The Merrie Monarch Festival is the world’s premier hula competition and celebration of Hawaiian culture. Named after King David Kalākaua, the last reigning king of the Kingdom of Hawaii, who was fondly known as the “Merrie Monarch” for his love of arts and culture, the festival aims to perpetuate, preserve, and promote the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture.
Taking place annually in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, this week-long event is an exciting and deeply moving showcase of Hawaiian arts. The festival includes various activities such as arts and crafts fairs, demonstrations, performances, a grand parade celebrating the Hawaiian culture, and the esteemed hula competition.
The hula competition is the main event and the highlight of the Merrie Monarch Festival. Divided into kahiko (ancient) and ‘auana (modern) hula competitions, it offers a window into the richness and depth of Hawaiian culture. In the kahiko category, dancers perform to traditional Hawaiian music and chants, showcasing the skills and techniques passed down through generations. The ‘auana category is a more contemporary expression, with dancers swaying to melodies influenced by Western culture, yet still telling uniquely Hawaiian stories.
Artwork at the festival is another significant aspect that draws thousands of visitors each year. Numerous Hawaiian artists and craftsmen showcase their skills, offering an array of traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts. These include lei making, kapa (barkcloth) making, lauhala (pandanus leaf) weaving, and more. One can find handcrafted jewelry, wood carvings, quilts, woven baskets, and many other Hawaiian crafts at the festival’s arts fair.
Apart from the visual and performing arts, the festival is also a celebration of the oral tradition, with oli (chants) being a significant component. These chants are an essential part of the hula performances and often accompany other events throughout the festival.
How to get there:
International attendees can fly into the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, located on the island of Oahu. From there, a short inter-island flight via Hawaiian Airlines can take you to Hilo International Airport on the Big Island.
By Air: Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is well connected with direct flights to many major cities worldwide. After landing in Honolulu, you can catch a direct inter-island flight to Hilo, which takes approximately 45 minutes.
By Sea: Some cruise lines also offer stops in Hilo. However, given the timing of the festival, it’s essential to plan your cruise carefully to ensure you’re in Hilo during the festival week.
Once in Hilo, transportation options include renting a car, taxis, or ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft. Public bus service in Hilo is also available but might not be as convenient for festival attendees due to less frequent service and limited hours.
The Merrie Monarch Festival is a true celebration of Hawaiian culture, and its spirit is felt throughout Hilo and the entire Big Island during festival week. It’s a gathering not just for the Hawaiian community, but for all who appreciate and wish to learn about the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii. Whether you’re an enthusiast of dance, a lover of art, or someone with a curiosity for different cultures, the Merrie Monarch Festival offers a truly immersive and unforgettable Hawaiian experience.