Mahelona offers bon dance for residents, community members

KAPAA— Gordon Muramaru of Kapaa was among the several hundred people gathered at Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital Friday evening for the hospital’s bon dance.

“This is my first time here,” Muramaru said. “I live close by so we just walked over. What is this about, anyway?”

Eunice Burgonia, the activities director at The Regency at Puakea retirement and assisted living facility, was also enjoying her first bon dance at the Mahelona Hospital with 11 of the facility’s residents and a contingent of staff.

“This is our first time coming to this bon dance,” Burgonio said, watching as resident Judy Segawa’s face lit up as she recognized and waved to Rev. Kazunori Takahashi of the Lihue Hongwanji Mission. “Josie Pablo, the Mahelona Hospital’s recreation director, emailed us an invitation. We put out a sign-up sheet, and how could we not come?”

The Mahelona Hospital bon dance drew community members from all walks of life, attracted by the music, special performances, food and an opportunity to visit with the hospital’s residents. Rep. Nadine Nakamura was among the hundreds of people enjoying the event, eventually joining in the crowd of dancers filling the hospital’s courtyard.

Nakamura thanked Pablo for spearheading the effort. But Pablo said Nakamura had it wrong.

“This is not me,” Pablo said. “This is about the hospital’s family coming together to put this on for our residents. As you know, bon dancing is a time where we honor and remember our ancestors, and has become a traditional event here in Hawaii. Every year, we try to bring as many residents to the community bon dances, but because we can only take so many residents, a group of the hospital’s employees decided to bring the bon dance here to the hospital for everyone to enjoy — especially our residents.”

Burgonio agreed, noting the Regency staff had planned on taking residents to the Lihue Hongwanji bon dance when the Kauai Buddhist Council released its calendar in June, but that was rained out. The Regency at Puakea hosts a bon dance, but is not publicized because it is for the residents.

Pablo said the bon dance’s success depends on the community.

“Eighteen years ago, we had our first bon dance — I miss not having Elaine Morita here,” Pablo said. “We are still here. This, and all the other bon dances, would not have been possible without the support of so many people like you who are here tonight, taking time out from your busy schedules to be here for our residents.”

Morita was one of the original starters for the hospital’s bon dance. She recently lost her battle against cancer, but her husband was in the audience and her daughter was among the dancers in the ring.

Assistant Kauai Police Chief Bryan Ponce had his entire family in tow, his children garbed in colorful kimono.

“My grandma is here,” Ponce said. “This is such a great event, bringing everyone together.”

Community support included the hospital’s staff, notably the grounds and maintenance crews who doubled the amount of space and decorations for this year’s event, the culinary crew who wheeled out cartloads of food, and the Mahelona Hospital Auxiliary ohana who manned the food booth tables.

Pearl and Gloria Shimizu coordinated the dancers and taiko drummers led by Frecki Okada; Bob Farias provided lights to illuminate the parking areas; Arnold Leong amassed a crew of volunteers to create meat-filled or apple-filled Flying Saucers; the Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko ensemble treated the audience with an appearance of the shisa, or Okinawa lion dog; and the Kapaa High School National Honor Society dispensed bags of popcorn.

“I need to get pictures of the shisa named Mai-chan,” said Eli Pablo. “This is the fifth generation of shisa — my grandfather on my wife’s side was the lion in Kaumakani.”

Pablo said the next item on the residents’ agenda was Saturday’s Alzheimer’s Walk followed by the beach outing with the Okinawa Prefectural College nursing students, and the breast cancer walk in October.

“The Alzheimer’s Walk is a first for our residents,” Pablo said. “This is the first time we’re participating.”

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