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The Aloha Week Festival in Hawaii celebrates the islands’ Royal heritage

Posted in Customs, Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Royalty on Thursday, 27 June 2013

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This edited article about Hawaii originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 306 published on 25 November 1967.

Hawaiian dancing giel, picture, image, illustration

Hawaiian dancing girl

The ancient culture of Hawaii is symbolised by the stately grandeur of the Aloha Week Royal Court. Traditional garments and ornaments indicate noble rank.

Imagine a palm-fringed tropical island. Add a luxurious palace, a king who likes wearing uniforms glittering with medals, ribbons and foreign honours. Add, as background, a dazzling and colourful Court.

The result would be the royal kingdom of Hawaii during the reign of King David Laamea Kalakaua (1874-1891) and his delightful Queen, Kapiolani.

King David’s reign was known throughout the world as the ‘Bohemian Court of the Sandwich Isles’. The name ‘Sandwich’ was bestowed on the islands by their discoverer, Captain Cook, in honour of his patron, the Earl of Sandwich.

David’s was a star role, which he played to perfection, and many receptions for visiting royalty were held in his sumptuous palace. This building was often referred to as ‘American Florentine’ in style, because of its resemblance to the architecture of that famous city.

King David was determined to live the Grand Life, and his Coronation, nine years after his accession in 1874, was planned with all the trappings usually associated with such a royal occasion. The Royal couple’s flowing capes were replicas of those worn by Russian Tsars and Tsarinas, and the Crown and Sceptre, also fashioned after Imperial Russian jewellery, were heavy with diamonds, emeralds and pearls.

The Coronation was followed by long days and nights of festivities, and even today sons and daughters of ancestors who joined in the celebrations recount tales told about it by their grandparents.

It was King David who restored the hula and the island’s almost forgotten traditional music. He encouraged all those who danced and sang and made music to remember the songs which had been written to honour the beauty of the rainbows, the scent of the island’s flowers, and the sounds of the sea. It was King David himself who composed Hawaii Ponoi (Hawaii’s Own), the island’s national anthem.

Not only did he introduce European Court practices to his palace, but, as a progressive monarch, he provided electricity and installed the island’s first telephone in his bedroom. A second instrument went into the queen’s room, while the third was put into the king’s boat-house, for King David’s love of the sea was second only to his love for his queen.

At a time when long journeys by clipper ship were apt to deter all but the most adventurous, King Kalakaua was a widely travelled sovereign. A visit to London brought him into contact with the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII, and gifts which he brought to England can still be seen in the British Museum.

This year’s ‘Aloha Week’ Festival in Hawaii has been dedicated to the memory of King David, and the Iolani Palace has provided a superb setting for some of the Festival’s most impressive pageantry. Hula dances, together with songs and dances of old Hawaii, and traditional costumes of both King David’s era and ancient Hawaii have recalled the glamour of this historic race of people.

Dancing in the streets, a six-hour-38-mile outrigger canoe race – claimed to be one of the world’s most exacting tests of endurance – a Polynesian Festival in which Hawaiians and their Polynesian ‘cousins’, the Tahitians, Maori and Samoans, presented traditional dances and songs, and a spectacular floral parade with horseback riders, marching units and bands, have all contributed to the fun.

Special chants and offerings and hulas took place at the rim of the crater of the island’s volcano, for this is the legendary home of the Goddess Pele, who, by tradition, lives in the fire of the volcano.

The scarlet feathers and golden cloaks of the islanders contrasted with the stark, burnt earth of the crater’s edge. Ceremonies and modern offerings recall the pagan rites which were once performed to appease the Goddess and ensure another peaceful year free from the thunder and fire that the enraged Pele sometimes inflicted on her subjects.

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