The beneficial aspects of horsing around: Honokaa rodeo rounds up money for college scholarships


This is not a typical rodeo. It’s philanthropy, Hamakua-style.

Every year, the Hawaii Saddle Club holds a Memorial Day Rodeo in Honokaa to help young people attending accredited colleges or other continuing education programs, said Patti Andrade, the club’s treasurer.

Getting a scholarships typically depends upon students’ grades, financial needs, community service or extracurricular activities — all of which this 58-year-old nonprofit organization, consisting of 45 all-volunteer members, takes into account. However, what matters most to the club is the recipients’ vision for the state’s agriculture industry and the future, as well as what actions they plan to do to help accomplish it — the topics of their application essay. Still, knowing your way with an animal or having agricultural roots is appreciated, Andrade said.

The club was started in 1954 by a group of paniolo on the Hamakua Coast. They wanted to showcase the skills and talents of paniolo in an effort to preserve Hawaii’s proud ranching heritage and carry on traditions. The rodeo, which requires at least six months of planning, is the club’s “one-trick pony,” Andrade said. However, the club does participate in community events and holds fun days, she added.

The three-day rodeo is held at the county park and arena just off the highway, near Convenience Plus, in Honokaa. It has proven to be a successful fundraiser. The club is handing out 11 scholarships to Big Island students this year because the rodeo raised $5,500. In 2011, about a handful of scholarships, totaling $2,500, was given, Andrade said.

For many who attend the rodeo in their cowboy hats and boots, buying tickets to help send young people to college has become an anticipated charitable tradition. Not only is it an exciting show, the event also brings the community together for a good cause, Andrade said.

More than 350 contestants from Hawaii and the mainland are expected to compete in the rodeo, billed as “the largest, oldest and best for contestants and spectators in the state.” It begins Saturday with lots of roping and slack elimination from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The “best of the best” Sunday and Monday shows, held from noon to 5 p.m., will feature the top 20 contestants in each event, including bull riding, barrel racing, mutton busting, wahine mugging and rawhide race.

A favorite event is the poo wai u, a technique developed in the early 1800s by paniolo to capture the wild cattle in the forests that had become a nuisance and were often dangerous. In 1793, King Kamehameha I was given a gift of a herd of cattle and placed a kapu on them, allowing the cattle to roam freely to ensure their survival. For the poo wai u, paniolo would lasso a wild cow around its horns, tie it to a tree, leave it to wear itself out and then round it up later, Andrade said.

Also at the rodeo, there will be several vendors, selling food and Western products. Attendees are encouraged to come early, since parking is limited. Tickets, costing $8, are available at the gate. Children ages 12 and under get in free.