Merrie Monarch Festival

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The Merrie Monarch Festival is a week-long cultural festival that takes place annually in Hilo, Hawaii. It honors King David Kalākaua, who was called the "Merrie Monarch" for his patronage of the arts and is credited with restoring many Hawaiian cultural traditions during his reign, including the hula.[1] Many hālau hula (schools), including some from the U.S. mainland[2] and some international performers,[3] attend the festival each year to participate in exhibitions and competitions. The festival has received worldwide attention and is considered the most prestigious of all hula contests.[4]

Merrie Monarch Festival 2003


The festival is dedicated to the memory of King David Kalākaua, the last king of the Kingdom of Hawaii, who reigned from 1874 until his death in 1891.[1] Kalākaua was “a patron of the arts, especially music and dance,” and is credited with reviving many endangered native Hawaiian traditions such as mythology, medicine, and chant.[1] He was also a strong supporter of the hula, a traditional form of dance. Many of these cultural practices "had been suppressed for many years under missionary teachings."[1]

The Merrie Monarch Festival began in 1963 when Helene Hale, then Executive Officer of Hawaii, decided to create an event to increase tourism to the Island of Hawaii.[5] The island had suffered from economic problems after the collapse of the sugar industry, and it was hoped that a festival would boost the depressed economy.[5] Along with George Naʻope and Gene Wilhelm, Hale organized the first Merrie Monarch Festival in 1964.[5] This festival “consisted of a King Kalākaua beard look–alike contest, a barbershop quartet contest, a relay race, a re–creation of King Kalākaua's coronation, and a Holoku Ball among other events.”[5]

By 1968, the festival had waned in popularity.[5] Dottie Thompson took over the festival as Executive Director, and transformed it into a private community organization.[5] Thompson “wanted to move the festival more toward a Hawaiian theme,” a goal that was accomplished by centering the festival events around hula.[5] In 1971 Thompson and Na’ope introduced a hula competition.[5] Nine wahine (female) hālau entered the competition in its first year, and in 1976 the festival opened the competition to kāne (male) hālau.[5]

Today, the Merrie Monarch Festival is an annual week–long event culminating in three days of prestigious hula competitions.[6] It is now a non–profit organization registered with the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.[4] Proceeds from the festival support educational scholarships, workshops, seminars, symposiums and the continuation of the event itself.[4]

Festival activities[edit]

Dancer with ʻuliʻuli, hula kahiko competition, Merrie Monarch Festival 2003

The Merrie Monarch Festival occurs annually in the spring. It runs from Easter Sunday morning to Saturday evening.[3]

Non–competition events[edit]

The first four days of the festival consist of free, non–competition events. These include performances by local and international halau at many venues around Hilo, as well as an arts and crafts fair.[3] The Wednesday Ho'ike Night Free is exhibition very popular, and often features international hālau from other Pacific islands and Japan.[7] A final non–competition event, the Merrie Monarch Parade, takes place on Saturday morning.[3]

Hula competition[edit]

The festivities culminate in the annual competitions held at the Edith Kanakaʻole Multipurpose Stadium in Hoʻolulu Park.[3] Dancers perform individually and in groups, with seven minutes allowed for each performance.[8]

Miss Aloha Hula[edit]

Thursday night is the first competition event. Individual female dancers compete for the title of Miss Aloha Hula.[3] Dancers perform in both modern (hula ʻauana) and traditional (hula kahiko) forms of hula, as well as chant (oli).[3]

Miss Aloha Hula is hula's top solo wahine, or women's, honor.[9] Originally known as Miss Hula, the title was later changed to Miss Aloha Hula.[9] Aloha Dalire, a kumu hula and hula dancer, won the first Miss Aloha Hula under her maiden name, Aloha Wong, in 1971.[9][10]

Group hula kahiko[edit]

There are two divisions of group competition, the male (kāne) division and the female (wahine) division.[11] Friday night features hālau performing ancient style hula.[3]

Group hula ʻauana[edit]

Saturday night features hālau performing modern style hula. Awards are also announced on Saturday night.[3]

Judging criteria[edit]

During their performances hālau and individuals are judged in a variety of categories. First, there is the entrance (kaʻi).[12] During their chant (oli) and dance (hula), judges look for interpretation of the song being performed, expression of the hula, chant, or song, posture, precision, hand gestures, feet and body movement, grooming, and authenticity of costume and adornments.[12] Finally there is the exit off stage (hoʻi).[12] Performers are scored on each aspect of the performance.

Cultural impact[edit]

dancer in white dress
Solo competition 2003

Many believe that the Merrie Monarch Festival “brought about a renaissance of Hawaiian culture.”[8] The festival identifies four goals related to Hawaiian culture: “1) Perpetuating the traditional culture of the Hawaiian people; 2) Developing and augmenting a living knowledge of Hawaiian arts and crafts through workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions and performances of the highest quality and authenticity; 3) Reaching those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate; and, 4) Enriching the future lives of all of Hawaii's children,” and claims that through the festival “thousands of people in Hawaii and throughout the world are learning about the history and culture of Hawaii.” [4] The Merrie Monarch Festival “has received worldwide recognition for its historic and cultural significance.” [4]

Television coverage[edit]

The festival was first broadcast on local TV in 1981, when KITV brought the festival to homes across Hawaii. Coverage began as taped and edited highlight segments and eventually went live.[13] KITV broadcast the festival for 29 years; in 2009, Luana Kawelu, who had recently taken over the job of president of the Merrie Monarch Festival, signed a deal with competitor KFVE to broadcast the festival in 2010 and beyond.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "King David Kalākaua". Merrie Monarch Festival official site. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  2. ^ "Hālau and Kumu Hula - 2012". Merrie Monarch Festival official site. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "2012 Festival Events". Merrie Monarch Festival official site. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "The Merrie Monarch Festival". Merrie Monarch Festival official site. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of the Merrie Monarch Festival". Merrie Monarch Festival official site. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  6. ^ "Merrie Monarch Festival". Hawaii Tribune Herald. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Sur, Peter. "Ho‘ike dazzles crowd and wows". Hawaii Tribune Herald. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Dudley, Malika. "History of the Merrie Monarch". KFVE: The Home Team. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c Burnett, John (2014-08-07). "Kumu hula Aloha Dalire, first Miss Hula, dies at 64". West Hawaii Today. Retrieved 2014-08-31. 
  10. ^ Wu, Nina (2014-08-06). "Aloha Dalire, first Miss Aloha Hula, dies at age 64". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved 2014-08-31. 
  11. ^ "Merrie Monarch Festival 2013 Schedule of Events". KFVE: The Home Team. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c Collier, Ed. "Merrie Monarch: Judging Criteria". KFVE: The Home Team. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  13. ^ Andrew Gomes (1998-05-03). "Merrie Monarch Festival shuns a bigger budget". Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  14. ^ "Merrie Monarch telecast moves to KFVE in 2010". Honolulu Advertiser. 2009-10-01. Retrieved 2015-09-28. 

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