If there is one day of the year to plan to visit the statue of Kamehameha The Great in front of the old courthouse in Kapa’au, North Kohala, that date would be June 11th, which is celebrated as the King’s birthday throughout the Big Island and the rest of Hawai’i.
Our ceremony and parade may not be the biggest or most elaborate, but since Kohala was the birthplace of the chief who became king and united the Hawai’ian islands, perhaps it has the greatest sense of connection and resonance. Far from being an event held for tourists, it almost feels more like a cherished annual family gathering.
Many individuals and civic groups string dozens of flower leis which are draped over the statue
This year’s celebration felt special to me for several reasons:
The 130-year old statue, which underwent a detailed restoration 10 years ago, has just been treated to maintenance by a professional art conservator who was so touched by his experience over this decade that he has written a book called The Painted King: Art, Activism and Authenticity in Hawai’i which will be published this fall.
The care of the statue requires fund-raising and devotion, and as I scanned the grassy hillside for the perfect parade perch, I saw Sharon Hayden, who spearheads the Kamehameha Statue Maintenance, sitting next to Randee Golden, who for years organized the festivities and still provides many of the ti leaves from her garden. I hugged them and plopped myself down figuring I’d get all the scoops.
The first thing I learned, was that this is the last year that Fred Cachola plans to MC at the statue. Luckily, I had my FlipVideo in my purse, so I started filming. Fred is a historian (as is his daughter), and through listening to him at the North Kohala Access Committee meetings, I’ve learned a great deal about the history of Kohala and especially my land listings.Â I never tire of his annual explanation of how the story of Kamehameha I is intertwined with the land and people here in Kohala.
The next reason this year’s parade was special to me was that Joe Carvalho was chosen as Grand Marshall. Joe is a Kohala native who made his career on the Mainland at the Federal Reserve Bank and “retired” back home. HeÂ was one of the first people to welcome me to Kohala six years ago. I arrived just as a group of volunteers was starting to gather interviews and input for the Community Development Plan process, and gladly became one of “Joe Guys” as a way of meeting people and learning what mattered to my neighbors. Of course, Joe is the kind of guy who always shares credit, but when he goes down the list of projects he’s involved in, you wonder how he has time for his beloved senior softball.
Like any rural small town, our floats tend to be inexpensive and creative. With the roads closed for the parade, our eco-tourism companies put their employees in the parade for the morning. This year Big Island Eco Adventures (the zipline), ATV Outfitters and Kohala Ditch Adventures were all represented with floats. How appropriate for the guides and their families, who share their love and knowledge of Kohala on a daily basis, to get to share in the celebration.
The final reason this year’s parade was so special to me deserves its own post. I’m always thrilled to see the pa’u riders, their horses adorned with leis, representing each of the islands. This year, the theme of the parades state-wide was “Wahine Holo Lio” honoring the women horseback riders. Here in Kohala, a special troupe of riders rode in period dressed as famous women in Hawaiian history (queens, princesses, and ranchers) who were also known for their horsemanship skills.
Many of the riders in the parade are working with me on my pet project, the Kohala Equine Equestrian Center, a community arena that we hope will be in operation in time for the 2012 Kamehameha Day parade practice. Maybe then I’ll finally accept the invitation to ride rather than enjoy the day as a spectator.