A’AGA: Something to be told or talked about

Submitted by 

Billy Allen


Many O’otham have been fortunate enough to visit Hawaii. Hawaii was a popular location for tribal monies; incentives, per cap celebrations, graduations. Pre-covid, tribal workshops, conferences were the only way to disseminate information to Indian Country. Attractions like Pearl Harbor, beaches, luaus were a must.


(O’odham  referred to Hawaiian hula dancers as “Vashai ‘Ipuddam,” or Grass Skirt Wearers, according to Dr. Harry J. Winters, Jr, author of O’odham Place Names and Maricopa Place Names.) How about attending a Native American rodeo in Hawaii? Native Hawaiians are another indigenous group with a storied history of working with cattle and horses. “Cultural appropriation” goes way back. Adapting would be another word, in our case “borrowing.” The question if Hawaiians are Indians is an ongoing debate concerning federal Indian law and policy. 


In 1793, British Captain George Vancouver gifted King Kamehameha I some sheep, a bull, and 5 longhorns. The Hawaiian king placed a kapu on the cattle which meant no hunting of the cattle. But as the longhorns flourished, the cattle began overwhelming villages and damaging fields. John Palmer Parker had worked for the King, left for China during the War of 1812, and returned with a musket gun. Seeing the destruction the cattle caused, the King asked Parker to begin shooting some cattle. When King Kamehameha I died in 1819, the kapu was quickly removed; hunters were hired to pursue and shoot the cattle, including bum steers. It did not hurt that a growing beef trade was developing in Hawaii. 


1832, King Kamehameha III sent an emissary to California to bring Mexican, Indian and Spanish vaqueros to teach Hawaiians how to control the wild beasts. The first recorded vaqueros were Kossuth, Louzeida, and Ramon. The first Hawaiian cowboys became known as “paniolos.” (The origin of paniolo is generally considered to derive from Spanish “vaquero.” Paniolo is also Spanish for handkerchief.) Nonetheless, a paniolo adopted/borrowed Mexican bandanas, brightly-colored ponchos, long spurs, braided lariats, and wide-brimmed hats. Hawaiian journalist Constance Hale wrote, “The paniolo knows his flower species as well as his cattle breeds. The paniolo weaves blossoms into leis he then wraps around his hat. He teaches his horses to swim in the ocean and to pick their way through sharp fields of lava.” Hawaiian style was added. John Parker married a granddaughter of the King and with land given to him, Parker Ranch was established in 1847. It is one of the oldest ranches in the US, with about 130,000 acres. Since 1962, the ranch celebrates the legacy of ranching of Waimea with a 4th of July with a rodeo.


Paniolos learned quickly becoming excellent cowboys. The Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo began in 1897. In 1908, paniolos went to Cheyenne to test their skills against top competition. With a colorful lei on his hat, Parker Ranch hand, Ikua Purdy won the steer roping event. Fellow paniolos  Eben Low and Archie Ka’au’a placed second and sixth. Ikua Purdy was elected to the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1999. 


In the early 1950s, competitive rodeo began to appear in Hawaii. For the past 64 years, the Oskie ohana or family at their Kaonoulua Ranch have hosted the Makawao rodeo.  Pre-pandemic, over 350 cowboys world wide would come to compete.  


The Pana‘ewa Rodeo Stampede has been staged for almost twenty-five years. Regular rodeo events are held but unique Hawaiian competitions are featured; wahine mugging (girls round up a calf by both hind legs), double mugging (pairs of cowboys round up a calf by both hind legs), and po’o wai u, in which a paniolo ropes a steer by the horns and ties it to replica of a tree with a no choke knot. 


Hopefully our  kapu on gatherings and events will soon be lifted. Many of our athletes; runners, toka, basketball, vaila dancers, wood choppers, vapkial or cowboys, etc. are eager to get out there and show us what they got. We have the means to put covid in a choke hold, lets’ use it. 


Information was gathered from; 

Uahikea Maile. “The US government has always given Native Hawaiians a raw deal.” The Guardian, March 4, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/04/us-government-native-hawaiians-raw-deal

Harry J. Winters, Jr., PhD. “O’odham Traditions of the Sivañ Va’aki.” Old Pueblo Archaeology, March 2021, Edition 84. https://www.oldpueblo.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Issue-84-%E2%80%93-March-2021-%E2%80%93-%E2%80%99O%E2%80%99odham-Traditions-of-the-Siva%C3%B1-Va%E2%80%99aki.pdf

Constance Hale essay “The Last of the Hawaiian Cowboys” https://ideas.ted.com/the-last-of-the-hawaiian-cowboys/

“Parker Ranch to Host July 4th Rodeo & Horse Races.” Big Island Now, July 3, 2019. https://bigislandnow.com/2019/07/03/parker-ranch-to-host-july-4th-rodeo-horse-races/

“The Makawao Rodeo Hopes To Resume For 2021.”  Ho’oulu,  UH Maui College, February 24, 2021.https://maui.hawaii.edu/hooulu/2021/02/24/the-makawao-rodeo-hopes-to-resume-for-2021/

“Hawaiian Paniolo: A Brief History.” Bike Maui, Feb 20, 2019. https://www.bikemaui.com/hawaiian-paniolo-brief-history/

Kate Harrington. “A History of the Hawaiian Paniolo.” Smithsonian Center for Folklife, February 15, 2019.  https://folklife.si.edu/magazine/cowboys-in-the-tropics-history-of-hawaiian-paniolo