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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hula community bids aloha to Auntie Dottie

By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Even at her funeral, Auntie Dottie Thompson brought together people of many different backgrounds.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Well-wishers greeted Thompson’s daughter, Luana S. Kawelu, in green dress, when she arrived at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Auntie Dottie Thompson

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Thompson’s trademark papale — hat — was on display, along with a photo of her wearing it.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Baron Ching cradled a gift of lei as he waited in line with other mourners to enter St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Victoria Hall performed with Ke ‘Olu Makani ‘O Mauna Loa at a celebration of Thompson’s life at Hilo’s Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Father Samuel Loterte made a blessing with incense during Auntie Dottie Thompson’s service at St. Joseph’s.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Father George De Costa, Merrie Monarch’s chaplain, said a prayer during the gathering at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. He wore a kukui shell lei that Thompson gave him 47 years ago.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Merrie Monarch emcee Kimo Kaho‘ano sang a song in Thompson’s honor. “She was always frank and honest and fair,” he said.

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HILO — Auntie Dottie Thompson, who for 40-plus years shaped the Islands' premier hula festival, the Merrie Monarch, was celebrated yesterday with word and song and food and dance in an event that began in the early morning and didn't end until more than 12 hours later.

By 7:30 a.m., the queue snaked down the steps of her spiritual home, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, as members of the Hawaiian entertainment community came to pay their respects, clutching cards and lei and ho'okupu (ti leaf-wrapped gifts).

Members of the Hale 'O Na Ali'i 'O Hawai'i civic organization, of which she was an honorary member, took turns standing at the head and foot of her coffin, holding feather kahili (standards).

"We are standing guard over her," said Ku'ulei Hughes-Okada, iku ha'i (director) of the organization.

Thompson died March 19 at age 88 after a long illness.

Although the younger generation was conspicuous by its absence yesterday (probably because they were all just here last week for the 2010 Merrie Monarch and couldn't afford to make another trip), Thompson's lifelong friends were present in force, talking story and enjoying being together in her honor.

Father George De Costa, Merrie Monarch's chaplain, wore a kukui shell lei that Thompson had given him 47 years ago, just as the Merrie Monarch was born.

"You don't see this kind anymore," he said, admiring it. And then, "You don't see her kind anymore either."

The attendees included kumu hula Māpuana de Silva, Olana A'i, Leina'ala Kalama Heine, Nalani Kanaka'ole and O'Brian Eselu. The Lim family came from Waimea to entertain at the after-funeral party and Cyril Pahinui played "Hi'ilawe."

If you made it through the day without crying, you weren't paying attention.

Standing in line early in the morning was kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho, characterized as the "bad boy" of Merrie Monarch hula, often presenting dances that stretch the edges of tradition and delight the audience while flummoxing the judges.

What did Auntie Dottie mean to hula, he was asked.

Long pause.

"Everything," he said. "She brought it to life."

Kimo Kaho'ano, emcee of Merrie Monarch TV coverage, said he will miss her astute ability to sum up a person or situation and then deal directly and fairly with them.

"She was always frank and honest and fair," he said. "I'm going to miss her."


Among Thompson's skills was the ability to bring people from many different backgrounds together to work on Merrie Monarch.

The lineup outside her funeral bore this out: Koa Puna Harley-Davidson bikers, who have long provided security for Merrie Monarch, stood next to elegantly holoku'd aunties with bouquets of flowers in their hair, everyday folks rubbed shoulders with award-winning entertainers and there were more Sig Zane outfits than you could count.

De Silva, whose Hālau Mōhala 'Ilima has been part of Merrie Monarch for decades, said Thompson was "old school, totally honest and everything she did was for the kumu, the hālau and the hula."

Robert "Steamy" Chow and his wife, Lily, said they had known her since they were teenagers. Lily, formerly a hair dresser, recalled how Thompson would send her members of the Festival's "Royal Court" to have their hair done. Thompson was never loath to call on old friendships or family ties to get something done.

But in employing these connections, Thompson created something that has international implications. Dozens of Japanese hālau attend the event and thousands of hula lovers around the world watch it online.

John Fink of KFVE, now the official TV station of the Merrie Monarch, said yesterday they expect more than 1 million hits on their streaming views of this year's Merrie Monarch.


Throughout the day, the same themes emerged: Thompson's extraordinary vision in seeing what this simple little hula festival could become, her frankness and honesty, her commitment to her church (she attended Mass daily at St. Joseph's), her love of the Hawaiian culture and the hula.

Cy Bridges, hula teacher and Merrie Monarch hula competition judge, said that, because of Auntie Dottie Thompson, there is a special feeling to the Merrie Monarch. The whole community is involved. It starts when you fly in, he said, and the pilot welcomes the hālau, and it continues throughout.

"She engaged an entire community. When you come here you enter into a Merrie Monarch world," he said.

In his eulogy, Paul Tallett, a longtime friend of Thompson's, summed up her Merrie Monarch career in single lines.

Every reference was to a phone call that she took in the early years: Kumu hula offering to help. Businessmen offering to help. Plus everyone from Hawaiian royalty (Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa) to Kimo Kaho'ano trying to get on the bandwagon.

Laughter and tears rippled through the audience.

"Every once in a while, God steps in and he looks around and he sees the need to create a special person," Tallett said. "That was Dottie."

"You don't see her kind anymore ... "