Celebrating Hula, the Language of the Heart, at the 50th Anniversary Merrie Monarch Festival

A story about hula and the 50th Anniversary Merrie Monarch Festival on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Traditional hula dancers from across Hawaii and the U.S. mainland are preparing for the largest Hawaiian dance competition in the world. The Merrie Monarch Festival will celebrate its 50thanniversary March 31-April 6, on the Big Island of Hawaii. 

The weeklong festival includes art exhibits, craft fairs, demonstrations, performances, a parade that emphasizes the cultures of Hawaii, and a three-day hula competition that has received worldwide recognition for its historic and cultural significance. In preparation for the Merrie Monarch Festival, halaus (hula studios) and kumus (master instructors) in Hawaii and on the U.S. mainland hold classes, workshops, and seminars throughout the year to teach the art of hula, the meaning of Hawaiian chants and songs, the Hawaiian language, the making of Hawaiian clothing and crafts, and the history of the Hawaiian people. Each halau will hold fund-raisers to help dancers pay for their airfare, hotels and outfits for the celebration. 

On Saturday, March 10, I attended a fund-raising event for the Halau O’ Kamuela hula school at the Aloha Towers in Honolulu that had more than 5,000 attendees.

These young hula dancers are all smiles.

“It’s wonderful to see how the local communities come together for Merrie Monarch. We support our culture and the traditions of our ancestors, even if we don’t dance or sing. This is a gift they left for us to share,” said Valery Long of Pearl City.

At Kamuela’s event I was amazed to see more than 300 hula dancers from 3 to 80 years of age taking part in the fund-raiser even though many did not make the cut to be part of the group going to Merrie Monarch. The dancers who are part of the competition will spend the next 3 weeks dancing up to five hours per day, six days a week. The dancers will eat, sleep and live hula to prepare for the celebration, not for money but the title of being a winner at hula’s greatest event.

Although there are many hula competitions around the world Merrie Monarch is the largest and most recognized. For many years hula dancing had been forbidden in the name of Christian “values” in Hawaii King David Kalakaua who ruled the Island chains from 1874-1891 gave hula back its glorious crown. He became known as the Merrie Monarch. Under his reign, Hawaiian traditions revived and took on a new life. Ancient sports were once again celebrated and the hula was reborn. King Kalakaua was quoted as saying “Hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people." If you have ever spent time in Hawaii you may very well know what the Merrie Monarch was talking about.

If you are interested in seeing some of the Merrie Monarch Festival competitions but can’t make it to Hawaii, you can watch live Web streaming April 4-6 at Kalena.com/merriemonarch/2013.

Hula: The language of the heart

Watch a video from the 2012 Merrie Monarch Festival here: