Merrie Monarch: The show will go on

  • Tribune-Herald file photo The wahine of Hilo’s Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani perform in last year’s Merrie Monarch Festival.

The Merrie Monarch Festival, Hilo’s biggest event of the year, will go on as scheduled next month, according to festival organizers.

Merrie Monarch President Luana Kawelu said she’s received “a lot of calls the past couple of days asking if we’re going to cancel the festival” amid concerns about the potential spread of the coronavirus named COVID-19.

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“I’m waiting for word from the state Department of Heath if we cannot proceed. I haven’t heard anything,” Kawelu said today. “We are going forward with it. The stage goes up next Monday already.”

Merrie Monarch week starts Easter Sunday, April 12, and the event culminates with three days of hula competition: Miss Aloha Hula, the solo wahine competition, Thursday, April 16; the group hula kahiko (ancient hula) competition, Friday, April 17; and group hula ‘auana (modern hula) and awards ceremony, Saturday, April 18.

A free ho‘ike is scheduled for Wednesday, April 15, featuring both hula and international folk dances from around the Pacific. It, like the competition, is held in the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

Fears and uncertainty about the virus already have caused the cancellation or postponement of three major events in Hawaii, all in Honolulu.

Cancellations include the 24th Annual Honolulu Festival, which was to have taken place Friday through Sunday, and the 13th Festival of the Pacific Arts & Culture, or FESTPAC, in June.

And pop diva Mariah Carey has postponed her March 10 concert at the Neal Blaisdell Center Arena. It has been rescheduled for Nov. 28, and promoters say she will do a Christmas show.

The Merrie Monarch is an event that draws an international audience from countries around the globe. It is particularly popular with visitors from Japan, where there is a large number of hula students.

Asked if there have been any calls from Merrie Monarch ticket holders from outside the U.S., Kawelu replied, “Not one.”

“Nobody has called the Merrie Monarch office to say they are going to cancel out or they want their money back,” she said.

Kawelu said the festival is willing to go the extra mile to ensure the well-being of participants and patrons.

“We can put sanitation stations with antibacterial (materials) around the stadium, make sure that everything is clean, our counters wiped down with Clorox every so often — you know, those wipes and stuff,” she said.

“The one thing I’m asking is that each of us take personal responsibility for themselves,” Kawelu added. “Make sure you’re OK and stay home if you’re sick. Show aloha and be a good neighbor.”

The Merrie Monarch is often called the “Super Bowl of Hula.” Hula halau prepare for months for the event, hotel rooms are fully booked, rental cars sold out, and normally quiet Hilo is abuzz for the entire week.

“The kumu hula have worked hard. They’ve had all their fundraisers; they’ve paid for their trip here. They paid for their hotel. Everything is done, and we’re just going to carry on unless we get word from the state Department of Health that we cannot do it,” Kawelu said.

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“We are going to continue to have this festival as scheduled.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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