Lei Queen

Ladies 55 years and up will compete to be this year’s Lei Queen


Former Kupuna Lei Queen of 2002, Elizabeth Mapuana Freitas.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mapuana Freitas

Skip the diamond-studded tiara and definitely skip the stiletto heels. The Lei Queen pageant, sponsored by the City and County Department of Parks and Recreation, is a particularly Island form of beauty pageant, sort of a Miss America meets the Merrie Monarch. The contestant who best conveys a love for the Hawaiian culture through hula and lei making will receive this year’s pikake crown. Candidates must be at least 55 years old and will be scored on poise and public speaking.

Nina Boman received the first Lei Queen title in 1928. Each year since then the age range of the contest has rotated between na wahine opio (18 to 30 years old), na wahine makua (31 to 54 years old) and na kupuna (55 years old and up). “Each age group has its unique qualities and style,” says Sandi Rosso, the department recreation specialist. This year’s na kupuna ceremony will be held at the McCoy Pavilion on March 5, beginning at 9 a.m.

Steeped in Hawaiian culture, the event is a potpourri of entertainers, impromptu hula and song. “It’s so back porch-y,” says department drama specialist Jeff Gere, describing the kani ka pila setting—homemade instruments and all. Gere, who has helped out with the event for years, calls the Lei Queen selection one of Hawaii’s “little secrets.”

“It’s not a hotel thing, not a tourist thing, it’s just aloha. These ladies are just having fun,” Gere says of his favorite age group, na kupuna. For them, it’s not about the competition or spending hours in the dressing room before they go on stage. According to Elizabeth Mapuana Freitas, former kupuna queen, who reigned in 2002, the secret to enjoying the Lei Queen event is to be relaxed. “People you don’t even know come up and talk to you,” Freitas says, describing the laid-back atmosphere.

Many of these women have a lot behind them when they enter the competition. Some have run their own halau, played in bands or been the Aloha Festival Queen, Gere says. “They’re here just for kicks.”

According to Rosso, there is a feeling to the event you can only get from being there. To her, the women “exude this love for all that is Hawaiian.” Rosso, too, loves the year of the kupuna, because they possess life experience that only comes from women in their category. “They have such grace.”