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Hawaii News

This is Hula: Scenes in and around the stadium

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Dancers from kumu Mapuana de Silva's Halau Mohala ‘Ilima rehearse their auana performance at the Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium in Hilo. (Photos by Lynn Cook)
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Dancers from kumu Mapuana de Silva's Halau Mohala ‘Ilima rehearse their auana performance at the Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium in Hilo. (Photos by Lynn Cook)

Hula is the topic everywhere. Walk into Starbucks and they ask what you would like and what halau you dance for. And then the big question: “Do you have tickets?” Followed by: “Where are you sitting?”

As the TV camera pans the audience it must be fun to spot friends. At the Edith Kanaka’ole stadium there are no flash cameras, of course, and no professional photographers allowed except the ones on the list approved by Luana Kawelu, festival president. Most halau have one assigned photographer who can take photos of only their performance.

One woman holding a mega-lens camera, sitting up at the top of the bleachers, was the mom of a front-line dancer. She said she abides by the rules but does look through the lens to see her daughter and watch the other halau and search for hula sisters sitting on the far side of the stadium. “I love to look at the dancers’ lei up close,” she said. “Don’t use my name ’cause this is my husband’s good camera.”

During the day shoppers swarm like honeybees, looking for the sweet deal that may be the tiny donut from Lil’ Orbits Donuts that melts in the mouth. The stand is between the two craft buildings. They stretch out a hand, holding a tiny warm bite on a stick and the fragrance and taste say, “Buy me!” The question is, do you want five or 13 in your package? The second question is, how many friends, hula sisters and brothers will you see before you have your second bite?

Speaking of friends, TV anchor Paula Akana, (for many years the commentator for the Merrie Monarch), ran into her pals Andrea Weymouth-Fujie and Maurice Fujie at their East Honolulu Clothing Co. booth. Now a noted clothing designer, Andrea started with a booth back in the early days when, she says, “I was probably painting sweatshirts with puffy paint.” Of course there were hugs all around and then a look at can’t-go-home-without-it dress that may soon be worn on Paula’s KITV evening news.

By day the stadium looks closed and quiet. Not so. Truckloads of water, cups for the famous Merrie Monarch chili rice, piles of napkins for the Spam musubi that gets you through the 9 o’clock slump, and cases of Merrie Monarch programs all slide into their proper places. A good question to ask is how many hundreds of pounds of chili is sold each year?

Listen carefully. From beyond the locked gates, you’ll hear the sound of musicians working through a song. Or it might be the single voice of a kumu with an ipu heke creating the beat of the chant. There is a tight schedule allowing each halau two 50-minute practice sessions to run through entering, dancing and exiting the massive stage. The process runs like clockwork. Practice skirts and matching T-shirts have the look that says “we are ready.”

Only a few halau members have the opportunity to watch. Annette Mueller-Dombois, longtime student of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, from Oahu, had a moment to snap a photo of the halau’s rehearsal for its Saturday night auana performance. Kumu Mapuana de Silva said it would be OK to share it with all you readers. Star Advertiser photograher, Dennis Oda, will have more shots for you in living color on Saturday.

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