Merrie Monarch week, craft fairs, and planting new seeds

Dancers at King Kalākauaʻs 49th birthday, 1885. Photo by Dr. Edward Arning from Hawaiʻi State Archives.

Itʻs a busy week, with the 60th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival in full swing!

What I find special about Merrie Monarch is that it’s an event that engages people worldwide. This festival created one week every year that brings Hilo to the center of attention.

You might know that the festival is dedicated to the memory of King David Kalākaua, who is known for championing the revival of Native Hawaiian traditions and his strong support of hula. After all, he said, “hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”

But did you know this history behind the first festival?

The first festival was held in 1964 and organized by Helene Hale, Chairwoman of Hawaiʻi County at the time, along with her administrative assistant, Gene Wilhelm, and Promoter of Activities, George Naʻope.

After the collapse of the sugar industry and the 1960 tsunami that hit Hilo, they hoped a festival would attract tourists and uplift the local economy.

The first festival included a King Kalākaua beard look-alike contest, a barbershop quartet, and a relay race.

By 1968, the interest in the festival waned. It would have been suspended if (Aunty) Dottie Thompson had not volunteered to serve as Executive Director of Merrie Monarch.

In 1971, Aunty Dottie and and George Naʻope (a Kumu Hula) introduced a hula competition.

“They wanted to replicate what King David Kalākaua had done, bringing the best hula dancers from around the islands to come and perform and share quality and the authenticity of hula at the time,” Aunty Luana Kawelu, now-President of the Merrie Monarch Festival, has told the story of Merrie Monarch Festival’s beginnings.

With that direction, the Merrie Monarch festival continues King Kalākaua’s legacy every year from Hilo, Hawaiʻi.

All that being said — whatever you’re working on or towards, keep going! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Merrie Monarch Festival wasn’t, either! Sometimes things take time, and sometimes they take a completely different direction. Forward is a pace, and a legacy isnʻt created overnight.

Now, here’s what’s happening on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi this week.

This is by no means an all-encompassing list, but a few ideas of what’s happening on the Big Island:

Merrie Monarch Festival & Events

Wed-Sat April 12-15: Merrie Monarch Hula at Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium in Hilo. Watch online at

  • Wed April 12: Hōʻike Performances, 6pm.
  • Thurs April 13: Miss Aloha Hula, 6pm. Individual competition for the title of Miss Aloha Hula with contestants performing hula kahiko, hula ʻauana and oli (chant) at 6pm
  • Fri April 14: Kahiko Night, 6pm. Ancient style dances at 6pm
  • Sat April 15: Hula ʻAuana & Awards, 6pm. Modern style dances, followed by an awards presentation for all group winners
  • Sat April 15: Merrie Monarch Parade, 10:30am. The parade begins and ends at Pauahi St. (Kilauea Ave. — Keawe St. — Waianuenue Ave. — Kamehameha Ave.)

Merrie Monarch Craft Fairs

Another incredible part of Merrie Monarch is the local vendors who come to the crafts fairs! Some people save up to shop at this time of year, and vendors have reported holiday-level spending. Here are the crafts fairs in Hilo I could find happening this week:

  • Wed-Sat April 12-15: Crafts Fair at Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium & Butler Buildings. 9-5pm Wed-Fri & 9-4pm Sat.
  • Wed-Sat April 12-15: Crafts Fair, 8-5pm at Hilo Hawaiian. They also have hula from 1-2pm through Friday.
  • Wed-Sat April 12-15: Mākeke (market) Naniloa, 10-3pm at Grand Naniloa Hotel. They also have hula from 12-1pm through Friday.
  • Thurs-Sat April 13-15: Kākoʻo Crafts Fair at Sangha Hall. 9-5pm Thurs-Fri & 9-4pm Sat.
  • Thurs-Sat April 13-15: Hawaii Arts, Crafts & Food Festival, 9-4pm at Nani Mau Gardens.

ʻImiloa’s Merrie Monarch Enrichment Programs



  • Sat April 15: Nona Beamer: A Legacy of Aloha, 2:30pm at Palace Theater in Hilo. A Hawaiian dancer, teacher and musician who experienced the suppression of the Hawaiian language and culture — and would eventually reshape history to restore Hawaiian culture and dance. Tix are $10 general admission and $9 for students.
  • Sun April 16: SEX NATION, a documentary about anti-sex trafficking at Aupuni Center in Hilo. 2-5pm.

Food & Community

  • Thurs April 13: Startup Hawaiʻi Pau Hana, 4-6pm at Hawaiʻi Keiki Museum in Kailua-Kona. Meet others interested in tech, entrepreneurship, and diversifying the Hawaiʻi Island economy! Light pupus & drinks. Hear from renewable energy innovators creating solutions for a more resilient future on Hawaiʻi Island and globally.
  • Sat April 15: Naʻau 5-Course Pop-Up, 5:30pm at Whitehaven Farm. Tix are $119. This is a 5-course menu by Chef Brian Hirata, a 2023 and 2022 James Beard Foundation Award Semi-Finalist.
  • Sat-Sun April 15-16: Hawai’i Mushroom Festival at Starseed Ranch in Kapaʻau. Family friendly, all day event for all ages. 2 days of local mushroom education and hands-on workshops. Tix between $100-250.
  • Sat April 15: Lyrical Masterclass, 1-2:30pm at Kona Dance Academy in Kealakekua. For intermediate/advanced dancers. Learn a lyrical combo taught by Jeanné Kapela. $20 pre-register, $25 drop-in.
  • Sun April 16: New Moon — Planting the Seed, 11-12:30pm at Pahoehoe Beach Park (North End). In honor of the new moon/solar eclipse, slow down, get centered, and be guided through a restorative movement practice. Set an intention for the upcoming moon cycle. Space is limited! Tix are $12. RSVP by Saturday at 9pm.
  • Sun April 16: Kokua Kailua Monthly Stroll on Ali’i Drive in Kailua-Kona. 1pm-6pm. Village closes to vehicular traffic and becomes a festive, pedestrian-only outdoor marketplace that makes for a fun family-friendly day.

Volunteer Alert

  • Volcano Art Center is welcoming volunteers to greet customers at the Center from 12-2pm.

As always, thank you for joining me! Itʻs exciting having people to write to, and your presence keeps me going.

What did I miss? And, what else do you want to know about the Big Island? Let me know what you think →

With love,