The 43rd Merrie Monarch Hula Festival
By Rochelle delaCruz
The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival has been shining a spotlight on the small town of Hilo on the island of Hawai`i at least once a year for the past forty-three years. The week-long event always begins on Easter Sunday because its founders didn’t want to interfere with Lent, the Christian season of reflection and repentance. While this may seem an oddity in the pluralistic United States, Hawai`i was heavily missionized by American Protestants from 1820 and the tone of the succeeding Hawaiian government and leaders was decidedly Christian. It is perhaps the only place in the Union where Good Friday is a state holiday. The irony is that these early missionaries were the ones responsible for banning the hula in the first place, which was later revived during the reign of King Kalākaua (1874-1891), for which he was nicknamed the Merrie Monarch. The timetable of Merrie Monarch is now firmly set: over 5,000 tickets go on sale December 26th and quickly sell out. On Easter Sunday begins a Ho`olaule`a that runs the entire week with craft fairs and hula at various locations around Hilo town.
This year’s festival was also a time to thank Dottie Thompson, who is responsible for keeping the Merrie Monarch alive when it was faltering. When she took over and revised the festival’s mission in 1970, the new goal was to focus on hula and Hawaiian culture. This she has accomplished with huge success and throughout the festival, accolades poured in, beginning with the Aikāne Award from the Big Island Visitors Bureau at Hō`ike, to appreciation from Governor Linda Lingle on opening night and ending with Mayor of Honolulu Mufi Hanneman’s praise and congratulations on the final night of the competition.
But Auntie Dottie would agree that the main event is the dancing and once again, the twenty-three hālau made everyone proud. Many traditions in kahiko were strictly maintained: some hālau made their own kapa outfits; mele were enhanced by lei made from freshly-picked leaves and flowers; cadence came not only from rhythmic foot movements and the continuous chanting by dancers and kumu, but also from implements such as long wooden sticks and canoe paddles. The crowd clearly appreciated Oakland-based Mark Keali`i Ho`omalu who chanted his original mele while the kāne from his Academy of Hawaiian Arts performed an energetic homage to Kamehameha and his peleleu warriors.
The `auana competition showed much creativity and imagination, some of which raised eyebrows. A hālau from Texas danced a tribute to the armed forces in camouflage pants; another from California looked more like interpretive dance than hula. Most of the Hawai`i hālau chose classics like Ala Pīkake and Kawohikūkapulani, some dancing in close and precise coordinated and synchronized movements for which the Merrie Monarch Festival is renowned. It was also a pleasure to watch several wahine groups gracefully maneuver their holokū as they danced. My favorite was Snowbird Bento’s Ka Pā Hula O Ka Lei Lehua and their interpretation of Ipo Lei Manu, dancing in deep indigo blue long-tailed holokū. Commentator and kumu hula Pualani Kanaka`ole Kanahele captured it perfectly when she said they looked and moved like a lovely flock of birds.
The musical accompaniment is an important part of `auana to which well-known Hawaiian musicians lend their talents anonymously. But those paying attention heard the Cazimero Brothers, Nā Palapalai, the Makaha Sons, the Lim Family, Manu Boyd and Lopaka Kaumaka`iwa Kanaka`ole.
The hālau are judged on a point system and the overall winners are determined by their total points. For those who didn’t win, Kumu Hula and judge Hōkūlani Holt-Padilla said, “Don’t let yourself be judged by one night…your contribution to hula is a lifetime, not just one night.”
