Posted at 12:09 p.m., Thursday, April 20, 2006
Merrie Monarch: Ho'ike, happenings on eve of competition
By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor
The hit of Wednesday night's free Ho'ike concert, the traditional kickoff to the hula competition, was not hula but a Samoan tradition that brought dozens of Islanders up onto the stage in a free-for-all like none I've seen at Merrie Monarch.
After a spirited and very well-received performance, Tupulaga O Samoa Ma Taeao, a troupe from the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, announced that their finale would be a ceremony that is generally carried out by the daughter of a chief.
Arrayed in full regalia (wrapped tapa sarong, fine mat skirt, towering tuiga a headress of feathers and hair), and with her arms, legs and shoulders glistening with coconut oil, the young dancer playing the role of the chief's daughter was escorted on stage, a chanter boastfully announcing her, dancers bowing before her.
She began a shuffling, hand-waving dance that was subtle and dignified but somehow also coy and provocative. Soon, dollar bills were flying everywhere. You see, the object of this dance is to pay tribute literally by attempting to glue money to the dancer's oiled arms and shoulders.
The crowd got into this one so enthusiastically that members of the security force had to hold back those lined up on the ramps for fear the stage would collapse under the weight of so many bearing gifts. Samoans in the audience joined the cast, dancing gracefully while the money frenzy ensued a bonus that will help support the activities of this club that promotes Samoan culture on campus.
IT'S AN HONOR
Before events got under way at the Ho'ike, George Applegate of the Hawai'i Island Visitor's Bureau presented longtime Merrie Monarch executive director Auntie Dottie Thompson with the organization's annual award, recognizing one who has contributed to the preservations of the Hawaiian lifestyle, heritage or culture.
"She is the heart and soul of the festival and, I might add, she did this without pay and with her own style and grace," Applegate said.
Thompson, who is not much for fuss and folderol, accepted the award with a smile but declined the microphone in favor of getting the show going.
And while we're on the success of the festival, if last night's Ho'ike is any indication, this may be the most crowded year yet.
Last night, there were already people prowling the grounds of the Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium with "Need Ticket" signs for the upcoming nights of competition (no tickets are needed for Ho'ike).
There are fewer seats than ever for the competition this year: About 2,900 when you set aside seating for participating halau and VIPs. One reason for this is a heightened concern on the part of fire marshals nationally about crowding at public events; this resulted in the loss of 200 seats in 2004 to make room for fire exits. This year, 200 more seats were removed to make away for a seating area for persons who use wheelchairs.
Among those in Hilo for this week's events is a reporting team from Hula Le'a, one of two Japanese magazines that focus on hula. Subtitled "Stylish Hula & Hawaii Magazine," this quarterly is as thick as a Neighbor Island phone book and plump enough in the pocket to bring its publisher, a reporter and photographer and a bilingual O'ahu freelancer to Hilo for what has been called "hula's Olympiad."
Earlier this week, leimaker Na'ea Nae'ole took the reporter and photographer on an excursion into the mountains where he was gathering greenery for Halau O Kekuhi; he is among those being profiled in a series on masters of Hawaiian crafts.
Last night at the free Ho'ike concert, the reporting team was busy interviewing Japanese visitors in the audience and shooting pictures of the performances, which included the Japanese troupe, Hula Halau Kahula O Hawaii, which won competition set in Hilo's sister city, Ikano, earning them the right to appear on the Merrie Monarch stage.