By Léo Azambuja

Nalani Brun, who will be portraying Queen Emma at the Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i, is seen here by a painting of the queen's husband, King Kamehameha IV, in the Ali‘i Room of Aston Aloha Beach Hotel in Wailua.

Nalani Kaauwai Brun, who will be portraying Queen Emma at the Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i, is seen here by a painting of the queen’s husband, King Kamehameha IV, in the Ali‘i Room of Aston Aloha Beach Hotel in Wailua.

In January 1871, Queen Emma, still grieving the loss of her husband and their young son, made a remarkable journey from Lawa‘i to Koke‘e, and through Alaka‘i Swamp to Kilohana Lookout.

Along the way, riding on horseback, dozens of hula dancers, women, children, musicians and folks from all walks of life joined the queen, adding to a cavalcade extending for more than half mile.

Queen Emma’s journey would never be forgotten. For the last 27 years, the Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i in Koke‘e honors the queen’s journey by reenacting part of the events that took place 144 years ago. This year, Nalani Kaauwai Brun will incarnate the queen.

“She loved the people, she never shied away from touching them or being near them,” Brun said of Queen Emma, one of Hawai‘i’s most beloved royals.

The Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i was first held in 1988, with less than 100 people. Today, more than 2,000 converge to Koke‘e every October the celebrate Queen Emma, and about 500 of them are hula dancers who come to perform hula for the queen, just like in the queen’s historic journey.

When the queen arrives on horseback with her lady in waiting and her guide at the Kanaloahululu Meadow at Koke‘e State Park, it’s not unusual for people to break down in tears.

Helen Leilani Santiago, playing Queen Emma, is seen here riding into Kanaloahululu Meadow in Koke‘e alongside Harrom Kaili, representing his great-grandfather, Kaluahi, during the Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i in October 2014.

Helen Leilani Santiago, playing Queen Emma, is seen here riding into Kanaloahululu Meadow in Koke‘e alongside Harrom Kaili, representing his great-grandfather, Kaluahi, during the Eo e Emalani i Alaka‘i in October 2014. Photo by Danny Hashimoto

“I’ve seen people actually cry when they watch her ride in. They feel they are taken back in time,” said Puni Patrick, who got to personify the queen in 2012.

“I was really honored to do that,” she said. “Having grown up dancing hula, especially when I was younger, having learned mele for Queen Emma, I can only image what it is like for these young hula dancers to be in Koke‘e and to share mele for Queen Emma in front of so