HONAUNAU — For three years now, Braxton Rocha has come to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park’s annual cultural festival, taking time to help residents and visitors alike connect with local culture.
“It’s nice to just get away from the hustle-and-bustle and be able to just relax and come on the beach,” he said, “and just get in the malo and get back to the roots.”
This year marks the 57th annual Cultural Festival at the park, when the park opens its gates free of charge for a weekend of activities and cultural demonstrations.
The event offers something for everyone, said interpretive supervisor Kawai Domingo, whether they’ve lived here all their lives or are visiting for the first time.
Many visitors to the festival, Domingo noted, have come time and time again, planning their visits to coincide with the annual event.
On Saturday, Rocha’s demonstration was focused on wana, sea urchins, and said for many visitors, particularly those who might have never even seen the ocean before, the festival’s a great opportunity to experience something completely new.
“It just makes me feel blessed to be able to share this experience with them and be a part of it,” he said. “I’m very honored to be here and always be asked to come back and help.”
Offering cultural demonstrations at the festival is something of a family tradition for Rocha. He gave the wana demonstration alongside his mother as well as his grandmother, Shirley Kauhaihao, who spoke about the importance of educating people about traditional foods.
“People will know you can be sustained by the land, the ocean and not have to always look to a supermarket,” she said. “It’s almost like farm-to-table.”
For the Mone family, visiting Hawaii for the first time, the festival was a great opportunity to learn and expand their own horizons.
“We wanted to know how the ancient Hawaiians lived,” said Cole Mone, 9, sharing what he had learned at the sea urchin demonstration.
Jennifer Mone said it was important for her kids to experience the festival and all it had to offer, saying it was an opportunity for them to learn about something beyond what they see in their daily lives.
“I think it teaches them something beyond what they understand in their regular life, so they understand there’s more ways to do things and think about things than what they know,” she said. “It kind of opens their minds and expands new possibilities.”
The free event continues today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring Hawaiian food tastings, and will conclude with a hukilau around 2 p.m., Domingo said.
“The hukilau is my favorite part,” she said, “because it signifies the ending, and also it brings everyone together. It brings demonstrators, visitors, staff members — everyone. All ages.”
Rocha, too, named the hukilau as a favorite part of the festival.
“Mainly because it’s just everyone getting to connect as one and be together — a family event,” he said. “The whole park, everyone, all the tourists get to join in on it.”
Domingo said everyone is invited to participate in the hukilau, recommending those who wish to do so come prepared with water shoes and sunscreen. Those who aren’t strong swimmers should remain on land, she noted.