Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Aloha to Merrie Monarch

I'll be writing about Hilo on the Big Island for the next couple of posts, having just returned today from the weeklong 44th Annual Merrie Monarch ("MM") Hula Festival. I never like to leave Hilo but the feeling of longing is always more intense after experiencing a solid week of the best hula imaginable. Hula starts with the opening ceremonies on Easter Sunday and continues with daily performances at the hotels on Banyan Drive. For the first time, 'Imiloa, Hilo's new, world class astronomy center, hosted daily educational talks that are related to some aspect of the hula traditions. These talks are an educational addition to the MM offerings.

Wednesday night is the free Ho'ike/Exhibition night, the highlight of which is always the hometown favorite and host halau, Halau o Kekuhi, whose two kumu hula are the daughters of Edith Kanaka'ole. The stadium where the main performances are held are named after Auntie Edith.

Thursday marks the individual women's competition for Miss Aloha Hula. There are women's and men's halau kahiko (ancient) performances on Friday. Saturday, are the women's and men's halau 'auana (modern) performances culminating with an awards ceremony.

I'm going to work backwards and tell you stories of my last week starting with this morning. I always make one last stop at Kuhio Grill before the airport for a breakfast of eggs, corned beef hash and red velvet cake. Yes, they are the only restaurant that I know of, in the whole State, that will bring a dessert tray to your table upon request for breakfast. Also notable are their one pound laulau, fried rice with anything )my personal favorite is with loco moco) and peanut butter mochi.

As often happens I ran into someone I knew at KG's. This morning I was overjoyed to see my Auntie JoJo whom I'd seen at the beginning of my trip and with whom I'd spent overnight in Volcano. She was taking her brother, Koma, and sister-in-law, Barb, to the airport. They showed me some of their finds from the many craft fairs held all week around Hilo: two lauhala hats with colorful hat bands for their mo'opuna and a large quilted bag with an ipu print. All of our laughter was interspersed with a showing of photos including commentary of their two granddaughters. So typical of JoJo's family that Koma tried to press on me omiyage of Taro Chips which I had to sadly refuse indicating with a gesture to my head that I was full to the brim with omiyage.

While I was returning my rental car I noticed a very popular singer and musician, Hoku Zuttermeister (who just came out with his first CD) at the next counter. I went to thank him for the beautiful music he played to accompany the dancers. I recognized Ale'a, Ho'okena, some of the members of Na Palapalai, Lopaka Kanahele, Hoku Zuttermeister and both of the Brothers Caz, among many other exceptional musicians performing for the different halau's 'auana entries. They never announce the musicians who play for the halau because for MM, the emphasis is completely on the hula.

Once in flight I heard alot of laughter farther up the aisle and there was a cluster of flight attendants acting very much like ordinary fans around a MM musician, Lopaka Kanahele, the great-grandson of Edith Kanaka'ole. You have to understand that twentysomething Lopaka, cute as he is, has attained rock star status in Hawaii for his singing and his hula. The flight attendants were all atwitter, smiling, giggling and really spending waaay more time with Lopaka than the passengers.

Finally, one flight attendant got on the PA system and announced "We never do this, but since we are ending the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Lopaka Kanahele has agreed to sing for us". Lots of cheering from the locals and lots of cameras suddenly popping up from the seats to catch a photo or video. Lopaka slips a flower behind his ear and he, a capella, sings a song from the CD that won a Hoku award. Major full-body chicken skin.

At the end of his song people are yelling "Hana Hou" but I also wanted Hoku Z. to sing so I was chanting his name. Hoku is too ha'aha'a or humble and pretends he doesn't hear his name being called out. He had his camera out too, snapping away, even though he was sitting with and talking to Lopaka moments before.

So, that's my very sweet aloha from Hilo and the Merrie Monarch. I think God sent me that experience to ease the homesickness for Hilo.



CDs by Hoku Zuttermeister (his " 'Aina Kupuna" debut is #1 at Borders Ward Centre) and Lopaka Kanahele are available at amazon.com and locally at music stores.


Anonymous said...

WOW!!! Your post was even more amazing than I anticipated!! I THOUGHT the musicians sounded like the Brothers Caz (and even commented to E about that!)...how fabulous that they would perform for MM like that!! I can't wait to hear about the rest of the trip!!


foodiewahine said...

Thank you, TSB. Robert is the brother who 'uniki'd at the same time from Auntie Maiki Lake as my friend, Dutchie. Plus he has his own MM-winning halau and I counted three kumu hula-Manu Boyd, Casupang and Veto-Baker who were all students of his. All of the Ho'okena musical group started as students of his as well.

So, all of that is preface to saying that Robert often performs at MM and it's always a treat when Roland comes too! Both brothers were influential in the Hawaiian renaissance of the 70's.

Anonymous said...

Foodiewahine has captured the taste, sounds and smell of MM... and I can attest to her genuine love of food and ability to ferret out the best of Hilo.

Anonymous said...

Homesick, Homesick, Homesick!!Thanks for the great descriptions. I have decided to make it a goal in my life to attend at least one of the MM festivals. (and to go to Kuhio Grill .. . how come I've never heard of it before?)

foodiewahine said...

Thank you most kindly, CB, I do appreciate the feedback! We had fun at MM didn't we? Esp, with the kupuna behind us with their kolohe "observations" about the young kane. So good fun, yah?
-wahine foodie

Dear Homesick, Homesick, Homesick, Oon. Thank you so much for writing. I've got to talk with you. Met TWO people who knew your parents in Hilo VERY well!
your favorite CHUN cuz

Samantha said...

Wow, your illustrations are so colorful and detailed. I feel like I'm home again. You are doing a wonderful job! I miss the hawaiian food so much.

foodiewahine said...

Mahalo, Samantha!
I look forward to seeing you, possibly as early as August? when we can go holoholo in Hilo again. Loco Moco Fried Rice at KG's.
wahine foodie

J-boy said...

Mmmmm..... I might have to start getting into hula just so i can go with you to Merry Monarch. Always good food, and extraordinary events. Keep up the good work mom.
<3 Jason

foodiewahine said...

Hey, J-Boy,
Thanks for writing. Do you remember when you were very small that I asked you if you'd like to join me at MM? You shook your head and said sadly "No, Mom. For you it's hula heaven but for me it'd be hula hell"(because of the 4-8 hours on the okole). Now if you went it would be hula AND foodie heaven!

Anonymous said...

Dessert for breakfast? You didn't tell me about that part!

P.S.-We might not have MM, but we have The Bite of Seattle and A Taste of Washington... Come visit!

foodiewahine said...

Dear Marian,
I'd love a bite out of Seattle and a taste of Washington. If you want a bite out of Auntie Mem's baking you must come home for a visit.

Anonymous said...

Yes you are right Volcano is absolutely da best. Thai thai resturant was memorable. Enjoyed the company and the onolicious kau kau. Keep up the blog site it keeps us kamaainas on the mainland in touch with our beloved home. Aloha R fron Georgia