"Auntie Dottie" Dorothy Thompson is greeted by Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday before the start of the Merrie Monarch Festival competition. It was the first time in 41 years that a governor attended the festival. Lingle gave Thompson a proclamation later last night.

Lingle takes
time out for festival

The governor honors director
"Auntie Dottie" for her efforts

HILO >> It's taken 41 years for Hawaii's highest elected official to experience the cultural, social and economic significance of the Merrie Monarch Festival by attending the annual event in person.

Gov. Linda Lingle ended that drought yesterday when she arrived at Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium for the last night of competition.

She also met backstage with 82-year-old Auntie Dottie Thompson, the festival's feisty matriarch and executive director, and joined Big Island Mayor Harry Kim in a front-row seat behind seven hula judges and a capacity crowd of more then 2,200 cheering people.

Lingle also presented Thompson with a "Auntie Dottie Thompson Day" proclamation. The proclamation congratulates Thompson, who considered retiring after last year's event, for rejuvenating Merrie Monarch when it was in serious demise, her persistence to make it a success without government funding, and her enduring belief that the Hawaiian culture must be perpetuated.

"The hula and music embodies for me what is Hawaii," Lingle said in an interview. "In essence, this is who Hawaiians are and why it's so exciting for me. This is a dream, to watch this hula Olympics in person."

Lingle does know a bit of hula, having taken lessons on Maui while she was mayor.

"But I only know one number, Puamana, and I have only performed once in public before a senior citizen's group," she said. "I don't really know the Hawaiian terms for the movements, but I watch it just for the sheer enjoyment."

The germ of that enjoyment started when Lingle lived on Molokai and her life there was surrounded by Hawaiian music and dance.

"It was a much slower time in my life and I was able to watch a lot of Hawaii people perform," Lingle said.

Lingle is impressed that Merrie Monarch receives no state or county money.

"That's probably why it's so successful. ... They have to be successful because they cannot count on anybody else," she said. "It is their own ingenuity to create something and attract people.

"It's a wonderful expression of someone like Dottie Thompson who has a dream and brings it to life. "

Lingle planned to attend last year, but legislative duties forced her to cancel. Festival officials said there's been a standing offer for every governor to attend, but "for some reason they didn't come."

"We're so honored that a governor will take the time to come and share our culture with us," said assistant director Luana Kawelu, Thompson's daughter. "Honestly, it's a bit overwhelming after all these years.

"We do this festival because we love the Hawaiian culture, love the hula, and want to keep it thriving. To have Governor Lingle come here, join our ohana for the night, is beyond our dreams," she said.

Lingle watched the Royal Court enter, then watched several halaus perform until 7 p.m., when she left to attend a previously planned dinner.

Lingle returned at about the midpoint of the halau auana competition, watching the rest of the dancing and award ceremony, after which she presented Thompson with the proclamation.

"This is really unusual for me to be able to go to an event, sit and actually enjoy something," she said. "I am usually in and out. But I'm going to watch every move, hear very note and just completely immerse myself in the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people."


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