Members of Hula Halau O Kamuela leap for joy when they are declared winners in the women's overall competition.
Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Home town favorite left out of the winner's circle

Everyone was asking 'Where's Johnny?'

By Catherine Kekoa Enomoto

HILO - Three CPAs tallied, checked and re-verified the Merrie Monarch hula contest scores. The trophies were distributed Saturday night. But, the question remains: What happened to Hilo favorite son Johnny Lum Ho and his Halau Hula O Ka Ua Kani Lehua?

The dramatic performances of Lum Ho's halau were crowd-pleasers but the judges apparently did not agree with the the sellout audience of some 5,000 at the Edith Kanaka'ole stadium.

The halau's auana performance was a phantasmagoria of color, recreating a Kamehameha Day parade with satin costumery in red, orange, silver, white, green, purple, pink and gold representing the islands in the Hawaiian chain. It's kahiko entry had swirling dancers with 'ili'ili (stone castanets), recreating pele's fiery lava flow from Maukele to the sea at Puna.

Upset callers had besieged Hilo radio station KWXX and deejay Craig Kamahele as well as Lum Ho's halau. Festival director Dorothy "Dottie" Thompson acknowledged that her office also had received a number of phone calls questioning contest results.

The refrain, like a hula verse, was oft repeated: What happened to Johnny's halau?

Lum Ho was unavailable for comment yesterday but his alaka'i (halau leader) and niece, Didi Oda, said, "We've been flooded with calls from people we don't even know saying they won't be buying tickets for Merrie Monarch, they don't know what happened and they don't know what the judges are looking for. They feel Uncle Johnny is getting taken advantage of, that Merrie Monarch wants Johnny only to entertain the crowd, to keep them there. A lot of angry people called, they were so upset.

"It's the people and the Lord up above that we pleased and the judges - you never know," Oda said.She said she thinks there are some judges who "don't like Uncle Johnny's creativity and style. It's not like he makes up any of the stuff, he gets it from the old people. But Johnny was not upset at all; he knew the outcome after the first night of competition."

Others, however, are upset. Kristi Ramos of Hilo said, "I am surprised that Johnny Lum Ho's women didn't win. I thought they were really, really good."

Allyn Medeiros, originally from Hilo and now living in Kailua, Oahu, said she thought not only Lum Ho's halau, but also his Miss Aloha Hula contestant, Pauliane Kaleonani Kekela, should have at least placed.

"Her dance was fierce; I think the group (kahiko) dance also was fierce."

Marvin Samiano of Puna, a dancer in his second year with Ha'ale I Ka Wai Ehu A Ka Manu, said, "I thought Johnny's halau did some really wonderful things, really creative. I know one thing, I'm glad I'm not in the judges' position."

Judges were Cy Bridges, Noenoelani Zuttermeister Lewis Victoria Holt Takamine and Ed Collier, all of Oahu; John Kaimikaua of Oahu and Molokai; Namahana Kalama Panui of Oahu and Maui; and Elaine Kaopuiki of Lanai.

Their criteria for judging are ka'i (entrance), expression, posture, hand gestures, foot and body movements, chant and song interpretation, costume authenticity, adornments, grooming, overall performance, use of Hawaiian language, and ho'i (exit). Twenty-five years ago, the competition's inaugural judges - hula masters Edith Kanaka'ole 'Iolani Luahine and Lokalia Montgomery, among others - helped establish the rules and guidelines, which are clarified to participating kumu hula before each competition.

Bridges yesterday explained that the reason Kekela did not placed may have been because she used extraneous movements.

"We're judging the entrance," he said, "foot, hand and body movements and all of these executions of hula steps, movements and such. What we do is extract all of the things that are not hula; we take away kicking, punching, shakes, sitting on stairs."

He noted that "creativity is very much part of our culture" and that Lum Ho has a unique style, but indicated that "doing the hula" does not necessarily imply "dramatics and calisthenics."

More importantly, Bridges cited the critical role of "fact sheets" that each halau submits, detailing its chant text and style, costumes, adornments, lei style and materials, foot movements, any unusual movements. He said he carefully considers the fact sheets to "do justice to all the work" involved in compiling them.

Bridges said fact sheets also help the judges to transcend personal friendships, family relationships or one's status in the hula world.

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, associate professor at the University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian studies and a Merrie Monarch attendee for the third year, said she was "really sad" that neither Lum Ho's halau nor his Miss Aloha Hula contestant didn't place.

"It's so unfair that year after year he is not recognized."

Leimomi Daboda, who is affiliated with Na Pua Me Ke Aloha halau of Carson, Calif., would like to see at least one mainland judge. "We had 31 guys out there this year. The house comes down, people were applauding."

But even with the audience's enthusiasm, winning, as Johnny Lum Ho knows, is "not a sure thing," she said.

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