Like many peoples of Europe, the Scots spread out into the world during the dark days of the Industrial Revolution to seek their fortunes. Little communities of Scotsmen would gather occasionally for sporting get-togethers, and these “Highland Games” would invariably include cooking and dancing and a year’s worth of broguish gossip.
Hawaii Scottish Festival
>>When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday
Scotland was a clannish country, but in the colonies, the immigrants discovered they had more in common as Scots. The Highland Games evolved into a “gathering of clans,” a celebration of all things Scottish.
“The largest gathering of clans since 1745 — the time of the Jacobite Rebellion — occurred in 2009 in Edinburgh,” explained William Kennedy, deputy chief and vice president of the Kennedy Society of North America. “It was called the Homecoming, and many, many Americans of Scottish descent were represented. Scots from all over the world, more than a hundred clans and thousands of clan members, paraded up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle.”
The Hawaiian Scottish Association is holding its 30th annual games this weekend. The event features athletics, a highland dance competition, entertainment, information about Scottish clans from around Hawaii and the mainland, demonstrations of swordplay and medieval warfare, booths featuring Celtic clothing, jewelry and souvenirs, and traditional food.
Kennedy is here to represent, naturally, the Kennedy clan, along with Archibald Angus Charles Kennedy, 8th Marquess of Ailsa, direct from the auld sod himself. “The Celtic heart beats hard in Hawaii!” enthused Kennedy.
“We think you are all a bit mad having so many games and, yes, there are Highland Games in Scotland during the summer!” responded Lord Ailsa by email, befitting a modern laird. “Scottish culture is great and anyone with Scottish connections and who is proud to wear a kilt can join in!”
According to Lillian Cunningham of the Hawaiian Scottish Association, you can spot the clan chiefs “wearing three feathers in their bonnets, a symbol of their chiefly rank. Lesser chieftains or commanders sometimes wear one or two feathers.”
Kennedy said that ranking Scots used to be hesitant to visit American highland gatherings. “Because we used to be a colony, and all that, and they know that Americans don’t care for nobles. But many Americans also feel the call of the old country, a connection.
“There’s at least one highland gathering in every state,” added Kennedy, who has seen his share of games. “American Scots are beginning to remember their highland roots, and Scots in Scotland are beginning to realize that their family is worldwide.”
And Kennedy has survived any number of whisky — note the spelling — tastings. “I’m a single-malt man myself, but there are some few lovely blends out there.” It’s all part of the traditional rituals of kinship.
“Scottish clans are family or kinship groups traditionally under the leadership of a hereditary clan chief. They are identified by a family name such as Campbell, Gordon or MacLeod and are associated with a particular geographical area in Scotland,” Cunningham explained in a note. “In the distant past, clans provided tribal social organization primarily in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, but gradually families in other areas of Scotland also began to identify themselves as clans.
Clans are often identified with individual patterns and colors of woven fabric known as tartans, which have become a source of national distinction for Scotland since the 19th century.
The Highland Games are one reason to keep alive traditional sports, such as caber-tossing and hammer-tossing. Kennedy points out, though, that “new traditional games” are being added all the time.
“Tossin’ the haggis,” laughed Kennedy. “Or the sport of Bonny Knees. You know that one? Women are blindfolded and feel men’s knees who are wearing kilts and they choose a winner.”