Held annually in Hilo, on the Big Island, the Merrie Monarch Festival is a weeklong springtime event honoring and celebrating Hawaiian culture. The festival is put on by a Hawaiian non-profit organization, in conjunction with the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. One of the crowning jewels of the festival is a renowned hula competition, featuring some of the best cultural talents on the island.
A Rich History
As the title suggests, this festival is produced in honor of the late King David La’amea Kalakaua. The king ruled the Hawaiian Nation from 1874 through 1891. During his reign, he was a passionate supporter of local arts, music, and dance. Well-liked, and known for his fun-loving, colorful personality, he was fondly referred to as the “Merrie Monarch.”
While King, Kalakaua spoke with elders and locals to compile stories of their histories and knowledge. This was eventually turned into a book, called “Legends and Myths of Hawaii.” During a time when many Hawaiian legends and tales were passed down primarily through Hula, chants, and songs, memorializing these pieces of history in a book was significant.
The idea of the Merrie Monarch Festival was born in 1963, the brainchild of County of Hawaii chairwoman Helene Hale. At the time, Hawaii was recovering from a recent tsunami and struggling financially. To try and improve their economic situation, Helene suggested finding a way to tap into the tourist industry, still in its fledgling stage on the island.
Helene and a newly formed committee put together the first festival in 1964. This earliest iteration included a relay race, a beard contest, a barbershop quartet competition, a ball, and a recreation of the Merrie Monarch’s coronation.
In the early 1970s, the festival shifted closer to what it has become today, with a focus of furthering King Kalakaua’s vision of promoting Hawaiian culture through the arts. This saw the ushering in of hula dance showcases and competitions, including the coveted Miss Hula title. During this time of growth, the festival expanded to a week-long event. Over the years, the festival has also grown to include exhibitions, a Hawaiian Arts Fair, and a parade.
What to Expect
This year, the festival will be held from April 17-23rd. However, it will look different than in recent years. Due to Hawaiian regulations, several events that are generally open to the public will not be available this year.
For example, none of the hula dancing competitions will offer general admission. Instead, priority will be given to students and staff of local, participating hula schools, and the performers’ families. However, on the Wednesday night of the festival, tickets are on sale to the general public for the annual exhibition performance. While tickets are usually free, this year they will come with a $5 charge.
The traditional Royal Parade will be on the final day of the festival, April 23rd, and will be open to viewing by the public. Revelers are welcome to line up along the parade route, which winds through Hilo, to celebrate and enjoy the event.
The availability of tickets and capacity constraints are rapidly changing at this time, so if you are planning to attend the festival, we recommend staying up to date using their website or asking local authorities about the status of different events. At this time, it remains unclear what attractions and performances will be available, so continuing to check-in and remain flexible is key.
How and Where to Get Tickets
Tickets are currently on sale for the Wednesday night Ho’ike, a hula performance showcasing the most elite and prestigious dance troupes in the festival.
Tickets, which went on sale on March 15th, can be purchased at the Afook-Chinene Civic Auditorium, which is located at 323 Manono St, in Hilo. Tickets, while available, can be picked up between 8:30 am-12:30 pm on weekdays.
Ticket sales are limited to 10 per person or group and cost $5.00 each. Tickets must be paid for in cash. Credit cards and checks are not accepted. There are no advanced reservations for tickets. Instead, they must be purchased in person, at the aforementioned location, and all sales are final.
In order to enter the stadium venue where the performance will take place, all spectators must present proof of vaccination, and wear a face-covering at all times, except when actively eating or drinking. There will be a three-foot buffer space separating all parties from one another.
Tickets may already be sold out, so be sure to check before making plans to attend.
April 17-23, 2022 (check with Merrie Monarch for the latest schedule of events)
Hilo, Hawaii. Hula competition events take place at Edith Kanaka’ole Tennis Stadium, while the parade travels throughout the town.
- Wednesday, April 20th – Hula Ho’ike. This ticketed performance will feature some of the world’s best hula performers and will showcase the cultural artistry of the dance form.
- Saturday, April 23rd – Royal Parade. This parade, open to the public, will travel through the town of Hilo, celebrating Hawaiian cultural traditions and art forms, and celebrating the life of the Merrie Monarch, King David La’amea Kalakaua.
- Be flexible. This year’s festival is limited by ongoing COVID-related constraints. As a result, some events that are traditionally open to the public may not be available in 2022.
- Keep up with news and updates about the festival. Regulations are changing regularly, which may impact the festival. Stay up to date in case new events become available, or others sell out.
All in all, the Merrie Monarch Festival is a lively, joyful celebration of Hawaiian arts, culture, music, and dance, with a long and rich history. Even though it may look different this year than in years past, it is still sure to offer entertainment and excitement throughout the week. If you happen to be on the island during the festival, we highly recommend checking it out!