By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
If there’s one contest that King Kamehameha, as great as he was, would not win, it would be the Merrie Monarch Festival’s Kalakaua beard contest.
Portraits of Kamehameha I from late in his life show him with a shock of white hair on his scalp over black eyebrows and not a whisker of his chin astray. His son Liholiho, also raised in the old ways, was clean-cut, with no sideburns.
It was his younger brother Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III, who inaugurated the era of royal facial hair, setting off a hair arms race.
By 1850, the king’s moustache bushed out and extended along the top of his upper lip, where it nearly touched his chin curtain beard.
As beard styles became popular in America and Europe, the Kamehamehas followed suit. Liholiho, Kamehameha IV, grew a fuller beard than his predecessor, and his brother Lot Kapuaiwa, Kamehameha V, added a soul patch.
Kamehameha V died with hair but without heir, and the people of Hawaii elected a beloved king with a mutton-chop whiskers who was known for his love of the bottle — William C. Lunalilo. But his beard was thin and wispy, and he died after a year on the throne.
This brings us to King David Kalakaua. Elected in 1874, he was known for many things, among them his muttonchops.
Since Kalakaua’s time, that style of facial hair has almost disappeared from the Hawaiian people, with one notable exception.
Palani Vaughan has been wearing his chops since the 1970s, when the singer-songwriter-composer recorded “Ia‘oe E Ka La, Volume One,” and he was looking to advertise the record without spending money. He also wanted to make sure his music, in honor of Kalakaua, would educate, rather than merely entertain.
So he decided to grow a beard in the manner of what was once prevalent in his youth. Vaughan was told the beard was a symbol of the Hawaiian people upholding the culture and the ways of the people of old.
“But I only wore it because I wanted to be a walking advertisement, I guess … it was my intention to see if i was having any educational effect on anyone else,” Vaughan said. Soon people told him that he looked like Prince Kuhio or King Lunalilo.
“However, what happened is I then shaved it off,” Vaughan said. “Then I got people real angry at me. I shaved off the beard and they said, “Grow it back, grow it back.”
Vaughan in the 1970s inspired another beard-growing contest hosted by Crash Kealoha, the KCCN 1420 radio station manager.
“People would grow King Kalakaua or muttonchop beards and they were quite fun. He (Kealoha) himself grew a beard. Everybody grew a beard, so I think this is a fun thing to do. It’s a cultural thing to do and I’m pleased to hear of this (Merrie Monarch beard contest),” Vaughan said.
“Of course I’m very supportive of that Merrie Monarch Festival and having been associated with both Uncle George (Na‘ope) and Dottie (Thompson) over many years in the past, I think it’s going to be fun to do.”
But entrants for the April 1 contest will not have to worry about competing against Vaughan.
“A ha ha,” Vaughan laughed, when asked if he was considering entering. “I don’t think that would be fair, but it would be fun to see.”