After big win in 2022, Kauai halau prepares for their return to Merrie Monarch stage

Winning overall at Merrie Monarch 2022 was something Kumu Hula Leina’ala Pavao Jardin never expected.
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 3:51 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 11, 2023 at 5:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Winning overall at Merrie Monarch 2022 was something Kumu Hula Leina’ala Pavao Jardin never expected.

“It hasn’t even sunken in from what happened last year, I got to tell you,” she said. “That will be etched in our hearts forever.”

Over the last year, Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina’ala has traveled near and far as ambassadors of Hawaii and its culture. They’ve performed in Ikaho, Japan and on the U.S. mainland, showcasing their award-winning talent.

SPECIAL SECTION: 2023 Merrie Monarch Festival

“Any opportunity that we have to share with the world our culture, how sacred it is, and to change the mindset, I believe, of especially our visitors, so that they understand when they step onto our shores that this is a sacred aina — I really enjoyed that part of it,” Leina’ala said.

Now their sights are set on returning to the Merrie Monarch stage.

This year, their ‘auana takes us to Kaua’i’s North Shore with the mele “Po Mahina.” It’s an early composition by famed composer Charles E. King.

Leina’ala says its a tender love song, and they’ll share the mele in full ― all nine verses.

Here’s how to watch the 60th annual Merrie Monarch Festival on air and online

“It is such a beautiful mele and for us it will allow us to pick up everybody in Hilo, everyone who’s at home, and bring them to Hanalei,” she said.

In kahiko or ancient hula, they tell the story of the sacred sand dunes of Nohili on Kauai’s west side, where ancient Hawaiian remains are said to be buried.

“If they could speak, if those sand dunes could tell us, the history of mana, of Nohili, of Polihale — wow,” Leina’ala said. “I believe it’s just layers upon layers upon layers of story, of ‘ohana that is hidden in those sand dunes.”

Fitting to their mele, the ladies will wear lei pahapaha – a style of lei made with limu, or seaweed.

As part of their preparation, the dancers went on a huaka’i to Aliomanu on Kauai east side, where they learned about limu and how to preserve it.

As they prepare to take the stage this year, kumu says they’re not doing anything differently.

“We’re sticking to what we do, what my kumu have taught me. And this year we’re just having fun. And we did last year, we do every year but I mean, no pressure. Like, just have a good time,” she said.

With every motion, every step, Leina’ala knows things have to be just right.

“One of the greatest things Kumu Ray Fonseca instilled in me is that everything we do, has to be at a high-level of excellence because our kupuna deserve no less.”

And this year is extra special for Leina’ala as her daughter, Breeze Pavao, is representing the halau in Thursday night’s Miss Aloha Hula competition.

In the 1980s, the competition really took off drawing in sold out audiences to Hilo’s Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium.