To be on Hawaii island during the Merrie Monarch festival is a gift. This is a time when those who live on the island and those who visit are particularly interested in celebrating Hawaiian culture. And those who do so are widely varied. Let me introduce you to a few of them.
Stephanie DeCosta-Franco, Carol Nigro and Gloria Roman dance hula together on Maui. The women traveled to Merrie Monarch as a group, visiting the festival offices to pick up T-shirts and bags, and roaming the arts fair, where Nigro and Roman bought colorful hairpieces. When I met them, DeCosta-Franco wore an enormous, fresh hibiscus flower in her hair.
University of Hawaii-Hilo students Jade Thomas and Jasey Frasco, who have both danced hula themselves, came to the Edith Kanakaole Stadium to watch the kahiko dancers on Friday during the Merrie Monarch festival.
Frasco said she was there especially to see the kane, male dancers of Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La — kumu Kaleo Trinidad’s halau from Honolulu.
Thomas, who danced who from the age of 5 until she was 18, said she would return to the practice. “I just want to give it my all,” she said, as her kumu hula advises.
Georgie Fong, a naturopath, has a particular interest in herbal medicine and healing. During Merrie Monarch this year, she set up a pop-up stand at the Hilo Farmer’s Market food court, selling dark chocolate from cacao grown in Hawaii, lilikoi jam and Kona coffee. These foods, she said, also had health-giving qualities.
I can vouch for the chocolate, which comes in varieties incorporating ginger, coffee nubs or macadamia nuts. It is definitely invigorating!
Rosa Elena Lopez, kumu hula of a halau from Mexico, visited Merrie Monarch to watch the competition. She said she hoped to be able to dance upon the festival stage, to feel it under her feet.
A new feature at Merrie Monarch this year: Lei-draped portraits of Dottie Thompson and Uncle George Naope, founders of the Merrie Monarch Festival. Thompson, who was reknowned for her steely determination, died at age 88 in 2010. Naope died in 2009, at age 81.