The haunting song of the conch shell slices through the chatter of the expectant crowd. Soon a lone voice begins to chant an ancient Hawaiian mele, pulling the past along with it, as the royal court files into the stadium. The setting is the lush town of Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, and the occasion is the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a weeklong celebration of traditional Hawaiian music, art and dance. The pinnacle of the festival is the hula competition, which showcases the best individual dancers and halau (hula schools) from the islands, the mainland, and Japan. The hula competition is the crowning jewel in the world’s largest, most prestigious celebration of Hawaiian culture.
The Merrie Monarch Festival was created in 1963 in honor of King David Kalakaua who ruled the Hawaiian Kingdom from 1874 to 1891. Kalakaua, known as the “Merry Monarch”, is credited with restoring many of the Hawaiian legends, traditions, and art forms driven underground by Christian missionaries. Ancient chants and dances, containing the history of a people, were used to pass the teachings of the kapuna (elders) down to successive generations in preliterate society. The festival’s goal is to preserve, promote, and perpetuate hula and Hawaiian culture.
The 49th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival begins Easter Sunday, April 8th, 2012, and includes seven days of demonstrations, workshops, art exhibits, and a parade. But, it’s the hula competition that plays to sell-out crowds and ignites the hearts of all who witness it. More than just a dance, hula is a sacred love song between the gestures and the stories they convey. The chants and movements recreate the heartbreaks and triumphs of the Hawaiian people. Hula celebrates the land and sea, and pays homage to the plants and animals that offer their beauty, wisdom, and very lives to sustain the island people.
The competition includes Miss Aloha Hula, featuring solo dancers, and 2 group events, Kahiko, ancient hula, and ‘Auana, contemporary hula. Each soloist and halau, comprised of dozens of dancers in traditional dress, has just seven minutes to perform the hula they have doubtless spent hundreds of hours perfecting. It is a great honor to compete, as only the best of the best are invited, and only 23 halau will be competing. This year Kaua`i is proud to be sending two beloved members of our ohana (family) to the festival. Tammy Pu‘u and Noelle Lovesy are members of Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leinna‘ala, the only Kauai halau invited to this year’s event. Tea leaf from the Kukui‘ula farm will be used to create the skirts they wear for the kahiko performance. After months of endless rehearsing, sacrificing sleep and free time, Tammy and Noelle are excited to represent their kumu (teacher), halau, and the island of Kauai in Hilo.
Perhaps it’s the pageantry and grandeur that account for the continued popularity of The Merrie Monarch Festival. Maybe the costumes and spectacle of the group competition are responsible for drawing crowds to the Big Island and people across the globe to their television sets. Or perhaps there is something about hula that touches a deep desire in all of us to reconnect with the land and the ancient past. Perhaps hula reminds us that we are each an invaluable thread woven into the tapestry of creation, and that beauty and tradition are essential as the legacy of our ancestors steers us into the future. Maybe it’s all of the above. Either way, Merrie Monarch presents an exhilarating glimpse of Hawaiian culture at its finest.
You can watch this year’s hula competition on Kauai’s KFVE, Channel 5, or online at www.k5thehometeam.com. The Kaua`i halau will be performing within the first hour, in fifth position, both Friday and Saturday night.
Thursday, April 12, 2012 6:00pm-11:30pm Miss Aloha Hula
Friday, April 13, 2012 6:00pm-11:30pm Hula Kahiko
Saturday, April 14, 2012 6:00pm-11:30pm Hula ‘Auana & Awards Ceremony