The Winners of the 43rd Merrie Monarch Hula Festival:
Overall: Nā Lei O Kaholokū – Nani Lim Yap & Leialoha Amina Kohala, Hawai`i
Kāne Kahiko: Hālau Hula `O Kawaili`ulā – Chinky Mahoe Kailua, O`ahu
Kāne `Auana: Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka Lā – Kaleo Trinidad Honolulu, O`ahu
Kāne Overall: Hālau Hula `O Kawaili`ulā – Chinky Mahoe
Wahine Kahiko: Nā Pualei O Likolehua – Leina`ala Heine Honolulu, O`ahu
Wahine `Auana: Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka Lā – Kaleo Trinidad Honolulu, O`ahu
Wahine Overall: Nā Lei O Kaholokū – Nani Lim Yap & Leialoha Amina
Miss Aloha Hula: Bernice Alohanāmakanamaikalanimai Davis-Lim from Nā Lei O Kaholokū – Nani Lim Yap & Leialoha Amina Kohala, Hawai`i
Hawaiian Language Award: Ka`enaalohaokau`ikaukehakeha Aoe Hopkins from Hālau I Ka Wēkiu Karl Veto Baker & Michael Casupang, Honolulu, O`ahu
Setting the Record Straight at Merrie Monarch
By NWHIT Staff
Two Hiloans are credited with the establishment of Hilo’s Merrie Monarch Hula Festival: Kumu Hula George Na`ope and Dorothy “Dottie” Thompson, who has been the festival’s executive director since 1969. Both Na`ope and Thompson are now in their 80s, and this year’s festival guides have several stories on the history of Merrie Monarch. Luana Kawelu, Thompson’s daughter who is also assistant director, said that it was important to get the story of how the Merrie Monarch was founded. “I told Mom we should tell it because if we don’t, somebody else will.” said Luana.
In 1963, Helene Hale, then Hawai`i County Chairman, was looking for a way to bring more tourists to Hilo so she appointed George Na`ope as Promoter of Activities. Along with her aide Gene Wilhelm, they developed the idea of a festival in the spring because of the low tourist season. Uncle George came up with the name Merrie Monarch for Kalākaua, who had restored the culture of the Hawaiians during his reign. The first Merrie Monarch Festival was held in 1964 which consisted of the Coronation pageant, a Barbershop Quartet Contest, a Beard Contest (the “Best Kalākaua Beard), street dancing and entertainment at the Grogge Shoppe (which was a popular bar in Hilo.)
In 1965, the Hawai`i Island Chamber of Commerce took on the sponsorship of the festival and selected a new chairman yearly but by 1968, the Chamber of Commerce decided to suspend the festival because no chairperson had been found and there seemed to be a lack of interest in the community.
Then Dottie Thompson volunteered to be Chairperson and included George Na`ope in the planning.
In 1970, the Merrie Monarch Festival set new goals and objectives to replicate the idea of King David Kalakaua, the “Merrie Monarch”, to gather the best hula dancers from all of the islands, revive the arts and create a performance that is a rite, a celebration, a fete, a statement about Hawai`i and its people.A meeting with Dorothy Thompson, George Naope, kumu Hula Pauline Kekahuna and Kumu Hula Louise Kaleiki was held. They were asked to come to Hilo to participate with all the halau from all the islands. The kumu requested a competition and all agreed. The 8 th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival celebrated the first hula competition in the State of Hawai`i . This included the Miss Aloha Hula and the Wahine Group Hula. In 1976, the Kane Division was added. All activities pertained to the culture of the Hawaiian people. Iolani Luahine, Lokalia Montgomery and Puanani Alama set the rules and guidelines for the hula. The festival has remained the same since. “E Ola mau Kona Ho`olina” (His Legacy Lives On)
- from the Merrie Monarch Festival Forty-Third Anniversary Program
With the internationalization of the hula, there are on-going discussions on authenticity and standards. In a recent interview with the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, George Na`ope, one of the founders of Merrie Monarch, said he doesn’t think international hālau will ever be allowed to compete.
“There are other festivals that are open to the world where they can perform,” he said. “Merrie Monarch is for our people because education begins at home and we don’t want anyone taking it away from us. The competition is for those who are born or live in Hawaii .”
At the same time, he praises the Japanese students of hula who are disciplined and wants locals to be as serious about Hawaiian culture. “The Japanese are very good. They will probably win [the competitions they enter] because they go home and practice…”
Another flashpoint concerns kumu hula – who is and who isn’t. In order to become a kumu hula, a student must `uniki, the process whereby knowledge is passed from teacher to a student. While each hālau has its own `uniki, what they share are the challenging stages a student must pass though, culminating in a private ceremony where the student must demonstrate all that s/he knows. If the kumu approves, then the student must repeat the entire process in public and only then is the title of kumu hula given.
