Hawaii Island's largest, longest running annual cultural festival kicked off in Hilo last night. The 46th annual Merrie Monarch Festival takes place now through Sunday, April 11 with hundreds of hula halaus (groups) from throughout the Hawaiian Islands, the mainland and as far away as Japan performing in competitions over the next few days. The festival of dance and Hawaiian traditions is dedicated to the memory of King David Kalakaua who reigned over the Hawaiian Kingdom from 1874 until his death in 1891. He was affectionately known as the "Merrie Monarch". A patron of the arts, during his rule, Kalakaua restored many of the nearly extinct cultural traditions of the Hawaiian people, including the hula, which had been forbidden by missionaries for more than 70 years. All hail to Hawaii's Merrie Monarch for preserving this culturally rich, significant and beautiful art form!