The Merrie Monarch Festival is arguably the biggest event that happens in sleepy Hilo town. Hundreds of visitors travel to watch the “Olympics of Hula” on the Big Island. It seems like such a giant event but to me, it is a chance to see my hula sisters and kumu and immerse myself in the Hawaiian culture that I love so much and played a huge part in my growing up in Hawaii.
I began dancing hula when I was 13 years old with my kumu, Maelia. During my formative teenage years, hula and my kumu taught me some of life’s most important lessons. Hula is not about performing and it is not even just about dancing. I learned to have grace and poise in all I do. I learned that my actions reflect those who raised me and love me and I must me mindful of making them proud. I learned a deep respect and responsibility to the Hawaii culture. I stopped dancing when I moved to the mainland for college but I miss it constantly.
At Merrie Monarch you’re never alone on stage. Every single person to set foot on that stage was carried there by their teachers, their halau, their family. By their own courage, strength and spirt. By history, by tradition. By hula. It is a magical place and every time I go, I am forever changed.
Today is the beginning of the 2019 Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo. Two years ago I was honored to document my Kumu Hulu’s halau while they competed as the halau photographer. I got to be backstage as the girls prepped for their performances. From the hectic final moments of getting dresses to the silent prayer for strength and wisdom just before stepping on stage. It is an honor to document their journey.
I hope you enjoy these images and I hope you get a chance to watch some of the performances! They stream live on TV and I know if you’re far from Hawaii the time difference can be brutal, but I promise you’ll never see anything like it in your lifetime.
Images from halau rehearsal at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium.
Images from Miss Aloha Hula Night at the Merrie Monarch Festival 2017.
Images from Halau Kahiko Night at the Merrie Monarch Festival with Ka Pā Hula O Kauanoe O Waahila.