By ERIN MILLER
Thousands of people lined Akoni Pule Highway Tuesday morning to honor King Kamehameha I on the day named in his honor.
As is tradition, the morning kicked off with a ceremonial presentation of hookupu and lei at the Kamehameha Statue in front of the old Kohala courthouse in Kapaau. Community groups chanted, sang and performed hula before the long lei were draped over the king’s extended arm.
The parade and celebration are important in Kohala, said Cicely Hoopai, chairwoman of the Kamehameha Day committee.
“We are the home of Kamehameha,” Hoopai said. “This is his birthplace.”
The brass statue of the king is the original. It was lost at sea during transport from Italy to Hawaii and was recovered only after a replacement was commissioned and delivered to Honolulu in the 1800s. It underwent significant restoration about a decade ago.
Paradegoers have increased in the last few years, Hoopai said, from about 1,000 to 1,500 in 2009 to an expected 2,500 to 3,000 this year. As of late last week, at least 26 groups were intending to march in the parade, which followed the highway from Hawi to Kapaau, stopping in front of the Kamehameha statue, then heading back to Kamehameha Park.
“Every year it just grows and grows,” Hoopai said.
In the park, paradegoers found a celebration of the king with educational displays, live music and lots of food — everything from laulau plates to chili dogs.
Zaline Perez, 10, said being in the parade was an experience, especially getting to see all the horses and her aunties and uncles along the parade route.
She was enjoying the celebration at the park, too.
“We get to have ice shaves and food,” Zaline said, adding laulau was her favorite.
Her sister, Tita Perez, 8, munched on a shave ice while recounting an adventure in the parade. Their group sped over a bumpy, unpaved road after the parade was finished, she said.
Contingents of pa‘u riders, led by their flower-adorned queen, charmed the crowds, posing for pictures, smiling and waving from atop their mounts. The queen was escorted by eight men in traditional Hawaiian wraps — with tennis shoes as a concession to the heat of the asphalt on which they were walking — while the rest of the pa‘u riders were accompanied by paniolo in long-sleeved aloha print shirts and cowboy hats.
Hoopai said this year’s parade focused on honoring the generations of Kamehameha. She sees the parade as a generational event, too. She took over organizing from her grandmother and hopes to pass down the responsibility to her daughters one day.
“Kohala is real grassroots, community oriented,” Hoopai said.
Erin Miller at email@example.com.