As the language of the heart, hula dancing is the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people. So said King David Kalākaua during his reign over the Hawaiian kingdom from 1874-1891. The annual Merrie Monarch Festival, named in his honor as a royal patron of the arts, celebrates that sentiment and is the embodiment of the spirit of the Hawaiian people. Held every spring in Hilo for the past 55 years, this week-long festival is the foremost celebration of Hawaiian culture with music, hula performances, cultural demonstrations, and a 3-day premier hula competition.
Held the first week of April, the Merrie Monarch Festival is more than just hula. Beginning with the commemorative chant and Ho`olaule`a celebration on Sunday, the week-long festival includes mid-day entertainment every day at venues across Hilo; an invitational Arts and Crafts Fair featuring local artists, crafters, and entertainment; nightly events focused on Hawaiian culture and traditional practices; and three days of hula competitions including Hālau hula (hula school) and individual events. The week is capped by a vibrant and festive parade through downtown Hilo on Saturday morning. Most of the performances are free and open to the public, drawing large crowds, and tickets to the hula competitions can be requested online. Throughout the entirety of a festival the rich cultural traditions, inherent national pride, and beautiful spirit of the Hawaiian people are on full display, making the Merrie Monarch Festival an ideal time to visit Hilo and the Big Island.
Ancient Hawaiians did not have a written language, instead of passing oral histories and traditions down through storytelling and hula performances. When King Kalakaua was elected to the monarchy in 1874, he reversed the positions of visiting missionaries prohibiting such practices, inspiring a Hawaiian Renaissance with his patronage of the arts and traditional culture. Restoring a sense of national pride in the ways of the past, Kalakaua became known as the Merrie Monarch for his devotion to hula, traditional histories, and mythologies, while simultaneously promoting literacy and improved historical record-keeping across the islands. In 1963, when Hawai‘i was recovering from economic hardships and a natural disaster in the form of a tsunami, the new state’s leaders chose to rekindle Kalakaua’s spirit when they held the inaugural Merrie Monarch Festival, named in his honor. Today, 55 years later, the tradition only grows stronger.
As the ultimate expression of Hawaiian culture and traditions, we at Kona Coast Vacations cannot think of a better time to visit the Big Island during the Merrie Monarch Festival. Plan your own cultural holiday by browsing our complete listing of premium vacation rentals, or use our online search features to find the perfect Hilo-side accommodations for next year’s festival. We at Kona Coast Vacations cannot think of a better way to truly experience the spirit, aloha, and culture of the Hawaiian Islands, so plan your next vacation in paradise!