Kahiko.
2. Miss Aloha Hula’s historic double tiebreaker where Kelina Eldredge reigned supreme.
The contest between the best female solo hula dancers in Hawaii was extra fierce this year. By a margin of just 0.2 points (!!), Eldredge became the next Miss Aloha Hula over second place finisher Julyen Kaluna after not just one, but two, tie-breaking deliberations by the judges. It also marked a second consecutive Miss Aloha Hula win for her halau, Halau Hiiakainamakalehua.
3. A well-deserved overall win for Ka La Onohi Mai O Haehae.
From the Windward Side of Oahu, kumu Tracie and Keawe Lopes’ halau received the top score of the night. Ka La Onohi Mai O Haehae performed a dignified hula pa ipu, a hula in the kneeling position where each dancer also plays a drumlike gourd, during their kahiko number, “Waioli,” a truncated rain mele (song) in honor of Queen Kapiolani. Their graceful auana, “Mauna Lahilahi,” retold the beauty of prominent Hawaii persona Jack Waterhouse’s cottage home on the Leeward Side of Oahu.
4. The wahine of Halau I Ka Wekiu’s loving hula auana tribute performance to the late Keo Woolford.
With “Aloha Aku, Aloha Mai,” kumu Karl Veto Baker and Michael Lanakila Casupang’s halau paid tribute to their late hula brother, Keo Woolford, a Hawaiian filmmaker who passed away suddenly last year. The song was inspired by Casupang’s experience working with Woolford on his film, “The Haumana,” a hula drama released in 2013.
5. For the first time in more than 20 years, a young princess Kaiulani was included in the Royal Court.
Portrayed by Jodenella Alameda (pictured above in the green and black), she told Big Island Now, “I always wanted to be a princess, but this is more important than just dressing up as a princess. I am nervous, but excited to be able to be a part of it.”
6. The island of Oahu, represent!
Hula dancers from Oahu brought it home this year across the board. The first place winners in Overall, Wahine Overall, Kane Overall, Wahine and Kane Kahiko, and Wahine and Kane Auana all hailed from Oahu.
7. Uli uli dominated the stage.
There was a noticeable use of uli uli, a feathered gourd rattle, this year by many of the women’s and men’s halau making it a key element in their dances—eight halau in total. Spectators noticed and it set off a sub-contest on social media: Whose uli uli was the biggest? Most colorful? The fluffiest?
Waianae halau Ke Kai O Kahiki’s performance, whose direct and concise execution with uli uli, placed third in the kane kahiko division and the dancers’ creation of their instruments—replicas of the original 1779 uli uli acquired by Captain Cook that are currently exhibited in the British Museum in London—undoubtedly drove their score. Halau Hiiakainamakalehua won the top wahine kahiko award, using uli uli to tell the spirited sightseeing story of Princess Liliuokalani’s tour around Oahu by train.
However it was the kane of Kawailiula's use of uli uli adorned with lauae (a fragrant fern), in an traditional style of hula uli uli that predates its use of feathers, to tell a Kauai love story, that proved the most victorious. The halau won first place in the Kane Kahiko and Kane Overall.
8. This aunty serving major maka (eyes) action.
Absolutely fabulous and hilarious.
9. When all seven judges got on stage to dance.
It’s always a highlight of the festival when the esteemed judges hula on over to centerstage to cut loose while the much-anticipated scores are being tallied. This year, the crowd had the pleasure and joy of seeing Ainsley Halemanu, Rachel Lahela Kaaihue, Pualani Kanakaole Kanahele, Etua Lopes, Piilani Lua, Kealii Reichel and Kalena Silva enjoying one another’s company in their element.
10. Last year’s Miss Aloha Hula winner Kayli Kaiulani Carr’s final performance of her reign.
The hula was Carr’s way of saying mahalo (thank you) to everyone who supported her throughout her Miss Aloha Hula journey and it was a beautiful farewell auana.