Pa‘u riders perpetuate Aloha Festivals tradition
Veteran pa‘u rider Faith Kalamau will be representing the island of Kaho‘olawe as the princess of a seven- member pa‘u unit when she rides in the Aloha Festivals 72nd Annual Floral Parade.
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“A horse is a horse, of course, of course,” is the lesson we learn from the theme song of “Mr. Ed,” a classic American sitcom of the early 1960s, but when a horse is bedecked in the acoutrements that are part of pa‘u riding then the horse and its rider are perpetuating a colorful tradition in Hawaiian history.
Historians report that horses were brought to Hawaii in 1803. Kamehameha initially saw them as big animals that required tremendous amounts of food, but with haole (non-Hawaiian) horsemen as their teachers and role models, Hawaiians of both sexes were soon avid equestrians with a penchant for racing through the dusty streets of Honolulu.
In the years and decades that followed came the Hawaii traditions of the paniolo (Hawaiian “cowboys” who were taught cattle-herding skills by Mexican vaqueros), polo (played in the islands since the 1880s), and the refined art of pa‘u riding.
Veteran pa‘u rider Faith Kalamau will be representing the island of Kaho‘olawe as the princess of a seven- member pa‘u unit when she rides in the Aloha Festivals 72nd Annual Floral Parade .
72ND ANNUAL ALOHA FESTIVALS FLORAL PARADE
>> Where: From Ala Moana Park along Kalakaua Avenue to Kapiolani Park
>> When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday
>> Cost: Free
>> Info: 923-2030, alohafestivals.com
“As a little girl this is something that I always hoped to one day fulfill,” she said. “I’m happy to have fulfilled those dreams.”
KALAMAU’S DREAMS came true in 2015 when she made her pa‘u debut as an attendent to an equestrian princess representing one of the eight major islands of Hawaii. In 2016, Kalamau was promoted to the rank of princess and represented Niihau; last year, her second as a princess, she represented Oahu.
This year, representing Kahoolawe, Kalamau will lead the third pa‘u unit in the parade — following the unit of the pa‘u queen and the unit of the queen’s male escorts.
The word pa‘u — written in modern Hawaiian with an ‘okina between the two vowels, and a kahako over both of them to indicate the correct pronounciation — refers to the huge skirt worn by the riders. The garment is something of a cultural compromise.
The earliest Hawaiian equestrians — kane and wahine alike — sat astride the horses like the haole (non-Hawaiian) men who taught them. Later, after Hawaiians bought into haole notions of body shame and women began wearing full-length haole dresses, women were no longer able to sit astride as they had in pre-missionary days. The haole sidesaddle eventually became an option for women who wanted to ride. The pa‘u skirt was another.
“It’s usually 12 yards long,” Kalamau said. It is also the last article of clothing the riders put on before mounting their horses.
The riders start their preparations around 1 a.m. and arrive at Ala Moana four hours later.
“We do the hair (and) make-up first, so when we get to the park the top half of our bodies are completely dressed,” Kalamou noted. “When we get to the park we wrap the pa‘u.”
The whole process including the pa‘u wrapping takes about six hours. Getting wrapped in the pa‘u is the final step because once it’s on, it’s on until horse and rider reaches Kapiolani Park, the end of the route.
Kalamau estimates it takes about two hours for a pa‘u unit — the princess, a page, two attendants and three escorts — to complete the journey from Ala Moana Park to Kapiolani Park.
PA‘U RIDING in island parades was revived in 1906 and inspired the formation of riding groups. From there, pa‘u riders became the highlight participants in parades — Kamehameha Day, Merrie Monarch and Aloha Festival alike.
By tradition, each pa‘u unit represents one of the eight major islands and wears the color and the flower associated with that island. O‘ahu is represented by the color yellow and the yellow ilima blossom, Maui by the color pink and the pink lokelani (rose), and the Big Island by the color red and red lehua blossoms.
The parade tomorrow is the culmination more than seven months of preparation by Kalamau, the other pa‘u riders in her unit, and their horses. Pa‘u riders learn how to bond with their horse, the proper way to saddle and mount the horse, how to ride while maintaining proper posture, and to be comfortable with riding at speeds faster than a walk — just in case.
“It’s a long way down if you should fall,” she said. “We learn about safe riding because we never know what to expect in the parade. Anything can spook the horse.”
In addition to making their own preparations, Kalamau and her unit have been working on their horses’ floral decorations since Tuesday; they pay for their flowers, pa‘u clothing, and costs connected to the horses, themselves or with the support of sponsors.
“It takes lots of hard work and commitment and fund-raising to ride pa‘u,” she said. “I want to do it again next year.”