Freestyle: Hawaii island’s festival joys

Apr. 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

PHOTOS BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.comNavy sailors came ashore in Hilo during Merrie Monarch from the Pearl Harbor-based destroyer Chung-Hoon, which cruised over to Hawaii island to mark the annual festival. From left: John Rampulla, a  information systems technician and 13-year veteran; Andrew Watson, a hospital corpsman third class and 5 1/2 year “lifer”; Quadre Phillips, a boatswain mate second class, three years in; Terrance Williams, boatswain mate third class, with 11 years of service.


Navy sailors came ashore in Hilo during Merrie Monarch. From left: John Rampulla, Andrew Watson, Quadre Phillips and Terrance Williams.


I made my first extended visit to Hawaii island’s Hilo side this year during the Merrie Monarch Festival. It’s been less than a week since I returned, and already I’m feeling nostalgic for the slower pace and wide open spaces of the Big Island.

Part of the pleasure of Merrie Monarch is in meeting new people. On my last day, I ran into a few Navy guys who were obviously having a good time, strolling down the sidewalk with shave ice in hand.

“We’re happy because we’re off the boat!” John Rampulla told me. Though their vessel, the Pearl Harbor-based destroyer Chung-Hoon, could not enter Hilo Bay (the waters were too shallow), some lucky sailors were still able to ferry to shore.

They laughingly told me they were Navy “lifers,” and were more than happy to pose for a pic. They’re smiling so widely in the photo above because they are saying, “Aloha!”

>Basically Books owner Christine Reed said Merrie Monarch is a "second Christmas" for her shop and others in Hilo.

Basically Books owner Christine Reed said Merrie Monarch is a “second Christmas” for her shop and others in Hilo.

On the front end of my visit, on the first day, it was still pretty quiet in Hilo. I was thankful to meet Christine Reed, who gave me the honest lowdown about the effects of Merrie Monarch on the town.

Basically Books owner Reed and her husband, David, opened the bookstore in 1985. They quickly figured out that it would thrive best as a home for Hawaii-oriented books and memorabilia, and they also run Petroglyph Press, publishing works by Hawaii island-based printmaker and author Die­trich Varez, among others.

Varez’s latest book, “‘Iwa, the Hawaiian Legend,” was literally just off the presses on April 7. David Reed called while I was in the bookstore, on his way to the Kamehameha Avenue shop with books in hand.

Reed, who’s lived in Hawaii since 1972, expressed pride at the ways hula and Hawaii’s arts attract international attention.

“That’s what I love about Hawaii,” she said. ”You can love the culture and have a part in this life.”

>Ukulele maker Myles Sumida.

Ukulele maker Myles Sumida.

While hula is the main attraction, The Merrie Monarch Invitational Arts Fair is a major component of the festival. Many islanders plan to attend the arts fair on the first day it opens, hoping to be there early enough to find that one-of-a-kind piece by their best-loved artist.

In talking to artists at the fair, I made connections to multiple traditions — meeting an ipu-maker whose work is prized by halau, a painter whose mother is known for her images of Hawaiian people, and a lomi lomi massage practitioner who also makes lomi sticks, canes and nose flutes.

I also met ukulele maker Myles Sumida of Keaau, who showed me a gorgeous ukulele, made only for display because it incorporates rare sandalwood. The instrument had been polished to a luminous glow.

Sumida, who also paints, said he’s happy to live on Hawaii island. He visits Honolulu occasionally — and said a visit is enough.

Honolulu certainly feels like the big city once you’ve been staying in Volcano. Hilo’s pretty quiet too, to be honest, aside from Saturday market day and the commuter hours.

A view from Hilo toward the Hamakua Coast.

A view from Hilo toward the Hamakua Coast.

Hilo and Hawaii island are beautiful, mysterious and rewarding. I’m yearning already to visit again.

Visit to see all the photos, video, stories and blogs from this year’s festival.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter.

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