The Merrie Monarch festival is an annual Hula competition held in Hilo, Hawaii. This year is the 49th presentation and for those of you who don’t live in Hawaii, it is the Olympics of Hula.

The monarch part refers to the monarchy of Hawaii, and the featured King of the Festival is King Kalakaua. Each night the ‘King’ and his court enter and reign over the festivities.

The King greatly admired England and even traveled there to get some ‘tips’ on how to run a monarchy. He brought back lots of great ideas, one of which became the Hawaiian flag.

Many people think it is the flag of Great Britain, it is so similar. Many visitors can’t figure out why we are flying the British flag. But look closely, it is different.

For those of you who have visited here, but don’t live here, almost all the major streets are named for Royalty. Kalakaua was a King, there was Kapiolani, Likilike, Liliokalani, and Kaiulani. Then there was Queen Emma (who founded Queens hospital).

Each area of each island sends their entrants to the event. Women and girls who have been dancing since they are four are the norm. Each troop is so outstanding, I don’t know how the judges are going to be able to pick the winners in each division.

This event lasts several days. It is held in a stadium that seats 5000. Only some of the seats are reserved, so people arrive around 3 in the afternoon to get seats for the six o’clock kick off each day.

As the competition goes from six to midnight, I imagine their bottoms are pretty tired by the time it is over. But loyal fans go every day. I just watch it on TV.

There are groups of women and girls and also male troops. In Hawaii the word for men is kane and the kanes were really outstanding. The steps and moves are so remarkable, it is almost impossible to imagine that thirty people can do this all in perfect harmony.

At one point thirty women were on their knees, doing just swaying and hand movements. They were wearing long full skirts. In one swoop they all stood and continued their dance in complete unison.

Another highlight, was when they were ‘dancing’ on their knees, they swayed backwards and clockwise and their heads skimmed the floor. Try that move while you are gracefully dancing with your hands. Again, all in complete unison.

Friday night was ancient hula night and Saturday night is contemporary and the awards.

The dancers are not professional, and do this for the love of the Hawaiian culture and hula. Think of the Rockets and Esther Williams sychronized swimming, but with hula.

Each group of ten to thirty dancers has a ‘kumu’ or leader, who designs the dances and chants or sings the melodies. The dancers also chant and sing while they are dancing.

The costumes are amazing. All the women have long hair below their waists and so do some of the men dancers. For the ancient portion of the program, they all wear their hair long and flowing.

For the contemporary part, they wear their hair up and twisted with flowers. I know they have their hair and makeup done professionally, but in a little town like Hilo, this in itself is a real feat.

Also, I can’t imagine where all these hundreds and hundreds of dancers and musicians stay while they are ‘in town’. Almost everyone is from somewhere else. All the islands are represented and there are also troops that come from Los Angelels and Oakland California. This year there was a group from Las Vegas, Nevada.

And no one gets paid for doing this. A true labor of love.

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