Preparing To Play Queen For A Day

Niihau native Tracyann Kanahele visited Queen Emma’s Summer Palace in Honolulu to prepare for her day as the queen

Tracyann Kanahele will portray Queen Emma during the Oct. 9 remembrance of her music-filled visit to Kaua’i in 1871

By day, Tracyann Hiipoilani Kanahele waits tables at Wrangler’s Restaurant in Waimea. This month, she marks five years at the job she loves. Come Saturday, Oct. 9, however, she’ll be shedding her apron in favor of dressing like a queen for a day as she portrays Queen Emma at the 22nd annual Eo E Emalani I Alaka’i Festival.

That’s when Kanahele, in her new turquoise gown with what she describes as a Victorian-era pattern with her ostrich-plumed hat set just so, will mount her horse and begin her journey as a queen. As she rides down the incline from the road above to enter the Kanaloahuluhulu meadow at noon, she’ll be accompanied by her lady-in-waiting, her cousin Myrahan Kahikiui Kanahele, and faithful guide, Kaluahi, portrayed by Uncle Roddy Kanoa.

Eo E Emalani is a grass-roots festival that commemorates the 1871 trek of Hawaii’s beloved Queen Emma to the uplands of Kaua’i. The queen brought with her a retinue of nearly 100, including many hula dancers.

For this festival, halau come from all over to pay tribute and to dance for the queen. And we the people get a chance to be part of the royal magic.

It’s a chickenskin kine day, from the moment at noon when Nick Castillo’s falsetto voice rings across the meadow as he sings his extraordinary composition Ka Wahine Ui dedicated to the queen, until about 4 p.m., when the crowd collapse their beach chairs, roll up tatami mats and head back downhill to the 21st century.

A talented musician herself, a year ago Kanahele was in Kokee standing right next to Castillo, with whom she sometimes gigs – including in Japan. Then, she was singing for the queen. Now she is the queen.

Born at the former Kaua’i Veteran’s Memorial Hospital on the West side, Kanahele was raised with her three siblings on the island of Niihau until she was 14. Her father then moved the family to Kaua’i, where she attended Waimea Canyon Middle School and Waimea High, transferring to Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha Public Charter School for her junior and senior years.

Aletha Kaohi, president of Hui O Laka, the nonprofit organization that operates the Kokee Natural History Museum and runs this festival, was looking for the 2010 Queen Emma when she spotted Kanahele.

Says Kanahele, “She asked me did I know any girls who know how to ride a horse. I thought to myself, I know how to ride a horse, and she asked me do I want to be Queen Emma, and I was shocked.”

Hui O Laka invited Kanahele and her family to Waimea Plantation Cottages for beverages and desserts, where Kanahele did an interview on live streaming television through Hawaii Stream. Hui O Laka executive director Marsha Erickson gave Kanahele a basket that included items about Queen Emma.

“Queen Emma – I heard of her name but never knew about her life story, but I read her book after the interview and it was really interesting,” says Kanahele, who learned what a great horsewoman the queen was.

Kanahele has had her own horseback adventures, including five hours on a tour around Easter Island with her Kaua’i Community College Hawaiian studies classmates. And she says she rode horses on Niihau as well.

With her Wrangler’s boss, owner Colleen Faye, and a friend of Faye’s, Kanahele visited Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, Faye’s treat.

“I was honored,” she says. “They wanted to help me have an idea for my dress.

“I would like to say mahalo to all the people who supported me, my family and friends in helping me to be the royal role model. I will cherish it all my life.”

22nd Annual Eo E Emalani I Alaka’i

The 22nd annual Eo E Emalani I Alaka’i Festival celebrates a visit by Queen Emma from her home in Lawai to the upper reaches of Kilohana viewpoint, where she wanted to see for herself the sweeping views reaching to Wainiha. The legendary guide Kaluahi, recommended by Eric Knudsen of Waimea, guided the queen, with her nearly 100 companions. Rain or shine, the festival takes place Saturday, Oct. 9, 10 a.m.

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