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Merrie Monarch Arts and Crafts Fair Welcomes In-Person Vendors, Shoppers After 2-Year Hiatus

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Smiles. Laughter. Hugs. ‘Ohana. Aloha. Even a few tears — of joy. And that was all before walking in.

The Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo bristled to the brim inside and out with emotion and activity Thursday, April 21, as people from all walks of life and all over took in the sights, sounds and sales — in person — during the second day of the official Merrie Monarch Arts & Crafts Fair.

Elena Nagamine, right, helps a customer Thursday, April 21, while manning the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand booth at the Merrie Monarch Arts & Crafts Fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo. (Screenshot from video by Nathan Christophel)

The craft fair returned this year to an in-person event for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It started Wednesday, April 20, and continues through Saturday, April 23, in conjunction with the Super Bowl of hula, the 59th annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

The fair showcases Hawai‘i artisans and creators while celebrating hula and Hawaiian culture. More than 130 artists and vendors are on hand. Admission is free, and those who attend can find everything from locally made arts and crafts, including handmade lei, aloha wear, woodwork and jewelry, to skincare, flowers, gifts and official Merrie Monarch merchandise.

Fairgoers also enjoy daily entertainment, including hula performances by local hālau and tons of music. And don’t forget the food. The smells at the civic auditorium are enticing, with food trucks and vendors offering a plethora of local grinds and other favorites.

Several other events also are taking place this week throughout Hilo, running congruently with the festival, including a craft fair and hula performances at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel on Banyan Drive.

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The atmosphere at the civic auditorium was one of cheer and delight Thursday. Friends and family wandered through the facility, sometimes stopping to check out a vendor that piqued their interest, other times just saying hello to someone they haven’t seen for awhile. Everyone was having fun and enjoying their time together.

It’s more than a simple celebration of hula and everything Hawaiian, and the excitement for the return of all things Merrie Monarch, especially the festival itself, was palpable when speaking to people at the craft fair.

“I’m very excited that Merrie Monarch is back,” said Lina Robins-Tamure, a member of the Merrie Monarch house band. The band played and sang at the front entrance of the auditorium Thursday. “The energy in Hilo is different. The energy in Hilo is what makes Merrie Monarch, Merrie Monarch.”

As a musician, her favorite part of the Merrie Monarch Festival is hearing all the music.

Another member of the house band, Keli Viernes, said her favorite part of Merrie Monarch is seeing people from all the other islands come to Hilo and enjoy the art of hula. She’s been a member of the band for 30-plus years.

People look at the items available Thursday at one of the booths featured at the craft fair at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. (Screenshot from video by Nathan Christophel)
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“I’m glad it’s back again,” said Viernes.

“I’m so excited to be back at the Merrie Monarch because it’s really beautiful to see all the people again celebrating everything hula, culture — it’s just really exciting,” said Elena Nagamine, who was manning the Ah Lan’s Lei Stand booth Thursday at the craft fair.

She said her favorite part of the festival, “besides dressing up and buying the latest wear,” is eating.

Kehau Tamure, another member of the Merrie Monarch house band, agreed that the food is one of the best parts of Merrie Monarch, but it’s about so much more.

“My favorite part is we always have a group of friends that gather at Merrie Monarch, and it’s just that time of the year that we all get to hang out together and share,” said Tamure.

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She said the festival wakes up Hilo and is glad for its return.

“I’m excited that after, like, two years, we got to have Merrie Monarch back,” Tamure said.

The Merrie Monarch Festival continues tonight in Hilo at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium with the Miss Aloha Hula competition.

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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