Kermet Apio's Laugh Corner
A few issues back I talked about the Hawaiian propensity toward tardiness. So my June column is about May Day. May Day is Lei Day, and giving a lei is a way of letting someone know you care without having to say it, which is perfect if you have fear of intimacy or commitment issues. In 1928 a writer and poet named Don Blanding suggested in a newspaper article that Hawaii should have a holiday for exchanging leis. That night Joe Moore mentioned it in the “Finally Tonight” part of the KHON newscast, and a tradition was born.
In the month of May, elementary schools all across Hawaii put on shows celebrating May Day. The night before the show, parents help their kids get ready by trespassing onto people’s property and stealing flowers, or in my case manning the get-away car while the children commit the actual crime. The day of the show many relatives would go with you to school and tailgate party till the show started. It is a bit embarrassing when your uncle asks the vice principal for a bottle opener.
The show consists of two groups of students, the May Day court and those that didn’t get chosen to the May Day court and have brought great shame on their family. The latter of the students (or ‘commoners’ as they were called by the court and some teachers) sat on the grass and waited for their chance to perform songs like “Paniolo Country” or “Little Grass Shack” or, um, actually just those two. The court sat on chairs, on a stage and was made up of a king, a queen, and a prince and princess representing each island in the chain. Like the royalty of England , these kids have absolutely no ruling power whatsoever. Every move they make is controlled by the Parliament of teachers.
For many of my elementary school years, I was a Kahili bearer, a person who stands on the side of the court holding what can only be described as a yellow and red feathered keg on a stick. Generally, the kahili bearers were the two tallest boys, which were me and a kid named Sam (I won’t say his last name because I can’t remember it). Historically, as I understand it, these men were guards but during a school May Day show they are not. That is what I was told one year as I threatened camera wielding parents who came too close to the stage.
The tough part of being the kahili bearer is the heat. I am from the leeward (or ‘devil’s sauna’) side of the Oahu. Every year during the show, three or four kids would actually burst into flames. Seriously. At least when you perform it kicks up a bit of a breeze. We bearers had to stand still through the whole show. When you’re standing still in 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity, the kahili can begin to look like a giant popsicle. And it’s difficult to explain to your parents why you were licking the red feathers during the third “Paniolo Country”.
My 5th grade year I was chosen to be the Prince of Lanai. I didn’t know anything about Lanai. I couldn’t even spell it. But I was very excited because I was going to get a chair. I was annoyed that I had to dance with a girl, which to a 5th grade boy is “Grrrrooooossss.” Little did I know that between that day and the end of college I would dance with a girl only a handful of times. Be careful what you wish for.
The best part of the day is when the show ends and your relatives give you hugs and leis. That moment is May Day, flowers helping to express pride and love. That’s what I remember most. That and the really drunk vice principal telling me how much he loves my family.
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