For decades, the Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair was a “small little craft fair.”
Originally held at Aunty Sally Kaleohano’s Luau Hale with fewer than 40 vendors, arts fair director Nelson Makua said as the Merrie Monarch Festival grew, the fair was moved to the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
That’s when he took over, and it “sort of grew from there.” Today, the fair boasts nearly 175 artisans and producers.
“So it’s grown quite large,” Makua said. “Everybody is screened, and everyone there is hand-picked and the best of the best.”
Makua, who organizes the fair with the help of son Kainoa Makua and Paula de Morales, took the reins 16 years ago.
“We personalized the fair,” Nelson Makua said. “We talk to the vendors every day. They’ve all become very close, good friends. My whole philosophy is if you keep the vendors happy and you’ve got the best of the best, the rest just takes care of itself.”
The goal for the organizers remains the same.
“Having done many craft fairs in the state as well on the mainland, I always felt event promoters rarely thought of the vendors and their needs,” he said. “ So I decided to have my event address those issues and make it all about the vendors and what their needs were to have a successful event. Most important though was the quality of the crafts, so we screen all applicants, and over the years we have culminated the best of the best.”
Everything sold at the fair has to be made in Hawaii, have some cultural significance and the producer has to be on-site.
Fair participants come from throughout the state, including from Niihau, with a few mainland vendors also setting up shop.
There’s nothing like it in the state, Makua said.
“Throughout the entire fair, I have strangers coming up and thanking me for the event,” he said. “They’re just customers that so appreciate what the fair has to offer them. It’s like a happening that nobody wants to miss out on.”
Makua said the fair “just has an appeal.”
“If you’ve never been, you’ve got to come,” he said. “You have to feel what it is. I think that’s the whole thing in the nutshell — the atmosphere, the feeling, it’s just a lot of happiness there.”
The official arts fair of the Merrie Monarch Festival returns this week and takes place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and Butler Building on Manono Street. The event is free.
Those who attend can browse vendor booths, stop by a demonstration or workshop and check out music and halau performances.
This year, the fair will be dedicated to Cyril Pahinui and Diana Aki, Hawaiian music icons who both died this year and who have performed at every fair.
Kuana Torres Kahele will kick off the fair Wednesday morning by performing songs by Aki and Pahinui.
In addition to Torres Kahele, this year’s musical performers include Josh Tatofi, Lito Arkangel, Mark Yamanaka, Darlene Ahuna, Bert Naihe and Friends, Lehua Kalima with Shawn Pimental, Kale Chang and Kawika Kahiapo, Natalie Ai Kamauu, Kainani Kahaunaele and Christy Lassiter and Friends.
Hula halau performing include Hula Halau O Kealakahi, Ke Ana La‘ahana Hula Ensemble, Ke Ola Pono No Na Kupuna, Halau I Ka Leo Ola o Na Mamo, Halau Hula O Lei Onalani, ‘Ohu‘ohukea‘auikalikolehua and Papa Olahouikahula.
Cultural demonstrators include Dalani Tanahy (kapa making), Keoni Turalde (pahu drum carver), Megan Aiona (ohe kapala) and Kele Kanahele (Niihau shells workshop).
While much of the fair remains the same as past years, Makua said there will be one new addition to the demonstration tent.
Ikaika Dombrigues “is an expert in Hawaiian medicines, massage and different things like that,” and will offer massages and discussions on Hawaiian herbs and how to use them, he said
A collaboration with language learning program Duolingo also is in the works this year.
Participating vendors will communicate to their customers in Hawaiian using an app for translation. Customers who download the app will be able to reply in Hawaiian as well.
Other unaffiliated craft fairs also are planned during the week.
Across town, the 26th annual Hawaii Arts, Craft and Food Festival will take place from noon-4 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Nani Mau Gardens, 421 Makalika St.
Admission is $2, and children 7 and younger get in free.
“Our festival celebrates the artistic and cultural heritage of the diverse people of Hawaii and its environment,” said festival committee member Marlene Vashishta.
This year, the craft and food festival will see “a lot of new vendors as well as old vendors, so it’s going to be really exciting,” she said.
With participants offering the likes of koa ukulele, “culturally conscious” Hawaiian heirloom jewelry, leather goods, handmade vintage-style clutches, original artwork from Big Island artisan groups and more, Vashishta said the festival offers shoppers a wide array of products.
There also will be “a scrumptious array of food,” including poke, kalua pork, lau lau and grilled fish with lemon, butter and capers, among other dishes.
“If anyone is hungry out there, what are they waiting for? It’s a food festival,” Vashishta said.
The event will feature giveaways each day. Among the prizes is a koa ukulele to be given away at 11 a.m. Saturday. There also will be hula performances, and patrons can walk through the garden.
“(We) welcome everyone to come down and just have a fun-filled family event for the entire community,” Vashishta said.
Other craft fairs this week include:
• Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin Spring Craft Fair, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Sangha Hall, 424 Kilauea Ave.
• Hilo Hawaiian Hotel Merrie Monarch Craft Fair, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 71 Banyan Drive; featuring hula shows, live demonstrations food and drinks.
• Manono Market Place, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 681 Manono St.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org