What is the Merrie Monarch Festival?
The Merrie Monarch Festival is an annual cultural affair held in Hilo, Hawaii ("Big Island"). It is a week- long celebration attended by various hula schools, "halau," not only from the islands of Hawaii but also those from the US Mainland and Japan. This event is regarded as the most prestigious Hula competition. The festival is devoted to King David Kalakaua, known as the Merrie Monarch. During his reign, King David Kalakaua reinstated the cultural traditions and preserved portions of the nation's history that were lost by the influence of Protestant Missionaries.
The festivities would start on an Easter Sunday and concludes with the Hula competitions in this order: Miss Aloha Hula solo competition on Thursday, and the Kahiko and Auana hula competitions held on the Friday and Saturday. The venue is at Edith Kanaka'ole Multipurpose Stadium.
The first Merrie Monarch was celebrated in Hilo in April 1964. It was spear headed by George Na'ope and Gene Wilhelm. A year before that, the island of Hilo was devastated by a series of 30 feet tidal waves. The festival was thought of not only as a way to celebrate the Hawaiian cultural heritage but also a means to restore the economic stability of the town by shifting their focus on Tourism.
During the early years of the Merrie Monarch, only women joined the competition. This was called "wahine" or women's division. It was just in 1976 when the "kane" or men's division was introduced. This raised the bar in defining the authenticity of the halau's hula. It encouraged more to participants to compete.
On the actual competition, each group both for the men and women's division is expected to perform the different dance categories: 1) "Kahiko"- traditional dance which is also called the style of the ancient; 2) "Auana" - modern dance; an adaptation to the changing times.
Each halau is given seven minutes on stage. The criteria for judging are as follows: 1) the entrance (ka'i), 2) The chant (oli), 3) the dance (hula) and 4) the exit off stage (ho'i). All criteria must be met to merit a score.
The proceeds from the Merrie Monarch Festival is allotted for educational scholarships, workshops, seminars, symposiums and the continuation of the festival.
The 46th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival (2009) hula competition is scheduled on April 16-18, 2009.