HICCUP circus on parade

The HICCUP circus won first place awards in almost every parade we did on the Big Island. In the Pahoa Winter parade our contingent just kept growing larger and larger every year. We had more and more mothers, siblings, aunts and uncles and even dads joining in the fun. We had our regular loyal facepainters and other parents helped with dressing kids up from the assorted bins of costumes also sewing costumes and flags. It became a historic tradition.

Pahoa was the annual event where we used our eclectic collection of weird and wonderful outfits. Some were handmade, some were thrift shop bargains, some were donations, some were from hotel convention work and there were some just magically appeared out of the blue.   Our motley crew of marchers were usually spread over a couple of hundred yards, including our floats, crazy bikes and maybe even a whale. We always had music blaring at top volume.  I loved carnival parades so often blasted a reggae track on our portable PA system with sarcastic rasta style lyrics. It had to have rhythm and be amusing and preferably something the crowd could identify with. My favorite was Jacob Miller with ‘Deck the Halls with Lots of Cali’. Another was Macka B’s ‘Christmas Cancelled’. These were perfect rockin’ vibes to get our marchers dancing their feet and our audience clapping their hands.

We usually had fifty to seventy paraders, two or three decorated vehicles and several strollers with cute baby clowns strutting cockily through Pahoa town. Our hometown community were out in force in those days cheering us all on, offering high fives, huge smiles and name greetings. They knew us, we were from them and represented them and they loved us. Their pride in the HICCUP’s grew as our reputation blossomed across the island. It was nothing but love, love, love.

2011 Pahoa Winter Parade

It all began following our first classes at Malamalama School in 1991. Stilt walking was initially the most popular activity and I accepted an invitation to bring a group to the Pahoa winter parade in early December. We marched behind a Malamalama School banner and thanks to great parental involvement we had built enough stilts for everyone and parents created flashy costumes and even classier make up. Everyone looked magnificent. For a start up group we set a really high standard and we made enough of an impression to get front page photo’s printed in the Hawaii Tribune Herald and an article written about our fun new circus activities available for Puna kids. Thanks to our paraders the interest in our circus classes grew exponentially. 

Our very first HICCUP parade troupe

Our students developed more skills to show off in public and we had a much larger troupe participate in our second parade at the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival. We received a great response from the crowds as we marched by. Their big smiles and waving hands showed how surprised and impressed they were seeing young people confidently juggling and stiltwalking for the very first time in Hilo town.   

In the spring of 1992  after finishing my weekly class at the Hilo Bandstand I was approached by David Lorch leader of the Hawaii County Band who had been quietly observing our kids talents. He had a concert of children’s music coming up and he thought it would be a great idea to add our circus kids as visuals to his sounds. I was hesitant at first but, being a person who mostly embraced challenges, I eventually agreed.

David then asked me to come up with a name for our troupe that could be used in the publicity for the concert and I was suddenly faced with making a huge decision.  It was similar to the dilemma parents face naming a newborn child. After playing with a few ideas I chose to incorporate my intent and philosophy and decided on the Hawaii Island Community Circus Unity Project abbreviated simply to HICCUP. It is a humorous name that has stood the test of time and served us well.

With the County Band 1992

Led by one of the County band drummers, we paraded over from the bustling farmers market to the Hilo Band stand. We did a very chaotic march around the market, crossed the street with about forty kids and included our very first unicycle parader, clutching desperately to the hand of her father. Our first public performance then commenced in the oceanside bandstand accompanied by the County Band. The HICCUP circus had arrived !

Later that year a traditional circus came to town with a troupe of six African elephants and we were asked to add our stiltwalkers to their grand parade walking through Hilo town to K.T.A. at Puainako. It was a short jaunt for those huge pachyderms but became a marathon hike for our young stilters still developing their muscle stamina, but no-one complained. It was such an honor the blisters were worth it.

Celebrating New Years 1993 in Honolulu at First Night was a milestone event for our HICCUP program and led to many more great adventures. Much to our surprise the very popular Hawaiian Moving Company decided to interview us, record our show and parade and featured us as the new hot activity for young people in Hawaii. They made a big deal of the fact that our unique and innovative program was still not available anywhere but the rural Big Island and informed interested kids that they would have to run away to Puna if they wanted to participate in circus fun. We all loved hearing that message. 

Following this success we were invited to attend the Maui First Night the next year which involved another big parade, and we did a show opening for the popular Hawaiian band HAPA.

