Kaua‘i fills Līhu‘e Airport to welcome hālau hula home from Merrie Monarch Festival

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The ladies of Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala burst into song upon their return to Kaua‘i. Taken April 8, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala received a hero’s welcome Monday evening – as scores of supporters filled Līhu‘e Airport to celebrate the hula group’s return from the 61st annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo on the Big Island.

The hālau, under the direction of kumu hula Leinā‘ala Pavao Jardin, was awarded second place overall with a score of 1,199 points. O‘ahu hālau Ka Lā ‘Ōnohi Mai O Ha‘eha’e was named the overall winner with a score of 1,201, marking its second overall win two years in a row.

Heleolanimaināmakaohāʻena Haileejo Yokotake of the Kaua‘i hālau was third runner-up in the Miss Aloha Hula solo contest.

Those in the Līhu‘e Airport baggage claim area included Kaua‘i County Council members Bernard Carvalho, Felicia Cowden and KipuKai Kuali‘i, who is a member of Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala himself. Kuali‘i was joined by his sister Sandra Hokulani and their father Wilfred Kuali‘i III, a 90-year-old paniolo (cowboy) to whom the hālau dedicated its ‘auana (modern) performance on April 6.

  • Ninety-year-old paniolo Wilfred Kuali‘i III was joined by his children KipuKai Kuali‘i and Sandra Hokulani at Līhu‘e Airport. Taken April 8, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now
  • Scores of supporters filled the baggage claim area of Līhu‘e Airport. Taken April 8, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now
  • Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala delivered a heartfelt ‘mahalo’ to friends and family before leaving the airport. Taken April 8, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

“It was very emotional … We were all tearing up when they performed,” Kuali‘i said. “Dad kept saying it’s awesome and amazing and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The hālau’s hula ‘auana centered on the upbeat mele (song or chant) “Kīpū Kai” by Mary Kawena Pukui, who composed the piece to memorialize her stay at the ranch located on the southeastern coast of Kaua‘i. There, the Hawaiian Wilfred met and married his wife, a Portuguese housemaid named Patricia Ann Carvalho Kualiʻi, in a lavish ceremony held by ranch owner Jack Waterhouse.

Kumu hula Jardin was draped in countless lei as she moved through the crowded airport, pausing frequently to joyfully hug friends and family.

“These are all the people – and many more that I’m sure can’t be here today – that helped us get to Hilo, so it’s very fitting that we come home to their welcome and their aloha,” Jardin said. “We wouldn’t be able to make it to Hilo without all of our ‘ohana and friends.”


Participation in the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival costs many thousands of dollars for hālau traveling from outside the Big Island. Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala recently spotlighted its many supporters on Instagram.

Jardin praised the “high level of excellence” on display at Merrie Monarch, which is often referred to as the Super Bowl or Olympics of hula.

  • Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala’s 2024 kahiko (ancient) performance paid tribute to the Nāpali Coast. Photo Courtesy: Merrie Monarch Festival/Tracey Niimi
  • Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala’s 2024 ‘auana (modern) performance was dedicated to 90-year-old paniolo Wilfred Kuali‘i III. Photo Courtesy: Merrie Monarch Festival/Bruce Omori
  • Heleolanimaināmakaohāʻena Hailee Jo Yokotake was the third runner-up in this year’s Miss Aloha Hula competition. Photo Courtesy: Merrie Monarch Festival/Tracey Niimi

“While I feel blessed and we’re on cloud nine, I would be remiss to not mention what I think everyone else witnessed and enjoyed: The hula from all the hālau,” Jardin said. “Everyone was excellent and that is a great thing for hula, for Hawai‘i, for our kūpuna.”

This year’s Merrie Monarch is the 11th to include Jardin’s daughter, Breeze Pavao, as a participant. Although only 23 years old, Pavao is a hula veteran.


“The highlight of this year would be seeing the growth and the young girls: We definitely had a much younger group this year than we normally do,” said Pavao, who took second place in last year’s Miss Aloha Hula competition. “Almost half of our group hadn’t touched that stage before.

“Seeing all of them really step up and grow in their own hula journey was amazing to see,” Pavao continued. “It takes a village for us to get to Hilo, so when we get home and all of the people who are in our village are here to support us and share their love with us after our months of hard work, it really means a lot and we are so appreciative for every family member and every person from the community that comes out.”

Scott Yunker
Scott Yunker is a journalist living on Kauaʻi. His work for community newspapers has earned him awards and inclusion in the 2020 anthology "Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter."

Scott can be reached at [email protected].
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