Luckily when I board the new bus there are lots of people already onboard with their beach mats and towels. This means they’re going to the hula festival, where it’s seat yourself on the grass. I get off at the stop that everyone else does and follow the group to a shady, grassy area, a park. As we go underneath a canopy of trees a group of white tents come into view. As we near the area I can see hula dancers getting ready to perform. I cross around to the audience side of the performing area and lay down my beach mat and wrap on top of it to sit down on in the center of the “beach mat area.”
I’ve arrived just in time to hear the Kamehameha Men’s Alumni Glee Club. They’re very good and many of them have composed the songs they sing today. At 9:00 the program begins with the announcement of special guests. There are three, very important, very old Kumu Hula who will sit under a white tent during the performances and receive an incredible number of lei as the day goes on. There is some chanting and processing done in their honor and then the opening ceremonies begin.
The opening ceremony features dancers from each of the halau that are present. Most are from Oahu, but there are some that are from Molokai, Kaui, and Maui as well. I recognized three Kumu Hula from the public ceremony I attended almost a week ago today.
Taking in my surroundings I see the hula mound in front of me, where everyone will perform and a covering of trees above me. The trees form an almost perfect sphere across the sky, although there is a circle opening in the middle. As the sun gets closer to the opening I put on some sunblock. As I am wiping the sunblock on my face my hand runs across something…a big bug. I wipe to push it off and it digs in. When I manage to swipe it off my face I can see it’s a big black ant with a red abdomen. I have no idea what it just injected into my brain, but boy does it hurt. After some frantic texts home, I decide I will live to see another day. I watch as each halau presents their specialty dances, usually showcasing several of their classes from the older kahiko classes to the keiki (children). About one hour before the scheduled break at 1, I go over to the vendors to buy my lunch. I buy kailua pork and cabbage…one of my newfound favorite meals and bring it back to my mat to eat it.
Not long after I get it the weather takes a turn for the worse. It starts pouring. It really hasn’t poured in Hawaii since I arrived. Usually it just sprinkles for a few minutes and then we’re back to sunshine and rainbows (literally). Luckily, with my mat and cover I am able to successfully keep the important things in my bag dry and myself (for the most part).
After the rain clears, I finish my meal and during the break I go over to the vendors again and buy way too much. I need more self control. When I return to my blanket the sun is peaking through the opening. It is sweltering. I buy myself a pineapple rhubarb popsicle and slather on another layer of sunscreen. Most people move out of the area and I am able to slide my mat up closer to the mound. I can stand the heat.
There are still five or six more halau to go. They are each wonderful in their own way. The older woman who’s now sitting next to me offers me some of her food (which I don’t take for fear of gluten) and tells me how she likes the male hula dancers. When the dancers from Maui come onstage in their loin clothes she nudges me and says, “this is what we’ve been waiting for.” I assume she thinks I’m a local because she asks if it’s my first time at the festival, rather than my first time in Hawaii. I’m guessing almost all of the people here are locals. It wasn’t advertised very well at all and I don’t think most tourists could make it out here on the bus.
At the end of the day we sing the Hawaii state song…and by “we” I mean all the people who actually know it. We stand and hold hands like the Whos. It’s actually a really beautiful moment. It makes me want to stay here forever. Everyone is just so welcoming.
I follow the groups of people back to the bus and manage to make it back to Waikiki. I eat two hot dogs in the room and book it to the beach for a free hula show provided by the Hilton. The show is nothing compared to what I’ve just seen, but it’s really quite nice. Several older women hula while a small band plays and the sun sets behind us. I leave a little early to catch a bus to Merchant St. to the Kumu Kahua Theater.