With movies, games, TV shows and other entertainment at our fingertips these days — even via watches and smartphones — hurling 100-pound logs and 50-pound stones hardly seems fun. Still, from May through September, such Highland games draw thousands of people to towns, cities and castle grounds throughout Scotland.
Historians believe those competitions originated in Ireland around 2000 B.C. and traveled with immigrants across the Atlantic to Scotland in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France, regarded as the father of the modern Olympics, saw an exhibition of Highland games at the 1889 Exposition Universelle world fair in Paris. That supposedly influenced his vision for the revival of the ancient Olympics of Greece, which debuted seven years later in Athens.
Competitions that are the ultimate tests of brawn and athleticism are among the highlights of an annual celebration of Scottish history and culture held in Honolulu by the Hawaiian Scottish Association since 1982. The association comprises four organizations — the Caledonian Society of Hawaii, Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawaii, the Saint Andrew Society of Hawaii and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Hawaii Branch. All help with the planning of the Hawaiian Scottish Festival and Highland Games.
IF YOU GO: HAWAIIAN SCOTTISH FEST
>> Where: McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Beach Park
>> When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 8. Entertainment outside McCoy Pavilion begins at 9 a.m.; the games begin at 9:30 a.m.
>> Cost: $3; children under 12 are free
>> Phone: 782-8462
>> Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
>> On the Net
“Many people associate Scotland with kilts, bagpipes and maybe Mel Gibson playing William Wallace in the movie ‘Braveheart,’” said Jeremy McOuat, a festival organizer. “Our festival introduces them to so much more.”
Ranging in age from 15 to 75 years old, athletes have come from as far away as South Dakota and New York, Germany, Australia, Japan and Nova Scotia to compete in Honolulu’s Highland games. Although the kilt is traditional garb for men and boys, females also wear it for the games.
One jaw-dropping event is the Caber Toss. Contestants pick up a caber (a 12- to 18-foot piece of lumber weighing about 100 pounds), run forward and throw it. Ideally, it will turn end over end and fall perfectly straight from where it left their hands.
The end-over-end toss that’s closest to the 12 o’clock position receives the highest score.
For the Weight Over Bar event, competitors use one hand to throw a weight (56 pounds for men and 28 pounds for women) over a horizontal bar that starts at a height of 9 feet.
They have three chances to do so without touching the bar; if they’re successful, they advance to subsequent rounds with the bar placed at increasingly higher heights. The winner is the person who makes the highest clean toss.
HAWAII’S SCOTTISH CONNECTIONS
>> Hawaii has interesting ties to Scotland.
>> British Capt. James Cook is credited with discovering the islands in 1778. Although he was born and raised in England, his father was a farm worker who emigrated there from Scotland.
>> John Young, one of Kamehameha I’s trusted advisors, was also a Brit of Scottish descent.
>> Famed poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, who enjoyed extended stays in Hawaii, hailed from Edinburgh, as did his friend, businessman Archibald Cleghorn, who served as Oahu’s governor from November 1891 to February 1893.
>> Cleghorn’s wife was Miriam Likelike, sister of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani. Because the king and queen were both childless, the Cleghorns’ daughter, Princess Victoria Kawekiu Ka‘iulani Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa, was named heir to the throne. Had the monarchy endured and Ka‘iulani not died in 1899 at the age of 23, she, of half Scottish blood, would have been queen.
Eight games are scheduled on both days of the festival, followed by an awards ceremony. “The games are incredible challenges to athletes’ strength and stamina,” McOuat said. “Even though I’ve watched the games many times, I still find myself thinking, I can’t believe he or she did that!”
Another sure crowd pleaser will be the Aggie Wallace Memorial Solo Piping and Drumming Competition.
Now in its second year, it honors the Canadian native who established the art of bagpipe playing in Hawaii.
The daughter of a pipe major, Wallace met E.K. Fernandez in Hollywood. She immigrated to Hawaii in 1938 at his invitation and worked as a musician in his traveling carnival.
“Aggie went on to teach many kamaaina, and she organized Hawaii’s first bagpipe band,” McOuat said. “Visitors are always surprised to see so many pipers of all ages and abilities play marches, dance music and traditional bagpipe music called piobaireachd at our competition in, of all places, Hawaii!”
Attendees will also enjoy a Highland Dance Competition; demonstrations of swordplay, fencing and tartan weaving; a fair offering Celtic music, books, kilt pins, jewelry and crafts; and an array of food.
Be sure to try traditional Scottish fare such as bangers; meat pies; Scotch eggs, hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat, breaded and then baked or deep-fried; and haggis, a savory pudding made with sheep or calf’s innards, oatmeal, onions, salt and spices.
“Our festival isn’t just for Scots,” McOuat said. “We welcome everyone to come and watch the games and dances, eat haggis, buy a kilt, play a bagpipe — in short, experience a bit of the Highlands in Hawaii.”