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Wide world of television
May 4, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
As the world stopped to watch the ornate spectacle of a royal wedding in England last week, Hawaii celebrated its own traditions of royalty in a ceremony less grand but no less moving.
The 48th Merrie Monarch —informally known as the world championships of hula —again took to the airwaves, letting television build the bridge tying these separate islands into one state.
And one state of mind.
Granted, in light of what has happened since, last week’s TV spectacles turned out to be convenient diversions for the world's eyes, while the eyes-only folks at the CIA were up to other business.
The scan-line camouflage even extended to CNN’s coverage of the annual White House correspondents’ dinner in Washington, D.C., Saturday night, where a cool, collected Barack Obama showed impressive talents as a stand-up comedian.
No one could have guessed what was really on his mind as he launched one presidential salvo after another, the media equivalent of a surprise helicopter attack, on Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
Go to YouTube to see the “Celebrity Apprentice” host looking quite perturbed under his punch-line hairdo, apparently not having fun yet, fielding the barbs of the president and satirist Seth Meyers with all the style and grace of a sandbag
But it’s hard to avoid thinking that the daring and risky mission to end the life of Osama bin Laden was timed so as not to spoil William and Kate’s big day … and utilize the fact that the whole world was watching it.
The contrasts between the television coverage from London and Hilo couldn’t have been more striking. The English flair for pomp and circumstance — still intimidating in a snooty way for us country cousins in the rebellious colonies — remains wondrously in tact, from the gravity-defying hats on the noblewomen to the exotic motorcars delivering the royals to the cathedral doors down banner-lined boulevards right out of Shakespeare’s time.
And center stage in this fairy tale was the royal couple, no detail of their dress or grooming left to chance. The pair was gorgeous enough make a global TV audience of more than a billion stop for a moment, making all who saw them actually believe for a few breathless heartbeats, in the promise of perfect love, as though the words of those ageless wedding vows really will ring true this time.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, hundreds of magnificent dancers took part in a ritual named after a former king of their kingdom, David Kalakaua. They too were carefully and beautifully adorned — except instead of jeweled tiaras, in their hair they wore foliage. And instead of parading the latest Jimmy Choos, they were barefoot.
I once asked a kumu hula why, in light of their ancient spiritual wisdom regarding forces of nature, Hawaiian royals in the 1800s didn’t dress according to their own customs. Instead they chose Western attire that sometimes resembled Prussian band uniforms.
It was because of their brown skin, I was told. Because of the feelings of intimidation that went with it, royal titles or not.
The Merrie Monarch shows how far we’ve come righting that error.
The royal wedding and the Merrie Monarch played out on different stages, and different scales.
The world will never stop to watch the unique marriage of precision and grace, strength and beauty, spirituality and sensuality that is hula … and probably wouldn’t get it, anyway.
No matter. It’s enough that the state stops to take note. It’s enough to know that we live in a place where culture isn’t a museum display but something vitally and vibrantly alive, a treasured part of daily life in these islands.
The unprecedented victories including Miss Aloha Hula and best overall for Maui kumu hula Keali‘i Reichel and his Halau Ke‘alaokamaile in this prestigious festival were great news, too … but maybe a little beside the point in the world of hula, which has always struck me as being more about sharing than winning.
The halau returned with its trophies, but the victors also included us in the TV audience, whose choices weren’t limited to the royal couple, Donald Trump or even the latest news of Osama bin Laden.
Our TVs also brought ancient words amplified by the latest high-def technology into a thread tying past to present, island to island, person to person.
Here, we turn not to class distinctions, but to artistic beauty and excellence to crown our island royalty, whose bare feet are firmly planted on the ground.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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