Hawaii has a rich history of ranching and their own brand of cowboys and cowgirls. Their lifestyle is still celebrated and practiced today.
Many people may not think of Roping and Riding when it comes to Hawaii, but the Hawaiian Cowboy or Paniola tradition lives on with people who are as comfortable on a white sandy beach as horseback.
The Hawaiian Cowboy tradition started in 1803 with a gift of cattle from Captain George Vancouver to King Kamehameha I. Originally considered kapu (forbidden), the animals grew wild and unchecked in on the Big Island of Hawaii. In later years, John Parker, who married into the royal family was awarded some land on Hawaii and the right to ranch. Parker contracted some cowboys from Mexico to work and teach locals to ranch. The word Paniola is said to come from the Hawaiianization of the word espaniola (Spanish). The word has changed to paniolo, like the masculine form of words from Spanish. Many people who know Hawaiian prefer paniola as a better term, as the word paniolo means something very different and negative meaning already. The Paniola culture is said to have brought about the ukulele to entertain themselves in the field.
The tradition has spread to most of the islands with Parker Ranch the most famous on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kualoa Ranch and Dillingham on Oahu, and Ulupalakua Ranch on the slopes of Haleakala, Maui. My boss’s grandfather was a Paniola on Molokai Ranch on the island of the same name. He loves to tell stories of summers spent with his grandfather helping where he could.
Today, the tradition has a competitive side. Rodeo competitions happen largely on Hawaii Island. Some students compete at the high school level. But the Hawaii Woman’s Rodeo Association is thriving here on Oahu. Most events are free for spectators and offer something different to see on a weekend afternoon. They normally compete in specialized events. So far, I have watched events in roping and calf cutting. These competitors are seriously devoted to their lifestyle and love of a simpler time where it was just a few people who depended on their horses and other riders to raise the livestock. Skills like being able to rope a one-ton beast may not be necessary skill in the our daily lives, but it is a thrill back to a simpler time. Often, these events attract events of music, good food and a celebration for the love of a less complicated time.
Here are some pictures of Paniolas in action:
If you are in Oahu and are interested in seeing some Hawaiian Cowboys in action, you can look here for their calendar of events.