By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The coronation pageant for the mo‘i kane and mo‘i wahine, the king and queen of the Merrie Monarch Festival, set the tone for Hilo’s busiest week of the year.
About 300 maka‘ainana, or commoners, crowded the Hilo Armory on Sunday night to view the Royal Court of King David Kalakaua and Queen Esther Kapi‘olani, represented by Tom Chong Poy and Bernadine Alohalani Kealoha.
The royals entered the Armory, heralded by pu, or conch shells, along with an ‘oli, or chant, and kahili bearers. After a pule, a prayer in Hawaiian, all were seated and the Royal Court was feted with chanting, hula and mele (songs). The pageant, which hadn’t been held for decades, was revived for the Merrie Monarch Festival’s 50th anniversary.
“What we wanted to do was not replicate what Uncle George (Na‘ope) did way back when, but we wanted to honor Uncle George,” said George De Mello, co-coordinator of the pageant and the evening’s master of ceremonies. He noted that the kumu hula whose halau performed at the coronation, Emery Aceret, Meleana Manuel and Iwalani Kalima, “were all a part of Uncle George’s group when he used to entertain.”
All the royal wahine were dressed in gowns that had been worn by previous Merrie Monarch queens. Kealoha was resplendent in an aqua blue holoku that had been worn by 1981 mo‘i wahine Alberta Kruger.
“She was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” De Mello said. “Tonight we wanted to do vintage. She’ll be wearing a different gown every night this week.”
The oldest gown was a purple holoku sported by Kamamaluwaiwai Wichimai as Princess Ka‘iulani, first worn in 1976 by mo‘i wahine Claudia Valencia.
“Ladies and gentleman, that gown is 37 years old,” intoned De Mello.
Each of the royals had chants or mele performed in his or her honor — works which, in some instances, had been composed by the royal who was being honored.
A particularly touching moment when “Ku‘u Ipo I Ka He‘e Pu‘e One,” penned by Princess Likelike, was performed. As it turned out, the singer, 19-year-old Ishael Shaw-De Mello, is the daughter of Kapio‘okapualehua Omelau, who is portraying Likelike in this year’s Royal Court.
An unscripted highlight came as Kalima’s Halau Hula O Kou Lima Nani E was preparing for its performance in honor of the king and queen. The band played “Kaulana Na Pua,” a song written in 1893 by Queen Lili‘uokalani’s friend, Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast, to protest the overthrow of the monarchy. As the music reverberated through the mostly darkened house, a bespectacled, barefoot young man clad in a black T-shirt and denim shorts rose from his seat, strode to the center of the armory floor, and performed an impromptu hula to the delight of those in attendance. A solo spotlight followed the young man, and the crowd burst into a crescendo of applause as he concluded the dance.
“The king and queen were sitting there and the music was playing but nobody was dancing for them,” Tyler Galigo, a 17-year-old senior at Kamehameha Schools-Hawai‘i Campus said afterwards. “I wanted to give them my offering.”
Galigo admitted that he was “a little nervous at first” but said the positive reaction bolstered his confidence.
The hula culminated with all three halau, Halau Na Pua ‘O Uluhaimalama, Hula Halau Ke ‘Olu O Mauna Loa and Halau Hula O Kou Lima Nani E collaborating on “Kawika,” a name chant honoring of the king.
The evening’s last dance was a waltz, a nod to King Kalakaua’s 1883 coronation ball, as five elegant couples from the Big Island Ballroom Dance Club glided and whirled to Helen Lindsey Parker’s “Akaka Falls.”
In attendance was Doreen Henderson, 87, who was crowned the Merrie Monarch’s first mo‘i wahine in 1964 at the Hilo Armory. She’s serving as this year’s queen mother, and will be honored at Wednesday night’s Ho‘ike.
Henderson said this year’s mo‘i wahine, Kealoha, “portrayed her part and looked real Hawaiian.”
“It makes you feel good,” she said.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.