It’s part of a reverse birthday tradition. In celebration of its 52nd anniversary of establishment, Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park gives priceless presents of culture and experiences, said Chief of Interpretation Eric Andersen.
Between 6,000 to 7,000 visitors attended the park’s annual cultural festival, a vibrant showcase for Hawaiian music, food, dance, arts and practices. They explored 16 different stations, manned last weekend by National Park Service employees, practitioners and their families, all of whom generously shared their talents, skills and knowledge.
Sitting on lauhala mats in shade of palm trees, the canoe halau or amphitheater, festival-goers mingled and worked alongside demonstrators. At the end of the day, many left with a nose flute, coconut leaf hat, kapa fabric, haku lei or other traditional craft items. They also got a connection.
Standing side by side, 13-year-old Aukea Hooper and 11-year-old Rylee Galieto wound up their bodies and then explosively unfurled their nets into the air. The nets formed perfect circles over the lauhala fish, targets placed in the sand. Their display impressed the adult spectators, whom the boys successfully coaxed into trying the fishing technique.
The boys coached with great encouragement and patience — the way they said their uncle, Charlie, taught them. Hooper said it’s important to teach everyone about Hawaiian traditions, techniques and stories so that they never die out or disappear.
A new station centered around wana, sea urchins. Shirley Kauhaihao of Honaunau said this was Hawaiians’ answer to caviar. She explained the process of gathering and devouring wana, as well as gave festival-goers a taste of what she and her helpers got off the nearby reef. Highlighting Hawaiians’ connection between all things in nature, she shared a proverb, Pala ka hala, momona ka haukeuke, or “When the hala fruit ripens, the sea urchin is sweet.” It’s an indicator and guiding principle for gathering, she added.
A popular event Sunday was the hukilau, an approximately 800-foot-long fiber net with ti leaves once used by Hawaiians to catch fish. During the reenactment of this communal fishing method, a group walked chest-deep into the waters of Keoneele Cove carrying the net. Then, with the beating of water, they coaxed the fish into the net.
For Tammy Duchesne, superintendent of Puuhonua o Honaunau and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Parks, what made this cultural festival so special were the people who continue to make it possible every year. She said many are multigenerational families and several have ties to the park. All are passionate and committed to perpetuating and strengthening the Hawaiian culture.
Duchesne admired the demonstrators’ kindness, expertise and willingness to share. She also enjoyed watching festival-goers’ eagerness and excitement to learn.
This festival, Duchesne said, helps show that the park is “not locked in time, but timeless.”
It provides hands-on learning opportunities that engage people, as well as teach traditional practices and values that are still relevant every day. It’s a collaboration that results in a deeper understanding, appreciation and pride, she added.