Last night, the Kanaka’ole family officially kicked things off here in Hilo for the 48th annual Merrie Monarch Festival. The Ho’ike Performances also included dances from the Marshall Islands, Tahiti and New Zealand.
Evidence of the festival is everywhere in Hilo. There are shiny banners at the airport greeting participants and attendees and “Merrie Monarch Attendees Welcome Here” signs made out of cardboard on side streets in front of retailers. Arts and crafts fairs and art exhibits are scheduled all week long.
At Dollar Rental Car, Dean and Millie recommended the best malasada outlets—Baker Tom’s and Tex’s Drive Inn, of course. We headed an hour north to Honokaa for malasadas and Tex’s wildly delicious Mahi Burgers and ran into a halau of hula dancers from Oahu.
When we arrived at Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium, the line to enter wrapped around the corner of the facility and down the street. The heady scent of plumeria, puakenikeni and tuberose pervaded the air, coming from a series of lei stands. As expected, this event is not only the Olympics of hula, but also the Olympics of lei making. The police turned out en force, as well, but graciously allowed me to park on the wrong side of the No Parking Here to Corner sign.
After the welcoming of the Royal Court and an opening pule, prayer, the matriarch of the Kanaka’ole family quietly took the stage. The audience hushed and waited for her breath to reverberate throughout the stadium. And it did. Oh, yes.