Saturday, November 15, 2008

King Kaläkaua

This is the Fun Fact I shared with my hula class this week.

One of the steps we do in hula is called the kaläkaua, which was the name of Hawai'i's last king, David Kaläkaua. He reigned from 1874 until his death from hard living in 1891. He loved to party. Robert Louis Stevenson, who became Kaläkaua's close friend during his Hawaiian sojourn, wrote how the king thought just about every occasion was worth celebrating with bottles and bottles of Champagne or gin. He often stayed up all night drinking and gambling at the Royal Boat House in Honolulu Harbor, not far from the palace he had built, 'Iolani Palace. So when he died at age 55, cause of death was not surprisingly cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure.

Although he is known as the Merrie Monarch for his love of a good party, he's remembered more for his talent as a composer and one who encouraged interest in the musical traditions of Hawai'i. Until he came to the throne, traditional music and dance had gone underground, because of the missionaries' disapproval of "lascivious" movement and lyrics. But nine years after becoming king, Kaläkaua decided a coronation party was in order, and he used the occasion to reintroduce the hula to public life. He also started the tradition of what is known as hula 'auana, or modern hula, which was accompanied by the relatively new instruments, guitar and 'ukulele. When he turned 50, Kaläkaua threw another huge party, which he called his Jubilee. It lasted for two weeks, with many dancing groups coming forth to dance the hulas that had long been forbidden.

Kaläkaua is remembered for bringing about the first Hawaiian cultural renaissance, the second one having begun in the 1970s and 80s. The dance step, kaläkaua, was used in the opening of a hula that was performed in his honor at his coronation party. Every year, in Hilo, the grand hula festival known as Merrie Monarch is held to honor the memory of King David Kaläkaua.

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