31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 16:: Music and Dance: Merrie Monarch

Every April here in Hawaii, we have what some call the Olympics of hula: the Merrie Monarch festival.

It’s not an altogether accurate analogy, however. “Olympics” calls to mind fierce competition and going for the gold and all that. While Merrie Monarch is a multi-day, competitive event, because it’s deeply ingrained in and an embodiment of the Hawaiian culture, it is, as you might expect, all about the aloha.

Anyway, this event is a celebration of the art of hula that has been going on in Hilo, Hawaii for close to 50 years now. It derives its name from one of our last kings, King Kalakaua, who was known as “the Merrie Monarch,” because he was credited with bringing hula back into favor in Hawaii, after the Christian missionaries had banned its practice.

He is also credited with saying something that has become the motto of the Merrie Monarch festival: “Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.” Isn’t that beautiful?

The hula competition part of Merrie Monarch has always been broadcast on local television, and nowadays with live streaming video, thousands around the world tune in to watch dancers, both solo and in groups known as halau, or hula schools, compete to be the best in ancient and modern styles of hula.

My daughter and her hula sisters backstage at Merrie Monarch

So it’s something I tune in to watch every year, and four years ago was lucky enough to be there in person to watch my daughter compete. In some ways you get a better view of things watching on TV, but when you’re there, it’s quite the sensory experience: the fragrance of hundreds of flower leis, the luscious music performed by noted Hawaiian artists, even the chilly Hilo night air in the open-air stadium.

I couldn’t find a clip of my daughter’s halau when she was with them in 2008, but here’s part of what they did this year:

This is the sixteenth post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.

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