merrie monarch celebrates hula

Craig DeSilva
April 12, 2023

The Merrie Monarch Festival, the largest hula competition in the world, gets underway in Hilo this week. This year marks the festival’s 60th anniversary.

Kumu hula Manu Boyd will again host the TV broadcast with Paula Akana, executive director of Iolani Palace and former KITV news anchor.

“It’s an important event that showcases the best of hula to the rest of the world,” says Boyd. “It’s always an honor for me to participate, but it’s also a humbling experience. There’s a sense of kuleana to honor the competition’s rich history and legacy.”

Among the halau performing this year include past winners Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leinala (kumu hula Leinaala Pavao Jardin), Halau Kekuaokalaaauaalailiahi (kumu hula Haunani and Iliahi Paredes), and Halau Na Mamo O Puuanahulu (kumu hula William Kahakuleilehua Haunuu “Sonny” Ching and Lopaka Igarta-De Vera). 

“My job as a TV commentator is to provide good information about the mele, chants, and dances, but also to keep things entertaining and enjoyable for the TV audience watching at home,” says Boyd. “It’s an important balance.”

In 1989, Boyd competed in the Merrie Monarch Festival as a dancer with Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua and its kumu hula Robert Cazimero. Boyd has since returned to dance during the event’s hoike exhibition. He’ll perform in this year’s hoike as a soloist with Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua.

“Merrie Monarch heightens the art form of hula,” he says. “Competition brings out the best in people. It’s like the Olympics of hula. It’s game-on time for these halau who are competing.”

Hawaiians have traditionally enjoyed competition, such as the traditional Hawaiian games and sports of holua (sledding), ulu maika (bowling), and surfing.

“The Merrie Monarch is part of the re-emergence of Hawaiian culture much like Hawaiian language immersion schools and traditional sailing navigation on the Hokulea,” Boyd says. “These experiences are part of our aloha for each other and the land, and that has a great impact on our well-being. It’s no surprise that people from all over the world say we need more of what Hawaii has. It’s very uplifting.”

2023 Merrie Monarch Events
Attending this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival or just watching it on TV? Here’s a schedule of events.

Wednesday, April 12
Hoike performances
6 p.m.
Edith Kanakaole Stadium

Wednesday, April 12 – Saturday, April 15
Craft fair
Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium & Butler Buildings
Free admission

Thursday, April 13
Miss Aloha Hula contestants perform hula kahiko (ancient), hula auana (modern), and oli (chant).
6 p.m.
Edith Kanakaole Stadium

Friday, April 14
Hula kahiko competition
6 p.m.
Edith Kanakaole Stadium

Saturday, April 15
Royal Parade 
10:30 a.m.
Hilo town

Hula auana competition and awards ceremony
6 p.m.
Edith Kanakaole Stadium

See details at Merrie Monarch Festival.

King David Kalakaua is known as the Merrie Monarch. 

Merrie Monarch Timeline
A look at some of the festival’s highlights.

1964 – First festival
Festival was started to revitalize Hilo’s economy following devastating tsunamis and declining sugar plantations. Events to perpetuate Hawaiian culture included a King Kalakaua beard look-alike contest, a barbershop quartet contest, a relay race, a recreation of King Kalakaua’s coronation, and a holoku ball.

1971 – First hula competitions
Nine halau entered the wahine (women) group competition. Aloha Wong (Dalire) won the first Miss Hula title.

1976 – First kane (men) group competition

1978 – After outgrowing the Civic Auditorium, the hula competition moved to the Hoolulu Tennis Stadium (renamed the Edith Kanakaole Multi-Purpose Stadium), where it’s still held today.

1980 – A third night of competition is added. The festival sells out of tickets for the first time.

1981 – First televised competitions.

2010 – Luana Kawelu takes over as festival director after her mother, Dottie Thompson, one of the festival’s founders, passes away.

2013 – 50th anniversary celebration.

2020 – Festival is canceled for the first time in its history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2021 – Hula competition resumes but with no audience. Performances are recorded in June and televised in July.

2022 – Hula competition resumes with audience but not at full capacity due to pandemic.

2023 – Hula competition resumes with live audience at full capacity.

Source: Merrie Monarch Festival

Read more about the Merrie Monarch Festival
celebrating hula at merrie monarch festival
merrie monarch returns

Photos courtesy Merrie Monarch Festival and Halau I Ka Weikiu

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