The Beauty of the Modern Hula, Last of the Merrie Monarch 2013

As we entered the Merrie Monarch Competition for the last time I was sure I would not enjoy it. This night was the Auana. The modern-day hula. When visitors come to Hawaii, this is what they think of when they think of the hula. It is not as historical as the Kahiko which is ancient hula nor is it as exciting.

It is graceful, musical, and colorful. You are more likely to see swaying hips and hands as graceful as swans, slowly waving hypnotically.  The dancers are fully clothed more often than not as this was part of the influence of the missionaries.

Unlike the Kahiko, there is singing and instruments playing. You don’t have the drums nor chanting. I was pleasantly surprised at the dancing this night though and the music was fabulous as well as the singing. There were many noted performers singing t and it was like a consort and hula competition all rolled into one.

IMG_0967The photo above is of Queen Kapiolani who was the wife of King Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch.


These ladies came from Japan to watch their kumu. As it happens this particular kumu (teacher) also teaches in Japan as well as in the islands. I just loved how they all chose to dress up in this particular style for the night. They looked beautiful


Hard to tell what their hula was portraying. A lot of the auana dances have fun themes.


These costumes which are also part of the competition were so unique. You can double-click on these to get a closer look at the hair pieces.


So colorful.


When these women all dance in unison along with the color it is beautiful to watch


Long hair adds so much to the gracefulness of the dance.


Here you can see that the musicians are on the side of the stage and not on the stage as in the Kahiko where the kumu drums and chants.


The men step lively


These women reminded me of swans


Not only were they beautiful in their purple dresses their hats and flower pieces in their hair were stunning.


Close up of their hats


Such color


They had the jade plant in their hair and they looked beautiful


Beautiful velvet dresses swaying


Even though some colors show up more than once they are still unique in their style and headdress


These lively guys were just a joy to watch. I really enjoyed their dance


Now were getting down to the grass skirts

DSCN2020And what most people think of as in hula when the come to the islands.

So my trip to Hilo was full of surprises, a bit of disappointment (my camera) but most of all It was an exciting experience. Happily I enjoyed the auana too. I enjoyed it all.

If you want to take in the Merrie Monarch some time I would suggest that you get your tickets last month! Yes it sells out that quick.

My next visit to Hula land will most likely be the competition at the Hilton Hawaiian Hotel to see my grandson dance. Let’s hope they have not picked up on the Merrie Monarchs forbidding and that they will still allow us to use are DSLR.




With point and shoot in hand these are what I captured the rest of the night. Maybe it’s not so much that these photos are blurry but I’m disappointed that I could not capture the essence of the dance. That has nothing to do with the camera it only has to do with me. Does that have to be inborn? Or maybe I have to do more reading and shooting. I’m sure I have to do more what ever it is.


As the dancers enter the stage part of how they approach is judged also. They will enter like the girls on the right then dance on to the stage in stages.


I love to capture  the hair and skirts as they swish in the same movement. Many think of the ancient Hawaiian women with their log hair down their back but their was a time during Capt. Cooks visit that the women actually cut their hair very short and bleached it in the front. How they bleached it I don’t know but it was quite stunning. We have drawings of the women at the Bishop Museum.


Withe such a large group it is very hard to manage a dance and have it totally synchronized. DSCN1939

When the men enter the stage the house gets uproarious and hoots and clapping, whistling and energy rises. Even though the patterns on the costumes may seem too modern there are actual Kapa clothing in our displays at the muse with this pattern. There are also sketches of ancient Hawaiian dancers with this exact style being worn as the men dance. Kapa clothing was quite colorful contrary to what many people thing of.


This move is not as easy as it looks and many hours goes into practicing this in order to be able to carry it out flawlessly.


All the greenery you see here is made by the dancers. I know that some halaus even go into the mountains to pick all of the vegetation that they wear.


Here the kumu, I believe she is the gray haired lady, and her group do the chanting and accompaniment for the men.DSCN1925

Again I am not sure exactly what period this is because it definitely has the influence of the missionaries which does not seem kahiko to me. But then again it is the 50th anniversary so I am not sure what they were trying to portray here as kahiko.


This reminds me of the Sumo outfits I’ve seen. Even the hair. I so wish I had the program to be able to tell what this represented.DSCN1903

This is my grandson’s kumu and the above photo shows her men dancing.


The costumes can be very elaborate and costly. I’ve heard that you might have to pay around 1500 in cost just to be in one of these competitions. This particular competition is  non-profit.


I love the ankle and hair pieces along with the costuming.


This costuming is more what I think of the Kahiko style and of course the men always bring the house down when they dance. It is really high energy.


Again they are performing a difficult move but with their long hair hanging down in back I think it is so beautiful.DSCN1864

The ti leaf draped over the skirts just makes the whole look.






This halau is from Oakland California. Their kumu in not quite traditional but oh these guys were great. I would love to see them again. People went wild when they danced. Unfortunately they didn’t eve place.


The kumu for the above men is in sunglasses. Perhaps that is part of what takes marks away from their performance. I don’t know as it certainly wouldn’t be considered traditional. But as I think back to all of the Hula I have seen through the years all of it has changed what was traditional then is rarely even seen today.DSCN1843

These were the drums he used. I don’t know what they are made from. The drums we have at the museum are made from coconut and the top is stretched with sharkskin.


Again some blurred photos for your enjoyment 🙂DSCN1839




I had taken over 200 that night and these were the only ones that turned out half way decent. On part 4 I will tour the island a little bit visiting the birthplace of my kids grandparents.




The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, a fascination destination for me, was celebrating its 50th year of competition.

I tried to envision the old gym it was held in. Open sides I was told and very cold in the evening. In my mind’s eye I could see the portable benches going up the sides of the building, the smell of old wood and everyone sitting where ever they could in a first come first serve seating.


