Observatories Support Local Culture and Community

May 4, 2010

The intermittent rain during the Merrie Monarch Festival Royal Parade didn't dampen the spirits of almost fifty people who marched behind the banner of the Mauna Kea Observatories Outreach Committee (MKOOC) and represented the astronomical community. Nineteen Subaru Telescope staff, family, and friends donned Subaru tee shirts and volunteered their time to join with others in celebrating and supporting Hawaiian culture. The parade was the final event in the week-long festivities of the Merrie Monarch Festival.

This annual festival, held in Hilo for over 40 years, honors the memory of King David Kalakaua (the "Merrie Monarch"), a patron of the arts and a leader dedicated to restoring and maintaining the cultural traditions of the Hawaiian people. Art exhibits, performances, demonstrations, craft fairs, flowers, and food fill much of the week, but the centerpiece of the festival is a unique, three-day hula competition, which is recognized worldwide for its artistry and cultural significance. Early Hawaiians communicated through the spoken word and passed down their traditions in chants and dance rather than commemorating their history in a written language. Hula is not just a dance; it is a significant form of cultural communication.

Likewise, the parade is not an ordinary parade. It is a celebration of the local community. It brings together over a hundred diverse groups from Hawai'i, including pa'u riders (horsewomen), local dignitaries, school bands, and civic organizations, who show their appreciation for Hawaiian tradition by supporting the festival, marching in the parade, and paying their respects to the Royal Court at the end of the route.

Cultural practitioner Koa Rice and Hawaiian kupuna Kimo Pihana headed the MKOOC procession. Some participants carried stylized canoe paddles, marked with the names or logos of MKOOC organizations, and walked beside the truck decorated with tropical plants and carrying a telescope. The combination of paddles and the telescope showed that both Hawaiian tradition and astronomy share a common voyage of exploration.

As the parade wound through the downtown streets of Hilo, MKOOC volunteers handed out Starburst and Milky Way candies to grateful children (and adults) and waved at friends, neighbors, and community members, who often applauded, cheered, and smiled as they passed by. Subaru was proud to show its support for the festival and what it represents—a celebration of local culture and community.

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