Old Hawaii rides again: Horseback pageant returns to Waikii Ranch to pay homage to Waimea’s history

  • The famed Old Hawaii on Horseback pageant, happening at Waikii Ranch on Sept. 14, will feature pa’u riders elegantly parading their horses. In a past pageant, Judy Hancock rode dressed in brilliant yellow to represent Princess Kaiulani. Courtesy photos

  • Some years ago at workshop co-sponsored by Waimea Middle School, the Paniolo Preservation Society and Anna Ranch, local experts taught the art of pa’u draping. In a practice dating back to the 1800s, women would drape themselves in pa’u silk skirts to protect their clothing as well as ride astride with dignity and modesty. Kuulani Auld of Kona posed as a mother riding with her daughter represented by Kuunahenani Tachera of Waimea. Courtesy photo

  • In this photo, Deedee Lindsey Bertlemann demonstrates an ancient art — pa’u draping — by draping an orange pa’u skirt on Kehau Marshall. Both women are from Waimea. Courtesy photo

  • Artwork for this year’s Old Hawaii on Horseback pageant was created and donated by Pat Hall of Waimea, who also did the pageant’s artwork back in the 1970s. This year’s version, while modernized, still captures the historical nature of the event.

  • Barbara Nobriga of Kona drapes a pa’u skirt on Kuunahenani Tachera of Waimea at a pa’u draping workshop in Waimea. Courtesy photo

  • Other participants in 2008 included (top left) Fern White from Kohala portraying Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske; (top right) Leina Hoopai from Kohala; (bottom left) Kuulani Auld; and (bottom right) Queenie Dowsett from Waimea. (Courtesy photo/Michael O’Brien)

  • This year’s Old Hawaii on Horseback pageant will feature nearly 100 riders, many of them among the state’s more accomplished horsewomen. The pageant was last staged in 2008. Riding at that time were two local women portraying members of the alii: Deedee Keakealani Bertlemann in red and Kuulei Case in bright pink. (Courtesy photo/Michael O’Brien)

KOHALA — After an absence of more than one decade, a grand tradition on Hawaii Island — the majestic Old Hawaii On Horseback pageant — makes a comeback to the island this September.

The event will be staged on the Waikii Ranch polo grounds Sept. 14 with attendees enjoying the sounds of Grammy Award winner John Cruz from 10-11 a.m. followed by the pageant from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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The Old Hawaii On Horseback pageant was staged multiple years by Waimea’s “First Lady,” Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske, on the front lawn of her landmark white house in Waimea. The event drew as many as 1,000 spectators per performance, eager to see the event for the spectacle it was — dozens of heavily costumed riders on horse back, men and women, portraying significant events in Waimea’s history such as Captain George Vancouver bringing the first cattle to Hawaii in 1793. They also depict figures in Hawaii history, including monarchs of the Kamehameha lineage, Captain Cook, Queen Liliuokalani, Princess Kaiulani and members of the John Palmer Parker family tree.

Perry-Fiske put on nine performances of the mounted pageant as a fundraiser for the Hawaii Heart Association, from 1964 to 1983. Waimea’s Paniolo Preservation Society (PPS) took over hosting the event in 1996. Since that time PPS has hosted four more pageants.

According to pageant co-chair Patricia Bergin, this year’s revival caps an 18-month Na Wahine Holo Lio celebration by the PPS that included the January opening of a new wing at the PPS Heritage Center honoring women paniolo.

“Na Wahine Holo Lio celebrates the unheralded role of mothers, wives, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, sisters and aunts in Hawaii’s history and Hawaii’s ranching industry,” Bergin said. “These women never seem to get recognition, yet there are women who are very capable owners and managers of ranches. The revival of the famed pageant serves as the culminating event for our focus on them.”

In addition to participating in the mounted pageants from the Fiske-Perry days, Bergin has chaired all subsequent pageants sponsored by the PPS. She volunteered to take it over, she said, because she listened to what Perry-Fiske had to say and it was always, “It has to be the old way.”

“Anna didn’t like horses with tons of leis and the women with tons of leis and headgear and stuff. She said you need to see the beauty of the woman, and the beauty of the horse. She was very insistent about that.

