On Their ‘Merrie’ Way

Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala kumu hula Leināʻala Pavao Jardin, with Jeslie, Breeze and Jaedyn Pavao

Led by kumu hula Leināʻala Pavao Jardin, Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala is ready for another strong run at the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Kumu hula Leināʻala Pavao Jardin and Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala are in the final stage of preparations for the 56th annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

“It is time to dig deep,” she says. “The moena (mat) has been unfolded, the (hālau) have been served the mana‘o. Now they (will) consume and bring to life all that has been instilled in them.”

This year provided a new dynamic and challenges for Jardin, who has a handful of hālau members on O‘ahu and one on the mainland. Jardin makes it work, though, ensuring the group still rehearses several times a week and flying to O‘ahu to practice with the girls there.

Kumu hula Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin

Of Jardin’s 200 students, her daughters Breeze (a freshman at Holy Names University) and Jeslie (a sophomore at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama), and niece Jaedyn Pavao (a senior at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama) stand out as those slated to lead the hālau going forward. The three girls earned Miss Keiki Hula in 2009, 2013 and 2010, respectively.

“They will be the future of Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala,” she says. “Along with my group of alaka‘i, who I shall ‘ūniki (graduate) in the future, these three girls know the responsibility that awaits them … I am confi-dent the hula will continue to be their guide through life.”

Jardin likens her life as kumu hula to a novel, with each chapter revealing important moments she’s shared with others. Her hula storyline began at age 3, when she started dancing for Ku‘ulei Punua. Jardin then trained under Lovey Apana and Lovey’s sister, Beverly Muraoka. After that, she attended University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and studied hula under kumu Rae Fonseca.

“He nourished my desire to learn and delve deeper into our Hawaiian culture,” she says. “He inspired me beyond words.”

Her journey from student to teacher culminated when Jardin received her formal ‘ūniki to become a kumu hula from Fonesca. Having had the privilege of learning from several very special kumu hula, Jardin is grateful to each of them and, long ago, made a promise to uphold their legacies.

Kumu hula Leināʻala Pavao Jardin (far right) talks about the island’s history with Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala dancers (from left) Breeze, Jaedyn and Jeslie Pavao at Kukuiolono Park’s Hawaiian garden. The area is home to markers like Kaua‘i Iki, which is seen in numerous Hawaiian folklore stories.

Now, she confesses, there are times when she longs for the days of dancing alongside her hula brothers and sisters as one. Yet more than reflecting upon fond memories, Jardin carries her hula past with her; the camaraderie and lessons learned are passed to her own students.

“This is what I try to instill in my haumāna (student) — dance as one,” Jardin says. “(It’s) hula at the highest level of excellence and understanding. We owe that to those that paved the way for us. We owe that to our kūpuna.”

Whether a haumana or kumu, Jardin explains that there is a responsibility for her to bridge past and present.

“The dance, the language, the stories of old, and traditions — while learning all of that — the hula also promotes values such as pride, respect, honor, love, dedication, perseverance, humility, strength and sacrifice. My hope is that my haumāna take all of this with them through their journey of life.”

For this year’s kahiko presentation at Merrie Monarch Festival, Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala will honor Kaua‘i ali‘i Kaweloleimakua.

Then, for its ‘auana, the hālau will honor the people of the Halele‘a moku.

“After much devastation following the heavy rains and flooding last year, the kama‘āina of Halele‘a persevered through what was truly tough times,” Jardin shares. “We shall highlight their courage and strength with a medley of classic songs of that area.”

Although Hālau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leināʻala is the only hālau from Kaua‘i participating in this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival, Jardin says the group doesn’t feel alone.

“Every year, we feel such tremendous support of our people,” says Jardin. “My fellow kumu hula share their support with us, and we take all of that to Hilo.”

Merrie Monarch Festival runs April 21-27. For more information, visit merriemonarch.com.