Merrie Monarch: Reigning Champions hope to recreate 2014 magic - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Merrie Monarch: Reigning Champions hope to recreate 2014 magic

Merrie Monarch: Reigning Champions hope to recreate 2014 magic Merrie Monarch: Reigning Champions hope to recreate 2014 magic
HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The kane of Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La, under the direction of Kumu Kaleo Trinidad, are no strangers to the festival stage. They nearly swept last year's Merrie Monarch competition -- taking home first place overall with the highest combined score for the men and women's divisions.

Even though the halau has competed at Merrie Monarch many times, they say there was something different and truly special about last year and they're hoping to replicate that again.

"Participating in something like Merrie Monarch that really is one of the pinnacles of Hawaiian culture -- if you have people dedicating their whole lives to something, there's so much energy and 'ike and knowledge that's devoted to that. Then you get to that which is the ultimate -- to sit there with group after group with all those years of experience dedicated to that one moment in time -- it's mind boggling, it's great. That's why it's so beautiful," said Kumu Kaleo Trinidad, whose halau is almost 11 years old.

Their finish last year was unlike any other... as the men closed out their 'auana number by forming a wa'a or double-hulled canoe on stage in tribute to Hokule'a and Malama Honua, the Worldwide Voyage.

"We worked so hard for it and then when we were up on stage and everything just came together it was just amazing to see the final product. When we heard the crowd it was like, 'Wow, this is really something special!' and then later to see it on TV it was a whole new level of just breathtaking-ness," said Keahi Gabriel, who has been dancing with the halau for a year now.

And what a difference a year makes... 2013 was the halau's first Merrie Monarch appearance that they didn't win anything. Kumu Kaleo Trinidad says that loss led to a lot of soul-searching that helped the halau mature in 2014.

"We came in there a lot more humble, a lot wiser -- and so we were a different group. When we won it was even more emotional, because we were in the right place in our na'au and in our hearts and so we tried to stay right there and not let the win get to our heads and just try to continue to be humble about everything," described Kumu Trinidad.

That strong foundation helped lead the men to a combined overall, kane overall, first place 'auana and second place kahiko win at the 51st annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

"Last year was probably the most special year we've had -- regardless of the result, I believe that we did everything right that year. From all of our practices, to the huaka'i's (excursions) we took to help build us up for the competition. Our kumu always says it's not about those seven minutes on stage -- it's all about the time that we prepare coming up to those two seven minute times that we have to showcase. It's all that learning and all that growing that we had prior to and the ending result is just for us to showcase how far we came," described Lihau Gouveia, who has been dancing for Trinidad for the past eight years.

"After we finished our kahiko and finished our 'auana -- everything was pretty malie (calm) and we felt really good where we were at, so the result just shocked a lot of us, to be honest," said Gouveia. "Just the timing of everything was really significant for us."

This year, the kane are dancing about the tuahine rain in Manoa with a mele that feature both the ipu heke ole and kala'au.

And for the first time, the halau will also be performing a hula pahu.

Kumu Trinidad says he hopes their mele, which honors sacred chiefess Keopuolani -- will help ensure that the stories of Hawai'i's ancestors are shared with a greater audience, so that they're not lost. It's a kuleana, or responsibility, his kane seem to embrace.

"This is something that is put upon our shoulders to carry on, just as those before us. Especially on that stage, there's generations of kumu hula and 'olapa who have laid that foundation. When I think of Merrie Monarch, it's a testament to the resilience of our people and now we're that vessel to carry on and keep those traditions alive and hopefully our keiki will be able to do the same," said Kalama Souza, who has danced with the halau for eight years.

Kumu Trinidad says their kahiko is extra special this year because it was written and choreographed by his kumu, Randy Kamuela Fong.

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