During the week after Easter on the big island of Hawai’i, the city of Hilo becomes home to the world’s premier hula festival: the Merrie Monarch Festival.
The festival, which originated in the early 1960s, gets its name from King David Kalākaua, who reigned from 1874 to 1891 and was known as the Merrie Monarch. He restored the traditions which had been suppressed by the missionaries and introduced a new sense of pride in all things Hawaiian, especially its music and dance. Because ancient Hawaiians had no written language, hula and chant had always been the mechanisms for passing on the culture.
The week-long festival sells out quickly: tickets are purchased via lottery; hotels and cars are often booked two years in advance; planning ahead is essential! There are many activities, highlighted by three main nights of competition:
- Thursday: Miss Aloha Hula (hula kahiko, hula ʻauana, oli [chant])
- Friday: Group Hula Kahiko (ancient hula)
- Saturday: Group Hula ʻAuana (modern hula
The festival is televised live and is also live-streamed on computer. It begins at 6 p.m. HST (12 midnight on the east coast… yawn).
This year’s Merrie Monarch: April 24-30, 2011. Broadcast: KFVE TV, Honolulu
Videos of last year’s competition are available here: 2010 Merrie Monarch.