History Behind the Merrie Monarch Festival

“Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people” — King David Kalākaua.


The 55th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival is April 1-7 in Hilo, Hawaii. The week-long event features an internationally acclaimed hula competition and is dedicated to King David Kalakaua, a patron of the arts.

This year marks the 55th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long event in Hilo, Hawai’i that features an internationally acclaimed hula competition, invitational Hawaiian arts fair and grand parade dedicated to the memory of King David Kalākaua, also known as the “Merrie Monarch.” The festival is held annually during the week after Easter, this year being April 1-7.

The Hawai’i Island Chamber of Commerce began the festival in 1963 to perpetuate, preserve, and promote the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture. Five years later, a community non-profit organization was formed “that honors the legacy of King David Kalākaua, who inspired the perpetuation of our traditions, native language and arts.”

Kalākaua was the seventh and last king of the Hawaiian Nation. He was elected in 1874 and reigned until he died in 1891. During his day, Hawaiian beliefs and traditions were suppressed after many years under Christian missionary teachings. Ancient Hawaiians had no written language and used chants and hula to record such things as genealogy and to pass on stories. Kalākaua was a patron of the arts, especially music and dance, and advocated for a renewed sense in all things Hawaiian. At Kalākaua’s royal coronation in 1883, there were public displays of hula for the first time since the missionaries’ arrival in 1820. In 1886, Kalākaua celebrated his 50th birthday known as the Silver Jubilee with two-weeks of festivities including chant and hula dancers performing in public. Every year the Merrie Monarch Festival continues what King David Kalākaua started by hosting a week-long festival to show Hawaiian cultural pride is alive and well in Hilo, Hawai’i.

Kalākaua was also a supporter of ‘ukulele playing. In 1879, three fine wood craftsmen from Madeira, an island off Portugal, immigrated to Hawai’i and brought with them the braguiha or machete that evolved into what we know today as Hawai’i’s official instrument, the ‘ukulele.

‘Ukulele players can keep Hawaiian music alive by learning Hawaiian songs and stories the Ukulele Mele Way by clicking here.


Singers and ‘ukulele players are invited to my monthly “Sing-Along with Mele Fong” series with the theme of hula songs in honor of the Merrie Monarch Festival on Thursday, April 5 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon at Kaunoa Senior Center in Maui. Write me for information.

Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele