After months of preparation, kumu hula (hula teachers) lead their halau (troupes) on the pilgrimage to Hilo for the annual Merrie Monarch Festival competition. And while the months of diligent practice is evident from the incredible precision and grace showcased onstage, there is one element of preparation unseen by the public eye: the legendary Merrie Monarch fact sheets. They’re often referred to during the public telecast as one of the many factors judges base their scores on.
With 24 competing halau in the 2018 competition, judges will read 24 fact sheets including details on 58 kane and wahine group performances in the hula kahiko (traditional dance) and auana (modern) categories, and 24 Miss Aloha Hula kahiko and auana performances, for a total of 87 overall presentations to study before the competition takes place. Modern-day fact sheets can now be the length of a dissertation, in excess of 50 pages full of invaluable knowledge.
Submitted in February, each one includes all of the lyrical content of each portion of their performance: oli (chant), kai (entrance), mele (song) and hoi (exit) as they pertain to each presentation. Lyrics are shared in both olelo Hawaii (Hawaiian language) and English, the kumu hula’s interpretation and an explanation of their creative expression. Visual details are also included to explain the costume and adornment selections worn by the dancers onstage: the type of material used in their lei, the style in which lei are woven, the color and style of the costumes, as well as the significance of these choices in reference to the mele (song). Often times, halau will detail specific references to gestures, styles or steps passed down to them by other kumu hula to acknowledge the stylistic qualities of the mele and their origin.
Last night, Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka’s soloist Shalia Kapuauionalani Kikuyo Kamakaokalani won the coveted Miss Aloha Hula title and performed a powerful hula noho kalaau in her kahiko presentation honoring Queen Kapiolani. In her 2018 fact sheet, kumu hula Napua Greig shares the sentiment behind her selection as “Lei No Kapiolani” was graciously shared with her by renowned kumu hula Kimo Alama Keaulana: “It has been my quest to search out traditional hula from hula lineages that are rooted on Maui. This hula noho kalaau was taught to Uncle Kimo’s Kumu, Mrs. Adeline Lee, by Mrs. Alice Keawekane Garner.” She continues on to share that Mrs. Garner was a haumana (student) of Hana native “Mama Bray,” and, in performing this mele, she intended to honor Mama Bray as its foundation and the history of this hula.
“It is important to not make purposeful changes to these hula as to safeguard the unique movements of the choreography and the extraordinary melody,” Greig says.
Kumu hula have always been respected and revered for the incredible work they do to educate and perpetuate Hawaiian culture. Some of those efforts are visible through the beauty they create onstage, but much of the preparation and work remains unseen. And for kumu hula, the kuleana (responsibility) that calls them to this profound role is the ultimate reason for it all.