Flowers and Falsettos

A pageant of plus-sized women? The best of Hawaii’s soul food? It must be the Aloha Festivals

By: Dawna Robertson

HONOLULU From the somber and spiritual tone of royal court investitures to the pomp and pageantry of parades, Hawaii’s Aloha Festivals is set to celebrate its 58th year. Slated for Sept. 10-Oct. 9, this year’s six-island affair has been themed “No Na Kamali`i,” translated as “For the Children.”

The largest cultural celebration in Hawaii, the 2004 festival will be highlighted by colorful activities reflecting island heritage and the spirit of keiki (children). More than 1 million visitors and residents are expected to join the fun, which includes street parties, concerts, crafts fairs and parades.

According to Leolani Kini, president of Aloha Festivals, this year’s keiki theme will play out with all the excitement that children bring to an occasion.

“We’ve held an art poster contest asking fourth- and fifth-graders statewide to interpret what ‘No Na Kamali`i’ means to them,” Kini explained. “The winner will ride in the parade through Waikiki. We’re also finalizing other fun things like a keiki hoolaulea [celebration] and spelling bee.”

While certain events are held statewide, others are unique to a particular island. Among the most unusual is the Big Island’s Ms. Aloha Nui Contest, a one-of-a-kind beauty pageant honoring the large stature of island women. To be eligible, contestants are required to tip the scale in excess of 200 pounds.

On the Big Island, Maui and Oahu, Hawaii’s finest falsettos gather to belt out their best high-register notes. This vocal art form dates back to a time when Hawaiian women were forbidden to sing publicly. Modern performers throw their voices into the upper registers of the musical scale, with their art of Hawaii storytelling as a bonus.

Naturally, culinary events are among the favorites. On the Big Island, the Sam Choy Poke Contest serves up proof of that popularity and then some. Since 1992, this tribute to “Hawaii’s Soul Food” has grown from a one-tent event in Waimea Town to a huge extravaganza at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

Poke (po-keh) is a Hawaiian word meaning to slice or cut, and poke as a food is bite-sized pieces of raw, fresh fish mixed with seaweed, kukui nut relish and other seasonings. Up to 90 amateur and career chefs will compete for $15,000 in cash and prizes. Kini noted that Aloha Festivals is hoping to hold a separate poke contest among Oahu companies in downtown Honolulu.

“What we want to do this year is to get the community involved in Aloha Festivals at every level,” she explained. “We’d like to have different companies and organizations hold their own poke contest, then bring their winners together for a ‘People’s Choice’ contest during the downtown hoolaulea.”

Traditionally, the largest draws are the floral parades and hoolauleas held statewide. Set for Sept. 11, the Oahu parade will flow through Waikiki with a two-hour procession of horseback riders, floats, hula troupes and bands.

Kini pointed out that the festival attracts a great deal of repeat business to the islands. “When people travel, they want to find value in it. They want experiences where they can learn,” she remarked. “We feel Aloha Festivals helps people appreciate and respect our roots which will hopefully help them appreciate their own as well. It’s a cultural experience that we share lovingly.”


Call or visit online for an events schedule or to pre-purchase the official 2004 Aloha Festivals ribbon with program guide. (See Hawaii Calendar, page 31.) Ribbon sales help to fund statewide events and provide for discount admission to select events.



In celebration of its 75th anniversary, Hawaiian Airlines has committed major funding to Aloha Festivals “as a way to thank the people of Hawaii for their support throughout the years,” according to the company.

Hawaiian has signed on as Statewide Presenting Sponsor, providing more than $500,000 in support for 2004-2006.

Leolani Kini, president of the festivals, noted that Hawaiian Airline’s generous donation has allowed the festival to reinstate program aspects that had been eliminated.

“Prior to Hawaiian’s sponsorship, we had to cancel several of our events,” she said. “Now we can revitalize some of those that add to the bigger events.”

Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian Airlines’ president and chief operating officer, explained that the carrier’s support goes beyond the financial.

“It’s a commitment from our entire company to help invigorate and promote Aloha Festivals over the next few years as a world-class cultural celebration,” he said. Dunkerley characterized Hawaiians’ relationship with the Aloha Festivals as a partnership.

“Our organizations are deeply rooted in this community,” he said. “Hawaiian Airlines is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Aloha Festivals its 58th. And we share an interest in the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaii’s heritage and traditions.”