To become Miss Aloha Hula requires dedication few possess.
Thirteen women will compete Thursday night for Merrie Monarch Festival’s coveted solo title at Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium. The two representing Hawaii Island have prepared themselves for that moment almost their entire lives.
Melia Kau‘ikeonalani Carmen Taganas, 22, has studied hula since she was 5, first with the late kumu hula Aunty Edna Aguil in her native Pahala. She later became a student of kumu hula Sammye-Ann Ku‘ualoha Young at Halau Na Lei Hiwahiwa ‘O Ku‘ualoha in Hilo, which is making its first Merrie Monarch appearance.
“Melia has been with with me from 2008, from the beginning (of the halau),” said Young, a student of the late kumu hula Rae Fonseca, who learned from hula master and Merrie Monarch patriarch Uncle George Na‘ope. “I taught her at Kamehameha Schools during the ho‘ike. I actually entered her for the Moku O Keawe competition in 2011 in which she placed first runner-up.
“It is her dream to run for Miss Aloha Hula and since she’s been with me for awhile, I decided to honor that, her dedication and loyalty and choose her for that.”
Taganas, who graduated from Kamehameha Schools Hawaii Campus in 2010, is a student at Hawaii Community College who works in the school’s admissions office.
The other Hawaii Island candidate started even younger. Leoiomalama “Tita” Tamasese Solomon of Waimea’s Beamer-Solomon Halau O Po‘ohala was last year’s Moku O Keawe winner. She began her formal dance training at age 4, but has been groomed literally since birth. Her kumu is her aunt, Hulali Solomon Covington. Her mother is state Sen. Malama Solomon, who is Covington’s sister and the halau historian.
“The day my niece was born, my mother called me and she told me, ‘You are to resurrect the halau. And I did,’” said Covington, the daughter of kumu hula Flora “Tita” Leiomalama Desha Beamer Solomon, who is now 88 and retired.
Covington is a fifth-generation kumu hula. Her maternal grandmother was kumu hula Louise Leiomalama Walker Beamer, who learned hula and its traditions from her mother-in-law, the noted Hawaiian composer Helen Desha Beamer. The lineage began 154 years ago with her mother, Isabella Haleala Desha.
The mele for Taganas’ hula kahiko and hula ‘auana are about Poliahu, the snow goddess of Mauna Kea.
Her kahiko mele is “Ka ho‘opalau ‘ia ‘O Kukahau‘ula me Poli‘ahu” by kumu hula Micah Kamohoali‘i of Halau Na Kipu‘upu‘u in Waimea.
“Poliahu is the most beautiful goddess of all and Kukahau‘ula just needs to have her. And he does everything in his power to get her, to marry her,” said Taganas.
The mele for her hula ‘auana is the contemporary Hawaiian hit, “Poliahu i ke Kapu,” composed and recorded by Waimea’s Hawane Rios. Rios will perform the song with Kawaimaluhia.
“After we started learning ‘Poliahu i ke Kapu’ we started dancing it as a group,” Taganas said. “We went up to Mauna Kea and we danced it up at Pu‘u Poliahu. And while we were dancing, it was really weird, I felt this weird, comfortable, overwhelming feeling. And when we were done dancing, my kumu felt the same thing. … She said that right around me, there was this kind of hazy glow and I just felt completely entranced in the mele. And when we were done, it was really weird, but I felt the same way, and that’s how we came up with ‘Poliahu i ke Kapu’ as my mele ‘auana. It was just meant to be.”
Solomon, a 2012 graduate of Hawaii Preparatory Academy, is a sophomore at the University of Hawaii at Manoa majoring in travel industry management. She flies home on weekends to practice and prepare.
Her hula kahiko will be “He Wahine Kapu ‘O Pele,” an original chant by Covington.
“It translates to the forbidden woman,” Covington said. “Pele is not forbidden but to me, she’s honored. She’s really my idol. I do a lot of Pele chants. … My view of Pele is that she’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s independent, she does what she needs to do.”
Added Solomon: “Out of all the gods and goddesses, I’ve always admired Pele because she creates the ‘aina and she’s so powerful.”
Solomon will dance her hula ‘auana to a medley of four Helen Desha Beamer compositions: “Moani Ke Ala”; “Kimo Hula”; “Na Kuahiwi ‘Elima”; and “Paniau.”
“I love the medley because it’s written by my great-great-grandmother. And it’s about Hawaii Island, so I feel connected to the mele, as well, because I love my island,” she said.
Solomon described the story behind the songs in the medley, which will be sung by Nani Lim Yap.
“‘Moani Ke Ala’ was written for Lei Onaona who was the wife of Kimo Henderson, who was Hawaiian. So great-grandmother wrote that for her and she wrote ‘Kimo Hula’ for Kimo Henderson. They were all very dear friends. So that’s kind of the combination for those two songs,” she explained. “‘Na Kuahiwi ‘Elima’ talks about the five mountains: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai, Kohala, and then she also includes Haleakala on the island of Maui — only because you can see Maui from parts of the Big Island. And ‘Paniau’ was written for Al and Annabelle Ruddle and their beautiful beachfront home at Puako.”
Both Taganas and Solomon are keenly aware of what is at stake when they take the stage on Thursday night.
“It’s my first time entering the Merrie Monarch and my first time competing for Miss Aloha Hula for our halau. It’s a big responsibility,” Taganas said. “… When Aunty Sammye asked me to dance for Miss Aloha Hula I was excited. … Right now my goal for that night is to make my kumu, my island and my family proud.”
Noted Solomon: “When I’m on stage, I dance for grandma and great-grandma.”
“There’s pressure, but as Hawaiians we have kuleana. Kuleana is not only a responsibility but a privilege. It’s an honor,” she explained. “Whoever is chosen is based on the judges’ mana‘o. My thing is I want to do my best because in life, that’s all you can do. You just have to put your best foot forward.”