Updated April 9, 2018 12:05am
Kumu hula Napua Greig of Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka of Maui capped 22 years of teaching with a sweet triumph, winning the overall title of the 55th annual Merrie Monarch Festival early Sunday morning at Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium.
With a combined score of 1,200, the halo had a two-point lead, and took home the Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy.
"Really excited, a little in shock and really humbled," said Greig as a stream of friends offered congratulations. "Mahalo to the people of Hilo, mahalo to each and every halau and hula practitioner, mahalo to the judges, Auntie Luaua Kawelu and her whole ohana. Thereʻs a lot of people that sacrifice and give a lot to make Merrie Monarch happen, and we just are really, really grateful."
In addition, Greigʻs solo dancer, Shalia Kapuauʻionalani Kikuyo Kamakaokalani, won the Miss Aloha Hula title among 12 contenders Thursday night.
For Greig, 44, the competition is more about expressing a love for hula and all that it represents, than winning. Her dancers expressed exuberance and joy during their performance of "Na Mele Kaulana no Maui" a medley of famous songs for Maui. The rhythmic swish of their pupil (split bamboo sticks) crisscrossed in a quick and coordinated tempo, while synchronized back bends brought cheers from the audience.
The sweeping victory is a signature moment for the kumu hula in her 14th year of competing at Merrie Monarch as she gets ready to take a hiatus from the festival.
"Weʻre taking a break," she confirmed with emotion. "Itʻs time for me to focus on the next generation of leaders, and I want them to be ready to carry on this legacy. I just want to focus on them."
Greig said she is preparing four dancers to uniki, or graduate, into kumu hula, next year. The kumu hula also has nine nominations in eight categories for her most recent album, "Makawalu," at the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Artsʻ 2018 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
Twenty-nine hula troupes - nine kane and 20 wahine - brought their best to the world stage at the stadium on Friday and Saturday nights, following Thursday nightʻs Miss Aloha Hula event.
The hula performances in group kahiko night Friday were particularly outstanding, with numerous halau demonstrating athelticism and mastery of oli, or chant, and precision in movements, while group auana night Saturday was dominated by expressions of love and emotion and stories telling of Hawaiʻis beautiful landscape.
Three halau, including Greigʻs Halau Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka, used papa hehi (treadle boards) along with kalaʻau (rhythm sticks), a traditional hula implement not commonly seen in performances nowadays, for the group kahiko Friday.