Celebrating Tradition at The Merrie Monarch Festival

The Merrie Monarch Festival is an annual cultural event held in Hilo, Hawaii celebrating Hawaiian traditions through hula and music. Taking place for over 50 years, the festival has become renowned internationally for its hula competition and as a platform to showcase authentic Hawaiian culture.

This year the festival dates are March 31- April 6, 2024

Merrie Monarch Festival Traditional Dancersphoto by Bruce Omori

History and Significance

The Merrie Monarch Festival was established in 1963 as a means to boost tourism in Hilo after the devastating 1960 tsunami that hit the island. It was named after King David Kalākaua, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii who was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and known as the “Merrie Monarch” for his joy and celebration of music and dance.

Over the years, the festival evolved into a prestigious hula competition drawing participants from hālau hula (hula schools) seeking to earn recognition. It also serves as an event to honor Hawaiian traditions and cultural practices passed down through generations.

The week-long festival features various events centered around hula and Hawaiian arts, from competitions to exhibitions and craft fairs. The main highlight is the hula competition, where hālau hula perform both kahiko (ancient) and ʻauana (modern) forms of hula in an effort to demonstrate their skills and preserve the sacred dance.

Hula Competition

The hula competition is the central focus of the event, showcasing performances in various categories over three days:

  • Miss Aloha Hula – Solo competition for women focusing on both ancient and modern hula styles
  • Group Hula Kahiko – Ancient hula performance by groups
  • Group Hula ‘Auana – Modern hula performance by groups

Hālau hula take the stage to convey stories through interpretative dance and chants, incorporating intricate costumes and musical instruments. They are evaluated by expert judges well-versed in hula on technique, authenticity, and overall presentation.

The competition is fierce as hālau hula strive to earn the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival first place reward and title of superiority. For them, it is the highest achievement and honor.

Cultural Significance

Beyond the hula competition, the festival emphasizes Hawaiian arts and crafts through exhibitions and fairs. Local artisans display works ranging from lei making to wood carving, weaving, and traditional Hawaiian quilts.

Free events also showcase Polynesian dance groups and folk performers from Pacific Islands. The festival concludes with a colorful Merrie Monarch Royal Parade where Hawaiian royalty is celebrated with vibrant floats and marching bands.

For visitors and spectators, the festival provides an immersive showcase into authentic Hawaiian culture. But for native Hawaiians, Merrie Monarch is an integral part of heritage that reinforces cultural identity and Native Hawaiian pride.

The festival has thus become an important tradition for preserving and perpetuating Hawaiian practices and passing down ancestral knowledge through generations. It solidifies Hilo’s reputation as the epicenter of Hawaiian culture.

For more information about dates and times for all the events click here.

Marking over 50 years since its inception, the Merrie Monarch Festival has grown into a beloved tradition, celebrating Hawaiian culture and heritage through hula and the arts. It draws thousands of visitors to Hilo annually while also providing Native Hawaiians an opportunity to reinforce cultural identity.

As the most prestigious hula event worldwide, the festival promises to continue honoring Hawaiian traditions and serving as the pinnacle platform for showcasing the sacred art of hula for years to come.

Looking for accommodations for the Festival? Check availability here