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2012 Merrie Monarch Festival: A time for hula and connecting with community

(L-R) Gail Makuakāne-Lundin, executive assistant to the chancellor; UH Hilo Chancellor Don Straney; Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi; and UH President MRC Greenwood at Merrie Monarch 2012 this past week. Photo courtesy of the UH Office of the President.

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Straney attended the annual Merrie Monarch Festival this past week along with executive assistant Gail Makuakāne-Lundin. It was Chancellor Straney’s second Merrie Monarch since becoming chancellor in 2010.

“Merrie Monarch is a wonderful example of how the arts create a bridge between the past and the present,” he says.

Makuakāne-Lundin, former director at UH Hilo’s Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center,  has had a specific role at Merrie Monarch for the past 20 years, in charge of ushering at the hula competition.

“This started as a community service project when I directed the Hawaiian Leadership Program, which evolved into Kīpuka,” she says. “The goal was to get more UH Hilo students involved in the Hawaiian community and because I happen to be related to [Merrie Monarch founder] Aunty Dottie Thompson, this was an easy relationship to build.”

Each year, Makuakāne-Lundin organizes 30 to 40 UH Hilo students who volunteer for three nights to usher people to their seats and who become cultural informants especially to first-time attendees.

“I have students who volunteered for the entire time they attend and graduate from UH Hilo, others who start dancing hula because of the experience, several who danced with Halau o Kekuhi on Wednesday night, which was a free performance, are former usher volunteers, and others who join halau to be able to dance in Merrie Monarch,” she says. “This year one of the dancers from Chinky Mahoe’s halau who graduated last spring was an usher volunteer for five years.”

For Makuakāne-Lundin, the Merrie Monarch Festival is not just about the one or two evenings of hula, but rather the whole event.

“It’s the excitement about seeing the same people from the community who have occupied the same seats for the past 20 years and who come year after year not because they know a halau or hula dancer, but because they want to support the event,” she says. “It’s about meeting family and friends who come to support a dancer, it’s about meeting new people who are so excited just to be there, and of course it’s about the dancers and their kumu who have sacrificed so much for their six to 10 minutes on stage.”