Hawaiian Traditions and Culture are Alive and Well in the city of Hilo, HI during the 60th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival

The Merrie Monarch Festival celebrated it’s 60th year this April, 2023 in the beautiful city of Hilo, HI. The idea for the festival was first developed in 1963 by Helene Hale, who at the time was the County of Hawai’I’s Chairwoman. The Hawai’I Island was struggling due to the devastation of the recent tsunamis, as well as the decline of the sugar plantations and Hale strived to give an economic boost to the island and its inhabitants. The island’s tourism industry was just beginning to blossom, and she sought to harness this development in a way that could help everyone living on the islands, as well as strengthen its people’s heritage and values.

A committee was formed that included Gene Wilhelm (Chairman), Koshi Miyasaki (Vice-Chairman), Clifford Bowman, Arthur Evers, Ken Griffin, Ralph Lau, George Naʻope, Carl Rohner, Floyd Swnn, Steve Thorson, Thomas Unger, and William Weber. From the fruits of their labor sprang forth the idea for the Merrie Monarch Festival, which was first held in 1964.  Since then, the festival has grown with its deep roots coinciding alongside the Hawaiian Renaissance, a movement of cultural pride that King Kalakau, the King that the festival was named after, enthusiastically supported.

In 1971, the first Hula competition was introduced to the Merrie Monarch Festival and has now become the largest and most celebrated part of the annual Festival.  Hula is not just a dance.  It is the expression of language, culture, and historical tales through dance, movement, and song and so it is a highly revered and integral part of Hawaiian culture. Participants of the competition design their costumes and props using revered plants from around the island that also hold special significance to Hawai’i and its people. So, every year, after the festivities are over, the participants return these pieces back to the Land, the ‘Aina, from which it came, so completing the circle and giving reverence to the creator.

The Festival is capped off by the Royal Parade, which winds its way along downtown Hilo on the last day of the festival and includes colorful floats with Hula performers, paniolos, and local organizations.  It’s hard not to get chills as you watch the Hula dancers perform their stories in one of the most beautiful “languages” I have ever had the honor to witness.

Although the Merrie Monarch Festival was first developed to boost the economy of the of the island of Hawai’i, over the years it has become far more than that.  It now serves as an important tool to perpetuate, strengthen, and revitalize the Hawaiian culture and its peoples, and give the outside world a glimpse of what makes this place so special.

Come to the Island of Hawai’i next April, 2024, and witness first hand the beauty and significance of the Merrie Monarch Festival yourself!  While you’re here, book your food tour with Destination Food Tours and enjoy the culinary treats and history our tours have to offer.

Mahalo and safe travels a Hui Hou!