The three keiki return, almost two years later

The keiki are nine years old now, and they visited at a different time of year. They were disappointed that there weren’t any lychee to pick. (I’m happy, however, to see how much lychee we will get in three or four months, since last year was so sparse.) I had to review my post about their last visit before I wrote this one.

This year hubby got right to it the day they arrived and started on a high note … riding in the truck bed and picking bananas. Towards the end of their last visit and this visit, I had the kids tell me their Top 5 list of trip highlights. We’ve noticed that the most recent activities often bumped earlier activities off. But bananas were the first thing mentioned by two of the three kids, and bananas stayed on the list and even appeared twice on one child’s. The brother said something to the tune of, “You’re wasting your Top 5 since you have bananas twice: bananas and throwing banana peels. I just have bananas which covers picking and throwing.” He was the one who didn’t like a Top 5 list; he wanted to have Top 10 (which they also gave me).

The day before they left, during lunch hubby ate a banana and threw the peel from our lānai into the coffee land. There’s gravel below the lānai and a rough rock ledge that separates the house area from the coffee land. The goal is to throw the peel beyond the gravel and ledge so we don’t have to see yellow peels all around. If your peel doesn’t make it, you have to go down and throw it over the ledge. This “activity” was a hit. The kids kept eating more bananas so they could throw the peels. Who would’ve thunk this would be a top activity in Hawai’i?

This one had a long conversation on her banana flip phone, concluding with, “OK, bye. I’m about to peel my phone.” Then threw her peel over the railing.

We had a little break in the middle of their visit when they went to see Volcano National Park and the east side of the island. I, too, saw the east side of the island. It was Merrie Monarch week in Hilo! It was the 60th anniversary of this week-long cultural festival centered around hula. I had always wanted to go, but somehow hadn’t managed it. Tickets aren’t easy to come by, crowds, the COVID-19 disruption, etc. Luckily, Reiko wanted company to drive to Hilo and back, so she scored a ticket to the ho’ike portion of the festival for me, the only non-competitive night of dancing, the night before the competitions start. Ho’ike tickets used to be free, but now they are a whopping $5. Tickets were available on a day in February starting at 9am, first-come, first-serve, limit of two per person. Reiko had driven 1.5 hours, lined up at 5am and waited for four hours. Merrie Monarch is a BIG DEAL.

In any case, for the ho’ike day, I just put my life in her hands. I drove, but whatever she wanted to do, I just went along. She was familiar with the whole scene. I was completely new, so any experience would be my learning experience. I had very few expectations and had a great time. This was contemporary Hawaiian culture and fashion. Inside and outside the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium were many vendor stands selling crafts, clothing, shell leis, fresh flower/greenery leis, hula equipment, food, books, books completely in Hawaiian, etc. And there was a constant line-up of live performances.

It was great to be there with Reiko. She knows what’s what and who’s who. Without her, I would have only picked up a fraction of what was going on. She kept pointing out or introducing people to me (famous, older kumu; her former hula brother; son of the fashion founder who’s a swimmer, etc.), hugging/kissing, talking story with people in English or Japanese, and singing! She loves to sing along, loudly, gesticulating. She warned me. She said I might not want to sit with her. She’s such a character! She’s the one who clued me in that Melveen Leed had just sung during the day at the Civic Auditorium. “She’s REALLY FAMOUS!!” she said. I just looked confused and ignorant. She told me to tell my mom. THEN I finally realized who Melveen was. My mom would play her songs and talk about her when I was young.

Reiko felt I was wearing too much black, and I really needed a lei. She kept asking if she could buy me a lei. She’s so generous. The majority of my lei po’o (head lei) was comprised of ‘a’ali’i, dodonaea viscosa, in the soapberry family. My lei was definitely the best part of my outfit.

A little Master Gardener public service aside: ‘A’ali’i is one of many native flowers that are increasingly being used instead of lehua, the red blossoms of the ʻōhiʻa tree. Lehua is highly culturally significant, associated with Pele, the volcano goddess, among other gods. There were many public service announcements on the radio during Merrie Monarch week about NOT transporting any plant matter associated with ʻōhiʻa. Rapid ʻōhiʻa death, ROD, is a fungal disease which is rapidly killing this most ecologically and culturally significant native tree. This 2016 article from Hawaii Magazine talks about the issue.

We lined up at the Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Stadium for the ho’ike one and a half hours ahead of time. By then the line was already wrapped around most of the stadium and on the opposite side of the entrance. The people watching was great. I didn’t notice any tourist aloha shirts or patterns. People were wearing Wahine Toa, Livinghula, Kaulua’e and such designer lines. I find them to be bold, graphic, contemporary designs expressing indigenous values of Hawaiian culture.

I found this 2019 article, a few years old at this point, which touches on the next generation of Hawaiian designers. I hardly know anything about fashion or Hawaiian fashion, but I know I just saw the largest group of people modeling it than I’ve seen before. We live in the country. Hawai’i island is not O’ahu. Sorry, I didn’t take pictures in line. I’m a person that snaps a few photos at once at some point, then I’m done. Usually someone else takes more photos than me, and I’d rather just experience things.

I grew up in California, but even I have danced hula. So far I’ve danced hula in three periods: for a few years from age 5 with Nonosina’s Polynesian Dance Studio in Southern California; at UC Berkeley for the Hawaii Club’s annual  lūʻau; and in the late 90’s with two different hālaus in the San Francisco Bay Area. Check out this crazy long list of hālaus in just the San Francisco Bay Area. If you’re not familiar with an activity, you may find it shocking how many people/organizations might do it and practice/train to a surprising extent.

Fast forward. This post and these stories are getting long. After we were reunited with our visitors, we enjoyed a few evenings of watching the Merrie Monarch group competitions on TV. After it was all over, we had a morning when we made ti leaf leis. It was fun and relevant after having seen so many different type of lei and adornments on the dancers. While we were busy making leis, one of the adults were looking up which groups had won what categories.

The kids made leis for their grandparents, for three kids they were going to visit afterward, and just followed their creative impulses. To the tune of two long leis, the longest was 14 feet. I thought we had gathered way too many leaves, but they used them all and wanted even more.

I have since learned (from Reiko, of course) that a group is trying to set the Guinness record for longest lei. The standing record is 3.11 miles long, and they’re aiming for 5 miles. Too bad the kids have left.

In any case, back to the kids’ Top 5 lists. Here were this trip’s common items:

  • Bananas (picking; throwing peels)
  • Volcano (hikes, climbing lava rocks)
  • Spending time with a different local family, with kids

Two mentions of: Keiki museum

One mention each of: swimming; our cat’s tricks; relaxing/hanging out with everyone

I’ll close with a photo of our last evening when we watched the kids so mom and dad could enjoy a romantic dinner alone. Sunset pizza picnic at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Park. The kids didn’t seem to suffer.

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