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Monday, April 17, 2000

Special to the Star-Bulletin
Randy, left, and Keli'i Chang are the chanters of Halau Ho'oulu
Mana'o, scheduled to open the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Texas halau tries
to recoup stolen
travel funds

A Dallas hula group has had
$9,000 ripped off by one of
its own dancers

By Suzanne Tswei


With less than two weeks left before the Merrie Monarch hula competition, nearly three dozen hula dancers in Texas are hoping they can raise nearly $9,000, which was stolen from their travel funds, for a trip to the Big Island to compete in the annual hula competition.

"We are scraping. We are really scraping for everything so we can make the trip," said kumu hula Keli'i Chang of Halau Ho'oulu Mana'o Hawai'i based in Dallas.

"But we will be there -- no matter what. This is our first time to the Merrie Monarch. We definitely will be there. We don't know how we are going to do it, but we will do it."

The dancers as well as their families and supporters -- many of whom originally were from Hawaii -- have been looking forward to competing in the prestigious event, Chang said. They have been saving money since June for the trip home, and gave the money to a woman dancer in the halau to make the travel arrangements, he said.


Make donations payable to:

Frank "Keli'i" Chang III
1546 Hanai Loop
Honolulu, HI 96817

But the group discovered during the weekend that the woman had stolen almost $9,000, which is about one-third of the money needed to buy plane tickets for the group, Chang said.

"We trusted her without question because she's our hula sister. This is devastating," Chang said, noting that the theft also affects travel plans for the dancers' families and supporters who had planned to cheer the dancers at the hula competition.

Chang said the woman told him Thursday night that she did not have plane tickets for the group and that the Honolulu travel agency that received the money could not be located. Then Saturday evening, after Chang asked for receipts of the money given to the travel agency, the woman confessed that she had used nearly $9,000 to pay her own bills, he said.

"When she told me she's the one who took the money, I just lost it. I started crying. I just couldn't believe it. The shame of it all. Here I was calling everybody, trying to get other people involved in helping us get our money back, and it was her all along," Chang said.

Chang recovered uncashed checks totalling about $16,000 and was trying to find ways to book plane reservations for the group to return in time for the Merrie Monarch competition. Chang said he told the woman to return the stolen money in five days or he would press criminal charges.

The halau has 25 women and 10 men dancers, with Chang and his brother Randy, of California, as the chanters. The woman who stole the money will not be coming to Hawaii with the halau, Chang said.

With families and supporters, the group attending the Merrie Monarch Festival will be more than 50 people, he said. The stolen money affects some members of the group, while the recovered checks will allow the rest to buy plane tickets. But another problem, equally difficult as finding enough money, is finding airline seats on short notice.

"We are starting from scratch. No arrangements were made. We have nothing -- no reservations, no plane tickets -- and every day the plane fares are going up and up," Chang said.

"I know we will be there. We have to be there. This is not only our first time at the Merrie Monarch, but we open the show. We are the first halau to go on the stage," Chang said.

His halau will open both the kahiko (ancient) and 'auana (modern) hula competitions. The Merrie Monarch Festival begins Sunday, and the hula competitions will take place April 27-28.

"This is the hardest thing I've had to do as a kumu hula," Chang said, noting that bringing his halau home is turning out to be a bigger challenge than the difficult task of keeping alive the hula tradition in Texas.

His dancers all have full-time jobs and can only get together to rehearse on weekends. Because the dancers are scattered throughout Texas (with one dancer living in Oklahoma City), they must drive for several hours to Dallas, San Antonio or Houston to get together for rehearsals.

"To drive from Dallas to San Antonio, that's five hours -- one way. That means we have to drive 10 hours just to rehearse, and we do this every weekend," Chang said.

But his dancers have shown unwavering dedication to the traditional Hawaiian art form, and Chang is certain that they will compete at the Merrie Monarch with the same dedication.

"We are passionate about doing this. Now, we are even more determined to come to Hawaii to compete. We really want to show Hawaii what we can do. We are going to represent the state of Texas."

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