HILO, Hawaii: Waiting to get into the free Hoike at the Merrie Monarch Festival, the crowd stretched all the way around the stadium on Wednesday…. Wong Stadium, that is… that’s one stadium over from the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium where the event is held.
But it makes sense that the line to get in would be so long. Hilo looks forward to this night all year, and the only way to ensure a seat is to come early and be patient.
By the time the conch shells blow, the packed crowd knows that incredible hula is only minutes away. This year, the Mo’i Kane and Mo’i Wahine of the royal court: Richard Kuali’i Kamau Jr and Meleana Auli’i Ku’uleialoha Manuel…
The National Anthem and Hawai’i Pono’i was sung by Puna Men’s Choir. And the opening pule was done by Kahu Wendell Davis.
And then, the traditional opening act for the Ho’ike: Halau O Kekuhi, led by the hula royalty of Kumu Nalani Kanakaole, taking the stage in a manner heralding the bombastic ‘aiha‘a style of dance for which the halau is known.
Through their signtaure hula, Halau o Kekuhi told the story of the volcanic goddess Pele and her epic love triangle between her sister Hi’iaka and Lohiau, the chief of Kauai. The entire performance culminated in this crescendo of chanting, thrilling the crowd and opening the night of cultural Polynesian dance with a standing ovation.
Next up to the stage… Japan’s Lima Nani Hula Studio, based in Tokyo and Osaka, making the trip to Hilo with a fans from back home… who jumped in excitement to see the halau perform.
Lima Nani Hula Studio got a little help from the Kohala based Na Lei O Kaholoku, under the direction of sisters Nani Lim Yap and Leialoha Amina.
The performance stood in stark contrast to the stomping power of Halau o Kekuhi… the Lima Nani halau was soft and delicate on stage… Yap and Amina reportedly traveled to Japan to help the halau prepare for this performance… Yap was there on March 11th when the tsunami struck. However the halau from Japan – faithful students of hula – was undeterred from putting on a memorable performance.
Na Lei O Kaholoku took over the stage for their own performace afterwards. The 30 minute performance began with powerful hula kahiko, the sound of the drums reverberating throughout the stadium.
The performance – in its title and substance – honored “Na Hanauna”, or the next generation of dancers, before wrapping up with two hula ‘auana performances… and a special honor for Lim family matriarch, Mary ann Lim.
Following the Kohala halau, a rare treat from Rapa Nui. Rangi Moana, a group of 15 dancers from the small, isolated Easter Island – the easternmost point in Polynesia – took the stage. Performing traditional Rapa Nui dances for the first time in the 49 year history of the Merrie Monarch Festival. The crowd even got into the act, when some members of the audience were invited onstage to participate in the dance, each in their own unique way.
Finally, California’s award-winning Nonosina – founded by Estella Reid and led by her granddaughter Tiana Nonosina Liufau – put on an epic exhibition, dedicated to the renown kumu hula O’Brian Eselu, who passed away about one week ago…
The excitement built as the cast of 40 took the stage… And exploded in Tahitian dance… Depicting the story of the first canoe to traverse Polynesia, landing in Tahiti. The great migration was told with a fevorish drum beat and fantastic dance.
In the coming nights under the lights and breeze of the same stadium, the show becomes strictly hula… and the competition begins.
Miss Aloha Hula tonight… then Hula Kahiko on Friday, and hula ‘auna on Saturday. You can see the action on TV on K-5.
And do not forget all the arts and crafts shows going on throughout the week, and this weekend, the Merrie Monarch Royal parade will march through town.