Monday, May 30, 2011

Finally, The First Night at the Merrie Monarch Festival

Hula Festival – First Night- the traditional "Kohiko" Hulas

The first night that we attended the 48th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival was Friday night.  We returned from our long drive to Kona quickly spruced up and headed to the Hilo Municipal Arena (a set of covered tennis courts) where the Festival was set up.
The Festival is a big deal for Hilo because of the number of visitors with the increased revenue they bring to the businesses in the city.  The majority of the visitors for the Festival are Hawaii residents because the event is extremely popular here.
Note:  In Hawaii, we do not call our visitors “tourists” as that sounds tacky and unwelcoming – we prefer calling people who come to the Islands as “Visitors.”    
Visitors are very, very important to all of Hawaii.
Inside the arena before the competition starts

Once inside the arena area, we purchased dinner.  For me it was a couple of hot dogs and a diet soda. Then we made our way to our front row seats.  Our eyes were level with the surface of the raised dance floor.  In front of us was a guide track for a trolley with a TV camera to be moved back and forth to follow the action of the dance groups.  

In front of our seats - At the right the TV sound man and then the TV Camera and dolly

Channel 5, KITV gave major coverage to the event with 4 or 5 hours of coverage on each of the five nights.  The first 3 nights were preliminary events for other competitions.  The final two nights are for the serious competitors. The Festival is the most strict and prestigious competition in the Hula universe.

The Royal Court is introduced to the audience first by a group of conch shell bearers sounding to each of the four cardinal points of the compass before the Royal entourage enters.  I am sure that you remember that Hawaii is the only state in the United States which was a Kingdom before the Hawaiian Royals were forced to abdicate by landless Hawaiians, immigrant American merchants and missionaries about the time of the American Civil War.

Announcing the Royal Court's Entry with Conch Shell Trumpeting
The Royal Court proceeded by a herald who chants out (in Hawaiian) the names, genealogy and accomplishments of the Royals. 

The Royal Herald Proclaiming the Royal Court

The herald is followed by a  page boy, then by feathered standard bearers and then the Royal Court itself.  King David Kalakaua, his Queen and the Royal Family parade across the dance floor to their special seating. 

Page boy and the Royal Court's Standard Bearer

The Royal Court Enters - the Merrie Monarch, King David Kalakaua, and the Royal Family

The Merrie Monarch and His Queen
 King David Kalakaua is honored by the festival as he wrote that “Hula is the language of the heart and is therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian People.”
In all there were 28 groups dancing both of the two nights.  Friday was for the groups or “halau” (pronounced like the word “Allow" with a “Hah” sound at the start) to demonstrate their proficiency with the traditional dances – the “Kahiko”  (Kahh-HEE-koh).
The costumes were more traditional in materials and styles for the Kahiko style of dances.  The songs or chants that the dance is performed to are called “mele” pronounced like the English word “melee” (a type of fight in English) “May-LAY”.  The mele are the oral stories, traditions, genealogies and histories of the Hawaiian people.

I will describe the various parts of the dancer’s costumes and the special implements they carry as you browse through the photos.  The costumes and implements used by the dancers are usually made by the members of the halau themselves. 
The local newspaper did an article about the implements and an illustration of the names of the costume parts at the webpage below.
1st Overall & !st in Wahine Kahiko -Halau Ke'alaokamaile - Directed by Keali'i Reichehel of Maui
The wrist and ankle lei are called "Kupe'e" (Koo-pay-EH). The neck garlands are made by the dancers the day before - sometimes with materials they gather themselves.  They are called "lei'ai"  (Lay-AYE) or neck leis.  
The head lei is called Lei po'o (Lay POH-oh) it should be worn level to the floor.  The materials for the lei po'o are palapalai fern that are often woven with blooms for color.

One discovery I made while at the Festival and in seeing other Hula being performed is that participation is non-discriminatory - particularly in the case of obese dancers,   heavy people, people of color or Haole (Caucasian) and oriental peoples are often seen performing as part of the halau.

Hula Halau O'Kamuela Directed by Kau'ionalani Kamana'o & Kunewa Mook: Kalihi & Waimanalo - from Oahu - Wahine Winners of 2nd place overall and Wahine Hula Kahiko
The little drums the dancers carry are called - Puniu (poo-NI-hoo). The instrument is made from a coconut shell and may be fasted to the right thigh during a "noho" or sitting hula.

