This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Merrie Monarch hula festival which started in Hilo in 1963. The hula festival was named for King David Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch who brought hula and chants back into fashion after being banned by the powerful Queen Ka’ahumanu, the favorite wife of the first Monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Kamehameha I.
Although the Merrie Monarch hula competitions are Thursday through Saturday, events celebrating hula and Hawaiian culture take place all week in Hilo. The Ho’olaule’a (music festival), which starts the week of events, is on Easter Sunday at the Civic Auditorium and showcases hula by local halaus.
During our first Merrie Monarch five years ago, we exhausted ourselves attending every free event around the town during the week. But every year since, free events have been replaced by advanced purchase ticket sales. This year even the Ho’ike, a non-competitive hula extravaganza that hundreds of fans wait five or more hours in line to experience, requires a ticket, which had to be purchased months ago, to attend.
The daily performances at the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort (at Noon) and Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (at 1PM) from Monday to Friday are still free, but the performance areas are very small which limits what you can see. You have to pick one of the hotel performances and get there very early to make sure you can actually experience the hula. There are also free hula performances at the Civic Auditorium at 11AM Wednesday through Saturday. For the first time, the Prince Kuhio Plaza Mall has scheduled a program of free performances by local halaus and musicians in the center court starting at 11AM during the week from Monday through Saturday. And the grand Merrie Monarch royal parade through downtown Hilo on Saturday morning is free.
Attending the Ho’olaule’a on Easter day has become a tradition for us and we are looking forward to it. The rest of the week, we plan to experience the festival from our couch, watching the coverage by KFVE. We were disappointed that we cannot attend the Ho’ike, but thrilled with the news in an email from the KFVE station manager, John Fink: “We will be showing an edited version of the Wednesday night events (hula and song) from 8-10PM on Wednesday. We hope you enjoy.”
If you are not in Hawaii,you can still enjoy the Merrie Monarch festival over streaming live programming by KFVE.
Here is one of favorite performances, "How Great Thou Art", from the 2012 Ho’olaule’a. Happy Easter!!