Celebrating Tradition and Community: The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival

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Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

Every year, amidst the lush landscapes and vibrant culture of Hilo, Hawaiʻi, the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of Hawaiian tradition and community. This iconic event, steeped in history and reverence for the art of hula, brings together dancers, artisans, and spectators from across the islands and beyond. At the heart of this celebration are Luana and Kathy Kawelu, whose tireless dedication and vision have transformed the festival into a cherished cultural landmark.

The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival is a multifaceted affair, encompassing a rich tapestry of events and activities that showcase the beauty and depth of Hawaiian culture. Central to the festivities is the hula competition, where talented dancers from different halau (schools) vie for top honors in various categories. Months of rigorous training under the guidance of dedicated kumu (teachers) culminate in captivating performances that captivate audiences and honor the legacy of this ancient art form.

One of the festival’s highlights is the Merrie Monarch parade, a colorful procession that winds its way through the streets of Hilo. With over 80 entries, including a float featuring the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Trustees warmly greeting spectators, the parade is a joyous celebration of community spirit and pride. Thousands line the streets, their enthusiasm palpable as they cheer on the participants and revel in the festive atmosphere.

The organization of the festival extends beyond the main events, with meticulous attention to detail evident in every aspect of the experience. From the myriad crafts and designer clothing vendors scattered throughout town to the impeccable coordination of logistics, Luana and Kathy Kawelu ensure that every facet of the festival delights and enchants attendees. Their dedication to preserving and promoting Hawaiian culture shines through in the seamless execution of each component, making the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival a true crowd pleaser year after year.

It is the unwavering commitment of the kumu and their haumāna (students) that truly elevates the festival to unparalleled heights. For hours, days, and months leading up to the event, these devoted teachers and dancers pour their hearts and souls into perfecting their craft. Their dedication is evident in the mesmerizing performances that grace the stage of the Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium, captivating audiences with their grace, precision, and passion.

As the sold-out crowd watches in awe, they bear witness to the culmination of countless hours of practice and dedication. Each movement is infused with meaning and emotion, a testament to the profound connection between the dancers and the stories they tell through their art. It is a moment of pure magic, where the past and present converge, and the spirit of aloha permeates every aspect of the performance.

The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival is more than just a cultural event; it is a celebration of tradition, community, and the enduring legacy of Hawaiian culture. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Luana and Kathy Kawelu, as well as the countless kumu and dancers who devote themselves to the art of hula, this festival continues to enchant and inspire all who have the privilege of experiencing its magic. As we reflect on the beauty and significance of this cherished tradition, we are reminded of the power of culture to unite, uplift, and enrich our lives.