Ikua Purdy Wins!

ikua image

I just recently discovered some awesome pieces of historical information on the fascinating blog http://nupepa-hawaii.com/. If you are interested in Hawaiian history or the Hawaiian language, I suggest you click on the above link and follow this blog that digitizes and translates Hawaiian newspapers from the past. In researching the Frontier Days rodeo competition from 1908 in Cheyenne, Wyoming where Ikua Purdy won first place in the steer roping competition I found this account from the Hawaiian Star newspaper.

The account is historically important as it recounts the progression of the events surrounding the competition. These details help take you into the moment and the intensity of the moment for Ikua Purdy. I also found it interesting how the writer of the article spun the story to mention that while the Hawaiians had “taken away” the championship from the Americans, Hawaii is actually a territory of the United States so therefore part of and continuing the history of the cowboy in America. Read for yourself and tell me what you think in the comment section below.

Unearthing Secrets of the Ranch

purdy, low, kaaua

Always more to learn, always more to discover. Knowledge is like a bottomless well that you can always draw more water from. Today was a day in which I was able expand even further my understanding of the paniolo and their history in Waimea. The day started out normal enough, as I covered the basics of paniolo history and listened to some of the well known songs about paniolo life, Kila Kila Na RoughriderWaiomina, Kaula `Ili, etc… It was when we met with Dr. Billy Bergin that things got really interesting.

If you don’t know Dr. Bergin, he possesses an amazing wealth of knowledge of all things paniolo and information about the ranching industry in Hawai`i. Please, if you are interested in Hawaiian history, ranching, cowboys, the paniolo or Waimea you must check out his books, Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 750-1950Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 1950-1970: Volume 2, The Senior Stewards and Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 1970-1992: Volume 3, Agents of Change. They are truly fascinating and thorough histories of all things paniolo.

But there were two things that really stood out to me during our conversations and his presentation to the students. The first and probably most fascinating this is that much of the photographs and documents that are part of the Paniolo Preservation Society’s displays and part of their archives were almost thrown away. About fifteen years ago, seeing no use for these items and lacking space to store them, Parker Ranch had the archives brought to the dump where they were to be disposed of. Fortunately HPA English teacher Gordon Bryson was there at the dump at the same time dropping off his garbage when he saw the Parker Ranch trucks there with the large containers to be disposed of when he asked what was inside them. Upon learning that it was the vast collection of photographs, documents, letters and other archives from Parker Ranch he asked if they not be dumped and if he could have them.

Parker Ranch obliged and for ten years they were stored at HPA where he led students through the details of proper archiving and preservation of these documents. If not for that fateful day when Gordon Bryson needed to dump his garbage, all of that history and documentation would have been just thrown away and lost for ever, amazing thought.

The second thing that struck me as fascinating concerned the trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming by the three cowboys immortalized in song for the Frontier Days World Championship roping competition. Well it turns out there wasn’t just Ikua Purdy, Archie Ka`aua and Eben Low who competed at that championship from the Big Island, but three more cowboys as well. One was Eben Low’s brother who competed in a two day roping competition only to suffer a major asthmatic attack. He was replaced by William Spencer (related to John Spencer composer of Waika) who finished the second day for Eben Low’s brother and placed respectably. The third paniolo’s name escaped Dr. Bergin, but he did say he was a Hawaiian man from Waipi`o valley who was well known as a top level roper. So while many of the songs form the time only mention three paniolo’s Purdy, Low and Ka`aua, there were actually three more as well, Low’s brother, William Spencer and the nameless cowboy from Waipi`o.

So it turned out to be a fascinating and informative day for all involved. It was a reminder that while we often get excited when he dig away the surface to revel the jewels on the top layer of soil, it is when we dig deeper that the true precious gems reveal themselves, and more information is unearthed.

