Five Enthralling Facts About the Merrie Monarch Festival
Every year during the week that follows Easter Sunday, the small town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai’i comes alive with the sights, sounds, and spirit of hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival. Known as the world’s premier event celebrating the traditional Hawaiian dance, this week-long festival honors King David Kalākaua, the “Merrie Monarch,” who revitalized hula during his reign from 1874 to 1891. While many people are familiar with hula’s grace and beauty, there is much more to this storied event. Join us as we explore five intriguing facts about the Merrie Monarch Festival.
1: Reviving Hawaiian Culture
The festival was established in 1963 as a way to preserve and celebrate the rich Hawaiian culture. Since the banning of hula by missionaries in the 19th century, this ancient art form had been on the brink of disappearance. Named after King David Kalākaua, who played an essential role in the cultural renaissance of hula, the Merrie Monarch Festival’s mission is to perpetuate, preserve, and promote the art of hula and its accompanying traditions.
2: Diverse Hula Styles
The Merrie Monarch Festival showcases two distinct styles of hula: kahiko and ʻauana. Kahiko, or ancient hula, is performed to traditional chants and percussion instruments. Its movements are strong and vigorous, reflecting the deep connection between the dancers, their ancestors, and the land. On the other hand, ʻauana is a modern form of hula that evolved after the arrival of Westerners. Danced to contemporary music and featuring gentle, flowing movements, ʻauana hula is a captivating interpretation of Hawai’i’s ever-changing cultural landscape.
3: The Art of Chanting
Chanting, or ‘oli, is an integral part of the hula performance. These ancient oral traditions serve to preserve the history, legends, and genealogies of the Hawaiian people. Mastering ‘oli requires years of practice, and chanters are revered for their ability to captivate audiences with their powerful voices and stories. During the Merrie Monarch Festival, performers and their kumu hula (hula teachers) pay homage to their ancestors by delivering poignant and passionate chants.
4: Prestigious Competition
A highlight of the Merrie Monarch Festival is the prestigious hula competition. Groups, or hālau, from across Hawai’i and beyond gather to showcase their skills, grace, and dedication to the art of hula. The competition is divided into several categories, including solo performances (Miss Aloha Hula), group kahiko, and group ʻauana. Dancers are judged on their technique, expression, and adherence to traditional hula elements. The level of skill and commitment on display is awe-inspiring, and the event attracts thousands of spectators each year.
5: More Than Just Dance
The Merrie Monarch Festival is about more than just hula. The event’s week-long program includes a variety of activities that reflect Hawai’i’s diverse culture. Craft fairs showcase the work of local artisans, while cultural demonstrations, workshops, and talks delve into various aspects of Hawaiian history and tradition. From the hōʻike night (exhibition night) featuring traditional and contemporary Polynesian dance to the Royal Parade, the Merrie Monarch Festival is a celebration of Hawai’i’s unique spirit and sense of community.
Wrapping It All Up
The Merrie Monarch Festival is a profound expression of Hawaiian culture, identity, and tradition. By preserving and celebrating the art of hula, the festival honors the past while looking towards a vibrant future. If you’re in the Big Island of Hawaii between April 9th and the 15th, checking out the Merrie Monarch Festival should be on top of your vacation to-do list.