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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Culture in full bloom on Lei Day

May Day photo gallery

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Darlene Nakago, a Radisson Waikiki Prince Kuhio bell captain, drapes a 1,000-foot lei at the hotel. The lei was made from 610 garlands crafted by children from Kama'aina Kids and students in New York.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Maui — Color: 'akala, pink. Flower: lokelani.

O'ahu — Color: melemele, yellow. Flower: 'ilima.

Moloka'i — Color: 'oma'oma'o, green. Flower: kukui.

Lana'i — Color: 'alani, orange, Plant: kauna'oa.

Kaho'olawe — Color: hinahina, gray. Plant: hinahina.

Kaua'i — Color: poni, purple. Plant: mokihana.

Ni'ihau — Color: ke'oke'o, white. Symbol: pupu shell. (Ni'ihau is the only island without a flower or plant as its symbol.)

Source: City and County of Honolulu

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First-grader Nicholas Ono performs a hula with his class-mates during Wai'alae School's May Day performance.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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For more than 20 years, Margaret Pekelo has demonstrated the art of lei-making at the city's Lei Day Celebration in Kapi'olani Park, and this year was no different.

"May Day is Lei Day," said Pekelo, 68, as she delicately weaved various colors of baby mums together to form a haku lei. "It is the celebration of the lei and the flowers of the Islands," she said.

What keeps Pekelo coming back to Lei Day year after year is the love for lei-making and sharing the art with locals and tourists alike, she said.

"Lei Day is about celebrating and sharing our culture," Pekelo said.

Thousands took part in celebrating the annual Hawaiian tradition yesterday at schools and parks across the state. They celebrated what has come to be known as the quintessential symbol of Hawaiian culture.

Not far from Kapi'olani Park, students at Wai'alae School in Kaimuki staged their first May Day pageant in five years.

Armed with digital cameras and video recorders, hundreds of parents packed the open field to watch as their children performed Hawaiian songs, chants and dances.

First-graders, dressed in pink aloha shirts and mu'umu'u, took to the center performance area marked with a boundary of ti leaves to perform a seated hula to a mele, "Kananaka." The students represented the island of Maui.

Seven-year-old Joseph LaValley, in Sylvia Loveless' first-grade class, said learning the hula was "a little hard" but he enjoyed it. Joseph said he learned that the dance was about the beaches of Maui and "the foam on the water."

"He didn't want to dance at first," said Joseph's mom, Cindy LaValley. "But today he was so proud," she said.

Joseph's dad, John LaValley, caught the performance on video.

Donna Anderson, known to students as Kumu Anderson, taught each grade level the dances they performed yester-day. Anderson, who teaches Hawaiian studies, joined the Wai'alae School faculty in October 2005, only to find that the school had not staged a Lei Day program in years.

"I was like, 'We have to have May Day,' " Anderson said. "Living here in Hawai'i, we should celebrate our culture," she said.

Wai'alae School celebrated Lei Day with an outdoor program but many other schools plan to observe the holiday later in the week or even later in the month. Some schools also held programs last week, in advance of May Day.

Back at Kapi'olani Park, the Makaha Sons, Ho'onu'a, Kapena and many hula halau performed. The annual Lei Contest exhibit also drew a steady line of people. Lei-maker William W. Char took home the Mayor's Grand Prize along with two other first-place wins.

Priscilla Ambrosio and her sister Lucy Lumanlan performed hula at the bandstand with the Halau Na Wahine 'O Ka Hula Mai Ka Pu'uwai. Lei Day has been a tradition that the sisters have never gone without, they said.

"We used to always have Lei Day programs in school," Ambrosio said.

Lumanlan said: "The symbolism of the lei is very important. It tells a story. It's love, it's aloha."

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.