HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Merry Monarch Festival as we know it today is very different from when it started 60 years ago.
It was established in 1963 as a way to strengthen the economy of the island of Hawaii, which was still reeling from the 1960 tsunami.
Today, it attracts audiences of hula enthusiasts from around the world and showcases the best of Hawaiian culture. But in its early days, the hula competition wasn’t even part of the festival.
However, there were other events, such as the King Kalakaua’s Beard Likeness Contest and his coronation entertainment. Other highlights included a parade through Hilo, a barbershop quartet competition, and a relay race.
The Holoku Ball, which was brought back this year, was also part of the festival’s creation.
But at the end of the 60s, interest in the festival decreased.
“Merry Monarch was kind of a flop back in the day and no one wanted to come, you know, watch the hula. So the county told Aunt Dottie they didn’t want to continue doing it,” said Kumu Ike, a Hawaiian and cultural activist. Kimo Keulana’s uncle.
With the intention of reviving it, Aunt Dottie Thompson and Uncle George Naop introduced competitive hula in 1971.
As a young dancer, Kumu Hula Leimomi Ho was one of the first to compete under her mother’s tutelage, Hau’oli Hula Studio. Her mother, Vicky Ii Rodriguez, joined the group after meeting with the festival organizers, much to the surprise of her dancers.
“And then he comes home and says, ‘Girls, we have a meeting.’ We are in a hula competition.’ And we were like, “What?” ” Ho recalled. “And then when they tell you to do something, you just hit and hit. Your bag is full, ready to go.”
She remembered the old dresses with the Gibson hairstyles – a style the girls weren’t used to.
“And we have these silly scarves around us because she covers our hair and we’re all crying because, ‘We’re so ugly.’ But when he got us dressed, we were like, ‘Wow! We’re so cute,'” Ho said.
One of only nine hula, the Hauoli Hula Girls won the inaugural competition held inside the Afuk-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
When the Cane Hula competition began in 1976, interest really took off.
By ’78, the tournament had outgrown the auditorium and moved to what was then the Ho’olulu Tennis Stadium, later named in honor of Edith Kanakaole.
“Back then in 1978, the rules were on a single 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of paper,” said Uncle Kimo. “And I think the only rule we changed was that the soloist in the Miss Soloist Pageant Hula – she can’t use a microphone for her highness. And I think that was the only rule we changed at that time.”
Originally named Miss Hula, Aloha was added in honor of the first soloist winner, Aloha Wong Dalire. The pageant got its own special night in 1980 after the number of entrants was too high to be woven into the hālau. This was also the first year that the festival was a sold-out show.
“If that dancer can catch me dancing or dancing, then that’s everything to me.” Ho added. “If they get me into what they’re doing … I want to feel them and I want to be out there dancing with them.”
The dance style has also evolved over the years.
“Nowadays, the hula is much tougher than the hula that was done in the traditional Hawaiian era,” Uncle Kimo said. “When the music changed, the hula changed.”
Also today, the structure of the hula competition is different.
In those days, each halau was judged on their interpretation of the same song in the competition and performed a number of their choice. Today, each group chooses its melee and duplication is avoided.
“Hula is our life. It’s part of Hawaii and what we do,” Ho said. “When you hula dance, it’s from the inside. It has to come from within.”
“To the dancers – enjoy the moment,” he added.
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