by Pat Davis
photos by Dana Edmunds
A young soldier dressed in the royal blue, gold and white uniform of King Kalakaua’s palace militia marches forward, shouldering a Springfield rifle. Standing perfectly erect, he executes a stunning series of spins and throws, using his eleven-pound rifle as both baton and percussive instrument, slapping his hands on the barrel and hammering out a beat on the concrete with its padded stock. The soldier is joined by another; while the Kingdom of Hawaii’s national anthem—Hawaii Ponoi—plays, they approach the pole and lower the Hawaiian flag.
This Waikiki sunset ceremony has been going on every day since the King’s Village (then the King’s Alley) first opened in 1972. But the King’s Guard, as these young men are known, has a much longer history: Originally commissioned in 1820, the Royal House Old Guards served the Hawaiian monarchy for seventy-three years—an elite group of soldiers who were handpicked by the king for their loyalty.
"When the overthrow happened in 1893, the Guard didn’t want to serve the new government, so they disbanded," recounts Paul Naki, a Kaimuki Middle School teacher who has performed with the drill team for twenty-one years, and currently serves as director of the Guards. "In 1962, the Air National Guard reactivated the Iolani Palace Guards, and the King’s Guard was started as a stem off of that—we became the entertainment, the guys who spin the rifles."
Since then, the twenty "guys who spin the rifles" have become world-renowned for their precision drills, some of which take up to five years to master. On August 11, the Royal Guard will be the featured performers at the shopping center’s thirtieth anniversary party, which will also include live musical performances and entertainment for the whole family.