Voices on the wind: Paniolo Preservation Society celebrates songs of the Hawaiian cowboys

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WAIMEA — On Sept. 23 the third biennial Paniolo Preservation Society (PPS) fundraiser, No Mele O Paniolo, will celebrate three musicians who have helped keep paniolo music alive at Pukalani Stables.

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WAIMEA — On Sept. 23 the third biennial Paniolo Preservation Society (PPS) fundraiser, No Mele O Paniolo, will celebrate three musicians who have helped keep paniolo music alive at Pukalani Stables.

The three honorees this year, Ernie Cruz Sr., Kindy Sproat and Kuana Torres Kahele, have composed, collected, recorded and, in their own way, perpetuated paniolo music.

“The songs are in the language of the place. They celebrate this intersection of cowboy, Hawaiian, love, flowers and mountain, and all this swirls together. These individuals contribute to and are still contributing to a realization of the wonderful place we live,” said PPS President Janet Garcia.

Ernie Cruz Sr., whose family is from Guam but grew up in Modesto, California, came to Hawaii after serving in the Marine Corp in Vietnam. His love of Hawaii Island shines through in his many songs, especially “Waimea Cowboy” with its tag line, “cowboys second to none.”

Well-known falsetto artist Kindy Sproat, who passed away in 2008, “was this magical collector of all the songs that he heard. He took what was before and brought it around again,” Garcia said.

Sproat grew up in a small valley in North Kohala hearing the songs of the paniolo who worked on nearby ranches. The late Cruz and Sproat will have family members in attendance as a tribute to the honorees.

Kuana Torres Kahele, who will be attending the gala as an honoree, not a performer, is a Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner whose family is from Kohala and Waimea.

“On his father’s side is the name Awaa, and his ancestors worked cattle at Kawahaeiuka. He wrote this wonderful song, ‘Na Vaqueros’ that has the Spanish lyrics in it talking about the paniolo and coming from Spain. It’s a lovely song. It’s like carrying the tradition forward and celebrating what was before,” Garcia said.

Another special guest at this year’s gala will be Fred Fellows and his wife, Deborah. He is a cowboy and an incredibly talented Western artist who created the bronze statue of Ikua Purdy that is a cornerstone of community pride and cultural significance in Waimea.

The first PPS gala in 2011 honored actor John Wayne, who loved Waimea and spent time riding the range in Waimea with Richard Smart. The second PPS dinner in 2013 honored filmmaker Edgy Lee, who created “Paniolo O Hawaii: Cowboys of the Far West.”

The Pukalani Stables were at one time the main stables for Parker Ranch and since the early 1900s the center of the ranch’s horse breeding program. In 1998, seeing the vital paniolo culture fading, PPS was founded as a nonprofit with a mission to preserve and perpetuate paniolo culture.

“PPS has been blessed in having members that really care. Some of them have been here all their lives and some of us haven’t, but it doesn’t diminish how much we care about its history, culture and sense of place,” Garcia said.

Since its inception, PPS has worked to preserve and perpetuate paniolo culture through exhibits, archives and educational programs.

“A few years ago we did a series of talk stories. We had people come that had songs or stories or both. It was in the evening and open to the public and a time to share what it meant to be part of Waimea and this place (the stables),” she said. “We’d like to do that again.”

There is also a plan to open the stables for school groups.

“We’re looking at having schools visit at Pukalani. We have the museum and we’re hoping that the classes can come and a lot of local students will see their family name is there,” Garcia said.

An event at the stables to honor ranch women is also currently in the works.

“A lot of women rode horses out with lunch and they’re kind of unsung in that regard. Early next year they’re going to honor a group of them. In smaller ranches women were a necessary part of the crew, but you don’t hear about it,” she said. “They did the kaukau tin, saddled up, got on a horse and took the lunch out to the cowboys.”

This year’s fundraising event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with an open bar, followed by dinner, an acknowledgment of the honorees, a live auction and dancing.

“The dinner will be catered by Paradise Gourmet. We like to feed the people well. And we’re going to have live music with Willie Joe and Damien. It’s cowboy music and just fun. That’s what it’s all about,” Garcia said.

The gala event promises to be an evening of music, fun and connections.

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“My sense is that for the people who remain here, this is home in the really big sense of that word. It’s so unique. I don’t know where else you can go and find so many songs that are special to a particular place,” she concluded.

Info: Tickets for the fundraiser are available at the PPS office at Pukalani Stables Tuesday through Saturday between 8 a.m.-2 p.m., and may also be purchased from a PPS board member. For more information call 854-1541.

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