Giddy Up, Island Style

The Aloha Festivals honors Hawaii’s ‘paniolo’ heritage

By: Marty Wentzel

Like cowboys around the world, Hawaii’s version called paniolo ride, rope and round up cattle. But unlike their counterparts elsewhere, paniolo embody Hawaii’s unique multiculturalism, and that’s precisely why they were chosen as the theme of this year’s Aloha Festivals.

Now in its 60th year, the Aloha Festivals honors the cosmopolitan heritage of Hawaii through music, dance and history. According to 2006 Aloha Festivals president Mark Polivka, each year’s theme mirrors the organization’s mission to share Hawaiian culture with spectators and participants. For 2006, the theme of Na Paniolo Nui O Hawaii (The Great Cowboys of Hawaii) pays tribute to the life, music, spirit and family of the island cowboys.

“The paniolo have contributed vital elements to Hawaii’s traditional landscape, both symbolically and figuratively,” Polivka said.

Since 1793, when the first cattle arrived as a gift to Hawaii’s King Kamehameha, the Hawaiian cowboy has held an extraordinary place in Hawaii’s history of the Hawaiian people. Kamehameha imported Mexican cowboys to teach islanders the tricks of the trade.

“The paniolo are the ultimate expression of cultural fusion because they came from afar, but they have adopted and maintained the values and ideology prevalent in Hawaiian culture,” Polivka said. “Hawaiian cowboys are of the land, and they live in harmony with nature. They are the result of a revered lineage. Most importantly, they are persevering in the perpetuation of their distinct culture.

“Paniolo have imparted an unparalleled work ethic, a true commitment to family, and the joyful melodies of their folkloric music,” Polivka added. “They’ve shaped the rolling hills of Hawaii with grace and their rock-solid spirit, warranting them an esteemed place of honor within Hawaiian history.”

Paniolo overtones will ring from one end of the archipelago to the other during this year’s many Aloha Festivals events. On Sept. 9, for instance, Kauai’s Aloha Festivals hoolaulea (outdoor party) places a special emphasis on cowboy legends and lore. Oahu’s lavish Aloha Festivals parade on Sept. 16 wouldn’t be complete without dozens of lei-strewn paniolo on flower-studded horses.

On the Big Island, Sept. 9 brings a paniolo concert at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, with Hawaii’s popular Brothers Cazimero as the major headliners. On the same island, the upcountry cowtown of Waimea presents a paniolo parade and hoolaulea on Sept. 23.

Cowboy hats will be in abundance at the Sept. 30 hoolaulea on Molokai, where paniolo still ride the ranges of Molokai Ranch. On Sept. 23, the island of Lanai is hosting its first annual barbeque competition, sure to draw seasoned cowpokes and their spicy recipes. Now through Sept. 30, the Lanai Cultural and History Center is featuring an exhibit of paniolo heirlooms from families of Lanai including photographs depicting cowboy life on the little island.

Clients visiting Maui on Oct. 7 can attend a special screening of the movie “Paniolo,” crafted by talented island filmmaker Edgy Lee. On the island’s East side, they can head to a country-western hoedown called Western Jamboree Day at the Hana Ball Park on Oct. 13.

In developing the artwork for the 60th anniversary theme, Aloha Festivals officials chose a vertical column of evolving images, with groupings of four steer heads depicting various eras in Hawaiian history. The first grouping, done in the manner of petroglyphs (ancient rock drawings), symbolizes the time when cattle were first introduced to Hawaii.

The next group represents the 19th century, when Queen Emma received her own gift of cattle. The steer-horn designs progress, ending in a 21st-century representation. The center of the design features a bold steer, its horn and face exuding the power of nature, reminding clients of Hawaii’s connection with the land, sea and sky.

While the Aloha Festivals team plans on pulling out all the stops for its 60th anniversary celebration and the paniolo theme, clients can rest assured that the tried-and-true elements of the celebration will take place as always. For instance, Oahu’s impressive investiture of the Royal Court holds forth in front of Honolulu Hale (City Hall), while its counterpart on the Big Island occurs amid lava fields.

Many islands feature a falsetto contest connecting to the 1800s, when females were forbidden to sing, and males took their place by throwing their voices into the upper registers of the musical scale. Clients can attend scores of arts and crafts demonstrations, hula performances, sports competitions, luau feasts, lei contests, family activities and live shows.

Established on Oahu in 1947 as Aloha Week, the annual celebration was created to coincide with the fall makahiki festival of the ancient Hawaiians. By 1974, the week grew into a month of activities, with events on six islands, and in 1991, the party was renamed Aloha Festivals. Today, islanders and visitors alike come together to enjoy its hundreds of events.

As Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki spokesperson Haunani Hendrix said, “The local community and the visitor industry can connect during the Aloha Festivals, creating memories that live on long after the visitor has gone home.”


Aloha Festivals
Hawaiian Airlines is the statewide presenting sponsor of Aloha Festivals for 2006. Clients can attend most events at no charge when they purchase and wear a $5 Aloha Festivals ribbon, which also provides a reduced admission to certain events. Ribbons are available for sale online and at outlets around the islands.
Clients wearing an Aloha Festivals ribbon also enjoy discounts at hotels around the state. Throughout September, for instance, the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki is offering ribbon wearers discounts of up to 20 percent at its restaurants.