The Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, a fascination destination for me, was celebrating its 50th year of competition.

I tried to envision the old gym it was held in. Open sides I was told and very cold in the evening. In my mind’s eye I could see the portable benches going up the sides of the building, the smell of old wood and everyone sitting where ever they could in a first come first serve seating.


And now here I was and I was pleasantly surprised. My son dropped me off in the front while he drove around looking for parking. Parking was at a premium to say the least. I stood in the front lot looking at all the peopled dressed in various stages of casual to beautiful full dressed Polynesian. Muʻu muʻu and hand-made lau hala hats with huge flowers pinned in the hair.


From a distance I saw this man dressed in Hawaiian costume talking on a cell phone. I thought he was just a sort of welcoming committee. But later inside he was to proceed Princess Kawananakoa, A distant decedent of King Kalakaua, as she was ceremoniously guided to her seat.

Now if there are any of you out there who would know what the proper name for his position is I would be very happy if you could fill me in.

IMG_1147This is what I saw as I entered what I had imagined to be a little basketball gym.


We sat right behind these people and had the best view of the stage even though it was a side view



You are looking at about three-fourths of the audience.


King Kalakaua. He was known as the Merrie Monarch. He was responsible for bringing back the Hula. During his reign he defied the missionaries who had banned the dancing and at all his events he would have halaus perform. Thus the name of the competition.

IMG_1156With all her leis, she is one of the judges.


This is the Kahiko competition. Kahiko is the ancient style of hula. It is danced to the sound of drums and chanting. There is no music or singing. My camera was heavy as I carried it that night but I was so excited to be able to at last have a zoom lens and capabilities to get shots without blur. Unfortunately I also became a critic and kept waiting for the right shot instead of just firing away.The only got this shot of these men.

This young girl proceeded her halau with what is called a hoʻokupu or gift or offering. I’m not sure who or where she took it to as I could not see once she got off the stage.


Here the dancers are getting ready to enter on to the stage. The seated woman is their kumu or teacher. She will do the chanting and the playing of the ipu or gourd.


This particular style of dressing was not what I thought was indicative of the kahiko. Since we were unable to get a program, as they were all sold out, I was not sure what they were performing. Even though I had read as much news on this particular competition I never read that the kahiko might be from a later period of time. When I think of Kahiko I think of pre-contact or Captain Cook’s time when drawings and written accounts were first made available of Hawaiian dancing. I know they never dressed like this.

I was a bit disappointed and again I chose to wait to do more photographing once the more traditional dancers came on. Boy was I in for a surprise. As the break between each performance came on I was trying to line shots up as I looked at the stage and audience with my camera. As I held my camera up to my eye an usher came up to me and said “excuse me, you can not use DSL’s to photograph this event unless you have a special pass.”

What? Why not I asked as I looked around at all the cameras going off. He told me I could use my camera phone or point and shoot. And what was I going to do with my cell phone? I looked at my son and all the people in front of me who had turned around and seemed to be as perplexed as me.

There was a time when this competition had almost failed because it just was not catching on. And now that it is world renown and they are selling shirts, books, and what have you they don’t want you to take a good photo as they (I think) are afraid you might sell it and make some money? Of course this may not be true but this is exactly what I felt.

So my son turned to me with my old Nikon point and shoot and said to me. “Good thing I brought it yeah?” He was laughing but he was mad. I was not laughing and wanted to leave. At last I calmed myself down and put my heavy, no use to me camera away and turned on the point and shoot.

So in part three I will continue with blurry photos and not as close up shots as I would like. Seems like old times doesn’t it?














  1. In my book a shame for the management. Karen, you deserve an apology for the management for such a stupid request “not to use a DSLR”. Wohooo, they should update their policies or stay back in the days when the missionaries took over. How about to forbid all cameras and Hula dancing? My old DSLR had 12 MP and a new Sony 7R (small like a Point & Shoot) has 36 MP.

    Some folks will never lern from history!

    Hans (HRH Photography)


    • Thank you Hans for your feedback. That was my sentiment exactly. My son kept saying their loosing the Aloha spirit. But what you had said about point and shoots was exactly what I thought. Before I picked up my DSLR I had looked at some point and shoots that were very powerful with great lenses that you could attach. I could have had one of those and they would not have known the difference. Very disappointing but there are many other competitions and I can just as well photograph them and get just as good of a shot as what they offer. Thank you for your comments


  2. Kathie Burks says:

    The annual competition extends over three nights. On Thursday evening, the Miss Aloha Hula competition is held. This is a solo competition for females where each dancer performs both hula kahiko (ancient hula) and hula ‘auana (modern hula).


  3. Keali’ika’apunihonua Ke’ena A’o Hula was the fourth to perform with “Kuhiau”. Their kumu hula, Kumu Leimomi Ho, danced in the first Merrie Monarch hula competition in 1971. This was her hâlau’s return to the Festival after a 10 year absence.


    • Thank you Lavern. Maybe you would be able to tell me at what period of time does the hula become auana? I was totally perplexed at the post contact style of dress. The halau dancing was good I was just distracted at the style. It would have been nice to have been able to buy a program but we think that people must have been buying them for friends in other countries because they disappeared fast.

      Thank you for taking the time to give me this information.


  4. So glad they defied the missionaries, the hula is a wonder to watch and the costumes are so beautiful. As for the no SLR rule, this is becoming more common and it really does suck especially when you’ve lugged it all the way to an event or location only to find that they’re not allowed.


    • I didn’t realize that about the cameras. It looks like I am going to have to invest in one of those very expensive pocket cameras with the telephoto lens’s. It sucks though.


      • It really does suck, it is just a grab for money. Here it mainly happens at (kids) sporting events because they’ve got a paid photographer in attendance and want the parents to cough up for photos of their kids in action.


        • Really? That is awful. Today I was at my grandson’s May Day Celebration but it was hard to get photos because they were filming it. And I think it was to make CD’s to sell. I’m sick of being taken advantage of. It we wanted photos we could take them from the side and had to kneel down. I said, Hey! I’m almost 70 and I can’t kneel down. I was told I would have to stand in back then. I really got upset and argued till she told me I could stand by a pole or tree. Not a great option but I got some photos. We have to start standing up for ourselves!


  5. At last I got to see some hula-dancing. Big thanks to King Kalakaua. And you. Glad to see all that popularity.


    • You know the Hula Oni E that I attend at the Hilton each year to watch my grandkids seems just as good as this one. Of course I don’t dance so I’m not able to judge the ability of the dancers. But the dances are more captivating to me. I’ll be going there again this year so more Hula pictures Bente!


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