The Big Island's Merrie Monarch Festival kicked off this year's packed schedule of events April 4 in Hilo.

The festival was first held 47 years ago and has since grown into Hawaii's premier hula competition, where the "perpetuation, preservation and promotion of the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture through education" remains the primary goal, according to organizers.

Running through April 10 at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, the arts and crafts fair is free to the public and features the work of a wide range of local artisans.

Free live entertainment is also offered throughout the week with midday performances at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and Naniloa Volcanoes Resort, while the Hoike performances, a free night of exhibition of both hula and music, take place at 6:30 p.m. April 7 at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium.

The Miss Aloha Hula Competition will be held the following night at the stadium, and the group kahiko, or ancient, and auana, or modern, hula competitions run on April 9 and 10.

Dedicated to King David Kalakaua, frequently remembered as the "Merrie Monarch" thanks to his 19th century efforts to restore Hawaiian culture and traditions, the festival also features a Royal Parade through downtown Hilo beginning at 10:30 a.m. April 10.

Visit www.merriemonarch.com.

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