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. He is credited with restoring many Hawaiian cultural traditions during his reign, including the hula
Hula is a dance form accompanied by chant or song . It was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there. The hula dramatizes or portrays the words of the oli or mele in a visual dance form....
. Many hālau hula
A hālau hula is a school in which the ancient Hawaiian dance form called hula is taught. The term comes from hālau, a workshed, and hula, the traditional dance of the Hawaiian Islands. Prior to European contact, the Hawaiian language had no word for "school," as children learned from their parents,...
(schools), including some from the U.S. mainland and Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...
, attend the festival each year to participate in the festival exhibitions and competitions, which are considered the most prestigious of all hula contests.
The festival is dedicated to the memory of King David Kalākaua, the second (and last) elected king of Hawaii, who came to the throne in 1874 and reigned until his death in 1891. He was a patron of the arts, especially music and dance. Kalākaua restored many of the nearly extinct cultural traditions of the Hawaiian people. These included myths and legends, and the hula, which had been forbidden — due to the influence of Protestant missionaries — for over 70 years.
Ancient Hawaii refers to the period of Hawaiian human history preceding the unification of the Kingdom of Hawaii by Kamehameha the Great in 1810. After being first settled by Polynesian long-distance navigators sometime between AD 300–800, a unique culture developed. Diversified agroforestry and...
ans had no written language. Instead, all communication beyond the spoken word took place in the form of chants and the dance called hula. Hula and its accompanying chants recorded Hawaiian genealogy, mythology, and prayers of the heart and mind. The hula was the means by which the culture, history, stories and almost every aspect of Hawaiian life was expressed and passed down through generations.
Because the Merrie Monarch Festival has maintained strict standards of authenticity, the true history and culture of the ancient Hawaiian people is being perpetuated. Without such educational and cultural organizations as the Merrie Monarch Festival, the history and unique traditions of the Hawaiian people will be lost forever.
The Merrie Monarch Festival was founded in 1964 by George Na'ope
George Lanakilakekiahialii Naope , born in Kalihi, Hawaii, was a celebrated kumu hula, master Hawaiian chanter, and leading advocate and preservationist of native Hawaiian culture worldwide...
. In 1968 the private Merrie Monarch Festival community organization was formed by Dorothy "Auntie Dottie" Thompson
Dorothy Mae Elizabeth Soares Thompson, widely known as Auntie Dottie, was an American festival organizer, who is credited with co-founding and developing the Merrie Monarch Festival. The Merrie Monarch Festival, which is held in Hilo, is Hawaii's premier hula event...
who added the competition in 1971.
The annual presentation of the Merrie Monarch Festival has led to a renaissance of the Hawaiian culture that is being passed on from generation to generation. With the exception of 2008, the festival week always starts on Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...
Sunday and continues with craft fairs, entertainment, and cultural demonstrations during the week. The festival includes art exhibits, craft fairs, demonstrations, performances, a parade that emphasizes the cultures of Hawaii. The three-day hula competition has received worldwide recognition for its historic and cultural significance.
In preparation of the Merrie Monarch Festival, hula studios and instructors in Hawaii and on the U.S. Mainland hold classes, workshops, and seminars throughout the year to teach the art of hula, the meaning of Hawaiian chants and songs, the Hawaiian language, the making of Hawaiian clothing and crafts, and the history of the Hawaiian people.
Through this ongoing year-round learning process, students also gain a knowledge and appreciation of the unique harmony and balance the ancient Hawaiian people maintained with their island environment. The chants, songs and dance tell stories of the Hawaiians' relationship with nature-the birds and fish, trees and flowers, mountains, oceans, rivers, wind, rain and Hawaii's active volcanoes.
Proceeds from the Merrie Monarch Festival support educational scholarships, workshops, seminars, symposiums and the continuation of the festival.
The festivities culminate in the annual competitions held at the Edith Kanakaole Multipurpose Stadium in Hoolulu Park
Hoolulu was a member of the nobility during the formation of the Kingdom of Hawaii. He was a trusted advisor to King Kamehameha I, known as "Kamehameha the Great". He was one of a select few to know the secret resting place of Kamehameha, and his descendants continue the tradition of guarding...
. The Miss Aloha Hula solo competition is held on Thursday, and the kahiko
(ancient) and auana
(modern) hula competitions held on the Friday and Saturday. This is considered by many the Olympics
The Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the world’s foremost sports competition where more than 200 nations participate...
There are two divisions of group competition, the male (kane
) division and the female (wahine
) division. Each halau has up to seven minutes on stage, and during their performance halau are being judged on a variety of things. Just like in the Olympics judges are looking for different elements in each performance. First, there is the entrance (kai
), next is the chant (oli
), next is the dance (hula) and finally there is the exit off stage (hoi
). Halau are scored on each aspect of the performance. Up to 30 halau compete each year. The tickets usually sell out quickly.