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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:15 a.m., Saturday, April 22, 2006

Saturday morning views, Merrie Monarch

By Wanda Adams
Assistant Features Editor

HILO, 6:45 A.M. SATURDAY — Saturday is always an interesting day at the Merrie Monarch Festival — the day of the folksy parade through Hilo, the busiest craft fair day, and the culmination of the hula competition.

Those of us who arrived early are by this time exhausted to the point of seeing double, but feeling a bit smug because we hit Big Island Candies, Sig Zane and the T-shirt stands early. The ones who just blew in for the weekend are raring to go. Suddenly this quiet town is jammed with traffic, devoid of parking and awash in lines of people waiting to get into restaurants and shops.

This morning, for the first time since I arrived on Saturday, the white-capped peak of Mauna Kea is sharply visible above the gray clouds and haze that have blanketed Hilo through much of the week. The first cruise ship of the day is pulling into dock, and there is already the sound of clacking bamboos somewhere below my room at the Hilo Hawaiian — probably a Japanese halau getting an early-morning lesson from one of the indefatiguable kumu hula.


Last night in a break before the kahiko competition, I talked to clothing designer Zane about what's up at his groundbreaking and popular shop, which specializes in one-of-a-kind, screen-printed, Hawaiian-themed designs. A new release this year, worn last night by judge Vicki Holt Takamine, is evening wear — signature Sig Zane fabrics under a layer of iridescent organza fabric.

Did you notice the beguiling outfits that Zane's wife, judge Nalani Kanaka'ole, and his sister-in-law, TV commentator Pua Kanaka'ole Kanahele, were wearing? Those aren't by Sig, though they use his fabrics. Those were designed by Nalani, who he said may even name a collection under his imprint. She also designed outfits worn by her dear friend, judge Hokulani Holt-Padilla of Maui. Clever scalloped necklines, interesting hemlines and sleeves and a beautiful wrap — all of which flatter the figures of larger women — are among her innovations.

In men's shirts and women's day dresses, a new fabric made up of printed Hawaiian words was selling briskly at the store.

Zane explained that it was a special project to benefit Ke Aha La'ahana School, a Hawaiian language immersion program. They asked the schoolchildren to come up with their own 'olelo no'eau, Hawaiian proverbs, and printed bits of these, blue on white, white on blue and so on, on bolts of cloth in a design created by Zane's son, Kuha'o Zane.

The fabric was used for the children's graduation uniform, and the company makes a gift to the school for every yard sold. "So they have plenty of money for graduation this year," he said.


As I think back over last night's competition, I'm struck again by the sophistication, layering and nuance that has returned the the practices of chant and hula. Those of us with little Hawaiian beyond the predictable, party hula words are missing so much. If only all of us learned the Hawaiian language in school alongside English, how much richer this experience would be for us, yeah?

But having said that, I still have to wonder: Is it time to place a still smaller limit on the number of competitors in the Merrie Monarch hula competition?

Five hours is a looooooooooong time, brah. The stadium was pockmarked with pukas by the time Na Lei O Kaholoku, the final competitor, made it to the stage last night — a pity, since they are the past winners, contenders for this year's overall winner and not coming back next year. (They're taking a break for a while, according to Miss Aloha Hula Namakana Davis-Lim.)


Here's what I noticed as the competition flowed by last night:

i Lavender is a new color, seen in the costuming of several halau, even in grass skirts.

i Real kapa reappared on the stage in the costuming of Hoku De Rego's troupe, and my mouth was hanging open. It takes an immense amount of work to pound wauke into cloth; congratulations to the haumana who worked so hard.

i Did you notice the Victorian touches in a couple of monarchy period dances? Keli'i Chang outfitted his girls with dainty lace hankies tucked into their skirts. And Glenn Vasconcellos' young women wore lace hair ribbons. Sweet.

i Two men's halau made use of capes made from ti or grasses; interesting to see them getting beyond the usual in men's costuming.

A rainbow is literally arching over Hilo Bay as I wrap up this report and ready for my day, as though the skies are blessing this final Merrie Monarch day.