HILO >> Hula Halau ʻO Kamuela, under the direction of kumu hula Kauʻionalani Kamanaʻo and Kunewa Mook, took the overall winner title at the 56th Merrie Monarch Festival early this morning at Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium.
The Oahu halau, representing Kalihi and Waimanalo, had the highest combined score of 1,190 points, earning it the Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy.
“I’m totally happy,” Kamana‘o said after learning of the win. “I’m happy for my women, all 26, 27 with my Miss Aloha Hula [contestant], and of course, all my [halau] parents. I couldn’t do this without them.”
Everything came together when it counted, he said, and the dancers persevered despite several challenges, including knee injuries and illnesses.
Halau Na Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu, under the direction of kumu hula William Haunu‘u “Sonny” Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera, ranked second overall with 1,174 points.
Hula Halau ʻO Kamuela won wahine overall with 1,190 points, while Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La, under the direction of kumu hula Kaleo Trinidad, won kane overall with 1,163 points.
On Friday and Saturday, a total of 29 groups — 10 kane and 19 wahine — competed in the kahiko (ancient-style) and ʻauana (modern-style) portions of the festival.
Kamuela wowed the crowd on kahiko night with a mesmerizing performance of “‘O Lono ‘Oe,” a mele celebrating the god representing rain and fertility. The hula noho included back bends in successions, using ‘ili‘ili. For ʻauana night, the halau performed an energetic and crowd-pleasing mele, “He Lei Aloha – No Hilo.”
The mele, composed by Devin Kamealoha Forrest and Grammy Award-winning musician Kalani Pe‘a, was dedicated to a beloved friend named Naupaka Gouveia, who now resides in Hilo. Pe‘a made his Merrie Monarch musical debut this year.
Pe‘a, a native of Hilo who now lives on Maui, was elated.
“The girls did phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a debut album on a debut performance at the Merrie Monarch, oh my gosh, and I cried so much, in Hilo, my hometown.”
He said the song is a “lei of love for Hilo” and its natural beauty, including its Kanilehua (mistlike) rain and its particular clouds. The song is on his first Grammy-winning album, “E Walea.”
On Thursday, 13 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani of Halau Hiʻiakainamakalehua.
The panel of judges this year included Maelia Loebenstein Carter, Vicky Holt Takamine, Nalani Kanaka‘ole Zane, Noenoelani Zuttermeister Lewis, Nani Lim Yap, Etua Lopes and Keali‘i Reichel.