The annual Merrie Monarch hula competition starts this week! The 2015 Merrie Monarch Hula Festival is an international hula competition in Hilo, Hawaii, right here on the Big Island. The week-long festival started with the Ho’olaule’a on Easter Sunday at the Civic Auditorium and continues throughout the week with an internationally acclaimed hula competition, an invitational Hawaiian arts fair, hula shows, and ends with a grand parade through Hilo town and final evening competition on Saturday.
Merrie Monarch hula dancers on stage at the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium in Hilo, Hawaii
Merrie Monarch’s Beginning
The Merrie Monarch Festival is a non-profit organization that honors the legacy left by King David Kalākaua, who inspired the perpetuation of Hawaiian traditions, native language, and arts. The Festival began in Hilo, Hawaiʻi in 1963 when Helene Hale, the Chairman of the County of Hawaiʻi, looked for a way to attract tourists to the Big Island.
Hawaiʻi Island needed a major economic boost after suffering from a tidal wave and economic downturn. Helene sent her Administrative Assistant, Gene Wilhelm, and her Promoter of Activities, George Naʻope, to Maui to check out the Lahaina Whaling Spree and see what lessons they could bring back. They returned inspired.
Beautiful hula dancers performing at Merrie Monarch Hula Festival
In 1964, the festival consisted of a King Kalākaua beard look-alike contest, a re-creation of King Kalākaua’s coronation, a barbershop quartet contest, a relay race, and a Holoku Ball among many other events.
But by 1968 the festival fell into hard times and would have been suspended had it not been for Dottie Thompson, who took over as Executive Director of the festival. Dottie wanted to make the festival move toward a more Hawaiian theme, and so she brought back Uncle George Naʻope and Albert Nahalea.
Uncle George would be in charge of the pageantry and the coronation, and Albert Nahalea would be in charge of the music. They 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.
With advice from the hula masters, “Aunty” Dottie and “Uncle” George introduced a hula competition in 1971. Nine wahine (women) hālau entered that first year, and Aloha Dalire won the first Miss Hula title.
In 1976 when the festival opened the competition up to kāne (men), the festival began to take off and attracted hordes of enthusiastic fans, and that tradition has carried on for 52 years! Today the festival has become extremely poplar and has attracted worldwide attention, and the buzz that it brings to Hilo and the Big Island is contagious!
Kane performing at Merrie Monarch
Happy Merrie Monarch!
I hope to see many of you there again this year! I love the art of hula and have had the honor of attending the festival live the last 6 years. It’s an incredible feeling!