East Hawaii News

Plans Point to Resuming Merrie Monarch Festival

By Nathan Christophel
February 3, 2022, 5:00 PM HST
* Updated February 3, 4:33 PM
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Plans are still moving forward for the Merrie Monarch Festival to return to its regular schedule this year. The County of Hawai‘i is working with organizers of the prestigious hula competition to ensure it does.

“We are committed and dedicated to Aunty Luana’s vision and will continue to do all we can to bring back the heartbeat of the people to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Tennis Stadium once more,” county spokesman Cyrus Johnasen told Big Island Now on Wednesday.

He said Mayor Mitch Roth and county administration has worked with the festival for the past year trying to figure out the logistics to get Merrie Monarch back to “the event it is supposed to be.” Members of the Roth administration are next meeting with Merrie Monarch Festival President Luana Kawelu and her team Friday, Feb. 4.

Johnasen said it’s part of routine planning committee meetings between the administration and the Merrie Monarch team. Friday’s meeting will likely include discussion about festival standards such as the Merrie Monarch Parade and craft fair.

“Aunty Lu is the leader,” Johnasen said. “We are just there in full support of her work and vision.”

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This year’s festival, Hilo’s signature annual event, is scheduled for the week of April 17-23. However, it’s not yet completely back to business as normal.

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“While we are able to welcome some audience members back to Hilo to enjoy spectacular hula live in the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium, we have only secured permission to offer a fraction of the tickets we usually sell for the competition,” says a Dec. 1, 2021, post on the festival’s website.

Therefore, no tickets are being sold to the general public at this time.

“We apologize that we are currently unable to welcome back more of you to experience the Merrie Monarch Festival in person,” the festival said in December. “However, we want to ensure a safe event for our community, kūpuna, participating hālau, staff and volunteers, as well as audience members. We look forward to the time when we can gather more freely, but until then we will proceed with caution, all the while ensuring that we are able to maintain our mission of supporting and promoting hula and Hawaiian culture.”

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Being able to gather more freely — and in larger groups — is something Roth thinks could happen this year. He said Monday, Jan. 31, during an live-stream interview with the Star-Advertiser, a recording of which can be found on the Honolulu publication’s Facebook page that he is confident large gatherings, including Merrie Monarch, will be able to return in 2022.

Current COVID restrictions for the Big Island limit social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 100 outdoors. Business gatherings require mitigation plans with county approval and government gatherings, such as public meetings, school and workplaces, are allowed.

Johnasen said the county has been allowing larger gatherings since the beginning of the pandemic through its special events request process. He added that Hawai‘i County has had more large gatherings than any of the state’s other islands during the pandemic.

Case counts have been stable and now that the surge caused by the Omicron variant is beginning to decline, it’s time to move forward, he said.

“There becomes a time when we have to push forward and forge a way back to vibrancy,” Johnasen said. “We are committed to that, and believe that with the community behind us, we can make it happen. If you have a sound plan, there will always be a way.”

The county wants to make that push soon.

“If our hospital and medical resources have the capacity, we can do it,” Johnasen said. “It’s time to re-emerge — better, stronger and more resilient.”

Roth has no plans to impose additional COVID measures.

“Our numbers remain on par with other islands who have implemented stricter measures,” Johnasen said in regard to the island’s COVID case counts. “It’s up to the people to respond accordingly, and our people are making re-emergence possible.”

He said the Big Island knows what to do to battle COVID. The county also plans to distribute at-home test kits through a program called Healthier Organizations for Everyone. More details about the program are forthcoming.

“This is a community that cares and our numbers are reflective of that,” the county spokesman said. “It’s not about restrictions, it’s about respect – and there in no lack of that here.”

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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