Hula in Hilo: The Annual Merrie Monarch Festival

Posted in: Culture & History, Things to Do

Wahine Kahiko
Hula Kahiko performance [Courtesy Merrie Monarch Festival]

A Festival of Hula

A journey undertaken by ancient ancestors, the love between a man and woman, the gentle sway of palm trees beneath the light of a full moon...these are just some of the stories told through the art of hula. With no written language prior to western contact, the Hawaiian people used this revered art form to pass down the myths, legends and history of their people. Dancers trained rigorously and performances were taken seriously.

Every April, hula hālau (hula groups) from around the nation will gather in historic Hilo to participate in the esteemed Merrie Monarch Festival. For more than 50 years, the festival has garnered international acclaim for its authentic display of Hawaiian culture and history while perpetuating native Hawaiian language and other arts.

King David Kalākaua, the “Merrie Monarch”

The Merrie Monarch Festival is named after King David Kalākaua, the first “Merrie Monarch” of the Hawaiian Kingdom. A strong advocate for Hawaiian arts, Kalākaua spearheaded a revival of music, chant and dance in the late 19th century. Hula was a tradition Kalākaua worked to restore during his reign, and every year the Merrie Monarch Festival honors his special place in history.

At the heart of the Merrie Monarch Festival is the prestigious three-day hula competition featuring the best women’s and men’s hula hālau, along with the Miss Aloha Hula competition for female dancers. Here, hula aficionados and Hawaiian culture enthusiasts unite as gifted practitioners vie for the Hula Kahiko, Hula ‘Auana and Miss Aloha Hula awards.

Tickets to these popular events tend to sell out prior to the start of the competition. You can also view the exciting competition via television coverage or live web streaming. Check their website for details.

Prior to and running concurrently with the festival are several free activities around town. 

Hawaiian Arts Fair

One of the more popular events is the Hawaiian Arts Fair featuring arts and crafts, cultural demonstrations and workshops, live entertainment by island artists and hula hālau, and cultural foods. You’ll also find Merrie Monarch Festival products available for purchase.

Join in On One of Our Favorite Hawaii Events

More than just a competitive venue for talented hālau, the Merrie Monarch competition breathes life into the heart of Hawai‘i, preserving a thriving cultural renaissance that seeps into every aspect of the festival. Hālau and individual performances will be happening at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, as well as local artist performances and more at other venues. For a complete list of events, visit the Merrie Monarch Festival website.


[A version of this article appears in the print edition of This Week Big Island]


Hula Kahiko performance [Courtesy Merrie Monarch Festival]


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