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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2010

Tribute to hula's 'Auntie Dottie' Saturday in Hilo


By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Assistant Features Editor

On Saturday, one week after the 2010 Merrie Monarch Festival, Hilo will again be hula-land, honoring the life of longtime Merrie Monarch Festival director "Auntie" Dottie Thompson.

Thompson died March 19 at age 88, and her funeral is expected to be such a big event that traffic will be rerouted in the city.

On Saturday morning there will be visitation from 8 to 11 a.m. at St. Joseph's Church, followed by a Mass at 11, and then a pa'ina (supper) and ho'ike (performance) at the Civic Auditorium that is expected to go on all day, with every important halau and Hawaiian entertainer of any stature involved.

Thompson did not create the festival; it was an idea designed to promote Hilo as a tourist destination. But, as head of the county's art and culture department, she volunteered three years after it was created to head the event.

In partnership with the late hula master George Naope, she drew in important kumu hula and together, they envisioned the pre-eminent hula competition in the Islands. They drew in hundreds of volunteers who continue to make the festival happen today.

Although not of Hawaiian ancestry, Thompson was always very humble, said Manu Boyd, a hula teacher and a popular commentator on Merrie Monarch TV coverage.

"Her quiet tenacity and Uncle George's flamboyance, the two of them just worked together to make this incredible thing," Boyd said. (Uncle George Naope, the longtime hula master of Merrie Monarch, died last October and was honored at a hula extravaganza last week.)

"She was seriously an ali'i wahine, a leader," said Boyd, "just like King Kalakaua. She, too, brought hula into a more visible place."

Kalakaua is the "Merrie Monarch" for whom the festival is named, credited with having saved the hula from extinction.

"There is a magic to it," said Boyd, "that she made happen."

Boyd recalled that Thompson was a taskmaster; nothing involving Merrie Monarch was decided until she gave her OK.

"Auntie Dottie just made the stew and then it was done," Boyd said.

She is succeeded by her daughter, Luana Kawelu, in directing Merrie Monarch.