HILO, Hawaii – On Saturday morning – before the final night of competition at the 51st Merrie Monarch Festival – Hilo came out to enjoy the most accessible of the week’s events: the Royal Parade.
The procession got off to a rainy start, but since its Hilo the wet weather never seems to bother anybody. Nearly 100 units representing over 60 organizations staged at the King Kamehameha Statue along the highway. Floats, pa’u riders and marchers traversed up Pauahi Street, through Downtown Hilo, down Waianuenue to Kamehameha Avenue, where intense road work had no impact on the parade route.
In all, this year’s parade was considerably smaller compared to last year’s grandiose 50th anniversary celebration. In 2013, the parade was timed at almost 2 and a half hours. This year was only about half as long. The parade was led by the cadets of the Hawaii County Police Department, and the music of the Hawaii County Band.
Grand Marshal, George Applegate
This year’s grand marshal was George Applegate – a well known face in Hawaii Island tourism. The former executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau is retired now, but he remains an advocate for the island’s important hospitality industry. While in charge of the bureau, Applegate supported the Merrie Monarch Festival, and that support continues to this day. Applegate has seen it all in tourism. Forty years ago he served as a bellman for the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo, and after that he was vice president of Big Island Tours of Hawaii. Before retiring, Applegate worked hard to increase airlift and improve the hotels in Hilo… partly to better serve the well attended hula festival.
Miss Aloha Hula, Kealohilani Tara Eliga Serrao
Hilo had a chance to meet the 2014 Miss Aloha Hula – as per parade tradition. Kealohilani Tara Eliga Serrao from the halau Ka La Onohi Mai O Ha’eha’e earned 1,142 points en route to winning the prestigious hula title. The twenty three year old Aiea wahine also won the Hawaiian Language Award. Serrao is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, and she won the title 20 years after her kumu Tracie Lopes did. For kahiko, Serrao performed a chant in honor of Princess Ruth Keelikolani… and for the ‘auana portion, she danced “Ke Ala Ka‘u I Honi” honoring Queen Liliuokalani.
This was her first public appearance following her Merrie Monarch victory.
Pa’u Marshal, Richard “Casey” DeSilva, Sr.
This year’s Pa’u Marshal was Richard “Casey” DeSilva, Sr.
Born in Hilo in 1931, DeSilva grew up on a ranch in Kaiwiki on the island of Hawaii for the first several years of his life. The champion saddle bronc rider earned his nickname after another champion – Casey Tibbs – when the paniolo noticed his ability to ride bucking horses. He’s worked numerous ranches over the years… Hanaipoe, Shipman, Nobriga, Pu‘u ‘O‘o, Hualalai, and Pu‘u Wa‘a Wa‘a. He’s retired now, and lives in Ka’u.
Pa’u Queen, Renette U‘ilani Haili-Soares
The Pa’u Queen was Renette U‘ilani Haili-Soares, carrying on the pa’u legacy of her mother Pearl. A passion for Hawaiian culture was reportedly inspired in her by kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho. A total of six traditional pa’u princess units were entered in the parade. Here’s a look at Hawaii Island: the princess and her escorts were wearing colorful costumes and flowers, and the horses each had an elaborate neck lei, as well.
There were dignitaries, of course. Mayor Billy Kenoi walked the route with his wife Takako. He didnt seem to mind the weather. Another elected official to go it on foot was U.S. Senator Brian Schatz. And Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie was joined by Lt. Governor Shan Tsutui. They took a car.
OSMD – Daryl “Sammy” Sampaga
Another well known face to walk in the parade: he’s not really dignatary but he’s become recognizble around the island. Operation Sammy Muscular Dystrophy, or OSMD, led by Daryl “Sammy” Sampaga, were one of the groups participating in the event. Sampaga is a local coach fighting muscular dystrophy. He inspired the state of Hawaii earlier this year with his long walk around the entire Big Island to raise awareness and to raise money to purchase paddling canoes for island youth.
Sampaga and the OSMD gang has kept busy since the round the island walk. Last week, we caught with them as did an expansive beach cleanup along the shore of Keaukaha. It was raining that day, too, but it didn’t deter them from making the parks and beaches from Richardon all the way to Bayfront a little bit nicer.
There was another passionate group marching in the royal parade on Saturday, one with something to say. The folks marching under the Aloha Aina banner had a message for Hilo… a platform, actually. Their chants outlined their struggle for a “Free and Independent Hawaii, Respect for Mauna Kea, Pu’uhonua instead of Prisons, GMO-Free Hawaii, No More Geothermal, Stop the Bombing at Pohakuloa,” and various other important topics.
They say now is the time for all Hawaii to Stand together.
Halau, business, military and community
The Merrie Monarch Royal Parade wouldn’t be complete without the participation of the numerous halau that make the festival such a sought after ticket. On Saturday, some walked, some rode, some danced, some chanted…
There were other cultural groups as well, like the taiko drummers, who covered their instruments to avoid a heavy soaking. Every year the parade features lively religious themed floats, as well.
The military always makes its presence known, and in recent years the Youth ChalleNGe Academy has participated.
There’s also some commercialism thrown in. Large companies like Hawaiian Airlines and Macy’s know that there are a lot of eyes on the parade every year. Its a good place get the word out. Not just for businesses, but other efforts as well.
For example, it was during the Merrie Monarch Parade that we learned about this cheerful group of thespians, promoting auditions for some upcoming Shakespeare, like “This Is Hamlet” and “Antony and Cleopatra”. The Hilo Community Players fit right in with the rest of the colorful crowd.