HONOLULU (KHON2) – In less than 2 weeks, many hālau hula, or hula schools, will be taking their journey to Hilo for the 60th annual Merrie Monarch Festival. 

Now, I’ll give you a little secret. 

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Every hālau only has seven minutes on that stage. 

That’s it. 

But, it doesn’t just take seven minutes to prepare for it. 

Some hālau take months, if not years, in the preparation process. 

We wanted to find out at least one hālau‘s perspective and their preparation process. 

So, we are here with Kumu Hula Keli’i Puchalski of Kawai’ulaokalā.

Your first performance or your first year at Merrie Monarch as a kumu hula (hula teacher) for yourself was back in 2017, so you have gone through this routine of preparing. 

What are some of the challenges and how long does it take you to get your men prepared for Merrie Monarch?

“I think some of the challenges is the cost involved to travel to Hilo for Merrie Monarch every year; so, we spend a good portion of the year fundraising,” said Puchalski.

“I think it definitely, the training process and training students for what we consider the Olympics of hula and just being at a high caliber of hula. And, I think the other part is coming up with what are we going to do the next year and how do we top ourselves from what we have done before,” he explained.

So, for that particular year, you guys have your kupe’e (bracelet, anklet) and your adornments. 

Is that something that you and your haumāna (students) individually put together to showcase on that stage?

“Oh yah.  We spend a lot of time, not just practicing; but we hand dye our ‘a’ahu, our costumes, we kāpala and print our own costumes,” said Puchalski.

“So, all of that are made, adornments are made all by our haumāna.”

And, what about the choice of mele (song). 

I know, every year, even with some other music competitions, song choice is key. 

Is that the same when it comes to this competition and how long does it take you to come up with that decision?

“Oh yah, definitely I think song choice, mele kahiko (traditional song/chant) choice is important,” said Puchalski.

“Sometimes, that process is quick. Sometimes, before the next Merrie Monarch is finished, I already know maybe an idea of what we will do the following year. And, then, other years, just creatively, just takes a while. I am kind of a spiritual person in that way; so, I kind of wait for Akua’s (God’s) guidance in what might be appropriate for our hālau for the following year.”

Well, thank you for your time and thank you for allowing us to capture a little snippet of a performance. 

So, real fast, what is a little mo’olelo (story) of this performance?

“So, this is actually a mele that we did last year at the 2022 festival,” said Puchalski.

“And, actually, what we are doing this year in 2023 is a part 2 to this. Every year, we stay at Kīlauea Military Camp on Hawai’i Island and what we did last year was a mele that honored the migration of Pele from Kahiki to Hawai’i. This mele is entitled Holo Mai Pele.”

Again, Keli’i Puchalski, Kumu Hula of Kawai’ulaokalā. 

You can catch them and many other hālau participating in the 60th annual Merrie Monarch. 

The festival itself kicks off Easter Sunday, April 9.  

Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8

The hula competition component to that though is the 13, 14 and 15. 

Click here to see the entire list of all the other participants.