It was in 1994 that HICCUP was awarded first place in the prestigious Aloha Parade in far off Waimea. We brought a sizeable number of our colourful stiltwalkers, a few unicyclists and a handful of jugglers plus a bunch of raunchy Kehena beach drummers. In sedate middle class Waimea they didn’t need costumes. Their regular Puna hippy garb was bedazzling enough to stand out in this conservative cowboy town. Our friend Alan had equipped his ‘band’ with pots and pans and brake drums just like in Caribbean carnivals. Our raucous rabble of a band dominated the Waimea sound waves and looked like a bunch of crazed pirates escorting the antics of our talented kids doing wild tricks never before seen in northern parades. Of course HICCUP won the first prize, we deserved it.

Hilo Gay Pride parade 2013

In 1998 HICCUP circus toured California for two weeks making twenty school presentations of “Naturally High” and performing at two private parties but the highlight was a very impromptu appearance in the phenominal San Fransisco Gay Pride Carnival parade. It was 2013 before we attended the very first Gay Pride Parade in Hilo.

It became another tradition for us to attend to the annual parade celebrating the United Nations International Day of Peace in Honoka’a town. Our HICCUP clowns, unicyclists, stilt-walkers and costumed cirque performers were a featured act, marching in the parade, teaching local kids juggling and participating in the entertainment line up. 

I have sweet memories of a particular parade in 2001. A native Hawaiian uncle taught a large turnout of Seaview residents to weave coconut fronds for hats and to decorate our parade float. Theresa, a local deaf lady, sewed a wonderful string of flags, while two community association board members made a beautiful new Seaview Banner and some snazzy stilt costumes. We had our biggest ever turnout for the annual Pahoa Winter Parade with Carlisle, his big smile and his wife, Lynn, driving a couple of dozen of our proud seniors on board our ‘Castaways’ float. They were escorted and entertained by a large contingent of joyful and colourful HICCUP pirates. We were the hit of Pahoa town that day and proudly won the People’s Choice Award for Best Group.

2012 Pahoa Winter Parade

2012 Pahoa Winter Parade

Our network continued expanding and each year we seemed to have more community members of all ages running away with the circus for the Pahoa Winter Parade. We had fun activities for everyone to share like waving a flag, banging on a drum, riding on our fabulous float, walking hand in hand with a wobbly stiltwalker, juggling, riding a unicycle or simply ‘ playing the fool.’ Most importantly we had an abundance of happy smiling painted faces with parents and friends, brothers and sisters joined by various school friends all garbed in fancy costumes and waving flags.

We always felt greatly appreciated by hundreds of Pahoa people who cheered for us as we slowly and chaotically careened down the long High Street and up the steep hill to enter the school parking lot – totally exhausted. Almost yearly we were awarded one or more of the prizes either, ‘best marching group’, ‘best community group’, ‘best overall’ and probably ‘best loved’ if the organizers had made this a classification.

2014 turned out to be my last HICCUP parade. Due to the lava inundation it went the reverse direction through town as if it were an omen. Everything was fantastic at first, Tristan had taken over directing the circus and I was happily juggling with Elron.  As our huge contingent approached the Pahoa post office I was warned that two local social terrorists, were waiting on the side of the road up ahead with the intention of causing a ruckus. They had apparently planned to create a scene in Pahoa Town in front of cameras and maybe the news media in their efforts to get me deported. Parading can be dangerous!

2014 Pahoa Winter Parade

I made a rapid decision to avoid risking a disruption of our wonderful HICCUP presence. So, with Tristan to lead the marchers and Dena scouting the crowd ahead, I ducked into the post office and kept my head low for a while. I felt humiliated, like some cornered criminal, afraid to show my face. I rejoined the troupe but it was a truly sad ending to my run of memorable parades through my home town of thirty years. 

Goodbye Pahoa


Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

One thought on “HICCUP circus on parade

  1. The Hiccup Circus, S.p.a.c.e. Farmers Market and other projects and programs located at Bellyacers was much needed for that community. Mr. Ellis saw a need and created something that may last. The Hiccup Circus participated in Pahoa’s Christmas Parade and did a couple of shows at the Ackebono Theater. It was a joy to watch the Jugglers perform at that theater, which was operated by Mr. Pat Rocco. Mr. Rocco and I really enjoyed visiting the Space Farmers Market and purchasing tomatoes, honey, carrots and other good items from there garden and vendors.


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