Checking in Tuesday night at Honolulu International Airport for one of the many added flights to Hilo, all 100 percent booked. The first two ladies in sight are kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine talking with kumu Snowbird Bento. Passengers headed to other destinations pass by giving a questioning look. The crowd gathered around the kumu are wearing what look to be team shirts but their arms are filled with strange objects that don’t look a bit like sports equipment. To the rest of us, migrating like a flock of birds to feed our souls in “hulaville,” the dancers arms loaded with black bags covering the giant ipu heke gourd hula implements look perfectly normal.
Kumu Vicky says her group includes her haumana, students, from Hawaii, New York and Portland, Ore. Most have attended Merrie Monarch before but some are newbies. She explains that she has 30 of her ladies with her. “Some have airline tickets, hotel rooms and even cars but no tickets for the Merrie Monarch. Others have a car but no room. It’s OK, we will all make it work. Our plan is to go on a huaka‘i, a visit, and experience the volcano and other locations that are buried in our chants.”
And then she added, “Of course we will go craft fair shopping first!”
What is Vicky most excited about? “The Ho’ike and what Robert will present, and Daryl Lupenui’s men of Waimapuna!” Her hula brother, kumu Robert Uluwehi Cazimero, plans to present 50 men for the 50 years of Merrie Monarch. One of the dancers in Vicky’s group says the men of Na Kamalei are the highlight for her, except “everything is the highlight!”
Vicky says this 50th year is the best of the best, with all the hula greats, and it will raise the bar for the next 50 years. And then she was off to Hilo.
Waiting for the next flight, scheduled to leave about six minutes later, Snowbird Bento sits surrounded by her mom and her dancers. She says she has presented her own halau at seven Merrie Monarch competitions — hard to believe since she looks like the same young girl from Kamehameha School, dancing in her first Merrie Monarch.
What is she doing in addition to hula? “We are working on some cultural projects, supporting the worldwide voyage of the great voyaging canoe, Hokule‘a.”
She is laughing about her newest assignment. “I was just talking to Vicky about MAMO and the big fashion Maoli Arts Month show at Honolulu’s Hawaii Theatre in May, and now I am in it!”
Speaking of fashion, she says she has been holding her breath for the shirts for her halau. “The colors are like the sunset at Kekaha, Kauai, the place we honor in the hula, you know, the rusty pinky sunset colors. The design was inspired by kapa at Bishop Museum.”
A special order from Noa Noa was sent to Bali. “I waited and waited and they just arrived last Friday,” she said. The relief shows in her face. Another dream will manifest itself in the kahiko costume.
“I kept seeing dark blue, almost black, like the deep ocean. Then my final dream had something silver underneath,” she said.
“Anymore info,” I ask?
Her answer is that her men have been gathering material for their kupe‘e for three years. The question of what they were gathering goes without an answer. The flight is called and we are on the way to the hula heaven that some call Hilo.
Sitting in a window seat the view of the late afternoon sun on the islands makes magic. Then the Hawaiian Airlines pilot turns slightly as we cross Maui and below is a perfectly clear view inside Haleakala — so clear you can see the cinder cones that rise 1,000 feet from the crater. The crater glows with colors of rusty pink and deep, dark blue.
Lynn Cook is a freelance arts and culture writer who studied hula for 25 years.