Wahine Halau above in the Noho - seated position - the crowd went wild when they did this move!

Winner 3rd Place Wahine Hula Kahiko - Halau o ke 'A'ali'i Ku Makani - Director Manu'aikohana Boyd - Oahu

The men or "kane" (CAHN-ay) danced very energetically.  The mele they performed often had to do with voyaging, romance and paddling a canoe.

We left before the halau that won first place in the Kane kahiko performed to avoid the crush leaving the arena.  I will put the performance of the halau who performed a dance dedicated to procreation in its place. This mele was first performed as a procreation chant in 1886 at the Iolani Palace for the 50th Birthday for King Kalakaua. It was choregraphed in 1986 for his 100th Birthday Jubilee at the Iolani Palace.  Some of the moves are a bit saucy!  The audience loved it!

A suggestive move during the performance of the procreation mele

Add your own caption!

2nd Place Kane Kahiko - Ka Leo O Laika I Ka Hikini O Ka Lii - Kaleo Trididad, Honolul, Oahu Performing with Ulili noisemakers

The Ulili noisemaker makes a whirring sound and is rarely used in hula today as it requires a lot of skill to dance and to use the noisemaker while dancing.  The instrument is composed of 3 gourds.  The two on the end are filled with seed. The gourds must be in balance then attached to a rod after passing through the center gourd that is held by the dancer.  The cord is wound around the rod and if used correctly will wind itself back on the rod after being pulled to spin the rod.

Halau Hula 'O kahikilaulani - Nahokuokalani Gaspang from Hilo, Hawaii 3rd Place Kane Winner

Some other photos taken that night - some without captions.

Chanter for a mele

Wahine with uliuli (oo-lee-OO-lee) rattles made of gourds with seeds and ornamented with feathers.

Wahine with mats for dancing in the Noho (seated) position using Ipu Heke (calabash gourds joined to use as a percusion instrument played by tapping on the ground and with the hand.

Kane performing a mele about voyaging in an ocean crossing canoe

I hope you enjoyed the photos as much as I did making them.  Contact me if you use my photos.  I retain all rights for commercial use.  The photos were made using a Canon G11 digital camera in existing light using a mono-pod to add stability to the camera's image stabilization.  Flash photography was not allowed at the arena.

Next - A parade in downtown Hilo on Saturday morning.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Cruel Sun or "Lahaina" Noon

Well it's Friday May 27th and at 12:28 PM today we had a "Lahaina Noon", Hawaiian for Cruel Sun Noon.

Anyone and anything standing exactly straight-upright at 12:28 today did not cast a shadow for a few minutes. The sun was exactly overhead at 90 degrees above sea level in any direction.

Standing completely on my own shadow during the Lahaina Noon.

Ernie painting - notice the shadow is directly under him during Lahaina Noon

Just a moment or two to go - the street light pole is truly vertical and is not casting a shadow.  The shadow to the right is from the horizontal lamp holding bracket.

This happens out here twice a year.  The next one will be on July 15th at 12:37 PM here in Honolulu (according to the local newspaper) as the sun retreats from the Summer solstice (the longest day in the earth's orbit around the sun each year). Other cities on other islands will have their Lahaina Noon on different dates and slightly different times depending on their latitude.  

I used our street corner sign as an experiment - which revealed that the sign pole is slightly off of true vertical.

The shadow reveals that the pole is slightly off vertical.

Lahaina Noon approaching - but the pole is off true vertical !

The sun has moved past true vertical on our slightly tilted pole.
The Hawaiian Islands are the only place in the United States where this phenomenon happens.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Days 2 and 3 - An outing, an emergency and the Saddle Road

Day 2 – Thursday

Our reason for the trip to the Big Island of Hawaii was to attend the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a Hula Dance competition held in Hilo.  However, Sherb once again made a considerate and considerable effort to be an outstanding tour guide to show me this beautiful place. So, Jan, Sherb and I were on the road going north on the Coast Road, Hwy. 19, quite early on our second morning on the Big Island. 

