By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii’s unique brand of capitalism tinged with aloha is alive and well, and it has taken up residence in the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium this week as part of the Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair.
Nearly anything and everything that could possibly be branded as Hawaiiana is available to see, touch, taste, wear and/or purchase — from mountains of colorful floral and feather lei, to glossy wildlife photographs, $10 wooden honu yo-yos, $175 carved cow bone fishook necklaces or $1,550 koa wood bowls.
On Wednesday morning, hundreds parked their cars in the muddied field at the corner of Manono and Piilani streets, tiptoed and hopped their way between the puddles, and once clear of the obstacles made beelines for the entryways, flanked by booths laden with the fragrant lei, floral arrangements and woven lauhala hats.
Once inside, attendees were immediately confronted by the most intimidating-looking lines of the entire affair: those to purchase the official Merrie Monarch T-shirt. Five or six lines across, each 20-25 people deep, the sea of bodies blocked all lateral passage through the front entryway and concessions area of the auditorium, requiring those headed for the right side of the building to do so after making their way onto the main show floor.
Despite the prospect of a lengthy wait, Honokaa resident Marlyce Correira said her decision to brave the lines wasn’t much of a decision at all.
“I had to get the shirt; It’s the 50th. And I wanted to get the official tote bag, too,” she said.
Correira added that her visit this year was due in part to a bit of bad luck that panned out to be good luck on Wednesday, at least.
“I’ve never had the days off during Merrie Monarch, but this year I had surgery, and so I haven’t been at work. It just came along at the right time,” she said.
The other vendor that appeared to garner all the attention Wednesday morning was that of Kona-based fashion company Wahine Toa Designs, operated by Nita Pilago, wife of County Councilman Angel Pilago. Her booth was located at the rear of the Butler building, caddy corner to the civic center, and a line of shoppers wrapped around the back right corner of the building, waiting to catch a glimpse of the latest designs. Workers showed off the fashions for the crowd while keeping eager shoppers in check as they waited their turns.
“I need everybody to step back about a foot,” said one young woman who looked to be more model than bouncer, wearing a dark green dress bearing gold Polynesian floral designs.
“The line’s for Wahine Toa,” explained a shopper as she waited in the queue. “She (Pilago) only comes over here from Kona once a year.”
As shoppers sought out the best deals and most eye-catching art in the main auditorium, Olympia, Wash.-resident Jim Hartley sauntered to the rear stage to join a crowd taking in a performance by Hula Halau Ke ‘Olu Makani O Mauna Loa.
“My wife (Kim) and I both do lomilomi massage,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve been back to the Merrie Monarch in 12 years. … We got lucky and just got tickets for the hula tonight, and we’re really excited.”
In preparation for the show, the pair had purchased a number of fresh, handmade lei at the arts and crafts show. He added that he especially enjoys the ancient, kahiko style of dance as performed by the kane, or men.
“I especially like the men’s, because I didn’t even know that men danced hula,” he said.
Outside, at the rear of the auditorium, a number of craftsmen and women were on hand providing special demonstrations.
Dalani Tanahy sat, whittling down a thin tree limb, slicing off the bark in preparations to make Hawaiian barkcloth, or kapa. Tanahy’s kapa is beaten from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, and was worn by dancers at last year’s Merrie Monarch hula competitions. Her kapa work is also featured at Disney’s Aulani Resort, including in room decor such as the curtains and bed coverings, many of the staff uniforms and original work found in the Presidential suite.
Across from Tanahy, two rows of handmade drums flanked Hilo-resident Keone Turalde, who has spent 20 years perfecting his knowledge of drum making. As his arms pounded a hammer onto the end of a wood chisel, coring out a center portion of a tree to create the center of the drum, passersby stopped to take photographs and ask questions.
“It’s a process that takes a long time,” he explained of drum making. “It can take anywhere from a year to a year and a half just to cure the wood. If you try to make a drum with a fresh-cut tree, it will crack.”
The craft fair and its artists and cultural practitioners will be available again today through Friday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free.