There were more distinguished guests than shovels at the groundbreaking of the Paniolo Heritage Museum. “The grant only paid for nine shovels, so we’re going to have to take turns,” MC Zhantell Dudoit told the group of cowboys from across the islands.
Governor Linda Lingle, Molokai Ranch Community Affairs Manager John Sabas representing Ranch CEO Peter Nicholas, Irene Ka`ahanui representing OHA trustee Collette Machado, Billy Bergin, founder of the Paniolo Preservation Society and other big name paniolo figures turned the dirt and posed for photos. Other paniolo legends stepped in afterwards, including one of the last from-scratch saddle makers in Hawaii.
The museum will be built behind the rodeo stands at the Molokai Cowboy Connection, just outside of Maunaloa on the Molokai Ranch. The Ranch donated the land and a pending $100,000 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) will fund the building.
“It will not only house pictures and other memorabilia of the lifestyle, but also contain the spirit of the paniolo,” said Sabas at the ceremony. “Respect, grace, dignity, and more – aloha.” The museum is the first of its kind in Hawaii.
“We need to a place to record the 175 years of paniolo,” said Bergin, the founder of the Paniolo Preservation Society. “Many will have to look at Molokai for the example.”
“For those who remember when there were more horses than people, the museum will serve as a place to remember and reminisce.”
The Hawaiian paniolo predates the American cowboy of the “Wild West.” Cattle and horses came to the islands around the turn of the 19th century, and Kamehameha III invited Spanish vaqueros to teach riding and roping to Hawaiians in 1832. The American counterpart only appeared in the 1870s.
Ikua Purdy introduced the paniolo to the world. The rancher from Waimea looked out of place at 1908 Frontier Days World Championship in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but when he roped a steer in 56 seconds and cinched the world title, people took notice. Ninety years later Molokai boys Brother Kayama and Hano Naehu broke the team roping world record.
“Paniolo heritage has been alive and well on Molokai for a long time. It’s just a well kept secret,” said Dudoit, the MC. “I come from seven generations on Molokai and seven generations of paniolo.”
Two longtime paniolos were also inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame – local legend Jimmy Duvachelle and Eddie Taniguchi, who came from Kauai to be recognized. Governor Lingle has fond memories of Uncle Jimmy. “I remember he was such a handsome cowboy,” she said. “If you’re going to make a poster of a cowboy it would be of Jimmy Duvachelle.”