Aloha Wong Delire, the first Miss Aloha Hula in 1971 and kumu hula of Keolalaulani Halau `Ōlapa `O Laka, the hālau with the longest record of Merrie Monarch competition (33 years) thinks that while it’s fine for non-kumu to teach hula, they shouldn’t call themselves – or let others call them – kumu hula. “The title of kumu hula is not one that should be taken lightly.” (from a Hawaii Tribune-Herald Guide to the 43rd Annual Merrie Monarch Festival.)
Don't Scalp Those Merrie Monarch Tickets!
By Rochelle delaCruz
For the past 43 years, the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival has been run with lots of aloha – love for hula and Hawaiian culture. Tickets to attend all three nights of competition are a bargain at only $20 to $25. “We want to be sure it’s affordable,” says Luana Kawelu, assistant director for the festival, “for families to come and watch their dancers as well as for visitors who are already spending a lot of money to travel to Hilo.”
But recently, a few have been spoiling the spirit of Merrie Monarch by buying tickets at the low rate and then re-selling them for a huge profit. Last year, two sets of tickets which cost the buyer $40, were sold on eBay for $480. And this year, Kawelu had a print-out of two more tickets purchased also for $40 then resold for $255 just days before the festival began.
Luana wants anyone who’s buying or selling Merrie Monarch tickets this way to think twice, because she keeps track of every ticket sold. “On the nights of the competition, I’m going to be looking to see who’s sitting in those seats. And when I find out, they (buyer or seller) will never be able to buy tickets from us again.”
According to the program, “The Merrie Monarch Festival is a Domestic non-profit organization registered with the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Proceeds from the Merrie Monarch Festival support education scholarships, workshops, seminars, symposiums and the continuation of the festival.”
Kawelu, the daughter of co-founder Dottie Thompson, says there have been many offers to buy or underwrite the Merrie Monarch Festival, and some even want to take it out of Hilo. “But as long as we’re running it, it’ll stay in Hilo and not be to make money.”
Luana then pulled out a letter from Nevada from some fans regretting that they were unable to attend the festival this year and donating back the three sets of tickets they had purchased earlier. “So you see, some people get it. Not everyone is so greedy,” says Luana.
Torrential Rains Cause Major Problems
By NWHIT Staff
Effects of the deluge that devastated Hawai`i in March and April are still being felt around the Islands. When record amounts of rain fell on Kaua`i, an earthen dam burst and seven residents died when they were swept away by the fast moving waters. Then on O`ahu, sewage spread over Waikīkī Beach when the heavy rains cause the main sewage line to break and the city was forced to pump raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal that empties into the ocean near popular tourist beaches. A man involved in an altercation at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor fell into the filthy water and died a week later. Oliver Johnson’s body had swollen to three times its normal size and was covered with huge blisters, effects of flesh-eating bacteria, and he died of multiple organ failure due to septic shock. Whether this was caused by his fall into the dirty waters is still being investigated.
While the focus was on the contaminated waters off Waikīkī , the heavy rains caused smaller sewage spills all over O`ahu. On the Windward side, Bellows was closed following the spill of untreated wastewater at the Waimānalo Wastewater Treatment Plant. Waimānalo and Kailua Beach Park, favorite with families, were also closed. Overflow was caused by saturated grounds and wells due to the heavy rains, and some of the beaches were still closed after Easter.
Other problems included landslides and potholes caused by the deluge. Homes in valleys like Mānoa were flooded more than once as the ceaseless rain caused several flashfloods. Many of the canoe clubs that practice at the Ala Wai Canal are either in limbo or behind in their practice schedules, even though their season opens on May 28th. Some say they will never go back to the Ala Wai.
While all the islands experienced heavy rains, life-threatening damage occurred mostly on Kaua`i and O`ahu. In the aftermath, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has asked the City of Honolulu to respond to questions regarding its procedures. Mayor Mufi Hanneman said that the city was aware of a potential problem because of EPA citings from up to eight years ago, well before his administration. And Eric Takamura, the director of environmental services for the City and County of Honolulu, responded to critics by defending the city’s option to pump raw sewage into the Ala Wai. “Given the volume of wastewater that had to be diverted, the Ala Wai Canal was the only choice,” he wrote in an opinion piece for one of Honolulu’s daily newspapers. The pumping station that normally averages 15 million gallons of sewage per day, was forced to move 37 million gallons per day during the storm. Over several days, an estimated 48 million gallons of untreated sewage was pumped into the Ala Wai and made its way to Waikīkī beaches.
