History Behind the Merrie Monarch Festival

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


The Annual Merrie Monarch Festival is a week-long event in Hilo, Hawaii, featuring an internationally acclaimed hula competition, invitational Hawaiian arts fair, hula shows, and a grand parade and is dedicated to King David Kalakaua, a patron of the arts.

In 1963, the Hawai’i Island Chamber of Commerce began the Annual Merrie Monarch Festival to perpetuate, preserve, and promote the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture. The week-long festival features an internationally acclaimed hula competition, an invitational Hawaiian arts fair, hula shows, and a grand parade through Hilo town. 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.

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.


Learn more about the Merrie Monarch Festival held during the week after Easter by visiting their website.

Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele