Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Lei"zy Horses and Hot Malasadas

There are a number of annual events that make living in Hawai'i very enjoyable.  One I have already written about is the awe-inspiring Ironman Triathlon.  Several others are more celebrations of local culture and history that primarily involve residents, though visitors lucky enough to be here when they occur will also find them to be a unique treat.

One is the yearly parade in honor of King Kamehameha I, the Hawaiian monarch who unified the islands into one kingdom in the late 1700's and ushered in a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity.  Kamehameha was born on our island, and so there is a special local connection to this celebration, which is held state-wide each June. 

Pa'u Riders
The parade route is along part of Ali'i Drive, a waterfront street that passes through the quaint business area of Kailua-Kona.  The backdrop is the crystal clear blue Pacific 50-100 feet away and lining the route are palms, banyan trees, colorful bougainvillea, plumeria, orchids, and other assorted varieties of tropical greenery.  In the golden morning sunlight the scene is eye-poppingly beautiful.

Princess and Two Escorts
The special feature of the parade are eight groups of Pa'u horseback riders, each representing one of the main Hawaiian islands.  Each group consists of a princess and her attendants, plus several male outriders or escorts, all of them (including the horses) wearing the colors and flowers of the island they represent. The word Pa'u means "skirt" and refers back to the tradition started in the 1800's for women riders to wear long flowing skirts to protect their fancy clothing when they were riding to a party or celebration.  The flowers are incorporated into leis and hatbands and are appropriate to the island -- for our Hawai'i Island the riders wear red and the flowers are lehua blossoms woven into leis of maile and other ferns.  The horses wear leis, too, and usually bands of flowers in their harnesses.

Horses have been in Hawaii only for about 200 years.  They were introduced in 1803, when a mare and foal were brought by Richard Cleveland as a gift to King Kamehameha I.  Hawaiians had of course never seen such an animal -- the only mammals in the islands until humans arrived were the monk seal and an indigenous species of  bat.  The Hawaiians introduced dogs and pigs from Polynesia  (and maybe accidentally the palm rat), and in 1793 Captain George Vancouver presented King Kamehameha I with 5 black longhorn cattle. The cattle multiplied wildly, and in 1832 John Palmer Parker worked with King Kamehameha III to bring Mexican vaqueros with riding and roping skills to help with his booming cattle ranching business.  The vaqueros adapted well to Hawaii, where they were called paniolos (a Hawaiian interpretation of "espanol"), and introduced the cowboy culture here even before it was developed on the mainland U.S.  Of course here the cowboys do the hula instead of the two-step.  In the early 1900's Portuguese immigrants were recruited as ranch workers and they added their own cultural flavor to the mix, including the invention of the ukelele.

Poop Patrol
A parade with nearly a hundred horses is going to generate considerable fertilizer.  One of the cutest parts of the parade are the teams of pooper-scoopers that follow each of the Pa'u units.  They pull small wagons often decorated as colorfully as the Pa'u groups, and the scoopers do their job with a humorous flourish.  For example, this year the team following the riders representing Koho'olawe, a small island off the coast of Maui that was used for many years by the U.S. military as a bombing range, called themselves "The Bomb Squad,"  a double nod to the historic military reference and to the still-steaming missiles on the street. One of my favorites a few years back was a group whose highly decorated poop wagon had a large sign saying "Hot Malasadas!"  We residents in the crowd had to explain to visitors that malasadas are Portuguese doughnuts, a delicious favorite pastry found in bakeries all over the island.

For me the parade captures the character of Hawai'i very well:  A mix of Hawaiian, European, Asian, and Polynesian cultures displaying the complexity and diversity of influences on our history,  all in a physical setting that is hard to match.


Don Parker said...

A nice story about Hawaiian culture past and present. Thank you Dick.

SimoneStan said...

I"m sorry that we missed this year's parade. A year without Hawaii seems to be lacking something.