At this time of the year, your Facebook feed might be exploding with videos and articles about the Merrie Monarch. Your friends from Hawaii are probably posting things like “So proud of…” and then some long Hawaiian name, like “Halau ka lei Mokihana o Leina’ale” for example.* Or they might be making 4-5 worded comments like “That chant was perfect,” as if they’re watching the March Madness competition all over again. But that’s because to us Hawaii locals, Merrie Monarch IS a big competition and celebration. Merrie Monarch is the world’s largest annual hula competition, so it’s a REALLY. BIG. DEAL. We love our culture and we love this time of year because it brings everyone together–not just from Hawaii, but from all over the world. We watch and admire and wait to see who will compete, and who will win.
Here are some of my thoughts on why Merrie Monarch stirs feelings of nostalgia, and why it gives us all the feels.
It keeps an ancient cultural practice alive and fresh
If you think about it, this one event has so many new mele (songs) and dances. The beautiful thing about the Merrie Monarch is that many halau (hula groups) will either stick to very traditional dance movements and song, or they’ll incorporate new elements. This event keeps the ancient practice of hula dancing alive and well, but it also encourages experimentation and twists on an ancient art form.
It brings the community together
This is one of my favorite parts because during the Merrie Monarch week, expect to see everyone (and their dogs) out and about. My family used to sell kulolo at the Farmer’s Market during Merrie Monarch week, so we saw just about everyone. There’s a sense of community as people buy local products and stop to talk stories and share goods with vendors and other Merrie Monarch visitors.
We love the way it looks
Everything about the Merrie Monarch has to look good, and we absolutely love that it looks good. The dancers are critiqued and analyzed for their movements, their grace, the positioning of their hands, toes, and fingers; and their facial expressions. Their costumes are judged on their flexibility, color, texture, design, and movement. The dancers must be in sync–they must move as one–and we LOVE when it looks that good, which, it always does.
We love the way it tastes
The best of Hawaiian food comes out during Merrie Monarch week. The smell of laulau, kalua pig, and barbeque fill the air. But then the temptations really come when you can smell malasadas, poi mochi, and sweet fruits. Good luck going through downtown Hilo without catching a whiff of the food. Local vendors come out with their foods in all varieties and from all over the world (remember, Hawaii is a melting pot): China, Philippines, Japan, Samoa, Tonga, etc…. The food is so ono, and Merrie Monarch is a good excuse to eat up!
It makes us happy
I’ve never met a grumpy person at Merrie Monarch. Maybe it’s because we’re all so full of it. Or maybe it’s because it gives us an opportunity to get up and get out. This is a time for people to get dressed up in their most Hawaiian attire and to party. It’s the whole shebang: straw hats, leis, hakus, aloha print wear, pearl jewelry, gold bracelets, and lots and lots of flowers. This is THE biggest hula competition on the earth, so why not go all out? People love it, and they love seeing other people go all out too. Food, friends, and fun is a great recipe for happiness.
It touches us
When we see the Merrie Monarch winners crying, with the shock of pure relief, gratitude, and joy on their faces, we can’t help but feel touched. These hula dancers have worked SO hard, some of them dancing their whole lives so they could live this one moment. Even when some of the halau or soloists don’t win, it still touches us because we know they’ve worked hard to get where they are today.
It takes place in Hilo
Cheee just had to throw this one in here cause it’s my hometown!
It keeps the Hawaiian language alive
At no other time will you hear the Hawaiian language spoken so abundantly. The kupuna come out to watch the competition and visit with one another, people greet each other and hold conversations in Hawaiian, and the Hawaiian language is used in oli and mele in the competition. Not gonna lie though… We also always speak Pidgin English so if you don’t hear Hawaiian being spoken, then expect to hear Pidgin.
It serves as a reminder
While we go about our daily lives, it’s easy to forget how much we appreciate our Hawaiian cultural heritage and traditions. The Merrie Monarch gives us a reason to keep the Hawaiian culture and language alive, and each time it rolls around, it reminds us of how much we love and appreciate our roots, and why we want to keep it going. Cause if we don’t preserve it, how will our future generations know?
While Merrie Monarch happens only once a year, it does give a Hawaii local all the feels, whether at home or abroad. Aren’t we so lucky to be from Hawaii?
Do you have any favorite memories of Merrie Monarch? What was your favorite performance this year?
*I put an asterisk just to apologize cause I can’t figure out how to insert kahako’s over my letters. I mean no disrespect to this halau or their name. They did an AMAZING job and I loved everything about their performance!! But I can’t seem to find the symbol that has the kahako with it. If anyone knows how to put a kahako over my vowels, feel free to shoot me a message! Mahaloz! -Leialoha
**I can’t find the photo cred for this image so I apologize about that as well. Nice picture though, yeah? 🙂