The Sources of Our Songs

moku o keawe

This coming week I have the honor and privilege of leading a group of students around the island exploring the meaning and history of Hawaiian mele and the places they are about. In four days we will visit four different areas of the island and learn a song or two that tells a story about that place’s history. As the students will be learning during the week, I hope to learn too. We will have special guests joining us in each region who will share with us their mana`o about the mele we will be learning. Our journey will start in our home, Waimea. We will start with two songs that are well known and closely tied to the history of Waimea, “Hole Waimea and “Waika.” These songs are modern interpretations of chants that date back to the time of Kamehameha and the famous warriors of the Waimea area. In addition, Hole Waimea is the school song of Hawai`i Preparatory Academy where I teach, and today is now chanted with a borrowed verse from Waika. These two songs are closely intertwined and represent the binding histories of the past and present. The second part of our journey in Waimea will focus on “Waiomina” which tells the story of the famous adventure of three paniolo to Cheyenne, Wyoming to compete in the Frontier Days World Championship roping competition where Ikua Purdy won first place and set the world record. We will visit the Paniolo Hall of Fame located at Pukalani Stables where paniolo historian Dr. Billy Bergin will talk to us about paniolo culture and specifically the unique saddle making history of Waimea.

On day two we will travel up the Hamakua Coast to visit two waterfalls, `Akaka Falls and Waianuenue. At our stop at `Akaka Falls we will learn about the beautiful mele “`Akaka Falls” and the legend of `Akaka. From there we will go into Hilo town and admire the beauty of Hilo Bay through the mele “Kuhio Bay”. This song is a great vehicle to learn about the many beautiful places found in Hilo such as Waiakea, Moku Ola and Waianuenue. Here we have the honor of being led by a Hawaiian Studies professor from UH-Hilo who will share with us about the stories of this song and the special meaning of these different areas in Hilo.

Our third day will take us down to the Kohala Coast to the Kalahuipua`a fishponds at Mauna Lani where Hawaiian Kahu, historian, storyteller and musician Reverend Danny Akaka will lead us through the history and stories of the area with the mele “Keawaiki” which was written there. This is truly a special opportunity as Danny is a treasure trove of information and history. I look forward to learning more about this mele and its composition as it has always been one of my favorites by the great Gabby Pahinui.

After our visit at Kalahuipua`a, we will take a short hike over to Paniau beach which is located at the southern end of Puako Bay. I am hoping that Danny can grace us with the his beautiful singing voice and `ukulele playing and play for us the song “Paniau”. This is one of the great mele of Hawaiian music and unfortunately very rarely heard or known today, Danny being one of the few blessed with the knowledge of the history of its composition and skill is singing and playing it. Hearing him sing this mele is chicken skin indeed!

Finally on our last day we will travel to South Kona and visit Pu`u Honua o Honaunau. Through the educational waiver program so graciously offered by our National Park Service we will be allowed free access to the park so the students can enjoy the importance of the historical area. While the recent storm did remove sand from certain parts of the beach making access to the Heiau limited, we will still have the opportunity to view Hale o Keawe from a distance and enjoy its majestic power. I am hoping to be joined at the park by Hawaiian musician Bula Ka`iliwai who recorded the mele “Honaunau Paka”.

This is another song that is rarely heard today, yet to me is an example of the beauty and meaning of Hawaiian musical poetry. Of course this mele holds a special place in my heart as I grew up in Honaunau and spent many many days of my youth in and around Pu`u Honua o Honaunau swimming, fishing and enjoying its beautiful grounds. In fact, it was in the powerful tide pools of Keawewai that I almost lost my life at a young age when I was swept out to sea by a powerful surge of waves only to be rescued by a Hawaiian man who risked his own life swimming out into large surf to save me.

So I am truly looking forward to this experience, to not only share my knowledge and love of Hawaiian music with the students, but to learn along with them from our special guests. The mele of Hawai`i is a vehicle for us to learn more about the land and the special characteristics of the places all around us. It is my hope that in this journey we can then turn inward and learn more about ourselves and to ho`analu….go beyond the known boundaries of what who think we are and discover more.

Who Are the Paniolo?

Paniolo Statue

Paniolo are the cowboys of Hawaii. Obviously there wouldn’t be cowboys without cattle, so it is important to start with the introduction of the first cattle in Hawaii when discussing the history of the paniolo. For a much more detailed and descriptive history of cattle in Hawaii it is mandatory that I mention the comprehensive history of the paniolo and Parker Ranch by Dr. Billy Bergin and his series of books “Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch” which I owe an immense of amount of debt to as a source for much of the following information.

