At first glance, this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival king and queen might look a little young for the part.
Darcy Malani Alameda, 36, and Keheaokalani Mary Ellen Kinimaka Stocksdale, 38, are among some of the youngest community members ever selected to portray King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapi‘olani.
Both say, however, that their age has little to do with the depth this honor holds for them as they fulfill their roles throughout the festivities.
Historically speaking, their ages are fitting, as King David Kalakaua was a young man himself — just 38 years old — when he began his 16-year reign of the Hawaiian Kingdom, (Queen Kapi‘olani was 40.) During his time as monarch, he restored Hawaiian cultural traditions and instilled a new sense of pride in the culture that is still celebrated today.
Alameda, a garden and physical education teacher at Ka ‘Umeke Ka‘eo Public Charter School in Keaukaha, says when festival president Luana Kawelu gave him the news that he was this year’s mo‘i kane, his eyes welled up with tears. Even though his plate is full with teaching, acting as head coach of the Keaukaha Canoe Club and being a father to three young children, he never had a moment’s hesitation.
“It’s an honor for someone like Aunty Luana to tell you you’re going to be king (of the Merrie Monarch Festival),” he says.
Alameda, who is 75 percent Hawaiian, has a long history with Kawelu and the festival. He has worked behind the scenes for almost two decades — first as part of the set-up team and later as security with Koa Puna. Last year was the first year he got to sit in the audience and watch.
Though he has never been a hula dancer, Alameda has wanted to be a part of hula ever since he can remember. “My mother would take several halau (hula) around to go pick liko,” he recalls. “For me, Merrie Monarch would come around and I always used to say, ‘Christmas is in town!’
“Of course, back then, that also used to mean the girls were around. But as you get older it becomes, ‘The lehua are blooming super red and the colors are here. That’s the feeling.’”
This honor is equally meaningful for this year’s mo‘i wahine, Stocksdale, a social worker at Queen Liliu‘okalani Children’s Center. She says while she has always been proud of her culture, this role took it to another level. Dressing in the queen’s regalia for a photo shoot left her speechless. “I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror!” she says.
Portraying Queen Kapi‘olani is also a personal experience for Stocksdale. “In learning more about my family genealogy last year, I discovered that King David Kalakaua was hanai’d by my great great great grandfather and his first wife. So there is a connection that way.”
In researching the queen, Stocksdale says she was most impressed by the queen’s giving nature and her love for her people.
Alameda admits that the only thing he really researched was to find out if the king, (who is historically depicted as sporting “mutton chop” facial hair,) in fact, actually had a beard. What did research uncover?
“I found out he was very handsome man without a beard as well!” says Alameda, laughing. Uncle George (Na‘ope)showed me several pictures where he didn’t have a beard. I really tried to grow one. It was a lot of sleepless nights. I’d wake up scratching my face. Even my baby would say, ‘You’re pokey! No kiss me!’”
Though Alameda says he wasn’t told why he had been chosen, he does recall one conversation with Aunty Luana that gave him an indication.
“She told me, ‘You are up there as a good part of our community. That is what we are looking for. The Merrie Monarch Festival has high expectations,’” remembers Alameda. “This experience makes me realize that I’m part of the culture and every day I use the language. I feel like I work (hard) in order for the kids to get the same feeling that I get for our culture.”
“We realize the importance of what we’re doing,” adds Stocksdale. “I welcome the entire experience. I just want to enjoy it all.”
According to Royal Court coordinator U‘ilani Peralto, the selection committee looks to find two individuals who exemplify maturity, humility and pride in the Hawaiian culture.
The Royal Court will make appearances throughout the Merrie Monarch Festival week, including riding in the parade. There are 22 Royal Court members in total, including a counselor, kahu, ladies-in-waiting, kahili bearers, chanters and pu kane (conch-shell blowers).
“We educate (the entire Royal Court) about the roles they are portraying and the mission of King Kalakaua so they have an understanding as to who they are representing,” says Peralto. “We want them to (appreciate) that link to the past and see that every position played a role in the growth of our culture.”