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Merrie Monarch Festival…April 8-14, 2012

Merrie Monarch Festival – Hilo

Didn’t get your tickets to attend the Merrie Monarch Hula Competition?  Don’t feel bad, thousands of others also missed out as this venue usually sells out before the first of the year.  The good news is, there are a lot of activities that you can attend, many of which are free, during this week long celebration hosted by the town of Hilo.

To quote their website, ” the major purpose of the festival is the perpetuation, preservation, and promotion of the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture through education.”  The Merrie Monarch Festival had its beginning in 1964, sponsored by the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and continued by the private Merrie Monarch Festival community organization, a non-profit organization.

King Kalakaua…The Merrie Monarch

The Merrie Monarch Festival is dedicated to the memory of King David Kalakaua, aka the Merrie Monarch.  King Kalakaua reigned from 1874-1891 and was responsible for the resurrection of Hawaiian cultural traditions that had been all but eradicated by the missionaries.   He encouraged the re-birth of Hawaiian mythology, medicine, chant, and hula.

Merrie Monarch Festival Is Born

The original program for the first few years included a King Kalakaua look-alike contest, barber shop quartet entertainment, a relay race, and a Holuku Ball.  A far cry from the festival being held today.

It changed direction to include the hula competition in 1971, which was perfectly timed for the renewed interest in Hawaiian culture throughout Hawaii to launch its popularity.  What may have surprised everyone was how its popularity spread world-wide!

The World’s Premiere Hula Competition

From its humble beginnings with nine female hula dancers entered in that initial contest in 1971, male competition was added in 1976, and the groundwork was laid for the prestigious world-wide competition it has become.  The hula competition now takes place over 3-days as entrants from around the world vie for the coveted title of Winner of the Merrie Monarch Festival.

There are now 8 awards that are given for top performers and top hula halaus (schools).  The prestige of winning this annual competition cannot be over-stated.  You can view a listing of all the winners since 1998 at  Here are performances by some of the 2011 Merrie Monarch Festival Hula Competition winners.

MERRIE MONARCH FESTIVAL 2011 Hâlau Ke’alaokamaile

MISS ALOHA HULA WINNER 2011 Tori Hulali Canha

Ke Kai O Kahiki – 1st Kāne Overall, 1st Kāne Kahiko

The festivities have expanded to cover a full-week and include hula demonstrations, exhibits, arts & crafts, and food vendors to make sure that there is a little something for everyone.  It includes a crowd favorite, the Merrie Monarch Royal Parade, held on Saturday morning and winds its way through downtown Hilo.

So, as you can see, Hawaiian culture, song, and dance are all being safely preserved and shared for generations to come, just as the Merrie Monarch himself, King David Kalakaua wanted. If you’re going to be on the Big Island during the second week of April, I strongly encourage you to take the time to experience at least a part of the Merrie Monarch Festival, enjoy the entertainment, experience the love, and savor the foods!

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