Preserving a legacy: Paniolo Preservation Society to celebrate opening of pa’u exhibit Jan. 19

  • Bill Ferreira, president of the Paniolo Preservation Society, speaks about “Kuulani,” a life-size display of a pa’u rider at the Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani Stables. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)

WAIMEA — From its earliest days as a stallion station to today being the site of the Paniolo Heritage Center and home to the Paniolo Hall of Fame, Pukalani Stables has long been central to preserving the story of the generations of paniolo that shaped this region.

“There’s no place else in the state that’s more fitting to tell the paniolo story than Waimea,” said Bill Ferreira, president of the Paniolo Preservation Society, Tuesday at the Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani Stables. “This is the home of the paniolo.”

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It’s a legacy that will continue as the Paniolo Preservation Society prepares to celebrate the opening of Wahine Holo Lio, a new exhibition that honors the history of the region’s pa’u riders, on Jan. 19.

“The pa’u rider basically is such a uniquely Hawaiian part of the paniolo culture,” said Ferreira. “When it’s displayed elsewhere, like the pa’u riders riding in the Rose Parade, I mean, it is just something that speaks so proudly of the Hawaiian paniolo connection, because it is so unique.”

The title, Wahine Holo Lio, “celebrates the lady on horseback,” said Dr. Billy Bergin, founding member and official historian of the Paniolo Preservation Society.

Beyond what pa’u riders represent and bring to the parades, he said, the new pa’u museum is also a powerful representation of the role of women in ranch life and cattle work.

“Even in Hawaii history, there have been some lady cowboys, some lady paniolo, that have been remarkably able,” said Bergin. “And the term Wahine Holo Lio is so appropriate, because it picks up the working cowgirl, cowlady.”

The exhibition invites visitors to experience the legacy of pa’u riders and their place in the story of the region through a photo display and historical narrative.

The display was created in collaboration with a team from the North Hawaii Education and Research Center led by Momi Naughton and her staff.

At the center of the exhibit stands a full-size display of a pa’u rider, named “Kuulani,” who sits astride a Palomino horse painted by artist Patrick Ching and students of Kanu o Ka Aina in Waimea.

A blessing at the museum is scheduled for Jan. 19 at the Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani Stables.

In addition to introducing the Paniolo Preservation Society’s new general manager, the event will also include pa’u experts Barbara Nobriga of Kona and Kuulei Keakealani Case of Waimea. Seven pa’u riders from Oahu and four from Maui are also expected to attend.

It will run from 5-9 p.m. with a Hawaiian plate dinner from 5:30-5:45 p.m. Tickets, which are $20, are available at Parker Ranch store and the Paniolo Preservation Society museum or the organization’s board members.

The exhibition complements the organization’s existing Paniolo Museum, located across the stables from the Pa’u Museum, which altogether the Preservation Society hopes inspires pride in the region’s youth and educates them about the area’s paniolo traditions.

“It’s to keep the young folks aware of what things were like,” said Pat Bergin, a member of the organization’s board of directors.

That includes preserving not only historical images and places of Hawaii’s ranching community, she said, but also the practices as well.

Bergin also said this project marks the first major one of the year for the Paniolo Preservation Society, and the group is also looking at reviving the Old Hawaii on Horseback Pageant, last held in 2008.

The new exhibition also offers both residents and visitors to the area a deeper, rounder picture of the region’s ranching heritage, preserving that history even as the industry of agriculture itself is ever-changing.

These days, Ferreira said, it’s more common to see a cowboy on a four-wheeler than horseback — “it’s just a sign of the times,” he said. “It is what it is.”

A saddlemaker himself, Ferreira said many of the traditional skills are gradually disappearing as the needs of business change. So the mission of the Paniolo Preservation Society, then, is to keep those skills alive, he said, so they can be passed on.

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And it’s through building and perpetuating places like the Paniolo Heritage Center that the legacy of Hawaii’s paniolo will live on.

“If we can create and keep that sense of pride in the community’s heritage here,” he said, “then this will be here in perpetuity for many, many more generations to know their history and live their history.”