“That’s the tradition I’ve tried to keep up in her memory,” Bergin continued, adding that the Old Hawaii on Horseback Pageant is not like other island parades.

“Yes, we will have island princesses,” she said, “but the most important thing is the fact that we’re doing history on horseback.”

This year’s pageant will feature nearly 100 riders — many of them among the state’s more accomplished horsemen and horsewomen — dressed in magnificent period costumes with two narrators telling the story. Because this year’s pageant honors women, Bergin asked professional entertainer Christy Lassiter from Hilo to serve as one of the narrators along with Richard Kaniho, a Lindsey descendant. An expert horsewoman herself, Lassiter has ridden in every PPS Old Hawaii on Horseback pageant and her mother, Pudding Lassiter of Hilo, rode in all of Perry-Fiske’s pageants.

Another rider who has been involved in all of the pageants over the years is Joan Greenwell Anderson, current PPS president. Anderson is serving as co-chair for this year’s pageant along with Bergin.

“As a young girl I have been a rider in the Old Hawaii pageant since its inception way back to the day Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske started it,” Anderson said. “Coming from a fourth-generation ranching family in Hawaii, this pageant is very special and close to my heart. It portrays the first cattle and horses coming to Hawaii as well as pa’u riders, island queens, the first Mexican vaqueros and many more.

“It’s something that should not be missed by anyone who wants to see Hawaii from the past to the present in authentic costume.”

Assisting Bergin and Anderson as members of the pageant core committee are Lynn Grasso, Bill Bergin, Wendy Craven, Kanoa Alapai, Yaku Kotaki, Diane Ford, Judy Hancock, Pat Hall, Marci Yardley, Dr. Billy Bergin, Barbara Nobriga and Janlyn Ryusaki-Phillips. Many of the core committee members are residents of Waikii Ranch.

Erin Lindsey and Sandy Sproat from Waimea are sewing the costumes for this year’s pageant, and a core group of women led by Deedee Lindsey Bertelmann will help with pa’u draping and lei making.

Bergin noted the wonderful support provided to the pageant committee by the Waikii Ranch homeowners.

“They have been unanimous in their support of us and I truly appreciate that,” she said. “I’ve always dreamed of having this event on the ranch polo grounds and they have allowed it to happen.”

Additionally, a special member of the core committee who has provided invaluable support is Hancock, Bergin said.

“Judy was a long-time friend and mentored by Anna. She was almost like a daughter to her. She also rode in many of Anna’s pageants and has shared some of her costumes. We’re delighted to have her on our committee.”

Bergin’s pageant script highlights historical events in Hawaii’s history as did Perry-Fiske’s original script. But Bergin has also included several events and people from the past that are not well known. Father Damien, for example, was once at a priest in Waimea and thus is included. His role will be played by Reverend Stephen Macedo, pastor of the Annunciation Church Parish in Waimea and Ascension Church in Puako.

Bergin hopes the community will turn out for the pageant which she said will be a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“It truly is a community event, representing the best of Waimea,” she said.

“When Anna put on this pageant she had accomplished horsewomen and men who set the bar high. We have worked hard to maintain that level of professionalism, and I know those who come to this year’s pageant will really enjoy themselves. The costuming alone, and the stories make history come alive.”

As a way to continue to ensure the pageant continues in the future, Bergin has sought out children of people who rode in earlier pageants to be part of this year’s event.

“My goal is to get a younger generation interested so I can mentor them to continue this tremendous legacy,” she said.

“This is something that I don’t want to die. I want to have people have the enthusiasm and desire to continue this important event.”

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A portion of proceeds from this year’s Old Hawaii on Horseback Pageant will benefit the Paniolo Preservation Society. Some bleacher seating will be available; however, patrons are encouraged to bring folding lawn chairs and sun and weather protection as needed. Paniolo lunches and snacks will be available. No coolers please.

Advance tickets for adults are $30 or $35 at the gate. Keiki 12 and under are free. More information and ticket purchasing information is available at www.paniolopreservation.org or by calling 854-1541.

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