Big Island Polls

Big Island Now poll No. 53: What is Hawai‘i’s most important contribution to the world?

Listen to this Article
5 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

The 61st annual Merrie Monarch Festival is here and this year, the weeklong celebration of hula and everything Hawaiian has new bragging rights.

The festival, hosted in Hilo on the Big Island, was recently picked as the No. 1 cultural festival in the United States by online voters in USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

Image courtesy of the Merrie Monarch Festival Facebook page

“The Merrie Monarch Festival … is dedicated to the memory of King David Kalākaua, who was known as the ‘Merrie Monarch,’ thanks to his fun-loving ways and personal panache,” says USA Today 10Best. “King David was a dedicated patron of the arts, and this festival applauds the arts of Hawai’i, particularly hula, with a hula competition and hula shows taking center stage.”

The festival steadfastly works to maintain the teachings of kūpuna and strives to perpetuate the history and culture of the Hawaiian people in a manner that respects those teachings.

“Through our efforts, along with those of other organizations, we seek to ensure that the unique traditions of Hawaiian people will continue to flourish,” it said in a Facebook post after the results of the vote were announced last week. “Mahalo for your votes and mahalo nui for sharing your aloha for hula and the Hawaiian culture.”

Many people on social media offered congratulations to the festival for the honor.


“I’m so looking forward to seeing the best cultural festival in our nation in person this year, after trying to get tickets for the last 7 years,” commented Tilisa Kautai de Martinez on Facebook. “Mahalo to all the organizers.”

Karen Wells Leitner simply exclaimed, “Outstanding!!”

Others had no doubt it would be voted to the top of the list: “As it should have!!” commented Pam Homberoff-Trout on Facebook.

“Congrats to Luana and the team,” commented Jason Hagiwara on Facebook, naming Merrie Monarch Festival President Luana Kawelu. “The vote verifies what we all already knew.”

Merrie Monarch also gave a shoutout in its Facebook post to the Aloha Festivals, a now statewide celebration of the music, dance, food and cultural traditions of the Hawaiian archipelago, which placed No. 9 in the USA Today 10Best poll.


Click here to find the full results of the online readers’ choice poll.

The festival’s recognition is just one of the latest examples of the culture, people, places and things of Hawai‘i, including the Big Island, being nationally awarded or featured nationwide in the past couple of years.

Two weeks ago, Darby — the miniature horse with a big heart that serves as a pet therapy animal at Queen’s North Hawai‘i Community Hospital in Waimea — was named the 2024 Pet of the Year by Pet Partners, a nonprofit based in Washington state that is the world leader in pet-assisted therapy training and evaluation.

The horse, owned by Lynn and Rick Scully of Waimea, beat out more than 100 other pet nominees from throughout the United States and Canada, raising nearly $17,000 for Pet Partners’ therapy animal program with the support of people in Hawai‘i and on the mainland.

Darby was the first animal from Hawai‘i ever nominated for the title and the only miniature horse in the state visiting hospital patients.


“This six-week campaign was busy, but now the real work starts,” said Darby (most likely through his owners) in a press release. “I want to keep spreading the word about pet therapy and hopefully recruit more furry four-legged friends like me to join the team and help cheer people up!”

  • Darby, a miniature horse owned by Lynn and Rick Scully who is a certified therapy animal, visits a patient at Queen’s North Hawai’i Community Hospital as part of the hospital’s pet therapy program. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Scully)
  • Tasi Savage of Kona bakes during a challenge on an episode of the newest season of Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship.” (Courtesy of Food Network)
  • File photo
  • Ilima Shim prepares for a challenge during the “Pressure Is On” episode of season four of “Tough As Nails.” (File photo courtesy of CBS)
  • Screenshot from a video on the “American Idol” YouTube channel from Iam Tongi’s performance of “Lava” during Disney Night, the singing competition’s semi-finals, on May 14, 2023.
  • Mallibu Del Rey, or Mallie, is the drag persona of Kaua‘i native and Hawai‘i News Now anchor/reporter/producer Dillon Ancheta. (Photo from Instagram)

Tasi Savage, a 13-year-old from Kona, was featured on the most recent season of Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship.” She baked her way to be one of the season’s top three keiki and competed in the show’s finale.

She didn’t take the title, but she definitely represented the Big Island and flavors from the islands.

Big Island native Jessika Asai, who grew up in Kea’au, didn’t win any prizes and wasn’t one of the guests, but she was a featured member of the 180-foot luxury yacht Mustique on the latest season of Bravo TV’s “Below Deck Mediterranean.”

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park also is getting some extra hype right now, advancing to the second round of the Parks Channel’s 2024 Parks Madness competition. The park beat out Katmai National Park in Alaska, famous for its fat bears, to move on in the contest.

Voting in round two runs through midnight April 2, so don’t fret if you missed the first round. There’s still time to vote. Click here for more information.

Big Island native Ilima Shim placed sixth last year on the fourth season of the CBS reality show “Tough As Nails.”

Elsewhere from throughout the state, chef Zach Laidlaw of Hua Momona Farms on Maui is a contestant on the current season of Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition show “Next Level Chef” on Fox. Maui’s Madame Donut, owner and baker of Donut Dynamite in Wailuku, finished ninth in season 13 of Fox’s “MasterChef,” another cooking competition show featuring Ramsay.

Kaua‘i native Dillon Ancheta, whose drag persona is Mallibu Del Rey, was voted to be the opener for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 15 winner Sasha Colby, also a Hawai‘i native, during her Stripped tour stop in Honolulu later this month.

A new HGTV show airing now called “Renovation Aloha” follows husband and wife Kamohai and Tristyn Kalama as they take on house-flipping projects around O‘ahu. “NCIS: Hawai‘i” is now in its third season on CBS.

And who can forget the rise of Kahuku, O‘ahu, native Iam Tongi in 2023 to become the most recent winner of “American Idol”?

Those are just several examples of how Hawai‘i has been in the spotlight during recent history.

The islands have produced other stars, winners, cultural icons and more for much longer, but it seems that the rest of the country — and people around the globe — are taking note now more than ever of the things that make Hawai‘i special and unique.

So we want to know what you think.

Press Here to Take the Poll

Leave a comment here or on social media to tell us why you voted the way you did, especially if you think there’s something else more important.

The monthly poll ends at midnight April 26. Poll results will be published April 28.

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments