The Merrie Monarch Festival is a week-long celebration of hula and Hawaiian culture. The popularity of hula has grown nationally and internationally with hula halau (school) on the U.S. mainland, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and much more. This year’s Merrie Monarch Festival is from April 19-22. K5 The Home Team will stream the competition online starting April 19. Click here to watch

What is Hula?

Hula is a Hawaiian dance with chant or song that preserves and perpetuates Hawaiian culture, traditions and stories. It was how history and religion was passed on from generation to generation.

The Merrie Monarch Festival showcases two types of hula styles; hula kahiko (ancient hula) and hula auana (modern hula). Hula kahiko is danced with dramatic chants and more traditional Hawaiian wear. The hula auana is western influenced music and features more modern attire and fluid style.

Who is King David Kalākaua?

King David Kalākaua reigned the Hawaiian kingdom from 1874-1891, which is also known as the “Merrie Monarch”. King Kalākaua is known as the king who brought pride back to the Hawaiian people. During his reign he restored Hawaiian cultural practices and traditions that were once suppressed and forbidden due to Christian missionary teachings. King Kalākaua once said, “Hula is the language of the heart, therefor the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”

The Merrie Monarch Festival

The Merrie Monarch Festival began in Hilo, Hawaii in 1964 when the Big Island of Hawaii looked for ways to attract tourists to the island. Hawaii island suffered an economic downturn with a sugar plantation slowdown and tsunami hit. The Festival didn’t take off until Dottie Thompson took over and focused on the Hawaiian culture and hula.

Current festival president, Luana Kawelu said “They (Dottie Thompson, George Naʻope and Albert Nahalea) wanted to replicate what King David Kalākaua had done, bringing the best hula dancers from around the islands to come and perform and share quality and the authenticity of hula at the time.”

The first hula competition started in 1971 with nine wahine (women) halau and opened it up to kāne (men) in 1976. The Merrie Monarch Festival is sold out ever year and the tickets are given out based on a lottery system. Even without event tickets many people fly to Hawaii Island to experience hula and Hawaiian culture during this festive week. This is something to add to your Hawaii bucket list.