Sea captain George Vancouver was the first person to bring cattle to Hawaii with a gift of California longhorns to Kamehameha I in 1793 (Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch 750-1950 pg. 21). Due to the afflictions of long sea travel and an inhabitable tropical environment, the first cattle (now called pipi, a Hawaiianization of beef) did not fare well in Hawaii (pg. 3, all references are to the above noted book so only page numbers follow in the parenthesis). None the less, due to a strict kapu placed on the killing of them by Kamehameha I and the availability of an abundance of farmed vegetables, they were able to survive and soon thrive (pg. 22). During the next twenty years they caused immeasurable damage to the native food supply through their trampling of gardens, family farms and native forests. Realizing the perilous infliction the cattle were having on valuable food crops Kamehameha I lifted the kapu and declared it permissible to shoot and kill cattle (pg. 4).

Even with the lifting of the kapu, cattle continued to grow to large numbers and Kamehameha I realized more intensive efforts were needed to control these large beasts. In 1815 ex-sailor and employee of Kamehameha I John Palmer Parker was hired to develop a plan to control the wild cattle. Parker was young, able bodied and more importantly owned a gun and was knowledgeable about its usage (pg. 28). This proved to be an overwhelming task as, according to Dr. Bergin, by 1850 there were over 8,000 domestic cattle and 12,000 wild cattle on the Big Island (pg. 4). Parker tried the best he could and created a homestead in North Kohala and used acreage around Waimea, given to him by Kamehameha after his marriage to Kamehameha’s great-grand daughter, as his working cattle ranch (pg. 4).

In the midst of this immense growth of the cattle population, an additional attempt was made to implement a plan to controlling their numbers. In 1832 Kamehameha III invited vaqueros from Mexico to come to Hawaii to train the native Hawaiians in the skills needed to be a successful cowboy (pg. 28). Their influence was enormous, as not only did they pass on their skills with the horse and lasso, but they brought the guitar and their music as well (for more information see my blog entry about the vaqueros and music). For further reading about the role of the Mexican cowboy you can consult Kyle Shinseki’s masters thesis “El Pueblo Mexicano de Hawaii.” Soon much of the Kohala area was centered around the cattle trade as most of the cattle preferred these higher elevation areas (pgs. 29-30).

The early cattle business centered mostly around butchering the cattle for meat that was cured with salt and sold to whalers and the Hawaiian navy for sea voyaging (pgs. 31-32). In this sense Waimea and the Kohala region began to establish itself as an area with a distinct cowboy culture as its society was centered around the ranch. I’d suggest if you are interested in cowboy culture and how it is developed you read Cowboys in America by R.W. Slatta. In 1847 Parker formally created the Parker Ranch with its crew of “animal caregivers, the fence men, drovers, herdsmen, milkers and grooms.” (pg. 4)

Praise and pride for the paniolo reached its apex in 1908 with the successful journey of three paniolo to Cheyenne Wyoming. With the encouragement of his father, Eben Low, along with Ikua Purdy and Archie Kaaua, took the long ferry and train ride to compete in the Frontier Days World Championship roping competition. It is here that the skills of the Hawaiian paniolo were firmly established with the outside world as Ikua Purdy won first place in steer roping with a new world record of 56 seconds. In addition Kaaua placed 3rd and Low 6th. Upon returning to Hawaii they were greeted as heroes and the legend of the “Hawaiian Roughrider” was born with songs of praise composed to commemorate this important event (see “Kila Kila Na Roughrider” and “Waiomina“.

During the 200 year history of cattle in Hawaii, ranching in Hawaii has extended to all the islands and has become an integral part of the communities in which they exist. These communities can be found in a variety of areas, from the mountainous regions the cattle frequent to the shores where the ports are located for their shipping. Fitting within the Hawaiian land concept of the ahupua`a, many of these communities exist within the same region of land extending from mountain to sea.

Regardless of their location these paniolo communities share a common bond and common traits. The ranch and the paniolo way of life has a way of extending beyond those who primarily work on the ranches to those that serve these communities. Everyone, from doctors, teachers, clerks, bankers, politicians and policemen are all paniolo by extension as their lives are so strongly influenced by the distinctive way of life of the paniolo. This is seen in the shared values of being hard working, living close to the land, having a respect for the family, and the deep love of slack key music and the folk songs from the days of before that survives.

It is in this environment in which I was raised, from the smaller family ranches of Honaunau in South Kona to the expansive Parker Ranch of Waimea in Kohala, and where I developed my love for the paniolo and the paniolo way of life. It was inevitable that this would find its way into my music and how I express myself musically. Blending the sounds of country with the musicality and feel of Hawaiian music I play what I call “Paniolo Music.”