Royal Court will make appearances throughout Merrie Monarch Festival

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HILO — They have seen the Merrie Monarch performances from many angles over the years, but when the 53rd annual festival moves to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium later this week, Keahi Warfield and Faylynn Karratti will get a view neither ever expected to have.

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HILO — They have seen the Merrie Monarch performances from many angles over the years, but when the 53rd annual festival moves to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium later this week, Keahi Warfield and Faylynn Karratti will get a view neither ever expected to have.

Warfield, 36, and Karratti, 49, are this year’s mo‘i kane and mo‘i wahine, representing King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.

“Everybody looks forward to this. Everybody looks forward to Merrie Monarch,” Karratti said. “Seeing all of the cultures come together is really nice, and the one thing they’re (all) doing is honoring the Hawaiian culture.”

The festival itself was created in memory of Kalakaua, who was instrumental in reviving not only hula but a host of Hawaiian traditions and practices.

“It all goes hand in hand,” said Warfield, a Hilo High School graduate.

Now a director of youth development programs in Keaukaha and paddling coach for Kamehameha Schools, Warfield is working toward his PhD. in indigenous culture and language revitalization at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The goals of Merrie Monarch are “kind of infused” into his studies, he said.

Warfield is part of Hilo-based Halau O Kekuhi and performed in 2010, ‘11 and ‘12 during the Ho‘ike.

“There’s a lot of other things that happen (besides) the dancing that people see on TV,” he said. That includes everything from preparing the handmade costumes to preparing mentally for the performance.

But Warfield wasn’t quite prepared with festival director Luana Kawelu asked him to participate as mo‘i kane.

“I’m flattered she even thought of me to do it,” he said. Aunty Luana has done so much for Keaukaha over the years, he said, that in spite of the not-inconsiderable time commitment, he signed on.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Warfield said.

Royal Court coordinator U‘ilani Peralto said that Warfield’s “involvement in the community to help educate children to succeed exemplified his ability as a leader and educator.”

The selection committee agreed that Warfield and Karratti complemented one another as mo‘i kane and mo‘i wahine.

“Faylynn’s humble demeanor, belief in empowering women, and works with children through her church … earned her the honor of portraying Queen Kapiolani,” Peralto wrote in an email.

“That was such a blessing for me,” Karratti said. “So of course I accepted.” She checked with her husband first, who was “just excited” — his mother was a former Merrie Monarch participant, too.

Karratti was born in Hilo and moved to Oahu in second grade, where she attended Kalaheo High School. She moved back to Hilo when she was 18, and now works for Apria Healthcare.

Hula “was something we girls always wanted to do,” Karratti said. Older sister Myra competed at Merrie Monarch, but until this year, Karratti had only seen the festival from a TV screen or the audience seats.

“I am just so excited to see (the dancing) from the (queen’s) seat,” she said. “I just think this year is going to be so fantastic.”

Though her favorite part of Merrie Monarch is seeing the gracefulness of the hula dancers (“It’s a beautiful art”), Karratti said that she enjoys being able to share the aloha spirit with thousands of people.

“I don’t think everybody sees that, coming from the mainland, but when they come to the festival, that’s something they get to experience,” she said.

Warfield encouraged people to come out for Wednesday night’s Ho‘ike.

“Watching it on TV is one thing, but being in the space is definitely a different kind of energy,” he said. “You can definitely feel it, and it’ll make you want to come back year after year.”

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The Royal Court will make appearances throughout the Merrie Monarch Festival. This year’s court is made up of 17 volunteers, who are friends and family of the king and queen. Students from local schools are also participating.

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.