Thursday, April 24, 2014

Scenes from Hawaii's Merrie Monarch 2014 (Ho'ike)

This time of the year is extra-special for the people of the Big Island of Hawaii, where I live. This is the time when the Merrie Monarch Festival, the most prestigious of Hula competitions, is held.  People not just from the other islands of Hawaii but even from other parts  of the US as well as those from other countries flock to the city of Hilo, the Big Island's capital. They  join or watch the competition, exhibit the skills of their own dancers, check out the local vendors, sample local food, join the street parades and, just enjoy the festivities.
As early as 6 months before the festival, tickets to the 3-day competition (Thursday through Saturday)  are sold out. Fortunately, festival organizers designate a "free" day (also called Ho'ike Day) on the Wednesday before the competitions. During those Wednesdays,   "halau" or hula groups as well as  other cultural dance groups dazzle the public with their performances.  I've seen dance groups from Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines,  Samoa, and Tahiti perform in past years' festivals.
Due to the limited seating, the venue supposedly only has about a 3,000 seating capacity, people line up as early as possible before the gates open. The Hawaii Tribune Herald reported  that people started lining up at 4:00 AM yesterday
for the 5 :00 PM show.  Many were in Hawaiian or aloha wear. 
I was one of those who donned aloha attire and joined other Hawaiiana lovers in being part of the Merrie Monarch's  Ho'ike yesterday. I took pictures knowing that no amount of words can convey the excitement generated by the festivities.  Patiently standing in line waiting to be admitted to the Edith Kanakaole Stadium in Hilo, venue for the performances, was not, by any means, boring.  I took pictures.  Except for the first photo, all photos below are mine and untouched. I thought I'd skip editing the photos  and post my blog before the story gets stale.

Children doing the Hula during the Merrie Monarch kickoff activities Sunday, April 20, 2014. Photo source: Hawaii Tribune Herald.

Early during the day yesterday, Wednesday, April 23, 2014, I went to the Edith Kanakaole Stadium to take a look. Except for a few who were setting up for the afternoon's performances, the stadium was empty.

By 5:00 PM yesterday, the stadium was packed

Craft fairs all over Hilo town featured vendors from all over the state. Shown here are bowls hand carved from Hawaiian wood.

Jewelry from tiny shells found on the beaches of the island of Niihau are highly priced for their rarity. They are also difficult to gather and use for jewelry. For more info please visit

Baskets, purses and mats hand woven from Lau'hala leaves and palm fronds were available from the craft fairs. 

Also being sold in the craft fairs are weapons and work implements the Hawaiians of early times used. The instruments are made of wood, bone and teeth (usually shark).

Shown here are gourds (ipo) of various sizes. The ipo is used not only as containers but also as percussion to Hula dances, especially the traditional kind (Kahiko hula).

Many women wear  hats (a missionary influence) during the festival. Hats shown in the photo are all hand made.

Some of the highest priced hats are decorated with bird feathers. In ancient days, members of the Hawaiian royalty distinguished themselves from the hoi polloi by wearing feathers.

One of my favorite vendors sells pendants carved from bone, teeth (usually shark), and even fossils

Pendant made from intricately carved bone

Fresh leis and hair adornment hand made from all kinds of local flowers and foliage abound for sale during the festival. They are not as available at other  of the year.  There is a local saying that it rains during the festival because many Lehua blossoms (from Ohia trees) are plucked to make leis. Check out this link:

People line up during the "free day."

Visiting each other while in line is a common practice and a nice way of spending time that could otherwise be challenging.

People don their Aloha attire especially during the Merrie Monarch festival. Note the Polynesian motif on the dress and the flower hair decor.

It is a common joke that Hawaii is Japan's most popular prefecture.  At no time is that more noticeable than during the Merrie Monarch festival when Japanese tourists descend on the Big Island to perform, watch, enjoy, shop, make local business and tourism establishments happy, and contribute to the local economy. Arigato! Note the hair adornment worn by the lovely ladies.

She may be wearing shorts (which was quite appropriate for a warm afternoon) but she was not going to be caught dead without her lei, floral hairpiece, and a top with an aloha-design.

A lovely lady in Aloha hat and Hawaiian necklace

Lovely hat and neck leis

The men "pretty up" too!  He has an aromatic Maile lei on a striking Aloha shirt.

A Japanese couple in Aloha attire obviously enjoying themselves.

Baby: I am not going to be outdone!

The "Royal Court" during yesterday's (April 23) festival.

Lovely Pualani Lindsey resplendent in Aloha attire


A "Halau" from Hilo  dancing a Kahiko (traditional) Hula yesterday

These graceful dancers flew all the way from Japan to perform an "Awana" (modern) hula.

A group from New Zealand in Maori attire gave several rousing performances (below is a video)


Below is a video of a  Hula Kahiko performance during the 2013 Merrie Monarch festival

Yours truly yesterday in an Aloha dress and a Haku lei




- By Ariel Murphy


  1. what a lovely photo-essay, Ariel! Mahalo Nui Loa!!

  2. Great blog Ariela. The photos are wonderful. BTW - wood bowls are by David Waters: He does an excellent job, they are beautiful.