Friday, April 17, 2009


Merrie Monarch, the premier international Hula competition, was held in Hilo, Hawaii this week offering a view into a culture that is not otherwise accessible to us. We find the richness of the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture one of the many benefits of living in Hilo, but Merrie Monarch offers us the chance to have an even deeper experience of it.

We don’t begin to understand what it is like to be Hawaiian, but we find it spiritually uplifting to be a part of the town of Hilo and audience during Merrie Monarch week. It gives us higher hopes for the future of humanity after watching people so committed to supporting and displaying their talent and culture to all of us through the incredible array of events during the week. Each hula dancer and group of dancers represents a large group of supporting people dedicated to the task of teaching the chants, movements, lei making and to providing musical accompaniment, singing the meles, and giving time and space for practice. It is a huge commitment on the part of families, teachers, and the community to preserve and continue the art and culture of hula.

We come from a world where everything is monetized and the success of something means more money and this money usually translates to controlled access. But Merrie Monarch is very different. The endless hours of effort and practice by the hula dancers is not for money and it is the only international event we know of where numerous free events and low entrance fees allow anyone who lives here to be able to go. We lived in LA during the 1984 Olympics but there was no way we could afford the ticket prices of the athletic events and numerous international dance and cultural events that were scheduled during the month. We are used to living in American cities where major cultural events are so expensive that only the rich or guests of those on corporate expense accounts have access.

As Europeans, we can go to the Louvre in Paris or other museums and libraries to see collections of art, books, and artifacts going back 7,000 years to get a sense of our place and time in the European context of cultural evolution. Hawaii and Polynesian islands have much of their culture in oral tradition, where history and mythology and learning is passed verbally from one generation to the next. Merrie Monarch brings this oral culture to life along with the cultural connection to the land through the flowers and designs and costumes. For us, watching hula during Merrie Monarch is like sitting in the Louvre in awe of the European paintings. A curtain is drawn back and we see the old and new and get a sense of the place and time of the extraordinary Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.

We are in our infancy of understanding the Hawaiian culture; Merrie Monarch week is an extreme flood of non-European thoughts and experiences flowing into our minds and souls. Integrating the deep message of hula into our western European way of seeing things overwhelms us; it is like learning to walk and we become dizzy and weak from the moment of it. Last year, our first Merrie Monarch, we were exhausted at the end of the week, but felt that we had learned so much. This year, once again exhausted and catching our breath, we realize how little we know or understand.

Here are links to our videos and photos from Merrie Monarch
Ho'olaulea, Ho'ike and other events during the week.


Anonymous said...

I really like your blog. Your commentary on Merrie Monarch week in Hilo is very thoughtful and well-said.

Incidentally, last year I noticed that you were attending many of the same Merrie Monarch events as me, and videotaping them and posting them to YouTube. So I started looking around and trying to figure out who you are, and I've been doing it this year too.

I never spot you, but then I get back to my computer and sure enough, you were there because there's your video of it. Are you INVISIBLE?!!

Again, great blog you have here. I've read it for a long time. Thanks.

Leslie Lang
another FBI blogger

kjc said...

I like the Kahiko the best and stayed up until after 3:00 a.m. here watching the live streaming video. I plan on doing it again tonight.....would love to be there.

Keahi Pelayo said...

Expanding an understanding of the Hawaiian culture is very important. How about have the most culturally sensitive business leaders in the world come from Hawaii. Now there is a goal.

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