We took a 4 mile scenic byway that dropped down to the ocean as it wound its way past small seaside coves and through the lush tropical forests on both sides of the road. 

African Tulip Tree blossoms - scenic loop road

Jan told us that she and her sisters used to pick these flowers and their seed pods while on their way home when they were school children.  Jan said they called them “Horse Pee” flowers due to the acrid, sour odor of the blooms and the juice that could be squeezed out of the pods.  Naturally, they would try to smear or squirt the stinky juice on each other, causing a parental scolding, baths and a complete change of clothes once they arrived home.
I tested the flower’s scent … they do smell sour and terrible!

I took some other photos of the ground cover and some translucent fern leaves in the brilliant early morning light.

Small blooms on the ground cover - about thumb nail size

Fern leaf in the bright sunlight

We went over a bridge and saw a small waterfall and pools just above the sea.

Roadside falls - Scenic loop drive

It was a beautiful, sunny morning as we drove north of Hilo.  We were even able to see and photograph the top of Mauna Kea (Mahn-ahh KEY-ah) or White Mountain - before it became shrouded with clouds.  

Mauna Kea - White Mountain - Note the observatories at the summit

We stopped at Akaka Falls State Park which has a very high waterfall and other smaller falls below.  We paid a small admission / park maintenance fee at the parking area near the falls.  

I learned that it was about a 1 mile walk with 356 steps down and then back up to see the falls!  I was uncertain that my legs were strong enough for that kind of walking yet.  The park attendant informed us that the smallest of the series of waterfalls was the one at the bottom and that it took 300 steps down and back to get to it from a fork in the trail. 

300 steps from the trail fork to see the smaller, lower falls

However, it was possible to take the right fork in the trail after only 56 steps to reach the best view point for the spectacular, higher Akaka Falls.  So… Jan and I went hiking down the right fork of the trail slowly and carefully.  

Sherb hiked both forks of the trail to see both the upper, high waterfall at the top and the smaller, lower falls.  
Akaka Falls Trail - Tropical plants and stream

I admired the amazing profusion of tropical plants. There were small ferns on the steep, lava hillside next to the trail and a few little rills with small waterfalls just below the trail..

Either an Octopus Tree (Scefellera) or a West Indian Fiddlewood

Trailside rill and small falls

Akaka Falls Trailside tree bloom

Trailside blooms - Akaka Falls Trail

Small falls along the trail to Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls - 422 feet  (129 meters) high

Akaka Falls is as advertised, very high and spectacular!

Traveler Al - dreading the 56 steps back to the top !
Now, the hard part, for me, was hiking back up to the parking above.  I made it, but my legs felt like they were made of Jello when I got to the top.

Just then, Sherb received a phone call informing him of an emergency back in Honolulu that he had to deal with.  We drove immediately back to the airport in Hilo. I was added as a driver to the rental car contract. Sherb was able to fly out within 30 minutes of arriving back at the Hilo Airport about 11:30 AM.

Late in the evening Sherb called to let us know to pick him back up at the Hilo Airport at 7:30 the next morning. He had dealt with the emergency and was going to return to our adventure.

Jan and I spent the afternoon in downtown Hilo browsing the shops.  Later we returned to our friends, Sharon and Robert’s, home for dinner and to visit with them.  They are musicians, and composers. Sharon is a retired opera singer who once appeared on  Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.  Now they live a quiet life in retirement.

Every night of our stay at their home, we were loudly serenaded by the “Ko-key” frogs, who chirp, KO-KEY, KO-KEY outside all night long!

3rd Day – Friday

Jan and I rushed to the airport at 7:30 AM to pick Sherb up and then – off we went for breakfast and the day’s outing along Hwy 200 or the Saddle Road.   

Until very recently, rental car companies forbid taking their cars onto the Saddle Road, the shortest road between Hilo and Kailua-Kona. However, the Saddle Road was now paved all the way and is much better than in past years when it turned into an unpaved single lane road just a short distance away from Hilo.  The reason for the improvement is increased use of a large military training camp located at the highest point of the Saddle Road with the attendant increase in military vehicle traffic to and from the camp.

We climbed away from the coast going up the valley between the two great volcanic mountains. 

