Merrie Monarch: Luana Kawelu

Merrie Monarch: Luana Kawelu

By Malika Dudley - bio | email

HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Most people simply know her as Auntie Luana, the woman who's been working 34 years behind the scenes at the Merrie Monarch Festival.

"Actually, it's garoot. It's a polite way to say assistant director. Big deal," Auntie Luana said.

Got to love that Hilo humility. Though, it is a big deal. For Luana, it's a full-time year round volunteer job.

"I have a work list of things I have to do every single month," she said.

She says the big things are easy, but it's the small things that keep her up at night like scheduling practice times, putting together the program or fulfilling ticket requests.

"We have to turn away so many people," she said.

Every year tickets are allotted on a first come, first served basis. requests are made by mail starting the 26th of December. In the past she would run out of tickets right around the new year.

"But this year we had 1,528 letters postmarked on the 26th of December. It's crazy. In one day, I could not take care of all of the tickets. The first day we got seven of them full of letters squires," she said.

From across the globe, France, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Tokyo and the list goes on.

"We turn away about maybe over 2,000 letters we have to send back. Maybe more. How this small little festival has touched so many people around the world. It's just amazing," she said.

What's even more amazing is the amount of work, attention to detail and passion she invests in her festival. She keeps the price low and venues small.

"You cannot put price tag from culture. It's from the heart. The kumu and dancers, it's from the heart. I wanna keep it that way," she said.

Her aloha also extends to the community as a social worker for the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center.

"This year I'll be working there 40 years, and I love my job," she said.

After working all day at the Merrie Monarch office, it's off to Keaukaha.

"Sometimes we go get up to 55 kids. They come and do their homework. I love working with the children. They're special. They're talented, smart," she said.

She's usually done at 10 at night, then it's back to the official until the wee hours of the morning.

"Just gotta do what you gotta do." she said.

It's with that can-do attitude that everything gets done. From preparing the stage and lighting to the detailed task of ordering maile lei.

The end result of her hard work is what you see and feel as you enter the Edith Kanaka Ole Stadium the week of Merrie Monarch.

"This is all for free, for love. You know, I continue it because I feel this is my mom's legacy. And so I'm going to do my best to continue what she did. Big shoes to fill, and I'm not sure if I can ever fill it, but I'm going to try my darnest," Auntie Luana said.

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