By PETER SUR
Special to the Tribune-Herald
The Merrie Monarch Festival is returning to its roots in the Hilo Armory where, in 1964, mo‘i kane Spencer Kalani Schutte crowned himself and his queen, mo‘i wahine Doreen Henderson.
The coronation pageant is being revived beginning at 6 p.m. today, for the first time in decades.
“The Royal Court will be in attendance,” said U‘ilani Peralto, who is coordinating the court’s appearances. “What we’re doing is we’re honoring the Royal Court, and we’re also honoring Kalakaua’s family, his family lineage.”
It will be the first appearance by mo‘i kane Tom Poy, a retired police detective who is employed as a security guard at Kamehameha Schools, and Bernadine Kealoha, a stay-at-home mom.
As their predecessors have done in the past, they will advance to their thrones, accept the regalia and settle in for an evening of music and mele.
Other figures in the Kalakaua dynasty — Queen Lili‘uokalani, Queen Kapi‘olani, Princess Ka‘iulani, Princess Likelike and Prince Leleiohoku — will then be introduced and honored with traditional mele that were written by or for them.
Ala‘amoe Kuikahi and Kapio‘okapualehua Omelau will represent Kalakaua’s sisters, Lili‘uokalani and Likelike, respectively.
Keli‘i Montibon will portray the king’s brother, Leleiohoku, and fellow Kamehameha Schools student Kamamaluwaiwai Wichimai will represent Likelike’s daughter, Ka‘iulani.
All of the halau that will be presenting various mele are descended from the George Na‘ope lineage, in recognition of the late hula master’s love of pageantry.
“Various halau that have uniki’d under Uncle George Na‘ope will be performing,” said George De Mello, who is in charge of the coronation.
One of those halau performing is Hula Hala Ke ‘Olu Makani O Mauna Loa, whose kumu hula, Melana Manuel, served as the mo‘i wahine of the 2012 Merrie Monarch Festival.
Other performing halau include Halau Na Lei Hiwahiwa ‘O Ku‘ualoha, under the direction of kumu Sammye-Ann Young, Hula Halau O Kou Lima Nani E, under the direction of kumu Iwalani Kalima, and Halau Na Pua O Uluhaimalama, under the direction of kumu Emery Aceret.
“It starts at 6 (p.m.), and to end the pageant, all the halau are going to do a mass hula of ‘Kawika,’” Aceret said. “Kawika” is a name chant praising the king.
The Big Island Ballroom Dancers will close out the evening with a performance to the song, “Akaka Falls.”
Joining Poy and Kealoha in the pageant are Eric Johnston as kakau‘olelo, or counselor to the king, Corallisa Wilson as kahu, or counselor to the queen, and the queen’s lady-in-waiting Kawena Kawelu, granddaughter of Luana Kawelu.
The event is free and open to the public, but because of the limited space only 400 seats are available.
Even in 1964, the ceremony filled the building.
“Few seats were unfilled in the Hilo Armory during the recreation of Kalakaua’s original coronation in 1883,” the Tribune-Herald reported the day after the 1964 pageant.
According to the newspaper’s account, “Renditions of ‘Hawaii Aloha’ and Beethoven’s ‘Mount of Olives Hallelujah’ by the Hilo High School chorus were worked into the pageant. After the crowning, a series of dances by students of the Beamer Hula Studio was offered as a tribute to — and entertainment for — the seated Hawaiian monarch. Special dignity was given the coronation by the presence of white-helmeted, straight-backed unsmiling Royal Guardsmen — and an introduction of the personages who made up King Kalakaua’s court.”
Of the cast of 47 that participated in that first Merrie Monarch Festival, “Fanfares were fashioned by the Hawaii County Band in an introduction of each figure who marched across the Armory floor to his position in the court on the platform.
“Dances by the hula entertainers were backed by Hawaiian musicians and described by Tita Beamer Solomon. They included promises of faithfulness to the great Kalakaua, ancient dances, instrumental numbers, and children’s dances which described keikis watching Parker Ranch cowboys load pipi (cattle) on a freighter to California and keikis catching opae (shrimp) in an island stream.”
Schutte and Henderson presided over three pageants in 1964. The first was the coronation; the second was a historical tableaux of Hawaii’s kings and queens; the third focused on the music and hula of the Kalakaua era.
Sunday’s coronation pageant will be the first time that mo‘i kane Tom Poy and mo‘i wahine Bernie Kealoha are appearing as the royal couple.
The coronation pageant honors one of the most significant celebrations in the history of the kingdom.
Kalakaua set the date of his own coronation for Feb. 12, 1883, nine years after he ascended the throne and shortly after the completion of ‘Iolani Palace.
Minnie Caroline Robinson Grant, who was invited to watch the ceremony, gave a detailed account of the royal procession, the acceptance of the regalia, and finally, the moment of coronation:
“Finally, after several prayers had been said and a hymn sung, the audience again rose, and the king, also standing, placed the crown on his own august head. Another prayer, with a response from His Majesty, and then he turned to place the other crown on the head of his consort; but — alas for royal dignity! — The queen’s coiffure was high and elaborate, and apparently no thought had been given to the crown.
“The audience watched with intense interest, while hairpins, comb and veil were being removed. In vain! The crown would not fit, and in desperation, and apparently in no very good temper, the king made a final effort, and literally crammed the insignia of royalty down on Her Majesty’s temples.”
Queen Lili‘uokalani had a different recollection entirely — that the presiding minister placed the crown on Kalakaua’s head, and that at the same time, “a mist, or cloud … was seen to pass over the sun, obscuring its light for a few minutes; then at the moment when the king was crowned there appeared, shining so brilliantly as to attract general attention, a single star. … The ceremonies proceeded with due solemnity, and the whole scene was very impressive and not to be forgotten.”
A grand luau followed in the days afterward, marking hula’s public re-emergence after decades of suppression. Grant, a native of Canada, expressed a common belief at the time when she called hula “a relic of the barbarism practised by the Hawaiians” that is “extremely course and ungraceful in every way; the Government at times makes spasmodic efforts to suppress them, but hitherto with little result.”