Welcome Back Merrie Monarch Festival!

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Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

Merrie Monarch Festival President Luana Kawelu recently announced that the annual hula competition will be held this summer, though in a modified format necessitated by the pandemic. With the exception of last year when it was canceled for the first time since 1964, it is now set to resume. What a joy this is for our hālau, kumu hula, Hawaiians and Hawaiians at heart across the globe.

“The health and wellbeing of all hālau participants and the community overall was our top priority then and continues to be now as we move forward with holding the event this year,” Kawelu was quoted as saying in a post on the Festival’s official Facebook page. Kawelu and her team worked with health professionals and a team of advisors to develop safety guidelines modeled after those used by professional sports teams and associations over the past year.

The return of the Merrie Monarch Festival brings back wonderful memories of the role that hula has played in my life and in the lives of countless families like mine. I recall as a young girl meeting the beautiful Kumu Hula Mary Keahilihau, niece of Aunty Edith Kanakaʻole, when my family moved from Waimea to Keaukaha and I joined her hālau.

My memory of her creative choreographies for “Pili Aloha,” “Hilo My Hometown,” and “Kawohikukapulani” remain fresh in my mind, as do the graceful moves and beauty of our hālau dancers Pualani Kanakaʻole, Nālani Kanakaʻole, and Lynette Kaʻaumoana.

When my kumu hula moved to Los Angeles, I continued my training under Uncle George Naʻope, a disciplined and talented kumu whose teaching tools might even include slippers flying through the air if we haumāna were inattentive or lacking in concentration. Uncle George inspired all of us, and through him I was able to meet and see the incomparable ʻIolani Luahine perform in person, something I will never forget.

My daughters Nāpua and Kahulu also trained and danced hula from a young age under the direction of Johnny Lum Ho, Ray Fonseca and Hōkūlani Holt; and over 25 years ago, as young women themselves, they founded a hālau in upcountry Maui. I still recall them rolling out a thick carpet on the concrete slab in the garage of my Kula home to protect their feet and the feet of their haumāna as their hālau was launched.

I wonder what might have happened had King David La`amea Kalākaua not been such a fierce defender of all things Hawaiian during a time when Hawaiian beliefs and traditional ways were being suppressed. Kalākaua’s motto of “Hoʻoulu Lāhui,” Increase the Nation, led to a renewed sense of pride in the arts and in the Hawaiian traditions of chant and hula which embodied our genealogy, our mythology, our history, our religion, and our Hawaiian identity. His decision to celebrate and chronicle our Hawaiian ways as the leader of the Hawaiian Kingdom is a legacy that endures today.

The love of hula is embodied in the changes event organizers have made to ensure the health and safety of the lāhui involved in this year’s event. In the same Facebook post Kumu Hula Keʻano Kaʻupu of Hālau Hiʻiakaināmakalehua was quoted as saying, “it was a lot to consider, given that competition preparation is intense in and of itself. But hula isn’t just an activity we do, it is our way of life and we really wanted to be back in this Merrie Monarch space and community.”

There will be no live audience this year, but there will be a three-night television broadcast of the competition on Hawaiʻi News Now’s KFVE on July 1, 2 and 3.

Mahalo to all whose hard work will make it possible for this event to happen. Merrie Monarch Festival, welcome back!