The 2022 Merrie Monach Festival returned to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium in Hilo, Hawai‘i, April 18 – 23, after two years of pandemic accommodations. The Merrie Monarch is considered the Olympics of Hula and participation is a thrill, honor and unparalleled experience for dancers, kumu hula and audiences alike.
Ke‘alohi Reppun ’99, director of Kuaihelani Hawaiian Studies Center, returned for her second year as waha olelo, joining co-host Kaʻiu Damas to provide live television commentary in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i throughout the Festival. “It is an awesome kuleana,” said Reppun, “an honor and a responsibility, to provide ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i commentary at the Merrie Monarch Festival. One day we hope to be able to offer a full mainstream broadcast ma ka ‘ōlelo aloha o nei ‘āina, the beloved language of this land.” In addition, alumnus Michael Lanakila Casupang ’82, Kumu Hula at Mid-Pacific Institute and with Hālau I Ka Wēkiu, which did not compete this year, joined Paula Akana and ‘Alika Young to co-host the broadcast.
The wāhine of Hālau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine, under the guidance of Kumu Hula Ka‘ilihiwa Vaughan-Darval, delighted the judges and audience with a group of younger dancers; 16 of 20 were younger than 18 years old and had never been to the Merrie Monarch. Nine Punahou students, including five who are student directors of Holokū 2022, danced in the Hula Kahiko competition. They were: seniors Mahina Damon, Lauren Lee, Rylen Manuel, Lauren “Lala” Saunders and Helen Shanefield; juniors Jaynie Fu, Payton Kawahara and Mehana Paul; and freshman Ziona Lyman. The halau earned fifth place honors in Hula ‘Auana competition.
Eighth grade Punahou student Kaimana Friez and sophomore Sophia Giambelluca performed both Hula Kahiko and Hula ‘Auana with Hālau Hi‘iakaināmakalehua, led by Kumu Hula Robert Ke‘ano Ka‘upu IV and Lono Padilla. The wahine earned fifth and fourth place recognition respectively. The kāne of Hālau Hi‘iakaināmakalehua included Academy Ōlelo Hawai‘i faculty Kainalu Mercado-Spalding, placing second in Kahiko and third in ’Auana.
Other Punahou alumnae returning to the Merrie Monarch included veteran Kumu Hula Māpuana Howell ’67 de Silva, whose Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima has performed at the highest level in the Festival for decades. Puanani Alama-Tom ’84 Jung, Kumu Hula of Hālau Hula Lani Ola, based in Laguna Hills, California, represented the Alama-Tom hula tradition with distinction.
The Merrie Monarch multi-evening broadcast concluded with a video documenting Hālau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine as they visited Mauna ‘Ala, the Royal Mausoleum of Hawai‘i. There they presented lei, ho‘okupu and hula to honor the memory of King David La’amea Kalākaua, the Merrie Monarch, whose revitalization of Hawaiian culture inspired the establishment of the Festival.