And now here I was and I was pleasantly surprised. My son dropped me off in the front while he drove around looking for parking. Parking was at a premium to say the least. I stood in the front lot looking at all the peopled dressed in various stages of casual to beautiful full dressed Polynesian. Muʻu muʻu and hand-made lau hala hats with huge flowers pinned in the hair.


From a distance I saw this man dressed in Hawaiian costume talking on a cell phone. I thought he was just a sort of welcoming committee. But later inside he was to proceed Princess Kawananakoa, A distant decedent of King Kalakaua, as she was ceremoniously guided to her seat.

Now if there are any of you out there who would know what the proper name for his position is I would be very happy if you could fill me in.

IMG_1147This is what I saw as I entered what I had imagined to be a little basketball gym.


We sat right behind these people and had the best view of the stage even though it was a side view



You are looking at about three-fourths of the audience.


King Kalakaua. He was known as the Merrie Monarch. He was responsible for bringing back the Hula. During his reign he defied the missionaries who had banned the dancing and at all his events he would have halaus perform. Thus the name of the competition.

IMG_1156With all her leis, she is one of the judges.


This is the Kahiko competition. Kahiko is the ancient style of hula. It is danced to the sound of drums and chanting. There is no music or singing. My camera was heavy as I carried it that night but I was so excited to be able to at last have a zoom lens and capabilities to get shots without blur. Unfortunately I also became a critic and kept waiting for the right shot instead of just firing away.The only got this shot of these men.

This young girl proceeded her halau with what is called a hoʻokupu or gift or offering. I’m not sure who or where she took it to as I could not see once she got off the stage.


Here the dancers are getting ready to enter on to the stage. The seated woman is their kumu or teacher. She will do the chanting and the playing of the ipu or gourd.


This particular style of dressing was not what I thought was indicative of the kahiko. Since we were unable to get a program, as they were all sold out, I was not sure what they were performing. Even though I had read as much news on this particular competition I never read that the kahiko might be from a later period of time. When I think of Kahiko I think of pre-contact or Captain Cook’s time when drawings and written accounts were first made available of Hawaiian dancing. I know they never dressed like this.

I was a bit disappointed and again I chose to wait to do more photographing once the more traditional dancers came on. Boy was I in for a surprise. As the break between each performance came on I was trying to line shots up as I looked at the stage and audience with my camera. As I held my camera up to my eye an usher came up to me and said “excuse me, you can not use DSL’s to photograph this event unless you have a special pass.”

What? Why not I asked as I looked around at all the cameras going off. He told me I could use my camera phone or point and shoot. And what was I going to do with my cell phone? I looked at my son and all the people in front of me who had turned around and seemed to be as perplexed as me.

There was a time when this competition had almost failed because it just was not catching on. And now that it is world renown and they are selling shirts, books, and what have you they don’t want you to take a good photo as they (I think) are afraid you might sell it and make some money? Of course this may not be true but this is exactly what I felt.

So my son turned to me with my old Nikon point and shoot and said to me. “Good thing I brought it yeah?” He was laughing but he was mad. I was not laughing and wanted to leave. At last I calmed myself down and put my heavy, no use to me camera away and turned on the point and shoot.

So in part three I will continue with blurry photos and not as close up shots as I would like. Seems like old times doesn’t it?












Missing Hawaii

My lunch is cooking on the stove and Hawaiian music comes over the radio. It’s the old time chalangalang.

Just as a certain scent can bring back a memory of a house, area or event the music brought back memories of Hawaii in the days when you  your family picked and sewed  plumeria leis just for that special someone due to arrive the next day. You could actually walk out to the air plain and put the lei around their neck as they got off. The air was filled with the scent of flowers as people waited, lei in hand, to greet their loved ones. Now you have to wait at the luggage carousel and rarely do you see a lei unless someone has paid to have one delivered.

I thought about how you could walk on Kalakaua Avenue and see the beach as you passed the Royal Hawaiian. In fact you could see the Royal Hawaiian Hotel as it was not blocked by the big, ugly, cement complex that plops there right now. Even the wonderful Waikiki Theater with it’s organ player, palm trees and large screen is gone. All three theaters in Waikiki have been replaced by stores. Check out this site if your into nostalgia.

There was even parking in Waikiki and you could drive both ways on Kalakaua Ave. Now I don’t even want to go near the place it is so crowded with fancy stores that only the Japanese can afford to buy from. There is no place to park your car so it’s not local friendly to get to the beach.

I even miss the Pigeon English that everyone spoke. “Hey you heard? He went make (pronounced makay) die, dead.” Translation, did you hear he died? They just had a way of really emphasizing something. 🙂

And as I’ve said many a time I miss the mangoes. They grew in just about everyone’s yard. Their were so many during mango season you were sure to be given at least two loaves of mango bread and a shopping bag full of mangoes. And just in case you didn’t get any you could walk along the neighborhood and pick a bag of them off the wall of someones yard where they had been left to share.

So sad. We probably got 5 mangoes this year. The tress have been steadily cut down to make room for houses with very small or no yards at all.

There are many things that have gone the way of Old Hawaii. Driving to the bottom of Hanauma Bay to drop off your pick nick items, now you have to  walk down the long road or pay for the tram and pay for each item you take down. Thank you tourism.

In the back of Manoa they built a park in all of the deep flora growing back there. Joanie Mitchel, I was told, wrote the song “They pave paradise and put up a parking lot” about it. And it’s true. They paved that beautiful jungle in, brought in exotic birds and made a huge parking lot and asphalted everywhere.

And so I have only memories. And since I can’t photograph a memory this blog will remain photo-less.

Like the Eagles sang, Call someplace paradise and you can kiss it good by.