(BIVN) – Merrie Monarch Festival president Luana Kawelu talks with Sherry Bracken following Mayor Harry Kim’s decision to disallow participating hālau from overnight stays at county gyms during the week-long hula competition.
Aunty Luana spoke at length about all that work that goes into organizing the event, and all the details that need to be considered when accommodating large, traveling hula hālau and their families.
Kawelu’s demeanor remained positive when responding to questions about Mayor Kim’s August 9 letter in which he said hālau could no longer stay overnight at county gyms due to fire and building code violations.
“I reached out to the hālau who are staying to let them know that I am looking,” Kawleu told Bracken. “The rest of the hālau haven’t said anything. It’s mostly the local Hilo people who are so upset. But you know, I try to tell them that if it’s all about safety, that’s what we want, too. I wouldn’t want to put our hālau in jeopardy.”
“If the county is finding it’s against the law, we don’t want to break laws. We want to be safe. So you know we just have to do what we have to do,” Kawleu said.
Kawelu also explained why the mayor’s offer to make the Mauna Kea Recreation Area cabins available to visiting hālau in 2018 will not work, “looking from the hālau’s perspective”.
“That was nice of him, at least he was trying to find a place,” Kawelo said. “But I think for those who don’t know the workings of the Merrie Monarch, each hālau who comes is entitled to 2 one-hour slots of practice on stage. So, most of the hālau come up, go to wherever they’re staying, get settled, then they come down for whenever I schedule their practices. So let’s say they practice on Friday at 10 o’clock. So they have to come all the way down, practice 10 to 11, go back up the hill to Mauna Kea, then they would have to come back down for the performance and if they’re in the later half, by the time they get home it’s 12, 1 o’clock in the morning. So, that would have been too difficult. Although – you know – he tried to find us something, but it wasn’t feasible.”
Kawelo and Bracken also spent time talking about the history of the festival, and some of the other challenges it has overcome in the past. Things were especially rough during the early years, when interest in organizing the event waned, and Luana’s mother, Aunty Dottie Thompson, took over the job. The rest is history.