Merrie Monarch Festival celebrating 60 years of Hula and Hawaiian culture
January 14, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
After three years of turmoil due to the pandemic, the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo will be back in all its glory in 2023 to celebrate its 60th anniversary of showcasing hula and Hawaiian culture — and the world can’t wait.
The festival runs from April 9 to 15 this year, with the hula competition being held the last three days at Edith Kanakaʻole Multi-Purpose Stadium.
The competition begins on April 13 with 12 people vying for the Miss Aloha Hula contest. Group hula kahiko (old style) competition is on April 14; hālau (school or hall) competing in group hula ‘auana (modern style) is on April 15.
Since the beginning of December 2022, when tickets went on sale, the festival has received more than 2,300 requests from around the globe — and requests are still coming in.
Japan is the foreign country with the most ticket requests. Other countries include: France, Austria, Taiwan, Tahiti, Amsterdam, Germany, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Canada.
Each request could be for up to two tickets. Only requests postmarked Dec. 1 or later will be accepted, and there are only about 2,100 tickets available to the general public.
The festival gives each participating hula hālau 75 tickets and first crack at seating sections, accounting for about half of the 4,200 ticketed seats available.
It is guaranteed to be sold out, according to Merrie Monarch Festival President Luana Kawelu. Orders are being processed now and people will receive written notification of the status of their ticket requests after processing is complete.
Despite an increase in prices caused by rising festival costs due to inflation, tickets for this year’s Super Bowl of hula are as popular as ever. People have stopped by the festival’s office near the stadium to make sure their requests were received, including a Big Island woman in her 80s and a couple from Germany.
Fans also are excited the festival is back at full strength, after the COVID-1 pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020 and scaled back versions in 2021 and 2022. The hula competition was recorded and broadcast later in 2021 because of COVID restrictions; and no general public tickets were sold in 2022 as gathering size limitations continued.
There are 23 hālau participating this year: 3 from the Big Island, 14 from Oʻahu, 4 from Maui, and 1 each from Kaua‘i and Washington State.
The festival once again will begin with the Ho‘olaule‘a, a celebration that hasn’t been conducted since 2019. It is scheduled for Easter Sunday, April 9.
The week will be filled with hula, not just during the competition. Hula will be shown Monday through Friday at the Naniloa and Hilo Hawaiian hotels and during the official Merrie Monarch Craft Fair from April 12-15 at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. Other events and hula are expected to occur throughout Hilo during the festival week.
Don’t fret if you don’t get tickets to watch the competition. The Merrie Monarch Ho‘ike will once again offer the public a chance to see hula on April 12. Tickets for the Ho‘ike go on sale in February and will cost $5.
The Merrie Monarch Parade also will return on April 15, and based on the interest it appears to be even bigger and better than previous years.
“This year, the amount of calls we’re getting of people wanting to participate in the parade is unbelievable,” Kawelu said. “I don’t know how they parade organizers are gonna coordinate all of the requests.”
Official Merrie Monarch wear is available for purchase now. The design for this year’s shirts and hoodies was created by Lee Mori with Creative Arts Hawai’i. If you can’t wait to get yours, stop in at the festival office at 865 Pi‘ilani St. in Hilo during regular business hours from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also call 808-935-9168.
The festival’s popularity continues to grow. The 2022 installment of Merrie Monarch was seen in 146 countries and reached more than 6,000 cities around the globe. The festival’s social media has exploded, to the surprise and delight of organizers and volunteers.
“I look at the analytics on social media and YouTube and it really blows my mind,” said Kawena Kawelu, a festival volunteer and Luana Kawelu’s granddaughter. “We’re not as present; we don’t post often. It’s just kind of like during the week, or here and there when we have something newsworthy to post, but it’s definitely crazy to see how many people go on our page or watch our videos.”
“I don’t think my mom would believe how much we’ve grown. I don’t think she’d believe how worldwide it has spread,” Luana Kawelu said.
Her mother, Dottie Thompson, was the festival’s executive director from 1968 until her death in 2010, following which Kawelu took over as president.
She and all of the festival’s volunteers and sponsors are excited that the festival is returning to normal this year to once again showcase hula and Hawaiian culture at full capacity.
“I’m happy to be back,” Kawelu said. “We want to showcase the best of hula, and we have the best of hula on stage. All the hālau, the kumu, the Merrie Monarch Festival staff, we were all so happy that we’ve come back to normal. We look forward to it.”
For more information, contact the festival office or visit the Merrie Monarch website.
Also keep an eye on Big Island Now in the coming months for additional details about the 60th annual festival and all of the events planned throughout the weeklong celebration.