The Legend of the Hawaiian Cowboy, as It Has Never Been Told Before
People tend to forget that the Hawaiian islands have their own cowboy culture that goes back before the Wild West. It’s too bad that it’s slowly going away.
When most people think of Hawaii, they picture beaches with soft sand and clear water. The history and existence of the Hawaiian cowboy may be one of the most unique things about the Hawaiian islands, but it is also one of the least known.
What happened to the paniolo
In 1793, five longhorns were given to King Kamehameha. They told him to put a kappa (protection) over the cattle, which would let them roam and have more offspring. He had no idea that it would lead to a huge demand for ranchers in Hawaii and a boom in the beef business. Because of this, vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys, came to the Big Island and Maui to teach the locals how to corral. This is how the culture of the paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboy, got started.
People say that the word “paniolo” comes from the Hawaiian word for “espaol,” since the “s” sound is not used in the Hawaiian language. The paniolo was a mix of Mexican and Hawaiian culture. He was an important part of society because he brought in a lot of money and trade for the islands. Even songs were written about them, praising their love of the guitar and their Mexican-style ponchos and wide-brimmed hats. But since then, things have changed. Today, the number of ranchers in the upcountry is quickly going down, and so is the culture.
Changing traditions and hopes for the future
With the steady growth of agritourism and ecotourism on the Hawaiian islands, there is still hope that the paniolo culture will survive. William Jacintho has been a paniolo his whole life, and he hopes that his children, who will be the fifth generation in his family to carry on these unique traditions, will do the same.
You can’t find cowboy traditions like these anywhere else. People say that the paniolo wore ponchos and hats with leis on them, which you won’t find on the western mainland. But in an interview with Culture Trip, Jacintho said that “the passion and dedication is the same” for Hawaiian cowboys and those from the western U.S., even though they are 2,000 miles apart and separated by an ocean. Not only do they both ride like Hispanic Americans, but they also have other things in common. “When you see a cowboy hat, you’re likely to visit and have a good conversation, because for some reason, you all speak the same language and care about the same things and live the same way and work hard.”
The modern world doesn’t change this promise much, though. Cowboys all over the world share the same way of life and love for what they do. But new ideas may be part of the reason why culture is disappearing. In the 1960s, when Jacintho was young, there were 28 slaughterhouses in the area.
Now, only one slaughterhouse is still known to exist. With the main exports moving away from beef, the future of the paniolo culture is very uncertain. As the beef industry disappears from the Hawaiian islands, so does the paniolo culture. William Jacintho said, “Others couldn’t care less, and some would even rather we were gone.”
Celebrations of paniolo today
Many people don’t want the paniolo culture to go away, which is a good thing. In fact, it’s a big deal. Each year, a Paniolo Parade and a Kamehameha Parade are held in historic Makawao in upcountry Maui. People come to watch the cowboy hats trot down the road with their own leis on them.
Hawaii’s strong tourism industry has taken bits and pieces of paniolo culture to give visitors and locals a different kind of Hawaiian experience. In order to keep the history and culture alive, paniolo tours are offered. These tours give visitors a look into the lives and cultures that shaped the inland culture of Hawaii. Hawaii already has a lot to offer, but there is so much more to see. In true paniolo style, riding a horse around the islands is the best way to go slow and find out about places you don’t know much about.
Topic: The Legend of the Hawaiian Cowboy, as It Has Never Been Told Before
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By: Travel Pixy