In addition to pollution in the water of popular beaches around O`ahu, toxic levels of bacteria have also been found in the sand and there are concerns regarding the coral reefs and their fishes.
Problems caused by the recent rain will take longer to overcome than originally anticipated.
Nā Mana`o Ulu Wale
-Random thoughts, casual observations and other bits of fluff.-
by Roger Close
As a youngster growing up on O`ahu, my dad and I would hike up Waimea Valley to Waihī Falls (also known historically as Waihe`e Falls and by the widespread misnomer Waimea Falls). W-a-y back then there was nothing but a pig trail, widened by local swimmers, going to the falls and the large swimming pool at the foot of the falls. Undoubtedly, the land belonged to someone, but as a kid, it just seemed like one, huge, tropical playground left unspoiled just for me to explore.
Fast-forward about 40 years and my return to the valley. Auwē, some outfit called Attractions Hawai’i has cleared land; planted grass; put in paved roads and refreshment stands; and cemented around the swimming hole and put in bleachers! And…to add insult to injury, at some point the whole grand scheme to make lots of money off the valley via “Waimea Valley Park” went defunct. The semi-good news was the National Audubon Society was now managing and caring for what was left of the lower portion of the valley. The trolleys were gone; the sideshows silent; and the focus was back on the valley’s scenic beauty, cultural and archaeological significance, and rare and endangered plants. Nevertheless, in my mind the valley had been destroyed…all in the name of making money. I left saddened and angry.
Then what do you know? Waimea Valley has been in the news again the past four months! Apparently, a New York investor, Christian Wolffer, acquired the valley in1996 when he became principal owner of Attractions Hawai’i, which owned the valley and Sea Life Park . Wolffer sold Sea Life Park, but kept the valley, promising to leave it intact. He tried to sell it four years later as a private residence, but environmental groups argued the valley’s cultural importance.
To ensure the valley would remain undeveloped, the city of Honolulu in 2001, moved to acquire the entire valley via condemnation proceedings. Overtime, however, worries over the potential rising cost for the city to pay for the valley prompted city officials to consider a settlement that would have allowed for limited development. On November 21, 2005 , the city council in a 5-4 vote gave preliminary approval to accept landowner Wolffer’s proposed settlement in which the city would own the valley’s lower 300 acres (which is now the Audubon Society-run park) and he would own the valley’s upper 1,575 acres. Wolffer’s plan was to put in large lots for the extremely wealthy and some sort of commercial development. It is interesting to note much of the valley’s lower 300 acres, which would have gone to the city, are marked by ancient cultural sites. However, none of the acreage that would have gone to Wolffer under the agreement has been surveyed.
On December 7, 2005, the Honolulu City Council, set to cast its final vote on the proposed settlement, received a stunning lesson in “people power.” A parade of more than 72 speakers told the council in-no-uncertain terms that the community was ready to take its chances in court. The speakers were supported by the Audubon Society and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs which pledged to come up with the money needed to match whatever price a court ruling decreed for the entire 1,875-acre valley. The council voted 9-0 to reject the proposed settlement.
The court would not get to rule on the fair market value of the valley. On January 14, 2006, an out-of-court settlement was reached. The city of Honolulu with a consortium of governmental agencies and nonprofits will purchase Waimea Valley for 14 million dollars, and keep it undeveloped. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs will assume ownership of the valley, managing the undeveloped property in partnership with the Audubon Society.
On March 15th, this legal settlement designed to preserve the scenic and historic Waimea Valley on O`ahu’s North Shore quietly won approval from the Honolulu City Council. It’s not a pig trail any more and the lower 300 acres are not totally unspoiled, but…the valley won’t be host to tours of mansions of the rich and famous either.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead
Until next time, mālama pono.
Click here for more Random thoughts, casual observations and other bits of fluff.
Roger Close is a semi-retired Oregon educator who currently lives in the San Juan Islands . He was born and raised in Kāne`ohe, O`ahu. At eighteen, Roger left the islands to attend Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon . Like so many, he ended up staying on the mainland, returning home for occasional visits.
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