Photo: Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani
Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani. - Photo: Keola Arakaki

For Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani, winning Miss Aloha Hula in the 2019 Merrie Monarch Festival was more than a title, but a voyage of personal discovery. Her kumu hula, Robert Ke‘ano Kaupu IV and Lono Padilla, chose a series of mele that tied in, with equal parts serendipity and grace, to Taizha’s own mo‘okūa‘uhau, or genealogy.

“It always starts with song choice,” Ka‘upu told me, in their second floor hālau in Kalihi Kai, O‘ahu. That process began by asking Taizha for her genealogy, which her mother brought in a folder. As a Big Island native, Kaupu recognized some of them from the lore of his island. They went online to the archive of Hawaiian language newspapers, and found a mele from the late-1890s newspaper Ka Leo o ka Lāhui, a song which was composed for one of Taizha’s kupuna, Abigaila Kalanikūikepo‘oloku.

“The mele was published by her grandchildren in order to lay claim to her genealogy,” Hughes-Kaluhiokalani said.

That mele connected Kalanikūikepo‘oloku to her ancestor Līloa, a famous chief from the classical era of Hawaiian ali‘i. According to our history, Līloa and the lower-ranking chiefess Akahi-a-Kuleana gave birth to ‘Umi-a-Liloa. ‘Umi’s own story is about discovery and claiming his genealogy; though his mother (who raised him) was from a lower station, Liloa left a few items – a kā‘ei sash and his malo – for the boy to use to later claim his position at the top of Hawaiian society. When he reached adulthood ‘Umi went on a now-famous adventure to claim his place in the pantheon of Hawaiian chiefs, including raising an army to challenge his older brother Hākau for leadership and seeing to it that the most at-risk in Hawaiian society – the elderly and the infirm – would be cared for.

‘Umi found his place in the universe. And now his mo‘opuna, Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani, has found hers as well.

“It feels good. It feels good. Because they think that she, it feels good because it’s her,” Ka‘upu said of her win in the annual hula competition.

It’s a victory that is the product of years of work, from when Taizha began dancing hula more than a decade ago.

“Like every journey, it doesn’t always feel good throughout the whole journey journey. There’s always some bumps in… the dancer teaches the kumu just as much as the kumu teaches the dancer, and inspires the kumu just as much as the kumu inspires the dancer,” Kaupu said.

“I never felt like her intent was to win a title. Her intent was to represent her hālau and her kumu; to bring her kūpuna on that stage; to learn more about her kūpuna – and to learn how to carry her kūpuna with her, not just on the stage, but any place that she goes.”


Kumu Hula Robert Keano Kaupu IV composed this mele ka‘i for Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani’s award-winning 2019 Merrie Monarch performance.

Lei Waipi‘o

Na Robert Keano Kaupu IV

Lei Waipi‘o i ka ua noenoe
Lei ali‘i i ka ‘ōnohi ‘ula
Lei ānuenue pipi‘o i luna
Lei ua koko, pili i ka hōnua
Puka mai e ka pua o Līloa
Ho‘okahi kuleana i aloha ‘ia
‘O ‘oe ke kā‘ei o ku‘u lani
Pāpahi ho‘oheno o ka makuahine
E ho‘i kāua i Hi‘ilawe
Hi‘i ‘ia maila i ka ‘ehu wai
Ale mai ke aloha kau i ka maka
No ka lei kaumaka ‘o ku‘u lani E