Eselu full of gratitude in victory
Dennis Oda / email@example.com
Ke Kai O Kahiki kumu hula O’Brien Eselu, right, accepted three awards, including overall winner, on behalf of his halau at the Merrie Monarch festival last weekend.
By Nina Wu
HILO, Hawaii » Kumu hula O‘Brian Eselu has proven once again that a small group of hula dancers can be just as powerful as halau three or four times its size.
Eselu’s six-member halau, Waianae’s Ke Kai O Kahiki, won not only its second overall title at the 47th annual Merrie Monarch Festival last weekend, but also best kane overall as well as awards for best kane kahiko and kane ‘auana.
Originally from Samoa, Eselu returned to the Merrie Monarch festival two years ago after a hiatus due to health problems and surprised everyone by taking the overall title last year. The 54-year old entered his first Merrie Monarch competition 31 years ago with his late partner, Thaddius Wilson; the halau was known then as Na Wai ‘Eha O Puna.
Always humble, Eselu said he was full of gratitude when he learned his halau had won on Saturday.
“I just want to thank the Merrie Monarch Festival, Auntie Dottie and Uncle George,” he said. “Thirty-one years ago they were so kind to me, and so encouraging. I’m here to celebrate them and their legacy.”
Eselu said he was surprised at the wins because he introduced a new step in his kahiko number, “A Ka‘uku,” which is only used by his halau. It’s a step that involves jumping in the air, clapping, then coming back down with a waterfall movement. Eselu learned it from his own kumu decades ago.
It was a bold move and risk, one which the Merrie Monarch judges might not have approved of. Still, Eselu — also the director of a Polynesian show at Paradise Cove Luau and a Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning musician — is known for taking risks. Read more