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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 10, 2005

Dressing a queen

Muriel Campbell Kuaihelani Shingle, pa'u queen for the Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade, will ride Royal to Royal tomorrow. She is draped in 12 yards of fabric using six kukui nuts as fasteners — no buttons, hooks, zippers or Velcro.

Photos by Gregory yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

When Muriel Campbell Kuaihelani Shingle of Kailua wakes up Sunday morning, she should have six nasty bruises. They are her badge of courage for being the pa'u queen in the 89th Annual King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade.

The bruises will be Shirley Brenner's doing, if she's performed her job properly. If Brenner, the pa'u queen's dresser, wraps, tucks and drapes Shingle into her costume according to tradition, the kukui nuts that are used as fasteners (no buttons, pins, zippers or Velcro allowed) will leave six precisely placed black-and-blue marks.

Muriel Campbell Kuaihelani Shingle, pa'u queen for the Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade, will ride Royal to Royal tomorrow. She is draped in 12 yards of fabric using six kukui nuts as fasteners — no buttons, hooks, zippers or Velcro.

No pins, buttons, clips Six kukui nuts make the outfit stay together.
Brenner, who lives in Pearl City, will undoubtedly drape Shingle properly, as she is a perfectionist, relied upon by pa'u queens since 1996. Brenner was pa'u queen for the Kamehameha parade in 1995 — and once a queen, she can no longer ride. She considers her assistance "a lifetime commitment," she said with aloha and respect for the tradition of pa'u riding.

As Royal to Royal, a quarter horse owned by Francis Lau, warmed up at the stables, we sat and talked with Keahi Allen in the shadows of the Ko'olau. Allen, retired arts program specialist for the King Kamehameha Celebration Commission, has studied the tradition of pa'u riding for many years. She explained that the word pa'u means "skirt." While it can mean any kind of skirt, including the skirt worn by hula dancers, for the purpose of this story the term will be used to describe the elegant garments worn by women who ride horseback in parades.

Allen explained that the pa'u skirt and cape originated in the 1800s as a dust cover to protect ladies' holoku from the dirt and dust as they rode on horseback. Since the women were taught to ride by the paniolo, they did not ride sidesaddle, as was the general custom for women of those times. Rather, they rode astride, pulling their holoku up between their legs and placing the dust cover over their laps.

While cotton calico was the fabric used in the 1800s, today pa'u riders prefer velvet, lace or satin, which have a graceful drape and catch the light as they ride by in the parade.

While the costume looks quite complicated, it consists simply of yards of fabric fastened by twisting six kukui nuts at strategic spots to anchor it.

Fabric yardage varies depending on the tradition of the particular group. For example, the Kamehameha parade pa'u riders use 12 yards of fabric, while the Aloha Festival Parade riders employ nine yards.

For the Kamehameha parade, the fabric is cut into three equal parts, Allen explained. These sections are reassembled, sewn together and a waistband is added.

The pa'u queen is dressed toreador style — she stands while the dresser works her magic.

Shingle has learned that form-fitting riding breeches with suede patches on the inside of her calves and thighs are more functional and comfortable than jeans under her pa'u costume. She used two yards of velvet to make her top, a v-neck capelet.

Shingle has been riding every afternoon in preparation for the parade. In addition, she has been hitting the gym at the Windward YMCA, doing cardio and abdominal work to get in shape.

Being a pa'u rider is hard on the body. Once dressed in a pa'u costume, there is no way to go to the bathroom. It's a long haul, and many hours, from the dressing room to Kapi'olani Park.

Brenner always begins with a piece of ti leaf for good luck, tucked into the pa'u queen's bra or top.

Then the draping begins.

Once the queen is mounted on her horse, the pa'u skirt is carefully draped to cover her boots and stirrups. Of course, on parade day Royal to Royal will also be draped too — in masses of lei.

Brenner is such an experienced dresser that, if necessary, she can complete the entire costume in three minutes, Allen said.

Allen is hopeful that a new generation will step up soon to become pa'u riders and dressers. To that end, she holds an annual workshop to teach the etiquette and techniques involved.

• • •

Dressing a queen

We followed, step by step, as Shirley Brenner dressed Muriel Campbell Kuaihelani Shingle in a rehearsal:
1. The waistband is tied as tightly as possible ("Hold your breath, Muriel!") around her waist. With 12 yards of fabric, "The first tie is the most important, because if it's not tight around the waist, it's not going to hold," explained Keahi Allen.
2. Brenner brings the fabric from behind, through Shingle's legs to secure it at the waist. She then brings the center of the fabric to the waistband and puts a kukui nut inside the fold, twisting it and tucking it into the waistband, forming the first apron. Special attention is paid to the back, as "It has to be tight across her buttocks so she's not sitting on a lot of fabric," Allen said.
3. The apron is then folded in half once more and smoothed out to both sides of her waist, where Shingle holds it while two more kukui nuts are added to each side, forming what looks like pleated culottes or pants.
4. Kukui nuts No. 3 and 4 are twisted into the folds of the fabric and tucked into the sides. The last two kukui nuts are wrapped into the back and tucked into the waistband to form neat pleats, avoiding bulk at the back.

• • •

'Keepers of the Treasures'

89th Annual King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade

Starts at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, King and Richards streets

Also: Cultural demonstrations, games, kapa-making, food and entertainment, 10 a.m.i4 p.m. tomorrow in Kapi'olani Park.

Get involved: A workshop is offered for aspiring riders and dressers.

Get involved ...

Want to get involved with the pa'u riders in next year's parade? The King Kamehameha Celebration Commission usually holds a September workshop for those who may want to ride or help dress riders. For more information, contact B.J. Allen at 586-0333.