HONOLULU (KHON2) – The Merrie Monarch Festival returns with a live audience in person this year in Hilo, Hawaiʻi.

Let’s try to find people and hear their experience of what it means to be back.

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She’s getting ready so I don’t want to take too much of her time. 

But we are with Moani Wright-Van Alst. 

You look beautiful as you get ready to head inside. 

But tell us, with Merrie Monarch returning and being able to sit in person again, how is this experience for you? 

“It’s surreal to be back here,” says Wright-Van Alst.

“It’s been so many years since people have been able to come and enjoy as a live audience, to be able to shop at the craft fairs.  The energy is amazing, everyone is out and about.  And you can’t beat the energy of Merrie Monarch.  It just is a completely different experience.”

Moani Wright-Van Alst, Attendee

Compare that to last year with Merrie Monarch on TV — no live audience and finding a way to adapt to the pandemic. How was the energy and experience last year compared to being in person? 

“You know, I was fortunate because I was able to be a dancer which also was a different experience,” says Wright-Van Alst.

“To be on that stage and actually not have an audience to dance in front of, but I was just so honored to participate last year to be able to bring hula back to Hawaiʻi island and to be a part of that pandemic year.”

Merrie Monarch is really a treasure and conduit for hula to the world.

What is so important about Merrie Monarch and what does hula mean to you? 

“Merrie Monarch is a great opportunity to showcase hula and Hawaiian culture for the entire world to see,” says Wright-Van Alst.

“And hula is so much hula than just the dance.  it is everything that we see, we feel, we touch, we smell.  it is who we are as a people and again so grateful to Merrie Monarch hula festival.”

Thank you very much, Moani.

The Miss Aloha Hula takes place tonight with the rest of the competition to come.

I was able to actually tap on other people’s shoulders as they head into the gate this evening to hear their manaʻo on what it feels like to be back in person at the Merrie Monarch Festival.

“It feels really good, and you feel the aura and the excitement of it all and my granddaughter will be performing with our hālau.  So, we all came to support,” says Sherry Kalua.

“It means the world to me.  The last time I was actually here was in 2017 when my niece actually performed and she was here from Seattle, Washington.  So, it just brings great memories of just seeing the aloha attire, the lei poʻo, the hair, the flowers, the lei,” says Kapiʻolani Naipo Binkauski.

“I can’t even tell you.  I seriously can’t even express that.  I’m so happy, it gives me chills when I think about it,” says Deb Hosking.

“Two words, one is moʻokūʻauhau and one is moʻo ʻōlelo,” says Kumu Hula Kawaikapuokalani Hewett.

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“We are an indigenous people, the lāhui of Hawaii, and we exist because of ponoPono is having a legacy, having a history and having traditions.  Being back here is part of that because we have to continue, we have to hoʻomau these legacies and these traditions because that is what makes us who we are.”