This is Hula: Hats, hula and finding fish

By Lynn Cook / Special to the Star-Advertiser on April 7, 2013
The gang at George's Meat Market in Hilo making the store's popular jerkey. (Photo courtesy Annette Mueller-Dombois)

Up in Volcano Village the sun is shining, the birds singing on the day of Kahiko. Down the mountain in Hilo the rain fall ranges from light mist to buckets. Still, halau practice on hotel lawns, getting ready for kahiko night.

Inside the hotel lobby a halau visiting from Japan, performs. The dancers are happy to simply be in the same town, on the same island where the 50th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival is taking place. Communication is limited to many smiles and nods between dancers and some visitors from the mainland U.S. who stand and watch. After the last hula the audience asks if they can take a photo, again with sign language and a motion of lifting a camera to their eye.

Amazingly, nearly everyone, dancers and visitors, pull out their iPhones to show photos of their connection to hula. One photo was the dancer in full hula attire, with a Tokyo street in the background. Others had the dancers in lei po’o, head lei, and heavy coats, photograhed on a New York subway. For the dancers and this audience, English wasn’t their common language, hula was.

Outside the lobby of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel has yet another group of crafters. One table is filled with the lauhala hats perfectly woven by Sam Au Hoy. Sam and Fanny Au Hou have a strong local following. Our hula sister, Annette felt she needed to try on a few. One was perfect and became hers. Sam seemed to know everyone. In truth, he did. Three more members of our extended hula family showed up at the stadium later in hats that looked familiar. “Who are you wearing?” they asked each other with a giggle, in the true runway style. “I’m wearing Sam, of course.” You could say that Sam had a very good day.

Next was a ride around Hilo town. Rain didn’t seem to slow any of the shoppers on their quest for the perfect flowers from the Hilo Farmers Market. Bags of papayas on their arms were no doubt on the way to the community table for the halau. On one corner the parade slowed as turns were taken to get in and out of Sig Zane’s designer clothing shop.

With an iPad map we followed the stars to Hoku Street and into a tiny parking lot sporting a sign, Georges Meat Market. The old screen door rattled behind us. Inside it was a movie set vision of a 1950′s meat market. Rows of bins on the top of the long meat case were filled with vacuum sealed packets reading Ono, Jack or Ahi Jerkey, Pepper Beef Jerkey. Stacey Mukai greeted us with a smile. As she rang up the packets I asked a few questions and worked my way back to the work table. That morning was beef day. Brian, Elaine and Christine were laying paper-thin slices of beef on drying racks to go through their magic process.

The question, “how much George’s Market Jerkey do you produce” resulted in the best answer Stacey could give, “we work all day, five days a week.” Moments later, in the car headed back to Volcano, sack torn open, a paper-thin piece of Peppered Beef Jerkey was really heaven to our taste buds. We can keep this our secret, right? The address is 28 Hoku Street, Hilo, and worth the search.