Three halau will represent Hawaii Island at the 51st Annual Merrie Monarch Festival.
Two, Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani under the direction of kumu hula Nahokuokalani Gaspang and Halau Na Lei Hiwahiwa ‘O Ku‘ualoha under the direction of kumu hula Sammye Ku‘ualoha Young (see separate feature), are from Hilo.
The third, Beamer-Solomon Halau O Po‘ohala under the direction of kumu hula Hulali Solomon Covington, hails from Waimea.
Gaspang assumed the reins of Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani after the death of kumu hula Rae Fonseca in 2010. She said Fonseca continues to have “a very big influence whether he’s here or not.”
“We remind ourselves everyday and I remind myself to never forget what he taught me,” she said. “This is what he would say; this is what he would do. He’s still a part of our lives even though he’s been gone for four years.”
The halau’s kane placed fourth in hula kahiko last year. This year’s kahiko will be “Hanohano Waimea i ka Wai Kea,” the second of three chants written about a journey by Queen Kapi‘olani to the island of Kauai.
“With this, we honor the queen and also kumu Rae and kumu Nahoku because of their love for the island of Kauai,” said alaka‘i No‘eau Kalima. “We actually took a trip there in the beginning of March. We went up hiking to the swamp land and all over the island to see the place the mele was talking about for our kahiko. It was a wonderful trip and an excellent experience. For some of the men, it was their first time to Kauai.”
Kalima said the halau performed the first chant, “Hanohano Hanalei,” in 2011.
The kane also placed third last year in hula ‘auana. This year’s mele is Maddy Lam’s “Ku‘uipo Onanona,” a song perhaps better known as a slack-key instrumental, but which was originally a lyrical love song with a strong kaona, or metaphoric subtext.
“There’s a lot of hidden meanings to the words,” Kalima said. “Our costumes are kind of showy, with big hibiscus prints, big leis and white pants and sashes. You know, the style the musicians in Waikiki would wear in the 1940s. I picture it as love jumping out at you.”
The wahine will also honor a monarch, Queen Lili‘uokalani, performing to “Ka ‘Oi O Na Pua” as their hula kahiko.
“This year kumu Nahoku wanted to honor Lili‘uokalani because she felt greatly for the Hawaiian people and she was our last reigning monarch. So she wanted to do a mele for her with special focus on her gentleness and her strength and compassion, which for us, mimics the demeanor of our kumu, as well,” said alaka‘i ‘Awapuhi Duldulao.
Duldulao said the halau’s women made a huaka‘i to Mauna Kea for education and community service.
“We did a mamane seed planting — mamane is mentioned in our number — to help with the palila restoration project,” she said. “Palilas eat the mamane. We went up there to get some inspiration for our number, to paint their own picture, put their own interpretation into the number so it comes alive when they dance the number.”
The wahine, who placed fifth last year in hula ‘auana, will honor their hometown this year with “Hilo E.”
“This was written by Mary Heanu in the 1920s. It speaks of the beauty of Hilo and the many people who come to Hilo just to see its beauty, because we have a lot to offer,” said Duldulao, who added that the wahine will “rock that stage with our ‘uli‘uli,” referring to gourd rattles.
Duldulao said that when Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani’s dancers perform, they do so to uphold the legacy of Fonseca, his kumu, the late Uncle George Na‘ope, and those who came before.
“When we are on that stage there is an expectation that we try to uphold, and I believe the kuleana that comes with those expectations makes us better,” she said.
Beamer-Solomon Halau O Po‘ohela has its own impressive lineage and a 154-year tradition to uphold.
The lineage begins with great-great-grandmother Isabella Haleala Desha, who taught her daughter, Helen Desha Beamer. Beamer, also a gifted composer, shared the hula traditions with her daughter-in-law, Louise Leiomalama Walker Beamer. She then taught her daughter, Flora “Tita” Leiomalama Desha Beamer Solomon, mother of Covington and state Sen. Malama Solomon, the halau historian. Known as “Tita Beamer Solomon,” she formalized the Beamer-Solomon dance method, which she passed on to her two daughters.
“We try to stay as true to the Beamer tradition of hula as possible,” said Covington, a fifth-generation kumu hula.
The halau will dance in the wahine group competition and Covington’s 19-year-old niece, Leiomalama “Tita” Tamasese Solomon — Malama Solomon’s daughter — will represent the halau as a Miss Aloha Hula candidate.
Covington’s mother, now 88 and retired, had instructed her to resurrect the halau after “Tita” was born, which she did in 2002.
Since its re-opening, the halau competed in Merrie Monarch in 2005, 2006 and 2010, but Covington didn’t actually plan for the first two appearances.
“In 2004, prior to the holiday, I spoke to Aunty Dot Thompson,” Covington said, referring to the late Merrie Monarch Festival matriarch. “I asked her for a reservation for 2010, which was my intent at that time. My niece was 10, and so I kind of planned it out. … ‘Tita’ would be 16. And then she will be ready to at least do a group thing.”
“I called Aunty in November. She called me back in the latter part of December or early January — this was ’04 or ’05 now — and she told me, ‘Oh Hulali, you’re coming this year.’
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Because my halau had just started in 2002. But anyway, I had a nice group of gals, so I said yes, and I’m so glad I did. And we went in 2005. I’m not saying that guaranteed my spot in 2010, but it was all forthcoming.”
Covington said she is proud to showcase the Beamer style of hula on the Merrie Monarch stage.
“For our group kahiko, we’re doing a number from the island of Kaua‘i called ‘Ike Ke Oni Kani A‘o Nohili.’ And for our hula ‘auana we’re doing just a traditional Hawaiian song called ‘Ku‘u Hoaloha’ which translates to ‘My Friend.’ And it speaks to the family and friends and what a wonderful time we have together when we get together.”
Covington described her haumana as “diligent” and said the most important thing is they give their best effort on the stage and represent Beamer hula in a positive manner.
“We’re very goal oriented because we’re a very small halau,” she noted. “We’re the only halau for the Beamer family. We don’t halau in Japan; we don’t halau anyplace else. We only halau here in Waimea. So there’s a lot of pride and integrity in which we do what we do.”