Brown wins Miss Aloha Hula 2023 to continue legacy of Oʻahu hālau Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e
April 14, 2023, 9:09 AM HST
* Updated April 14, 9:33 AM
Since she was 9 years old, Agnes Renee Leihiwahiwaikapolionāmakua Thronas Brown has danced hula with Oʻahu hālau Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e. Under the direction of husband-and-wife Nā Kumu Hula Tracie and Keawe Lopes, she has honed her skills by dancing with and learning from some of the best hula has to offer.
But no amount of training could have prepared the now 21-year-old from Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu, for the emotions that swept over her Thursday night when she was announced Miss Aloha Hula 2023 — the most coveted solo dancer title in all of hula.
Tears flowed as her kumu and hula sisters congratulated her with thunderous cheering and plenty of hugs in the stadium’s stands before she took the stage to claim her prize.
“I just feel so blessed to be part of this legacy,” Brown said.
It was the third consecutive Miss Aloha Hula title for the O’ahu hālau.
Brown was among 12 contestants to vie for the 2023 crown during the first night of competition of the 60th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival at Edith Kanakaʻole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo on the Big Island.
The contest was close. The seven judges awarded Brown 1,148 points to claim the title, only four more than second place Breeze Ann Kalehuaonālani Vidinha Pavao with Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leināʻala of Kauaʻi.
The contestants were evaluated on their hula kahiko (traditional or ancient hula), hula ʻauana (modern hula) and oli (chant) performances.
Brown, a Chaminade University senior who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, said it was exhilarating and humbling as she danced.
Her hula kahiko performance, a chant called “Poli Lauaʻe Makana,” was written by hula master Henry Moʻikehaokahiki Pā and honors Kaumualiʻi, the last ruling aliʻi nui (“king” or moi) of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau.
Brown’s hula ʻauana, “Kuʻu Home A I Kāneʻohe,” is a mele (song) composed by Louise Hart Hopkins for her home on Kuʻu Home Place in Kāneʻohe. The home beneath the Koʻolau Mountains on Oʻahu was the site of much entertainment for family and friends, memories of which live on today although the house no longer exists.
Tracie Lopes said that when she and her husband train haumāna, spending so much time with the students they become like their children. Each is unique and special in their own journey. Brown is the daughter of one of Lopes’ hula brothers, so watching her win Miss Aloha Hula was that much more special.
“She is a very kind and giving individual,” Lopes said. “It is like another daughter winning. We’re very happy for her and for the hālau.”
Brown’s victory continued the winning streak of the hālau. Lopes’ daughter Pi‘ikea Kekīhenelehuawewehiikekau‘ōnohi Lopes, the first Native Hawaiian to be featured in athletic apparel giant Nike’s N7 collection, claimed the Miss Aloha Hula title in 2022 and Rosemary Kaʻimilei Keamoai-Strickland won in 2021.
Brown was sitting next to both of the previous winners and Lopes, who was Miss Aloha Hula 1994, when she was announced as this year’s winner.
“My kumu and their kumu and my ʻohana, that’s the biggest thing for me is to be able to honor them and represent them,” she said. “It’s the greatest opportunity.”
Brown plans to stay in Hawai’i after getting her degree and work at her alma mater Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu.
Lopes is humbled by her hālau’s three-peat at the Miss Aloha Hula competition and on Thursday night was somewhat speechless. She and her husband are thankful to be able to enjoy the experience and be part of the festival. For them, it’s about more than competition and she said all of the women who danced Thursday night deserve to be honored.
“They all work hard. Their kumu work hard,” Lopes said. “All we all try to do with our haumāna is to help them grow and to guide them in not just hula and Merrie Monarch but for their entire life.”
The four Miss Aloha Hula 2023 runners-up are:
- Second place: Breeze Ann Kalehuaonālani Vidinha Pavao with Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leināʻala of Kauaʻi; Kumu Hula Leināʻala Pavao Jardin. Points: 1,144.
- Third place: Meleana Kamalani Mirafuentes with Hālau Nā Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu of Oʻahu; Nā Kumu Hula William Kahakuleilehua Haunuʻu “Sonny” Ching and Lōpaka Igarta-De Vera. Points: 1,143. Mirafuentes also won the Hawaiian Language Award.
- Fourth place: Karlee Pōhaikealoha Rita Chong-Kee with Hālau Kekuaokalāʻauʻalaʻiliahi of Maui; Nā Kumu Hula Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes. Points: 1,130.
- Fifth place: Nohealeimamo Vaughan-Darval with Hālau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine of Oʻahu; Kumu Hula Kaʻilihiwa Vaughan-Darval. Points: 1,129.
The 60th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival continues today, with the first round of group competition starting at 6 p.m. at the stadium.