This is Hula: Bidding aloha to Hilo

By Lynn Cook / Special to the Star-Advertiser on April 9, 2013
Kumu Mapuana de Silva dances at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Monday, April 8. (Photo courtesy of Nick Tomasello)

Up early on Monday. Those of us staying in Volcano had a shorter drive to meet the award-winning kumu Mapuana de Silva and Halau Mohala ‘Ilima at the hula pa in Volcanoes National Park. The dance platform, lifted up on a base of stone, faces the crater where a white steam plume seems to welcome the dancers. The carved marker sign explains it is a “Kahua Hula (dance platform) for the Perpetuation of Traditional Hawaiian Mele (chant) & Hula (dance).” Blue sky and sun make it easy to spread out a mat, or a jacket, and sit to watch as the kumu and dancers offer a ho’okupu, gift, of hula to Pele.

Some halau visit the volcano, dancing at the crater rim, before the Merrie Monarch. Others come to present their lei on Sunday or Monday, before they return to their home island. Mapuana de Silva brings her dancers on Monday to dance their mahalo. She presents her outgoing Miss Aloha Hula and introduces the 2014 candidate.

Family, other dancers and guests are thrilled to be outside on green grass. They were, of course, thankful to have had the precious ticket to the four nights of hula in the stadium, but this is double-scoops of hula.

One of the rangers from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was guiding a busload of Canadian visitors on the crater rim sightseeing walk. On this day she already knew the schedule would be way off. The group stopped, watched and didn’t move for about 30 minutes. It was very likely their first exposure to hula kahiko, ancient hula.

The ranger knew this site might be even more memorable than minutes at the volcanic crater. She was right. The clicking of cameras sounded like castanets. Those who attended the Merrie Monarch knew what the Canadians didn’t know — how lucky they were to be able to take photos without breaking the stadium rules and ending up on the wrong side of the security staff. That staff, by the way, did a stellar job of dissuading the folks from taking digital SLR photos that have ended up being sold or used in unauthorized publications.

As exhausting as the competition can be, kumu Mapuana de Silva says she is always a bit sad that the next Merrie Monarch is “a whole year away!” She talks about the win and says, “sometimes our table is filled with the awards of ipu, pahu and ukulele. The table can be full or empty but each year is equally wonderful.” This was the halau’s 35th consecutive presentation at Merrie Monarch and only the second time they received the wahine overall award. She says, “We have to come. If we don’t then our Maiki Aiu line of hula would not be represented.”

The scene at the airport in Hilo was the reverse of last Monday and Tuesday. Coolers filled with hula implements and lei were stacked at the check-in counter. Bags of hula implements hung from dancers shoulders. One difference was the addition of dozens of bags with the Big Island Cookies logo. Passengers on the flight to Honolulu whispered as the halau moved toward their seats. One pair of fans were wondering if the kumu would autograph their prized Merrie Monarch program.

The good news is, if you didn’t make it to Hilo you don’t have to wait until the 50th Annual Merrie Monarch DVD comes out. Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, along with dancers from Tracie and Keawe Lopes’ halau, Ka La ‘Onohi mai O Ha’ha’e, and Halau I Ka Wekiu under the direction of kumu Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang, will present their winning hula at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival on May 18-19, spread across the lawn of Honolulu Hale. Remember, municipal parking is free, all day, both days.

Hula happens often across our islands. Check the TGIF section of the Star-Advertiser for the larger events. Count on hula wherever Hawaiian music is the feature of the evening and grab a rock bench in the coconut grove, any Saturday evening, all year, when the Royal Hawaiian Center presents kahiko, ancient hula.

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Lynn Cook is a freelance arts and cultural writer who has studied hula for 25 years.