Hawaii Island Festival celebrates ‘Year of the Hawaiian’ with five cultural events

  • Kona Crab Poke was one of the entries in the 10th Annual Great Poke Contest Saturday at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Laura Bode and Neal Asai from Parker Ranch represent Hawaii Island in the 42nd annual Waimea Paniolo Parade Saturday. (LANDRY FULLER/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY)
  • Jasmine Kupihea, of Hilo, dances hula in the talent portion of the Ms Aloha Nui Pageant on Friday evening.

KAILUA-KONA — Every year, the dedicated volunteers of the Hawaii Island Festival — 30 Days of Aloha try to find a theme that represents their mission to showcase all the unique aspects of Hawaiian culture and heritage.

The theme of this year’s festival came straight from the top. In February, Gov. David Ige signed a proclamation declaring 2018 to be the Year of the Hawaiian, and the festival has adopted that title as well.

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“We went along with it because it was appropriate,” project manager Moani Akana said. “Because our mission is to perpetuate our culture and that could be anything from whether you are a lei maker or a pa’u rider. Anything to do with the Hawaiian culture, that’s what he is honoring.”

The document by Ige asked “the people of the Aloha State to join us in understanding the value of Native Hawaiian cultural practices and recognize the Native Hawaiians for their achievements and contributions,” and that’s what the volunteers who have worked countless hours to put this month’s events together hope is accomplished.

The festival is a collection of five events spread out over two weeks in Waimea and Waikoloa — the Ms. Aloha Nui Pageant, Poke Contest and Clyde Kindy Sproat Falsetto and Hawaiian Storytelling Competition this weekend, and the 43rd annual Paniolo Parade and the Ho’olaule’a next weekend.

The festival kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Friday with the Ms. Aloha Nui Pageant at Kahilu Theatre in Waimea. The pageant is to celebrate talented women of stature that “embody the spirit of aloha.”

“The qualification is these women are of great stature, as our alii of the past were,” Akana said. “So, they are 200 pounds and above.”

Every year, the pageant crowns a new queen, and while the past queens are always invited back to celebrate the event, this year, they will also take to the stage to help keep the festivities going.

“What’s new this year is not only have we invited the queens back, which we normally do, they’re actually going to be more on stage, they’re going to be singing and dancing,” Akana said. “And these women are so talented, and they’re going to be doing a lot of entertainment.”

At 10 a.m. Saturday at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa in Waikoloa is the Poke Contest, followed by the Clyde Kindy Sproat Falsetto and Hawaiian Storytelling Competition at 6 p.m. at Kahilu Theatre in Waimea.

The singing competition showcases artists singing in higher registers. The poke contest is open to both amateur and professional chefs, and is divided into three categories: traditional poke, poke with soy sauce/limu and poke fusion. Attendees can sample as much poke as they want before the winners for each category are announced, which is different from years past.

“We use to always do the selection and judging before we opened the doors. So, we would put the ribbons out with the winners before the event started. We’re human, so we’re looking for the winners; the public would just swarm and rush that one table that took first place or second place,” Akana said. “So what we’ve done now is we’ve kept it the same, we select the winner, but we don’t announce it. We don’t put the winner ribbons out. We’ll have them all come in, eat whatever they want, and then afterwards we announce the winners.”

Next weekend, the Paniolo Parade begins at 10 a.m. Sept. 15 and starts at the Waimea Cherry Blossom Park and ends at Waimea baseball field. The Ho’olaule’a, which consists of food, music and a variety of vendors, will follow at 11 a.m. at the baseball field.

These five events wouldn’t be possible without the help of Akana and the group of volunteers who want both locals and visitors alike to learn about the rich traditions and events of Hawaiian culture.

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“We do it all for the community,” Akana said. “We do it so our culture can be perpetuated, and we do it so our grandkids can participate when they are of age.”

Info: For more information on the 2018 Hawaii Island Festival visit hawaiiislandfestival.org.