Merrie Monarch Hula Festival

This week is the week of the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. This is the Super Bowl of hula and those of us that practice hula look forward to it all year. This year is special–The 50th anniversary. Tickets for the three nights of  the hula competition go on sale at midnight Dec. 26th each year. They sell out by daybreak. I sent my money in at about 8:00am and didn’t obtain a ticket. I am thankful the TV coverage is so extensive.  However, it’s not the same as being there–the fragrance of plumeria, gardenia, pua kenikeni and pikaki permeates the humid air clinging to the dampness like the Hilo rain clings to the leaves. I miss seeing all the colorful mu’umu’u, the hats with beautiful intricate feather lei–lei hulu. I have always purchased scrips so I could get haupia with a slice of purple sweet potato atop. So many things about being there in person. Because this was a special anniversary, the committee brought back some of the contests from 50 years ago. There was a King Kalakaua (The Merrie Monarch) beard contest for the men and a barbershop quartet (or more) song contest…something for everyone. Craft fairs are everywhere. The parade will be tomorrow.

During the week there are performances at many many venues–at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, an up-to-date planetarium; at the Hilo Hawaiian and Naniloa hotels; at the intimate setting of Basically Books, a bookstore on Bay Front that specializes in Hawaiiana. This year the bookstore even boasted the original sign from the very first Merrie Monarch Festival. It was found in the basement of a local furniture store that was closing and was given to the bookstore.


At Basically Books four of the state’s top entertainers performed.  In this relatively small venue it was standing room only.  Kainani Kahaunaele, Weldon Kahauoha, Cyril Pahunui and Manu Boyd graciously allowed a few of us to dance to their mele, each on a different day. For a dancer, it just doesn’t get than this. It was the highlight of my week.

Me wih Manu Boyd--a singer, dancer, kumu hula, composer, emcee
Manu Boyd and I–a singer, dancer, kumu hula, composer
Not dressed for hula, but, hey, that's Hilo
Not dressed for hula, but, hey, that’s Hilo and Cyril Pahunui didn’t care.
What fun!
What fun! With Weldon Kahauoha

Kainani Kahauanaele. The photo of the two of us showed that we were certainly not ready, so not to embarrassed either one of us, I have chosen the one of Kainani alone. This has been one of the busiest week of my year. I am still packing and cleaning, getting ready for my imminent move to Maui. I am trying to keep up with my many orders from my Etsy shop and trying to keep up with all the activities of Merrie Monarch week from the hula performances, musical concerts, the craft fairs, the amazing food available.

Beautiful singer, lovely person.
Beautiful singer, lovely person.

Tomorrow will be the Merrie Monarch parade with over 150 units. The highlight is usually the pa’u riders…women on horseback wearing the beautiful skirts of satin. Both the riders and the horses decorated with lei. Many hands and many hours go into the making of the lei. The horse’s lei is about 12 inches around.

Colorful pa'u dress and lovely lei..Na wahine holo li'o
Colorful pa’u dress and lovely lei..Na wahine holo lio

The week will soon be over, the competition will have their chosen winners (though in my eyes they are all winners). The craft fairs participants will pack up their remaining items, the bookstore, hotels, astronomy center and malls will go back to their normal schedules. And, na hula halau will  start thinking about the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival for 2014.


7 thoughts on “Merrie Monarch Hula Festival

  1. It generally takes me about a week to come off the high that occurs in my na’au every year. The sleepy town of Hilo just comes alive. Women bring out their best mu’umu’u, men wear their nicest aloha shirts. Lei are worn on hat bands and flowers are tucked behind ears. There is just this incredible energy in the air. You see girls in mall with their hair plaited in a hundred braids, just waiting to be brushed out for their kahiko performance. In backyards you see huge lei being made by many many hands for the horse’s neck come Merrie Monarch parade. It is just a magical time of year.

  2. Plumeria (Melia) has always been my favorite. It has a very strong connection to when I first arrived as a teenager. I recently wrote a Hawaiian mele entitled Ka Pua Melia just for my enjoyment. I’ve been working on the tune which is the hardest part for me. I always give a little sign of longing when this week is over and men & women go back to wearing shorts and tees. Lei are no longer being sold at the front of the Civic Auditorium and all the shops go back to a regular schedule.

  3. What an interesting article and you have some great pictures of what look like ‘true’ characters. I have never managed to get to you part of the world, but I expect I will soon especially as I am planning a follow up to my latest masterpiece of feline literature ‘The Cat’s Travelogue.’

    This time I plan to organise things a little better and got to the best places in the world and not like last time end up in places like Bangladesh, even now I can’t stop shuddering when I think of it.

    Still never mind I am commenting on your work and I loved your blog I just wish I could use some of your sewing products, I tend to only like balls of wool and cotton reels, but then I am a Cat at heart.


    The Cat

    1. So glad I was able to give you a little glimpse of Hawai’i. If you go back far enough into my blog you can see how I got here 51 years ago. Every island has its own special “flavor”. Everyone should have the opportunity to see the islands at least once in a lifetime without having to go through the process of having to worry about being fired upon as in Bangladesh. Auwe! I, too, am a cat lover. My “baby” is still on the Big Island as she so cleverly hid herself when I went to get her for the flight. My renters are caring for her, but I’m waiting for a friend, who is planning a trip to Maui, to bring her as a carry-on rather than ship her as check baggage. I just couldn’t put her through that. But, I miss her and I’m afraid she will have forgotten me by the time she gets here.

      It’s warm in Hawai’i so I don’t usually have a call to wear wool, so I guess we are even on that score:).

      Keep in touch.


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