Map of the Big Isand of Hawaii

Mauna Kea would be the world’s tallest mountains if measured from the floor of the ocean at 33,000 feet or 10,000 meters – significantly taller than Mount Everest.  Even measured from sea level it is impressive at 13,796 feet (4,200 meters) in height.  The top of the mountain sits above 40% of the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Mauna Kea Hazards Warnings

Mauna Kea’s summit is home to a number of major astronomical observatories because of the low amounts of turbulence and moisture in the air flowing over the summit. Most of the time the summit is well above the clouds that form as the moist Pacific air looses its moisture on the rising lower slopes of the Windward side of the island below.

Above the Clouds -Mauna Kea Panorama from Visitor's Center

The summit of the mountain was considered the most religious place in the Hawaiian Islands group and was kapu or taboo for all except for Hawaiian chiefs to visit. The construction of the many observatories on this spiritual place began in the 1960’s and still causes tension with native Hawaiian people.

We turned to the right off the Saddle Road for the long climb up the road to the visitor center and to the observatories at the summit.

The climb to the visitor center is a long, steep pull for any vehicle.  The last few miles before the visitor center, which is at 9,200 feet (2,800 meters) are composed of grades as steep as 17%.  The transmission in our rented car was very hot when we arrived at the visitor center.  A four wheel drive vehicle is recommended for those visitors who want to go the next 12 miles and 5,000 feet to the summit.  Rental car companies still forbid their vehicles (including their four wheel drive vehicles) to go from the visitor center to the summit of Mauna Kea.

Looking towards the Mauna Kea Summit Road above the Onizuka Village for International Astronomy

The visitor center sells both Hawaiian style souvenirs and astronomical books and other sorts of scientific souvenirs as well as soft drinks and a few snacks.  There are clean restrooms in the building as well.

Onizuka Village - photo from Wikipedia's pool of photos
Near the visitor center, there is a small cluster of buildings at the Onizuka Village for International Astronomy which houses living, dining and recreational facilities for the scientists using the observatories on the summit above.  There are no public facilities at all on the summit of the mountain. 

In December, January and February, snow may fall at the summit of Mauna Kea. People will go to the summit to enjoy the snow. This seasonal snow caused the dormant volcano to be known as “White Mountain” to the ancient Hawaiians.

We crept down the mountain road in a low gear until we got off the steep grades.  We continued on the Saddle Road past the Army & Marine Training Base

17% downgrade leaving the Visitor Center on Mauna Kea

Looking South while descending Mauna Kea to the North side of Mauna Loa 

Almost back to the Saddle Road

We soon left the saddle area between the two great mountains to cross the area of the one of the largest ranches in the United States, The Parker Ranch.  The rolling emerald colored hills reminded me of the parts of the Big Sur Highway on the California coast.
Near the ranching area off the Saddle Road

Nearing the town of Waimea, leeward side of Mauna Kea


It is over 80 miles from Hilo to the towns of Kailua (KUY [rhymes with "guy"] - Loo-ahh) and Kona on the Leeward side of Hawaii. 

We had a late lunch at an Irish pub - restaurant, Quinn’s, in Kona. We met Jan’s nephew, Michael, who dropped by to say “Hello,” after Jan called him.
Jan Medieros with her nephew, Michael

The Kona Coast was one of the areas where the tsunami after the recent great earthquake in Japan washed ashore. The tsunami waves did go over the seawall along the coast flooding some seaside businesses in Kailua and Kona towns.  A few of those businesses were still closed in various states of repair, but most are now open.  There were repairs being made on the seawall itself and to the street just inland of the seawall. 

Seawall at Kona, Hawaii

My impression of the Kona area is that it was warm, very humid and appears a lot like Laguna Beach, California. It is another beach town with lots of very pricey restaurants, hotels, inns and bed & breakfast establishments. We did not have much time there, nor did we have time to drive the 125 miles south along the Kona coast and then across the southern shore of the island back to Hilo. So, we filled the car with gas at $4.77 a gallon for regular. (Kona has the highest priced gasoline on the Big Island). We then returned back via the Saddle Road to attend the evening’s session of the Merry Monarch Festival.

Next time – All Merrie Monarch Festival photos – Hula wahine (women), Hula kane (men), Traditional Hulas including one done by a men’s group celebrating procreation – some suggestive erotic movements in that one!
Don’t miss it!